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Day of Pentecost May 15, 2016 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend; Pentecost Evensong - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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Sermon for the Solemnity of Pentecost 
Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-35; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, 25-27
 
Christ Church, Tacoma
The Day of Pentecost, May 15, 2016
The Rev. Samuel Torvend
 
Most of the time I take breathing for granted. It’s just there: breathing in and breathing out, inhaling and exhaling, that is, until I quickly climb a long set of stairs or need to take a deep and extra breathe as I walk up the steep hill from the university’s lower to its upper campus. Breathing in and breathing out seems so “natural” and yet you and I can’t live without it, your life and mine utterly dependent on our taking a breath at least 18,000 times a day.
 
Of course, breathing quickens when faced with the unexpected, the alarming, or the life-threatening. You might be surprised by the reserves of energy or strength you possess when faced with a crisis. The day my sister, five years’ old at the time, became lost in the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco’s Chinatown, I witnessed what I had never seen before in my life: my very polite father and mother yelling at the top of their lungs, running through the massed crowd, pushing people out of the way, running directly into the parade in order to find their daughter in a city known then for child kidnappings. Once they found her after a frantic search, they collapsed, their breathing labored, their bodies exhausted. Of course, it was the urgency of the moment and the powerful surge of adrenalin that enabled them to run and push and shout and seek out and find the lost.
 
It should not surprise us, then, that our holy book speaks of God’s presence in human life as breath, as breathing that sustains living: God’s presence as subtle as inhaling and exhaling 18,000 times each day. Yet our holy book also speaks of God’s presence in human life as a powerful energy, an adrenalin rush, that falls upon and animates ordinary people to say or do what they thought was beyond their ability, ordinary people doing extraordinary things:  the prophets calling a nation to justice, the martyrs courageously staring down their executioners.
 
But here’s the challenge: we live and breathe in a culture that would have us believe the dramatic and the individual alone hold the greatest value: if something is “dramatic” or
passionately held” it must be “authentic.” Thus, my sweet 13 year old nephew has been conditioned to anticipate with incredible impatience the slew of summer movies in which the individual hero, drawn from a comic book narrative, fights courageously, passionately, dramatically, and loudly against the foe, be that Lex Luthor, the Joker, or my favorite, Lady Deathstrike (a new form of feminist empowerment?). But then I wonder if the narrative we hear in church on this feast day is over heated with too much fire and violent wind. I say this because I am mindful that the Spirit animates people to do extraordinary things that are the most subtle or simple actions in the world.
 
For instance, a group of scholars spent years translating words from Hebrew and Greek into English and thus created that great literary masterpiece we call the King James Bible. At first that sounds so incredibly tedious a task (at least it does to many of my students) and yet the stories in the Bible, heard for the first time in the people’s language, was a shocking revelation for the many who had had no access to their own religious story – written in Latin – for  hundreds of years. Or this: the British politician, William Wilberforce, joined Thomas Clarkson and Hannah More as they used persuasive speech to end the slave trade in the British Empire: they simply talked to people and, in doing so, ended a lucrative and horrific business, the buying and selling of human beings. Consider Mohandas Gandhi walked with his friends to the Indian Ocean and there made salt, a simple but illegal act (since the British Crown held the monopoly on salt in India), a simple but illegal act that spelled the beginning of end of British colonial rule. West African church women in 2003 wore white T-shirts, sang hymns, and held signs that read, “We are weary of war,” and thus brought down a brutal dictator, Charles Taylor. Can you imagine this: hymn singing bringing down a genocidal warlord? Martin Luther King and his collaborators walked across a bridge – walked across a bridge – in Selma and defied the terrible power of racism. We welcome homeless families to spend a week with us in this place doing the most simple of things: providing shelter, food, and companionship. In a culture where people no longer join in that most democratic of art forms – in singing together –our choir supports the voice of this assembly by simply singing together. All these, dear sisters and brothers, all these are signs of the movement of the Spirit, inspiring the followers of Jesus to cooperate with him in breathing “life, health, and wholeness” into a world marked by much misery, injustice, and isolation.
 
