Delight in the Holy Spirit
SERMON: Pentecost B 5 20 18
Everybody in the world of religions believes they have the inside track on spirituality. Some Christians are so sure of their exclusive claim on the Holy Spirit that they assume no other faith has anything comparable. Nothing even close!
Today's reading from the Book of Numbers would seem to poke a hole in that claim, wouldn't it? Eldad and Medad were obviously filled with the spirit. We can tell, if only by the relief of Moses, who finally got some help.
But this Bible story reminds us of the human tendency to think and behave as if being called is sufficient, that one needn't necessarily do anything. We're so worthy, so holy, don't you know?
You might have heard about the fellow who made it to heaven. He was being given a tour of that mansion God saved for him (and a few others). The guide told him to walk quietly as he passed room 23.
"Who's in room 23?" he asked. The hushed response was, "The Anglicans are in there. They think they're the only ones in heaven."
People often ask me how I deal with other faiths. How do I reconcile their views which differ from ours? After all, there are a lot of competing notions about faith out there. I simply respond that what we have to offer is an Anglican approach to the Christian faith. We worship the Trinity and, this time of year, we celebrate Pentecost. We do this every year as it rolls around because of the importance of the Holy Spirit to us, personally. In our daily lives.
When we have to explain how we consider ourselves a monotheistic faith, yet have a Trinitarian God, we sometimes pause, or even stumble. Then we ask our inquirer to consider their different roles in life: child, parent, sibling, worker, neighbor, etc.
We don't pretend to compete or contend with those of other faiths. If they want what we have, if they're interested in learning about it, we are available.
We don't rest on our laurels like the 70 leaders in the Book of Numbers or presume we are the only ones blessed by faith, as in my joke. We do our best to live into our faith.
Oddly, it seems to me, we live into our faith and we are lifted up by our faith. These two propositions are quite Pentecostal in nature because we rely on the spirit to come to us, to move us, to engage our selves, our souls and bodies, as we say in one of the Eucharistic prayers.
Sometimes it's a good idea to pay attention to what aspects of our church services actually move us. Which give us goosebumps. There are a couple of prayers that we pray regularly which have that effect on me reliably. One of them is the General Thanksgiving on page 836 of our Book of Common Prayer in which we give thanks "for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on (God) alone."
Maybe it's because I've had my share of disappointments and failures, maybe it's because I am so delighted that they have been converted into assets. But that raises my spirits. With help from the Holy Spirit.
Another is the Song of Simeon in the Daily Office, known also as the nunc dimittis. When we pray, "Lord, you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised, for these eyes of mine have seen the savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see..." I am overwhelmed with the awareness of the belief that has been built up in me, the confidence that what I see around me in church and in the world is the living Jesus, acting through you and me, for all the world to see.
I spoke once at my field placement church during seminary about being lifted up by our congregation back home in Miami. One of the members of the field placement church asked what I meant, and I said I knew they were praying for me and for Molly as we took this remarkable detour away from the life we had been living.
Knowing people were praying for us moves us. I first felt it, I think, when Molly and I attended Cursillo in Miami. We were told that a group of people who had already made their Cursillo were praying for us by name. These were people we hadn't met, didn't know, had no idea whatsoever about. Yet they prayed for us as we participated in the spiritual exercises of Cursillo.
When we met them at the end of the weekend-long Cursillo event it would be hard to say who was more excited: us or them. They wanted to meet the people they'd been praying for. We wanted to meet the people who had taken time out of their busy lives to pray for strangers.
I guess we were made to respond to ideas like this. We must be wired this way. I can't imagine that there's a better name for it than the Holy Spirit, but then I know that's not such an agreeable idea for some.
I know Christians who resist spiritual considerations and explanations of their lives outside church. I know lots of folks who balk at Christian concepts, yet they experience many of the same thrills and delights that Christians do when they are experiencing the Holy Spirit. In Latin, Greek and Hebrew the spirit has moved people since time immemorial. Blessed are we who recognize it. And I think those who are armed with an understanding and a liturgy to celebrate the spirit are especially blessed. Indeed we are.
I guess I was accustomed to the Holy Spirit moving in my life and kind of took it for granted until it occurred to me that the spirit was making appearances in my life outside church. I found myself in a gathering like a Rotary Club or a Chamber of Commerce meeting and I realized that people were really listening to one another and trying to solve some significant puzzle of service and that by working together they were able to get over the ordinary obstacles that interfere with our relations. It was stunning.
So now I can recognize the Holy Spirit at work in the world and I can also recognize when the spirit is not present, when people are pretty determined to not understand one another. It brings to mind that phrase in the St. Francis Prayer in which we ask "not so much to be...understood as to understand."
When the Holy Spirit visited the followers of Jesus in today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles it was shocking. Not only because they could understand people of different cultures and languages, but also because there were flames over the heads of the believers, flames indicative of the light of Christ.
Think what a stunning picture this was. On the cover of our 10 am bulletin we have a picture of the flames over the heads of the disciples. But wouldn't you think that even more surprising would have been realizing the power that was being bestowed, being able to understand one another despite their differences?
Isn't that what happens even today as we learn, as we get to know people whose lives are different from ours? We find we are alike in most ways, just not alike in a couple of ways. There are those who discover that about their spouses or partners only after decades. There are those who learn it about neighbors, even friends.
When Jesus declared that his desire is that we all should be one he wasn't suggesting something impossible. He was suggesting something that was already a fact: we are all one. We resist it and deny it and pretend otherwise in myriad ways. But we are one.
The Holy Spirit made that plain. Let us welcome the Holy Spirit and hold that image of enlightened minds and spirit, with a figurative blazing flame over our heads. Let us symbolize our delight at our Trinitarian faith with a joyful sound of drums and bells, tambourines and what have you. Amen
A sermon preached on Pentecost 2018 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector