A Sermon for the Day of Pentecost + May 20, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Day of Pentecost + Year B
First Lesson: Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Second Lesson: Romans 8:22-27
Gospel: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

33021429_10160827458235393_1579711863644487680_n“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

These are the words of the prophet Joel, spoken by Peter on the Day of Pentecost.

Episcopalians often talk about how Pentecost is the day when we celebrate the birth of the Church. Some of us wear red to our worship services. We often have elaborate decorations and festive parties. Sometimes, we even have a birthday cake decorated with fiery flames or doves representing the Holy Spirit. All of that is wonderful, and I think we should definitely take the time to celebrate! After all, this is one of the seven principle feasts of the Church year. But, Pentecost is also a day for us to contemplate the importance of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, which Christ himself promised to send to his disciples after he ascended to the Father. This is the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in Jerusalem with tongues of fire, empowering them to carry out the mission of the Church.

It’s easy to forget where we were in the Gospel story only seven weeks ago. If you’ll recall, immediately following the events of Jesus’ passion and death, the disciples were in hiding and fearful that they would soon suffer the same fate as their teacher.

The first chapter of the Book of Acts leads us to believe that, even after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples kept pretty close to themselves, probably to avoid any unwanted attention. For forty days, between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus appears to his disciples and continues to teach them about the kingdom of God, God’s dream of a world redeemed by love. He instructs them to stay in Jerusalem and to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The Day of Pentecost is a turning point for the disciples of Jesus. No longer are they able to hide behind closed doors and keep the story of Jesus to themselves. No longer are they instructed to remain quiet about the things they’ve seen and heard. No, Pentecost is the day when everything changes, the day when the followers of Jesus are empowered by the Holy Spirit and compelled to preach the Good News of God in Christ to all people. The prophet Joel foretold this when he wrote, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” The same is true for us today. When we’re empowered by the Spirit of God, we have no choice but to proclaim the love of God, and when we’re faithful to our calling, nothing will be able to stand in our way. Pentecost is a public declaration of faith. It’s a reminder that this Good News of Jesus that we’ve been given must be shared with the world. We simply can’t keep it to ourselves.

Recently, I came upon an article written by the Rev. Jim Wallis entitled, “Preaching Pentecost in the New Public Square.” The author writes, “Pentecost, the Christian liturgical season that begins on Sunday, May 20, is known for the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the early believers, empowering them to take their faith to the streets — to the public square in their capital city.” He goes on to write about how many church leaders and pastors, including our own Presiding Bishop, are planning a march in Washington, D.C. this coming Thursday. The purpose of this event will be to bring a new declaration of faith to the streets of Washington, a list of six theses, entitled “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.” These church leaders and pastors recognize that a public witness of the Gospel of Jesus is necessary in these troubling times in our country. They recognize that the time has come for the Church to reclaim the name of Jesus from those who would use it to promote their own agendas. On the surface, these issues may seem political, but I believe they go much deeper than that. I believe the issues we face as a country have a lot more to do with our relationship with God.

I’m not going to read the entire document to you. You’re welcome to read it at home, and I encourage you to do so. But, I do want to share with you the six theses because I believe they’re important for us to consider as we seek to grow in our relationship with God and live more deeply into our call as followers of Christ.

I. We believe each human being is made in God’s image and likeness. Racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God in some of the children of God. Therefore, we reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership. We reject white supremacy and commit ourselves to help dismantle the systems and structures that perpetuate white preference and advantage. Any doctrines or political strategies that use racist resentments, fears, or language must be named as public sin.

II. We believe we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class. Therefore, we reject misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women being further revealed in our culture and politics, including in our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God.

III. We believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. Therefore, we reject the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God. We strongly deplore the growing attacks on immigrants and refugees; we won’t accept the neglect of the well being of low-income families and children.

IV. We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Jesus promises, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Therefore, we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life. The normalization of lying presents a profound moral danger to the fabric of society.

V. We believe that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination. We support democracy, not because we believe in human perfection, but because we do not. Therefore, we reject any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule. We believe authoritarian political leadership is a theological danger threatening democracy and the common good—and we will resist it.

VI. We believe Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples. Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries. We in turn should love and serve the world and all its inhabitants rather than to seek first narrow nationalistic prerogatives. Therefore, we reject “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ. While we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal.

My brothers and sisters, at the heart of these six theses, the message of Jesus can be found. It may be a challenging message for some of us to hear, but I believe it to be true to the Gospel of Christ. It is a message of the unapologetic, unbridled love that God has for each of us and for the world. It is a message of the hope that we have in the power of the resurrection. We can change this world, but we have to be willing to work for it in order to make it happen.

Love is the way. If you tuned in yesterday to the Royal Wedding, this was the message that you heard our Presiding Bishop deliver in his sermon. Love is the way. “Love is not selfish or self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, become redemptive. That way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives. And it can change this world.”

On this Day of Pentecost, as the Church celebrates and gives thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us be bold and unafraid in our proclamation of the Gospel and work to make God’s dream a reality. Like the first disciples, let us step out in faith and let the whole world see and know that the way of Jesus is the only path to life and peace. Amen.

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