But have I misspoken just a second ago by associating the outpouring of the Spirit with the followers of Jesus? Is the Spirit a uniquely Christian presence, whether we cooperate with her presence or not? I remember the day of my confirmation when the Spirit was invoked over and in the lives of our large class of pubescent teenagers. That sacramental rite then prompted me to wonder if Baptists and Roman Catholics shared in the same Spirit (in case you were wondering, the answer is YES). But, then, is the Spirit confined to Christians? After all, we have just sung the words of the psalm in which the spirit is named as the One who gives life to sea monsters, creeping things of incredible number, and all living things great and small. Do we Americans, nursed on the milk of individualism, really imagine that God is interested only in your life or my life or the lives of Christians? “Yonder is the sea, great and wide,” sings the psalmist, and we say, “Yes, follow Division to Stadium Way and you will see the sea, with living things both great and small.” And, then this sings the psalmist: “You send forth your spirit and renew the face of the earth.” But we know, do we not, what the psalmist could have never imagined: that the earth and the seas are being cooked – are being cooked – with increasing temperature by human addiction to fossil fuels, to coal, gasoline, and oil, whose continued burning will make our grandchildren’s planet, God’s gift to us, increasingly difficult to inhabit. What does the writer of Genesis report? The people of the earth, gathered at Babel, burned brick and bitumen, a black and heavy form of crude oil, burning foulness into the air, as they imagined in their hearts that they, rather than God, owned and could control the earth.
 
We pray this day, “Come, Holy Spirit, come, and fill the hearts of your people,” – but fill us with what? Fill us with the sad promise that we will escape this world for a better one elsewhere, this earth be damned? Or fill us, us ordinary people, with the wisdom and courage to do simple things, remarkable things that will allow our grandchildren and earth’s many children to breathe in freely the very air that is God’s first gift of life?
Fr. Samuel Torvend
 
 
THE DAY OF PENTECOST – EVENSONG      
Romans 8:18-28; Psalm 104:25-26, 28-32, 35; Galatians 5:16-25
 
Christ Church, Tacoma
The Day of Pentecost, May 15, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
The psalm for this evening,
of which we sang only a small part,
is a song of awe and thanksgiving to God
          for the beautiful arrangement and rightness
                   of God’s Creation . . .
 
and if you’re uncertain
where you’re going with your sermon,
you can do worse than quote the psalmist . . .
and see where it takes you.
 
 
____________________________________________________________
(portions of Psalm 104, paraphrased, re-ordered)
 
 
“You spread out the heavens like a curtain,”
          sings the enraptured psalmist,
                    in love with the wonder of it all.
 
“You have set the earth upon its foundations,
          so that it never shall move at any time.
You water the mountains from your dwelling on high;
          the earth is fully satisfied by the fruit of your works.
 
“The high hills are a refuge for the mountain goats,
          and the stony cliffs for the rock badgers.   
You send the springs into the valleys,
          All the beasts of the field drink their fill.
Beside them, the birds of the air make their nests
          and sing among the branches.
“You appointed the moon to mark the seasons,
          and the sun knows the time of its setting.
You make darkness that it may be night,
          in which all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The sun rises and they slip away
          and lay themselves down in their dens.
 

“You make grass grow for flocks and herds
          and plants to serve mankind,
That they may bring forth food from the earth,
          and wine to gladden our hearts.
Oil to make a cheerful countenance,
          and bread to strengthen the heart.
 
“The earth is full of your creatures.
All of them look to you,
          to give them their food in due season.
You send forth your Spirit, and they are created,
          and so you renew the face of the earth.
 
 “Man goes forth to his work
          and to his labor until the evening.
 
___________________________________________________________
 
The psalmist celebrates
a Creation of harmony and balance
in which the interconnectedness of all
          works for the well-being of all . . .
         
a Creation whose harmony and balance
are now threatened by the very creatures  
in whose care God has placed it . . .
 
a Creation in bondage to decay
          caused by our own rapacious exploitation.
 
 
“We know that the whole creation
has been groaning in labor pains until now,”
Saint Paul wrote to the Church in Rome
          in the passage we heard today,
“and not only the creation,
but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit,
groan inwardly while we wait for adoption,
          the redemption of our bodies . . . .”
It’s all connected . . .
 
