Listen to the Spirit Pentecost – June 8, 2014 Rev. Anne R. Atwell Good morning! And Happy Pentecost! You know, I always felt like Pentecost is kind of the “Rodney Dangerfield” of the church holidays. It doesn’t get any respect. There is Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus and the promise of hope in […]
Listen to the Spirit
Pentecost – June 8, 2014
Rev. Anne R. Atwell
Good morning! And Happy Pentecost! You know, I always felt like Pentecost is kind of the “Rodney Dangerfield” of the church holidays. It doesn’t get any respect. There is Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus and the promise of hope in our lives, and of course it is a hugely popular holiday! And there is Easter which marks the Resurrection of Jesus and offers each of us new beginnings. A little less celebrated than Christmas, but still what would Easter be without the Lenten season as well as some chocolate and some jelly beans. But Pentecost marks the birthday of the church! So, you would think that it should receive a little something. Some type of recognition – something! But there are no Pentecost trees or Pentecost bunnies, nothing. And people are not exactly packed in the church on the Pentecost.
And I think I understand that because Pentecost really is a CHURCH holiday; the birthday of the Christian church movement without all the commercialism. It just doesn’t seem to have the commercial appeal that Christmas and Easter do. Pentecost marks the point in the year, after the celebration of Easter, in which the holy Spirit returns and calls Jesus’ disciples into ministry.
You see, at the time of the Pentecost, Jesus’ disciples were gathered in a room probably trying to figure out what to do next. They were probably frightened and possibly still hiding out to save their own lives. But the part of the trinity that is identified as the holy Spirit had different ideas. The Spirit knew that the disciples were called to greater things and they couldn’t hide forever. They were called to share the good news to others, the good news that Jesus brought to them and to his community. They were to step out of that “safe place” and move into a place in their lives that would require them to stretch and to serve and to meet others in their life journeys.
Pentecost is actually the Greek name for the Jewish harvest festival or the Festival of Weeks. And since this occurs 50 days after Passover, a group in the Jewish community gave it the name of Pentecost. And in the Christian community, we recognize that Pentecost falls 50 days after Easter. And it was during this harvest festival that many people in the Jewish community would travel to Jerusalem to make offerings of the grains they had harvested. So the city of Jerusalem was filled with people from the Jewish community, people from many different countries, people who spoke in different languages, people who may not have heard of Jesus.
Last Sunday, we heard about the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. And this week we hear that according to the author of the Book of Acts, Jesus came back in the form of the holy Spirit which presented itself to the disciples. The Spirit appeared as a mighty wind, as flames of fire and the disciples gathered in that room could not miss it! And according to the scripture passage from Acts, the disciples began speaking other languages. Languages that they may not have understood themselves, but languages which would be understood by the many people who had traveled to Jerusalem for the harvest festival. This rush of wind, of Spirit, enabled the gathered disciples to proclaim their message in the tongues of the diverse people gathered in Jerusalem. The Spirit inspired the disciples then to reach out beyond themselves, to spread the Gospel message, to preach the Good News that Jesus offered to them. This was the beginning of the Christian church movement! And this same spirit can inspire us, it can transform us, if we are open to it. And that is what often happens. The Spirit will appear to us when we don’t know what to do next, when we least expect it, and when we really may not be open to it. When that happens, we can try to ignore it, we can turn our backs on it or we can welcome it. We can welcome the revelation of new ideas, of new paths that will come with this Spirit presence, this calling.
Many of you know that yesterday was my ordination into vocational ministry with MCC and specifically ministry here at Sunshine Cathedral. And that journey to ordination was long and often difficult, often overwhelming but absolutely filled with the presence of the holy Spirit! I spent five years doing theological study working towards a Master of Divinity degree and another year doing two different internships, one in church learning how to do parish ministry and another with a Hospice, learning how to pastor with people facing the end of their lives. And I have to tell you, there were times when it seemed really hard and when I wondered what I was doing and why??!! I remember thinking, more than once, It’s hard and I’m tired and I don’t want to read any more about St. Augustine or Martin Luther or write anymore Christology papers. But something kept pushing me. Something kept reminding me that, like the disciples, this is my calling. This was a call of the Spirit to reach out and to share the good news and to live my life as demonstrated by the Model of Jesus Christ. This was not something I could set aside. It was absolutely something I could not ignore. It was as the late Peter Gomes best describes, “…the gift of the Pentecost is the gift of understanding.”
And though I haven’t heard myself speaking in other languages and I don’t believe that there has been tongues of fire above my head, I understand now that call to speak of my faith and to live my life in a way that people recognize me as a Christian. And, yes, as a lesbian Christian who is called to reach into a community of people considered “other.” This call is a call to speak to people in their own language which, as it turns out, is my language, as well.
A couple of years ago, back in 2012, I had the opportunity to participate in the South Florida AIDS Walk. The walk was held in May in 2012 so it was much later in the year than the AIDS Walk we did just a few months ago. And it was just a week before we would celebrate Pentecost that year.
It was really a wonderful morning for the walk. The sky was bright and sunny and, though it was hot, since the walk was held down by the beach, there was a pretty nice breeze for a good part of the walk. When we began walking, there was so much joy and celebration. You could see the people gathering together as a large community, laughing and talking and joking with each other. The atmosphere felt like a festival!! Everyone was so glad to be there! But as the walk wore on and it began to get hotter, I noticed something. The mood of the walkers shifted. Many of the people began to share stories of why they were walking and for whom they were walking. And while we were walking, I commented on one of the t-shirts that another walker was wearing. It was a t-shirt with a picture of Underdog on it.
