Happy Birthday Church! Pentecost 2017
Today is celebrated as the Birthday of the Church and it offers each one of us and the church the hope of renewal and revitalization. It offers the earth itself and all of God’s creatures a new chance at life as we are renewed in our abilities and commitments to care for them. We are renewed by the very breath of God that gives life to all. And so we pray:
“Send forth your Spirit, Oh God, and renew the face of the earth!”
And we offer these reflections written earlier but still fresh:
I spent the week breathing in the Gulf breezes and inhaling sea air. Health and strength renews with each breath. And there, and everywhere, I breathe in God’s holy, sacred breath, and I breathe out love, justice ,forgiveness, inclusion and- church. That happens on my best days, I am sure that I also pollute the world with less than elegant breaths and words,actions and thoughts that are sometimes the opposite of all that is good, and very human. But the most beautiful thing is that it is not my breath or even the breath of saints, but the Breath of God that will renew our people.
As I do not return to preaching until next week I am sharing here an updated homily from 2014.
“ ‘Peace be with you. As Abba God sent me, so I am sending you.’ After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’” John 20: 21-22
Jesus left his disciples with the gift of the Holy Spirit. He filled them with his Spirit so they could carry on his work of love, inclusion and justice. Still they were frightened, they had not fully tried their wings to see if they could fly-could really carry on the work of the kin-dom. On Pentecost, this gift came again in a dramatic way enlivening the followers, the men and women gathered together, with the abilities to reach out to peoples of all languages and cultures with the Good News of the living Christ. The Pentecost story in Acts 2 is such a wonderful accounting of how God provides the church the gifts that are needed to include everyone in the church. In the diverse group gathered in Jerusalem peoples of all then known languages and cultures had gathered. Suddenly, as if with the force of a hurricane, all could hear the Good News in his or her own languages, the disciples could preach to everyone! What a wonderful message of unity in diversity and in how Christ and the Church mandates, speaks, breathes, diversity.
In our church the reading from Acts 2:1-11 has been be read simultaneously in African languages and in Spanish and English and Italian. How exciting it is to hear the first Pentecost enacted in this way and to know that our church like the Pentecost church is such a diverse group of followers. Two years ago we were moved as our youth leader, Efe Jane Cudjoe, home from her semester in Viet Nam, South Africa and Brazil reflected with us on her experiences of the Spirit of God in those lands and diverse cultures. She has just finished a year of research and assisting in Medical practice with African-American and other diverse mothers with Duke University in North Carolina. She is now about to begin Medical School at FSU and her finely tuned understanding of diversity and the dignity of each person will enrich the class she studies with. Such deep respect for all people and compassion is the very air she breathes and exhales.
Pentecost is one of the happiest feast days of the Church. We gather with excitement, we wear red and we welcome God’s Holy Spirit once again to breathe life into us so we may be the church that Jesus founded and intended. We are ever mindful of the need for renewing God’s spirit within us, not because it has left us, but because we are so often overwhelmed by life’s events and no longer hear or heed it. We need a fresh infusion, for God Transcendent as well as Immanent can indeed breathe new life into us! An African-American Gospel Song goes: “Spirit of the Living God, Fall fresh on me/ melt me, mold me, Fill me, use me/ Spirit of the Living God, Fall fresh on me”. That is our Pentecost prayer.
Acts 1:12-14 and 2: 1-11
The Spirit comes to the followers of Jesus, the men and women gathered in the upper room, in a dramatic and indisputable manner with what sounded like a “violent rushing wind, the noise filling the entire house.” – not a little breeze this time – something like the hurricane that we know well here in Florida. And how they must have been amazed and afraid! Their spirits were ignited by the Holy Spirit and they burned with the Spirit. Wind and fire, symbolizing the presence of God, filled them and they even began to speak in other languages. Here God gives the church, the first Christians – the power to preach, teach and witness to Christ, Risen, Living and present, and to present the Good News to all people; no matter where they live or what language they speak. And this power is given on the harvest feast of Pentecost (or the Feast of Weeks) celebrated by the Jews seven weeks/50 days after Passover. As such Pentecost is the reminder of the covenant the Jewish people and Moses made with God on Mt. Sinai. Luke is telling his followers that the Spirit brings us a new Covenant as God’s new people – that all people, “Gentiles” are now heirs to God’s promises of faithfulness and love. And we are to preach the Good News everywhere – and especially to the poor, the disenfranchised and outcast of our world even as Jesus came to do that (echoing the purpose of the Prophet Isaiah) and fulfilling Isaiah’s prophetic vision: “The Spirit of God is upon me because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those that are poor…..” (Is. 61; Luke 4:16-20).May the Spirit of God be upon us to do this as well. May She renew us to be able to restore the sight of the blind and preach liberty to the captives!
1 Cor. 12: 3-7,12-14 (TIB)
Clearly the Spirit distributes gifts “as She will” – No one, no church, no government, absolutely no one can get in the Spirit’s way of distributing gifts. So, my friends, clearly women – yes, women – and men – young and old of all classes, colors, cultures and languages may be filled and called by the Spirit. I sit here today in deep thanksgiving for that – Amen!
Now here are the gifts Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 12 – but these are just some of the gifts of the Spirit.
- Wisdom in discourse (i.e. teaching/ discussion/communication)
- Knowledge, the word of knowledge
- The gift of healing
- Miraculous powers / also …… as mighty deeds
- Speaking other languages
- Interpreting other languages
- The gifts to be apostles, prophets, teachers, administrators (and, yes, priests!)
Paul reminds us, it is one and the same Spirit who produces all these gifts and many more and distributes them as She will – “as She will”!! (The words for “Spirit” in Greek and in Hebrew-Sophia, Pneuma-breath- and Ruah are feminine). This week, Pope Francis in honest and open dialogue with the nuns agreed to appointing a commission to study the history of deaconesses in the early church and therefore the possibility of ordaining women as Deacons. This is a giant step forward for women, but the scholarly work of this commission has already been done according to a post by Gary Macy on Facebook. So the study should be brief and it will also be apparent that women were not only deacons but priests and bishops in early church history. Others have wisely noted that despite the wealth of material known about this the study will probably be very slow as the truth about women as deaconesses and beyond in the early church opens the door for women as priests. Indeed there are now over 220 ordained women in the Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement of which we are a part. The Spirit gifts us all as She will, not as we or the Church will, and this includes gifts of ministry, service and all that is needed to fulfill Holy Orders.
Let us now think about these gifts – and name in our hearts other gifts given to each of us by the Spirit.
But gifts are not necessarily or even usually given in especially dramatic ways – just God’s Holy Spirit whispering to the spirit within ourselves. The breath of God, the breath of Jesus shared with each one of us. One of our young people, Natasha is discerning her path in higher learning. Sometimes the answer and the road seems easy and clear, sometimes not so easy or clear. We pray for her as she makes her choice of majors and moves toward a career path. And we pray for all those who are finding breathing hard due to illness or despair or being smothered by the difficulties and troubles that overshadow life for those who are poor and those on the margins.
“We all drink of the one Spirit” (v. 13) – and here is the symbol of the living water and water as the giving of the spirit for we are baptized into one body – but it has many different and necessary parts – different gifts. As we USE and DEVELOP these many gifts we can join Jesus the Christ in turning the world upside down!! Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on a group of frightened people and they were no longer afraid – AND THE CHURCH WAS BORN!!
The spirit of the living Christ that Jesus imparted to his disciples after the Resurrection en-couraged and em-powered them to go forth. But the Pentecostal visitation of the Holy Spirit was different, it was dramatic and it was inclusive, for all gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-11). The followers of Christ, now empowered, could reach the whole world through the many gifts that God gives to each one of us, the body of Christ.
And the body of Christ is diverse and of infinite variety. The first Pentecost came with loud sounds – wind and fire – the way that the Spirit spoke to the people of old. Peoples who today are still struggling for peace- those from Israel, Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and parts of Africa, Asia and Rome, Jewish converts and Arabs alike were united by the Holy Spirit. Today the Spirit of God still speaks to the Church in many different ways – and it still says “Peace, Justice, Love and ALL are welcome. Receive the Holy Spirit, be instruments of peace, be re-newed, forgive all, and live!
May God empower us again to bring our many gifts to God’s world. Spirit of the Living God, fall Fresh on us! Happy Birthday Church! Amen.