Through the redeeming work of Christ
spread abroad in the power of the Holy Spirit,
God is restoring humankind
to right relationship with God,
          and to right relationship with all of creation.
 
And for this glorious restoration
the Creation, subjected to our folly,
“waits with eager longing” for its release . . .
the consummation of God’s intent.
 
 
Of course Paul was not addressing
an ecological crisis . . .
that is the suffering of our own present time.
 
On this very day of Pentecost
in the year 2016
the Creation groans
under the stress put upon it
by our actions and inactions:
our selfishness,
          heedlessness,
                   greed.
 
And the song of the Psalmist
could now be sung
as a lament
          for what once was.                           
 
How might we regain
the joy with which the psalmist
first sang those words ?
 
 
“Live by the Spirit,”
says Paul to the Galatians,
“and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
Now is not the time to go into a long discourse
on Paul’s understanding of Spirit and flesh.
 
          Did I just hear
                    a sigh of relief . . .
          or was that the movement of the Spirit . . .
                   or perhaps both?
Suffice it for now to say
that in this context,  
“flesh” and the “desires of the flesh”
don’t mean bodily life in and of itself.
 
For God made the Creation a physical world,
          and pronounced it very good.
 
We all live in the flesh of our bodies
          in this physical world
and our goal is not to escape the flesh,
          but to live in the flesh
          in such a way
          that we bear fruit for God.
 
As we heard in the psalm,
God meant us to enjoy the Creation . . .
bringing forth food from the earth,
          and wine to gladden our hearts.
Oil to make a cheerful countenance,
          and bread to strengthen the heart.
 
God chose to experience our bodily life
          in the incarnation of Jesus,
who was known to
enjoy a good meal and a full cup of wine
          in the company of friends,
and even in the company of sinners. 
Paul himself refers to the body
as the “temple”
where the Holy Spirit chooses to dwell.
 
 
And these are the fruits of that indwelling:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
          generosity, faithfulness,
                   gentleness, self-control . . .
the making and enjoyment of beauty
          in music and song and art,
the passion of lovers
          one in body and spirit,
the companionship of friends
          across the span of years,
the joy of parents
          in the nurture of a child,
the doing of justice . . .
 
life-giving fruit
of bodily lives enjoyed,
          and offered to God,
          for the well-being of all,
          guided
                    by the indwelling Spirit of God.
 
What Paul calls
“the works or desires of the flesh,”
that whole long list
which I won’t read again . . .
 
(You’re welcome)
 
are those things that are not life-giving,
that result from a rupture in relationship
          with God and with each other
                    and with God’s Creation,
          fractured existence
                   in a fragmented world.  
Despoiling of the land,
contamination of the waters,
pollution of the air,
reliance on toxic pesticides and fossil fuels . . .
          these are “works of the flesh”
                   in the sense Paul is using the term.
And because it’s all connected:
rising temperatures
          and severe weather,
the extinction of species,
increasing poverty, homelessness, hunger,
wars over territory and resources,
exploitation of the powerless by the powerful,
          the weak by the strong,
                   the poor by the rich.
 
 
On this Pentecost,
we pray with concern,
with urgency,
with hope,
“Come Holy Spirit,
and renew the face of the earth.”
 
“Now hope that is seen is not hope,”
says Paul,
“For who hopes for what is seen?
But if we hope for what we do not see,
we wait for it with patience.”
 
But waiting with patience is not enough.
We must also work with patience,
          work for that toward which the Spirit is striving . . .
 
the restoration of God’s harmony and balance
within the individual and the community,
among the nations, in all of God’s creation.
 
“We know that all things work together for good
for those who love God,” says Paul,
those “who are called according to God’s purpose.”
 
 
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
this morning, when we renewed our baptismal covenant,
we promised to “cherish the wondrous works of God,
                   and protect the beauty and integrity of all creation.”
 
That is God’s purpose
and that is our call.
 
“Come Holy Spirit,
and renew
our conviction
our courage,
our will,
our determination,
fill us with your power,
and renew the face of the earth.”