Home > Worship > Sermons >
Day of Pentecost May 24, 2015 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
Acts 2:1-21; Ps. 104:25-35,37b; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, May 24, 2015
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
Pentecost is sometimes
called the birthday of the Church.
That’s all very well
as long as we don’t equate it
with the beginning of an institution –
because that’s not what was born
on Pentecost.
What was born on Pentecost was
a fellowship,
a people,
filled with the Holy Spirit,
commissioned, empowered, emboldened
to carry out the ministry of Jesus.
These were the same disciples
who had collapsed in upon themselves
in the days after
the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.
Devastated, demoralized,
lost without their leader and teacher,
the little group of Jesus’ followers  
Their cohesiveness,
their confidence,
their sense of purpose,
          had all come from him.
Some headed home,
          back to their old lives.
Some stayed in Jerusalem,
in hiding
for fear the authorities
might come for them next.
There had been,
according to John’s Gospel,
in the long farewell discourse and prayer of Jesus
          at his last supper with them . . .
of which we heard a small part today
          (in many languages)
there had been
the promise of the Advocate,
the Spirit of truth,
whom Jesus would send
“to guide them
          into all the truth.”
But who knew what that meant?

Then the astonishing appearances
          of the risen Jesus began . . .
on the road to Emmaus,
by the sea of Galilee,
in the upper room in Jerusalem . . .
          calling his disciples back together,
          opening the Scriptures to them,
          breaking bread with them,
preparing them . . .
          but for what?
At some point
the appearances stopped.
The author of Acts
puts it
at 40 days after the resurrection
          with the story of Jesus’Ascension
                   into heaven,
and Jesus’ instructions to the disciples  
to remain in Jerusalem,
“until you have been clothed with power
          from on high.”     Lk. 24.49b
They waited . . . and wondered.
Ten days later,
the 50th day,
they were all gathered together in one place . . .
Like the rush of a violent wind,
the Spirit of God
blew through their gathering,
setting minds and hearts afire,
sending the disciples out of that place
          into the streets.
The Spirit of God,
who hovered over the waters of chaos
          at the very beginning of creation;
who declared God’s word to the prophets of Israel
          and compelled them to speak it; 
who came to the Virgin Mary
          conceiving the Son of God in her womb;
who descended upon Jesus at his baptism
          and sent him into the wilderness;
The Spirit of God
descended upon the disciples,
rekindled their faith, their hope, their courage,
filled them with prophetic zeal,
and drove them out into the city
          proclaiming God’s deeds of power.
The Spirit of God
scattered them
like seeds before the wind,
seeds of the Gospel of Christ,
seeds of the new Creation.
Through their ministry
their numbers grew,
and eventually a structure, an institution, buildings,
came into being
to order and direct and locate their common life.

But their primary identity as church
was, and still is, and must continue to be,
a God-loving people
          abiding in Christ
filled with the Holy Spirit
and aflame with the mission
to be resurrection
in a crucified and crucifying world.
On that very first Christian Pentecost,
Jerusalem was swarming
with people from every nation
in the known world.
And they heard
the spirit-filled disciples
proclaiming what God had done in Jesus
in their own native languages.
This was not the speaking in tongues
of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians,
a wordless, singsong babbling
that only a few people could understand.
This Pentecost speaking was for everyone,
through a community
whose mission is to share the good news of Jesus
in as many different ways and languages
as there are different people to hear it.

