A sermon preached on the Feast of Pentecost, May 20, 2018, at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY. If you’d like to read the scripture, click here. If you’d like to listen along, click the play button below.
The story from Acts is miraculous.
The disciples were all together in one place. And there came like a rush of a violent wind that filled the entire house – it must have felt like the walls would burst open. And they were given the gift to speak God’s Word in many ways to many people.
The Feast of Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the church. Jesus has been midwifing the church by teaching his disciples. Telling us that Love is the most important thing. Telling us that it’s ok to doubt sometimes because there will always be incarnate proof of God’s Love in the world. Telling us that it’s ok to be fearful sometimes because there will always be the voice of God, the Good Shepherd, calling us back. And telling us that the most important thing we are to remember, is to Love God and to Love our neighbor as ourselves. Love is the way.
With these lessons, Jesus has been coaxing us out of our inertia, been inviting us out of our safety, been preparing us to receive this rush of violent wind that fills our entire house. A wind so strong that we don’t know exactly what will happen. We don’t know how we will be changed.
Because the Holy Spirit will have her way with us and just might give us a miraculous gift to speak God’s word of Love. And what would that be like?
But surely Pentecost is just a story that can be dismissed as some fantasy, right? Something so far beyond imagination that it must be some kind of dream, right?
Except… that I watched Pentecost happen yesterday. And maybe you did too.
Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached at the royal wedding. An African-American charismatic preacher from North Carolina, whose ancestors were enslaved by the same imperialist society overseen by the British royal family. This is the person invited to preach at the royal wedding.
And, he was his charming, loving, reconciling, effervescent, disarming self. Plain-spoken yet eloquent. Personable yet profound. He wasn’t exactly what many would have pictured at a royal wedding so they labeled it as “unconventional.” For so many, this was a scene beyond their imagination.
And, as if blown open by some violent wind, all day long the articles flew across the internet about this amazing preacher named Michael Curry. Articles, literally, from all over the world. (Google: Michael Curry Wedding Sermon)
And the articles didn’t focus on his race, being black. The articles didn’t focus on his nationality, being American. The articles focused on what he said.
Time Magazine reported: “The Internet Is Raving Over Bishop Michael Curry’s Royal Wedding Sermon.”
Normally, you hear about the bride’s dress… or someone’s dress. But something else happened, something beyond our imagination, beyond our wildest dreams… people heard the word of God yesterday.
It was a Pentecostal moment. The Good News really did become the Good News.
People heard the word of God and the word they heard was Love. The word they heard was Love.
Because, as Bp Michael told us yesterday, “There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power in love.”
The word of God given by God’s Holy Spirit is Love. The word of God shown to us in Jesus the Christ is Love. The word of God that is the Creation itself is incarnate Love. Love speaks a language all its own and all languages at the same time. And this is what Pentecost is about.
Maybe Pentecost seems like a fantastical story because it’s hard to imagine ourselves in the room where we are swept up by that kind of Spirit, that abundance of Love. Where our hearts are so opened that we become something that we could not have expected. But what if it did? What if we did?
Because God’s Love is already pouring down upon us, waiting for us to accept it, to open our hearts and simply receive it.
I wonder if we get scared to open our hearts because so many times we’re carrying something heavy… helplessness or anger or shame or fear or worthlessness or disbelief… and we hide this something away so that no one sees the chink in our armor.
But God already knows these things. God knows us better than we know ourselves. As God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”
There is nothing that you cannot bring to God because God accepts all, and God transforms all, and God redeems all. Because God loves all.
God can take your anger. God can take your fear. God can take your most painful moment, your deepest sorrow, your most shameful secret. God can even take your hate. God takes it all as your sacrifice to Love.
We sacrifice these burdens we carry, these false understands of ourselves, these wounds, these lines we draw in the sand… we sacrifice them all to God and what we receive is such a surprise that it can knock us off our feet on the Day of Pentecost.
Because we think that offering this pain to God would only bring more pain. But what we receive is Love.
God’s Love is transforming and redemptive. God’s Love is healing and reconciling. God’s Love flows into all the parts of your house, your heart, and, like a violent wind, bursts open the windows and the doors and airs all of the pain out of that place and replaces it with Love.
This is the miracle of Pentecost. That we are in that room and that we realize God’s love is for us too. And in that, we cannot help but become the Love that we are given.
And God is speaking to us in the language of our own heart, whatever it is we need to hear. We are the disciples in that room and, having heard the lessons from our teacher Jesus over these 50 days, we come to finally understand that God’s Love includes us.
All of us. All of me and all of you.
And what can we do with a Love like that? Anything. Everything. All things. Beyond our wildest imaginations
Paul says to the Romans in his letter, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly…” He says, “Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” And he says “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words…”
In other words, Paul is reminding us that our hope lies in what we cannot see. Our hope lies in something that we cannot fathom. Our hope lies in the already but not yet Reign of God.
In this Pentecostal moment where we might come to realize that God’s Love for us just might transform us and we don’t know what that will look like. But Paul reminds us that the world is waiting for it to be born into the world.
So, perhaps, if we allow ourselves to believe in this Love, if we surrender ourselves to it and let it fill us, we might begin to imagine what this Love might look like. We might grasp, if even for one millisecond, a sense of God’s redemptive, transformative Love for the world.
Because this Love is not some sentimental thing that has us at the center. We’re talking about a Love that puts God in the world, that reminds us that God is here in the center of the world… A Love that changes the world. Because it’s not that we receive Love, we become Love. We become Love.
Jesus says, I am the way and the truth and the life. Because Jesus was Love incarnate in human form. Giving us a way to be in the world but not of it. The way of Love.
Bp. Michael said, Think… and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive. When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down, down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we treat each other like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.
So, my friends, on this Day of Pentecost, let the wind of God’s Love fill the houses of our hearts. Let this violent wind come and burst this house wide open so that we might be given the gift of speaking God’s Love to whomever we meet.
Let us walk the way of Jesus. Let us surrender to the way of Love.
Behold what you are, my friends. Become what you receive.