Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit
The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday
June 9, 2019
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
John 14:8-17, 25-27
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“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 first Day of Pentecost.
As Episcopalians, we often describe the Day of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. Some of us celebrate each year by wearing red to our worship services. Many parishes have festive parties and decorate their parish halls with red balloons and streamers. Some even have a birthday cake decorated with tongues of fire or doves representing the Holy Spirit. I think all of these are wonderful ways to celebrate such an important day in the life of the Church! After all, the Day of Pentecost is the last day of the Easter season and one of the seven principle feasts of the Church year, ranking right up there with Christmas and Easter. For our parish, this day is especially meaningful as we celebrate the feast of our namesake. We are the Church of the Holy Spirit, and we have a special responsibility to consider what that name means for our life in Christ and how we’re being called upon as a community of faith to serve our brothers and sisters.
In our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus is with his disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem. Soon after his last meal with them, he offers words of comfort and promises to send the Holy Spirit soon after he’s gone. He says to them, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Each year on the Day of Pentecost, the Church remembers the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise. We remember that great 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. The good news is that Jesus continues to fulfill his promise by sending the Holy Spirit to us as well. The Holy Spirit, Jesus’ first gift to those who put their trust in him, will be with us and remain with us forever.
Fifty days have passed since we celebrated the Feast of the Resurrection. Holy Week is now a distant memory, but for a moment, let’s take a step back and think about how far the disciples have come in the Gospel narrative since then.
Think about the night before Jesus died on the cross. After he was arrested by Roman authorities, most of his disciples abandoned him and immediately went into hiding, fearful that they would soon suffer the same terrible fate as their teacher.
If you read the first chapter of the Book of Acts, you’ll notice that, even after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples kept close to themselves, probably to avoid any unwanted attention. For forty days, between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, he appeared only to his disciples and continued to teach them about the Kingdom of God, God’s dream of a world redeemed by love. During that time, he also instructed them to stay in Jerusalem and to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
When the Day of Pentecost finally arrives, it’s a turning point for the disciples of Jesus. No longer are they able to hide in fear 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 the nations. 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.”
My friends, 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 in Christ Jesus. We’re compelled to speak the truth in love, and when we’re faithful to our calling, nothing will be able to stand in our way. The same is true now as it was in the time of the first disciples. The Day of 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.
A little over a year ago, millions of people from all over the world tuned in to watch the Royal Wedding as Prince Harry of Wales and Meghan Markle became husband and wife. As most of you probably know, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, was invited to preach during the ceremony, and I think we can all agree that England wasn’t ready for the fiery sermon that Bishop Curry delivered! In my opinion, the second best thing about the Bishop’s sermon, other than the message he gave, was seeing the looks of surprise on people’s faces as they watched in shock and bewilderment! It looked a bit like what I imagine people’s reactions must have been on the first Day of Pentecost as they witnessed the disciples preaching the Gospel in their native language. In typical fashion, Bishop Curry preached with passion and charisma. He spoke of the transformative love of Jesus, inviting those present to consider what the world might look like if we let love guide our words and actions. In the words of Bishop Curry,“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.”
A few days ago, I watched the Bishop’s sermon again on YouTube and noticed that, since last May, the video has been viewed over 1.1 million times. 1.1 million! Talk about a public declaration of faith! Imagine how many lives have been touched by the Bishop’s message. Imagine how many people have said, “This is what the Church should be preaching- a message of love and compassion and forgiveness.” Imagine how many hearts and minds have been changed about the Church, an institution that’s often been criticized for being only concerned with itself, and with good reason. Imagine how many people have thought to themselves, “Maybe there is a place for me in the Church after all.”
Now imagine what we can do in our own part of God’s Kingdom. Imagine what we can do as the Episcopal Church in Alabaster, Alabama. We may not be able to preach like Michael Curry and we may not be able to reach over a million people on YouTube, but there’s still so much we can do. We’re only limited by our drive and our imaginations. The Spirit of God is present in and among us, ready to teach us and guide us with her wisdom if we’ll only open our hearts and minds to listen.
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 declare to all the nations that the way of love- the sacrificial, self-giving love of Jesus- has the power to transform lives and the power to transform the world. In the words of an ancient hymn from the eighth century: “O Holy Spirit, by whose breath, life rises vibrant out of death; come to create, renew, inspire; come, kindle in our hearts your fire.” Amen.