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Day of Pentecost May 20, 2018 - The Rev. 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 20, 2018
The Rev. Janet Campbell
Pentecost is sometimes
called the birthday of the Church.
And so it was,
the birth,
not of an institution,
but of a living body,
the Body
          of the risen Christ,
its life force,
          God’s Holy Spirit.
The ecstatic group
that tumbled out of that house
into the streets of Jerusalem
          proclaiming the gospel of Christ
were the same disciples
          who had completely fallen apart
          after Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.
Their cohesiveness,
their confidence,
their sense of purpose,
          had all come from him.

In those first days
          of their dis-integration,
the strange and compelling appearances
          of the risen Christ
          enticed them back together,
but even those moments,
at some point,
          stopped happening.
The author of Acts
puts the end point
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
Ten days later,
the 50th day,
they were all gathered together in one place . . .
And like the rush of a violent wind,
like tongues of flame,
the Spirit of God
descended into their gathering . . .
the extraordinary effect
          of the first Christian Pentecost
the fusing of those several individuals
          into one communion and fellowship,
          one Body
                   swept up in the life
                   of the risen and ascended Christ.
Not the idea of a communion
not the idea of a fellowship
not the idea of a body
but the mystical reality
that those the Spirit has knit together
          at the deepest level of being
          have become inextricably,
                             incontrovertibly one.
The Spirit of God
descended upon the disciples,
rekindling their faith, their hope, their courage,
filling them with prophetic zeal,
driving them out into the city
          proclaiming God’s deeds of power
and, having joined them
with the indissoluble bond
of fellowship in the risen Christ,
scattering them into the world
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
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 peoples to hear it.

The picture of the church that emerges
on this Day of Pentecost
is inherently communal . . .
diverse individuals
bound together in a mystical fellowship
          by baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus,
intimately joined to one another
          by the Spirit’s indwelling among them,
wide-open and welcoming to all – 
people from all nations and languages,
all walks of life,
all cultures, ages, races, sexualities, conditions;
poor and rich and in between;
believers, seekers, questioners, doubters, deniers;
a community animated by the Holy Spirit
to reach beyond our own boundaries and comfort levels,
to go out from our gatherings
          into an anguished world
          to make known what we have found in Jesus:
                    God’s love, forgiveness, and hope.

When we
celebrate the sacraments
          of the Holy Spirit,
          of baptism and confirmation,
we tend to focus on the Spirit’s action
          in and for the individual or individuals
          being baptized or confirmed . . .
These are, after all,
definitive events                     
in the Christian becoming and being
          of those individuals.
When I was baptized and confirmed
at the age of
I received a holy card
enumerating the Seven Gifts of the Spirit,
the gifts of
wisdom, understanding, counsel,
fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord,
gifts received at baptism
and strengthened by confirmation,
given, so it was told me.
          for my growth in holiness.

But Pentecost tells us
that these gifts are not a kit of tools
with which to work out
one’s personal salvation
but gifts given to nurture
growth in the Christian faith and life,
so the maturing individual
might be instrumental in
          building up
                   the Church, the Body of Christ . . .
so that the maturing Church
          might be instrumental in
          the healing and renewing
                   of the world.
Far beyond
their importance in an individual life,
baptism and confirmation
are definitive events
          in the Church’s life.

With each baptism,
with each confirmation,
the Spirit of God
regenerates the community,
          as new members of the Body
          participate in new ways
                   in its shared life of worship
                    and fellowship.
The Spirit’s purpose and meaning
in these rites and the gifts given
          is communal  . . .
first to create, re-create, and sustain
          the fellowship of Christ followers,
and second to propel us
          into the world
          to participate in the Holy Spirit’s work
          of renewing the face of the earth.

“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,
it still is now:
the crushing weight
of the world’s dark suffering and sorrow  
the many griefs, struggles, worries,
          hurts, fears of our own lives
yearning hopes,
terrible disappointments . . .
these are the gnawing birth pangs
          of the new creation,
coming into being,
          but not yet fully here.

When we feel overwhelmed
by our own brokenness
and the brokenness all around us,
“the Spirit,”
(whose enterprise, after all, this is),
“helps us in our weakness,”
says Paul,
praying with us “in sighs too deep for words,”
making even our most desperate needs known to God.
Bishop John Vernon Taylor,    (1914-2001)
English theologian
and Bishop of Winchester      
          from 1974 – 1984 . . .
invites us in his book
          The Go-Between-God 
                                                (Orig. pub. 1972:
                                                current edition, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, Or., 2015)
to re-consider
how we understand the relationship
between the Holy Spirit
and the Church.

“Our theology would improve,”
he writes,
if we would think
          “of the Spirit being given to the Church.”
and more
          “of the Church being given to the Spirit.”
Not the Spirit being given
          to the Church
in assist us in accomplishing
whatever our purposes
          may be  . . .
But the Church being given
          to the Spirit
to assist the Spirit
          in the accomplishing of God’s purposes,
the Church
“at the mercy”
in both senses of that phrase,
at the mercy
of the relentless Spirit of God.
Us, this body,
giving ourselves over again,
this day, every day,
to the will, the urging, the purposes,
          the power among us
                   of God’s Holy Spirit.

We do not give in to despair
          even in this,
the most desperate
                   of times:
Because we trust God,
Because we are bound together in Christ,
Because we are sustained by the Holy Spirit.
We do not give in to despair
for we continue to wait with hope
for that which we yearn
          but can’t yet see,
we continue to wait with patience
because impatience   
gets in the way,
          leads us astray,
          from what is trying to come into being . . .
we continue to wait,
but we also act in our waiting,
          proclaiming and being the new Creation
                    for which all the world yearns.
On the first Pentecost,
Bishop Taylor writes,
“in a new awareness
          of [the risen Christ] and of one another,”
the disciples “burst into praise
and the world came running for an explanation.”

Some scoffed and laughed,
but some listened,
          and heard . . .
and the in-spirited church
spread out over the world
          and across the ages.
May we, today,
go out into the world,
the renewed and inspirited Church
          seeds of the Gospel of Christ,
                    seeds of the new Creation.
Some will scoff, some laugh,
but some will listen,
and hear.
May we
be in and for the world
          in such a way
that the world will come running
          for an explanation.