Some in the crowd received it
          with open and glad hearts.
Others cynically assumed
          the over-the-top disciples were drunk.
No, said Peter, listen to me.
This is what the prophet Joel foretold,
when he said that a day will come
when God will pour out God’s spirit on all flesh,
and all will dream dreams and see visions,
and all will prophesy,
and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!
The picture of the church that emerges
on this Day of Pentecost
is of
a community of diverse individuals
bound together in a mystical fellowship
          by baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus,
intimately connected to one another
and wide-open and welcoming to all – 
people from all nations and languages,
all walks of life,
all cultures, ages, races, conditions;
poor and rich and in between;
believers, seekers, questioners, doubters;
a community animated by the Holy Spirit
to reach beyond our own boundaries and comfort levels,
to go out from our gatherings
          to a broken and sinful world
          to make known what we have found in Jesus:
                    God’s love, forgiveness, and hope.
The Church born at Pentecost
is a Spirit-filled, holy and loving fellowship
living in hope grounded in trust in the God   
          we have come to know in Jesus.
And the Church is also a structure and an institution,
and buildings, and committees, and vestries, and finances,
and programs and workshops and by-laws and canon law
and books of prayers and liturgies and song . . .
which, at their best, support our mission,
at their worst, occupy us to the point of distraction . . .
and we are a collection of human beings
who ourselves are broken and sinful,
often oblivious to the urgings of the Spirit.
“We know that the whole creation
has been groaning in labor pains until now;”
Paul wrote to the church in Rome,
“and not only the creation, but we ourselves,
(that church in Rome, this church in Tacoma,
the whole Church everywhere)
we ourselves,
who have the first fruits of the Spirit,
groan inwardly while we wait for adoption,
the redemption of our bodies.” 

As it was in Paul’s time,
so it continues now:
suffering and sorrow on the grand scale of
wars, persecutions, diseases, natural disasters,
environmental destruction;
and on the small scale of
the many griefs, struggles, worries,
          hurts, fears of our own lives
and the life of the Church . . .
the birth pangs of the new creation,
always coming into being,
but not yet fully here.
And when we feel overwhelmed
by our own brokenness
and the brokenness all around us,
“the Spirit helps us in our weakness,”
says Paul.
Sometimes we don’t know how or what to pray,
we just don’t have the words,
but the Spirit dwelling in us
prays with us “in sighs too deep for words,”
making even our most desperate needs known to God.
And because we trust God,
and we are bound together in Christ,
and we are sustained by the Holy Spirit,
we do not yield to despair,
but we wait with hope
for that which we can’t yet see,
and we wait with patience,
because impatience will only get in the way
          of what is trying to come into being . . .
we wait,
but we also act in our waiting,
          to move ourselves and God’s groaning Creation
          toward that for which we yearn,
and so become
an embodiment, a proclamation, of hope
          for others whose hope is gone.
And we have the Holy Spirit,
the Advocate of John’s Gospel,
whom Jesus has sent to lead us
into all the truth.
And the truth the Spirit shows us
is that
the world is wrong about what matters . . .
in the words of John’s Gospel,
about sin, about righteousness, about judgment:
The Spirit shows us the world is wrong about sin . . .
for John,
          in its refusal
          to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.
in our time,
          the refusal to believe in God at all,
          whether God is called
          the God of Abraham, or of Jesus, or of Mohammed . . .
          or the narrow, fanatical belief
          of those in the world
          who worship
                    a god of terrorism and atrocity.
The Spirit shows us the world is wrong
          about righteousness, about justice . . .
for John, the crucifixion,
          a result of Roman justice,
                    manifestly unjust.       
In our time,
          incarceration of immigrants
                    in detention centers,
          destruction of the environment,
          torture of animals farmed for food,
          unequal distribution of the world’s resources
                    and the resulting poverty and destitution.
The Spirit shows us the world is wrong
          about judgment . . .
For John, the condemnation of Jesus,
          whose crucifixion proved instead
          to be the condemnation of the rulers of this world.
In our time,
          refugees trapped without food and water
                    on ships no government will allow to land,
          the inequity of our legal system
                    in its treatment of persons of color.
The Spirit also shows us
another truth,
the we, too, the Church,
          have frequently been wrong ourselves
                   about these things.
But still the Spirit leads us,
still the Spirit urges us,
still the Spirit teaches us,
and sends us out from our many gatherings
to be truth for the world.
That is what Jesus was doing,
and this is what we are to do.
For this mission we were born
on that long-ago Day of Pentecost,
For this mission we were born
on the day of our baptism.
And for this mission we are renewed, today.
Today we celebrate the pouring out
of the Holy Spirit on the disciples,
and the Church-renewing power
of the Holy Spirit
pouring out on us.
May the red we wear
be the symbol of the power from on high
with which we are clothed
the power to proclaim and make manifest
the wonderful works of God.