Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost & Holy Baptism, 2011-A: Receiving new family of God

Lectionary: Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39.

Note: The sermon text follows the video.

As many of you know, years ago I was a chaplain on the oncology unit of a regional hospital in GA. One day I sat at the bedside of an elderly man who was dying of cancer. He had no teeth and spoke with a very thick southern accent that I found nearly impossible to understand.

I heard enough to know he was telling me his life story – he had a 3rd grade education, something about his sisters and his grandmother… and the death of his parents when he was very young. So there I was, knowing how important it was for me to hear what this man was saying, wishing I could enjoy the stories he was already well into sharing, yet feeling helpless and frustrated because I just couldn’t understand him.

“Lord, give me Pentecost ears” I cried silently in prayer. “Open my ears to hear and understand him. Give me Pentecost ears, Lord – and hurry!” (This is a true story, y’all.) Just as I finished praying, my ears were opened. I literally heard what sounded like a rush of wind. My ears felt like they popped, the way they do when you’re in an airplane and they adjust to the change in pressure.

And suddenly, the man’s voice was as clear as a bell. He was talking about meeting the woman who became his wife just before he shipped off to Europe in WWII. As I listened to the rest of his story, mental pictures were forming in my mind, like a movie that was created as he spoke. He told me about his wife, his children, how his heart broke when his son went to prison, the joy his grand-children and great-grandchildren were in his life.

Here and there I would marvel that I actually could understand him – knowing that I was experiencing a miraculous moment, a moment full of the power of the Holy Spirit. God heard my prayer and answered it – for real! I had been given the gift of Pentecost ears!

The story of the man’s life was long and beautiful. When he was finished, I felt like he was family. This toothless old man, whose great-grandparents were slaves, now felt in my heart like family. And though he died only 6 hours after I’d met him, I will always cherish his memory, our experience of kinship, and the power of the Pentecost experience I shared with him.

When we read the story of Pentecost, we hear about the power of God’s Holy Spirit, the power of love, uniting people who live in a divided world and making them feel like family. Wind and fire, symbols of the presence of God, come among the disciples who know they are in the midst of a miraculous moment, a moment full of the Holy Spirit of God. God has made it clear as a bell for them.

Then filled to overflowing with the powerful love of God’s Holy Spirit, the disciples’ fear vanishes and the Good News starts erupting from their mouths. The sound of this Good News is like a trumpet call and it causes people to draw near.

But the people are confused at first, because everyone knows that Jews don’t speak to Gentiles, so they begin to wonder… how is it possible that they’re including us – and how is it possible that we can understand them as if they are speaking our language? In response to their confusion, Peter begins to teach and prophesy, so that everyone might come to know the powerful love of God more deeply, more completely.

That first Pentecost was a powerful moment of heavenly inclusion, a building of relationships where earthly divisions had been. All nations, all people, all languages were being made one body, one family.

Hear me, people of God, when I say that the Holy Spirit of God continues to work just as powerfully in and through us today. If we seek and claim the power of Pentecost, then we too will erupt with the Good News. It will issue forth from our mouths and our lives like rushing water, satisfying those who hunger and thirst for a Love that can include them too.

Do you dream dreams? Do you have visions? …prophesy? Why not? (Really – why not?) All we need to do is claim the power of Pentecost.

In all we do and say as church, we are called to intentionally claim and communally nurture the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit and use them for the common good – building the family of God here on earth. And today we share an abundance of these gifts in the new members we are about to Baptize into our family – the body of Christ.

Each of these young ones brings gifts to be discovered and nurtured by us. The parents and Godparents pledge to help them grow in their Christian faith and life by their prayers and witness. And we, their new community, their new family, also pray that God will teach them to love in the power of the Spirit and send them into the world in witness to that love, and we pledge to do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ.

These are no small promises! So please don’t make them unless you plan to keep them.

By the Baptisms we are about to share we will expanded our boundaries of love here at Redeemer. And we’ll remember that a faith community once prayed for us too, that we might live a new life of grace and have inquiring and discerning hearts... hearts that seek out and serve those who hunger and thirst for a place to love and be loved in the name of Christ. By the renewal of our own Baptism vows, we also remember that we are all marked as Christ’s own forever and called to love as he loved us.

I now invite the candidates, their Godparents and families, to come to the font for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

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