Now, for those of you who don’t know, Underdog was a cartoon character, a dog who fought crime and Underdog wore a red shirt with a big “U” on the front of it and he also wore a blue cape. I asked the other walker about the Underdog t-shirt and he told me that a very dear friend of his loved Underdog. His friend had thought that Underdog was all it. But his friend had passed away during the previous year from complications from AIDS so a group of people got together and formed Team Underdog in honor and in memory of their dear friend. This grown man, walking along the sidewalk beside the beach, got a little teary while telling the story of his friend. It was obviously very emotional for him but I could see his determination to honor his friend as we walked together for a brief time in the 90 degree heat. His tears were not the only tears I saw that day. I saw people filled with joy and people filled with deep sorrow and with painful memories. And I thought to myself how interesting it was that the AIDS Walk that year was just one week prior to Pentecost. I was probably alone in that thought but it struck me as interesting, nonetheless.
Think about what happened during Pentecost. The disciples in that room felt the breath of and they truly experienced the holy Spirit in their lives. That feeling of breath, that feeling of moving air, of wind, is how I felt as the breezes came off the ocean on the morning of the AIDS Walk. I could feel the presence of the holy Spirit with us that Sunday morning as we walked to raise money and to remember and honor dear friends. Those breezes reminded me of those who have lost their struggle with HIV/AIDS and it seemed that their presence was also there with us that morning. It also brought to mind dear friends of mine who are no longer with us here and it reminded me of how very far we have come in our fight with this dis-ease.
The breezes felt peaceful and POWERFUL at the same time and it felt redemptive. That even through all the difficult years in which HIV/AIDS was almost a death sentence, many people are still here and living full lives with this illness. You know, I often wondered, during the height of the AIDS Crisis, how Jesus would have reacted to those with HIV/AIDS and how they had been set aside by our society, by our own government, and by so many churches. And I have to believe that Jesus would have been there, by their side, saying to them again and again, “Peace be with you. Peace be with you.”
Agnes Sanford reminds us that in the Pentecost experience, “Jesus did return, in his holy Spirit, at Pentecost, and so he returns to each of us today. We are his channels for the sending out of his redemptive love into the world.” And, my friends, it is up to each of us to be the presence of the Christ, of the holy Spirit in this world. We do that by feeding those who are hungry. And we do that by participating in a faith community that welcomes all people regardless of where they are on their faith journey. And we do that by sharing our resources with organizations who offer outreach where it is so desperately needed.
25 – 30 years ago, it would have been impossible for me to believe that 4000 people would gather, people in the Queer community and our wonderful allies, to raise money and to show support for those still living with HIV/AIDS. Truly unexpected and truly the movement of the holy Spirit. And although we’ve come so very far and our society continues to grow in its awareness and understanding of the sacred value of all people, there is still a very long way to go.
In one of our readings this morning, Thich Nhat Hanh tells us, “I [feel] that all of us also have the seed of the holy Spirit in us, the capacity of healing, transforming, and loving. When we touch that seed, we are able to touch God…” And each of us has that seed of the holy Spirit in us. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of that.
At Pentecost, the holy Spirit came to the disciples and with a great wind, human differences were overcome and people were united with the gift of understanding. On that day, through the message of the Spirit, people heard the good news of welcome and their lives were never the same. So it can be for us. Once we hear this message of unity and of inclusion our lives will change – our lives will never be the same. And the Pentecost is our reminder to answer our personal calling to offer that light, that welcome, to all people.
The wonderful writer and theologian, Barbara Brown Taylor tells us, “….whenever you find yourself speaking with eloquence you know you do not have, or offering forgiveness you had not meant to offer – whenever you find yourself taking risks you thought you did not have the courage to take or reaching out to someone you had intended to walk away from – you can be pretty sure that you are (receiving a part) of the holy Spirit. And more than that, you are taking part in it, breathing in and breathing out, taking God into you and giving God back to the world again, with some of you attached.”
Breathe in deeply for a moment. Rest…and then breathe out. This breath and this air is a gift of the holy Spirit. It is part of the transformative movement of wind, of air, that calls us to be part of the holy and the sacred.
And I believe with all of who I am that Sunshine Cathedral is a church that is open to and willing to listen to the Spirit! We meet people where they are in their faith journey! We move beyond these four walls to offer hope and to offer healing to those who have been set aside! We go where people need to know that they have sacred value! We change lives by answering that call of the Spirit.
Have you felt that presence of the holy Spirit? If you welcome change, if you welcome opportunity and growth and if you are ready to recognize that seed of light in your life, then breathe in and breathe out and pray “Come holy Spirit!”
Father Richard Rohr, a globally recognized ecumenical teacher, writes, “God is experienced as intimacy and warmth and fire, as love-power. She is surprising, elusive and free. The Spirit blows where the Spirit will, like the wind…….it comes from and goes where you know not.” And my friends, as we go, as we move through our life journey, the Spirit goes with us. Just listen!
And this is the Good News!
I acknowledge the Spirit in me.
I am open to the direction of the Spirit.
I affirm that Spirit filled blessings are available to me now.
And so it is!