The Feast of Pentecost – June 4, 2017
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA
Today we celebrate that day when God’s people received… and to this day continue to receive… a variety of gifts…. On this day we celebrate gifts of:
the gift of the Holy Spirit
bringing us to life
as a beloved people of God
the gift of the church
called to be God’s people
to pass on the Good News
to bring the light Christ out into the world
called to baptize in the name of the
one Holy and undivided Trinity
called to continue the timeless practice of
breaking bread and sharing the cup
What else to we celebrate on Pentecost?
gifts of diversity – out of many languages, and tribes and nations – we are one in the love of God known in Christ …
gifts of understanding… God’ message of love and kinship is understood though we speak in different tongues and have different local customs and traditions ….
today we celebrate the gift of community, the gift of knowing that we are a beloved people, a precious family gathered together in Christ’s name.
And what is the church????
What is the first thing that the world knew about followers of Jesus?
…that they ate together…
Even in the beginning, the church was a rag tag bunch of disciples who brought their imperfect selves to the table, to be in community together, to do their best to try and understand what God was calling them to do… to remember what Jesus had taught them….
…what did Jesus teach us?
about caring for the stranger,
and of being peace makers,
called to share the wealth and to feed the poor…
and to stand up to injustice…
and earthly powers of empire…
to be fortified by learning, to grow in compassion,
to be strengthened in body and spirit,
to cast seeds near and far,
that God’s love and promise would take root and grow in the world
bringing beauty and peace and reconciliation.
We know that, from the beginning, the church has been imperfect. All through time her people have struggled with their own messy selves and the challenges of being in fellowship as a community.. The institution of the church solidified and fractured and fractured again. At times it went way off course. But the foundation has been, and will always be, the living Christ in whose name we gather … whether in a grand cathedral… or in a humble shack… or a homeless encampment. We gather in worship to remember to whom we belong… to remember the ancient and abiding story of God’s dreams for a healthy and just world… We gather to encounter the living God in the beloved community that we may be strengthened. The broken hearted and the hopeful gather to know strength and healing… to have hearts of stone transformed into hearts of flesh… We come to welcome God’s work in us that we may be moved and shaped and transformed into the people we have been created to be. We come as “works in progress” to be church that is, itself, an ongoing project.
In her book Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans talks about her complicated struggles with church… struggles with frustration, irrelevance, confusion and even hurt… struggles that coexist with a hunger, thirst, and longing for God and for community. More than searching simply for “Sunday church” Rachel was searching for “Sunday resurrection” where God’s living presence would be known in deep and relevant ways. As she was debating titles for her book, Rachel turned to social media to get some suggestions. She writes, “One reader offered the title “Jesus Went Back to Heaven and All He left Me Was This Lousy Church.” Rachel reports: “That [suggestion] got a lot of ‘likes,’ and I have to admit” she wrote, “I can relate.” Rachel had been disillusioned with the church she had known. But rather than shelving the idea of church she explored her hunger and thirst for God with a burning hope for a better way… a hope and vision that had been planted in her through an imperfect institution… Rachel allowed her hungry heart to lead her on a journey of discovery that led her to a new church home… and in that journey of discovery she wrestled with her faith issues and came to a new understanding… and came to know deeper peace…. and to a realization that her journey of faith, and with the church, is far from over. Rachel came to a deeper understanding of the most basic purpose of church. She has written, “The church is God saying: ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.’” Or, as the author Mary Karr puts it, the church reminds us, week after week: “You are loved. Take that and eat it.”
The social scientist, author and specialist in the area of vulnerability, Brené Brown… who happens to be an Episcopalian, puts it this way: “I went to church thinking it would be like an [anesthetic an] epidural, …that the church would take the pain away… But church isn’t like an epidural; it’s like a midwife. I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort,’ but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.’” The church says “push.” Love is not some sweet, saccharine ideal. Brené reminds us that “love is hard, love is sacrifice, love is eating with the sick… love is trouble, love is rebellious or as Leonard Cohan put it, ‘love is not a victory march, love is a cold and broken ‘hallelujah.’” Love is not easy… love is about forgiveness… it is about welcoming new life. Rachel Held Evans sums it up this way: “The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace.
Today we celebrate the gift of the church and challenges that are before us… to “BE church”… to be honest, and real… to be a people of hospitality and hope, to be co-creators in building-up the reign of God, that vision and promise that is just beyond our grasp. We cannot be church by ourselves. The gift of the Holy Spirit has blessed us as a people…. with new understanding, new empowerment, and in celebration of the vast wealth and diversity of gifts we have been given as God’s people.
So here we are today, gathered as a people of Christ to celebrate the many gifts of Pentecost. We gather to renew the promises we have made in baptism… we gather as Christians have done from the earliest days… to do, once again, what Christ instructed us to do… to break bread and drink wine in his name… and then to go forth and feed others… that from our broken and mended hearts rivers of living water may flow… We gather to remember… that at all times… Christ is the source and center of our lives. As Martin Marty put it: “Not God on the margins, not God as an option; not God on the weekends. Got at center and circumference.”
I would like to close with a piece by the author and poet Malcolm Guite entitled, “Our Mother Tongue is Love; A Sonnet for Pentecost”:
Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire, air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.
Now… Let us together breathe in deeply. Let the Spirit fill us, every last corner of our being…
 Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday, Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015 pg. 254
 Ibid. pg. 153.
 IBID. pg. 209.
 Peter W. Marty, Christian Century June 8, 2016 pg. 3