Sunday, May 23, 2021

Pentecost 2021-B: Love declared and shared


Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 

En el nombre del Dios: padre, hijo, y espiritu santo. Amen.

The Episcopal Church has seven Principal Feasts, and today is one of them, which is why we transfer it from Thursday, if we don’t celebrate it on that day, to Sunday. It’s a date the church wants us to notice and celebrate together. 

Of the seven Principal Feasts, four are about God: Jesus’ birth at Christmas, his resurrection at Easter, his Ascension, and the nature of the triune God on Trinity Sunday. Two of them, All Saints and Epiphany, focus on us humans.

Pentecost is both. Today we celebrate the moment the Holy Spirit entered the mortal bodies of Jesus’ disciples, the first instance of how Jesus would continue his ministry of reconciliation: through us, his followers. It’s an amazing reality when you think about it.

The disciples were gathered together when suddenly they heard a sound like the rush of wind. Tongues of fire appeared and divided over them, resting upon each one of them, and they began to speak in all kinds of languages. As amazed as the disciples were by what was happening, the people outside, Jews from many nations, were perplexed. How are these Galileans suddenly able to speak in our native tongues? How indeed.

Years ago, I was a chaplain on the oncology/hematology unit of a regional hospital in south GA. One day I sat at the bedside of an elderly man, Rufus, who was dying of cancer. Rufus had no teeth and spoke with a very thick southern accent that I found nearly impossible to understand.

As he spoke, I could hear enough to know he was telling me his life story as many dying patients did. He had a 3rd grade education, something about his sisters and his grandmother… and the death of his parents when he was very young.

There I was, knowing how important it was for me to hear this man’s final words, 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 understand him – and hurry!”

Just as I finished praying, 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. He told me about his children, how his heart broke when his son went to prison and the joy his grandchildren and great-grandchildren brought to his life.

As he spoke, part of me was marveling at the fact that I could actually understand him. Another part of me was aware that we were experiencing a miraculous moment, a moment full of the power of the Holy Spirit.

When Rufus finished speaking, he wanted to rest, so I told him I’d sit nearby and read the Psalms to him. As he slept, I looked at this weathered, toothless, 90-something-year-old man, whose great-grandparents were slaves, and I realized, he felt in my heart like family. Though he died only 6 hours after I’d met him, I will always cherish my memory of Rufus and the Pentecost moment we shared.

The power that came upon those gathered at that first Pentecost, the power that unified Rufus and me, is the same power that comes upon us today. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said in his 1967 speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference: “Power at its best is love… implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

Filled with this power, Peter preached to the people from “every nation under heaven” gathered in Jerusalem that they were witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promise given through the prophet Joel where God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” Not just male flesh, or Jewish flesh, but all flesh.

Look around you, Peter is telling them. The Holy Spirit is alighting upon all of us: Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave, free – and it’s happening now. I (Mother Valori+) declare to you today that God is still pouring God’s Spirit into all flesh: white, black, brown, Asian, gay, lesbian, straight, transgender, non-binary... all flesh.

So how do we bear this powerful love into the world today? In the gospel reading from John, Jesus gives us the way to go.

He said that the Spirit of Truth “will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned."

Let’s unpack those three very powerful statements.

1) “…about sin because they do not believe in me.” The world today is still wrong about sin, focusing so much on our actions. But sin is about something else. We believe that in Jesus we are reconciled, that is, made one with God and one another. Sin, then is the separation of ourselves from God and one another. It is the opposite of Jesus’ work and the opposite of our call to serve him in the world.

2) “about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer…” Jesus reconciled us to God by lifting humanity up into divinity through his earthly body, establishing for evermore what our righteousness is: oneness in body and spirit with God in Christ. Righteousness involves faith in the resurrected and ascended Jesus and our acceptance of his final gift to us: his own Spirit dwelling in us.

3) “…about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” This word, judgment is literally translated as ‘the act of separation or sundering.’ Jesus declares that at the same time he reconciled us to himself, giving us life, he also liberated us from the power of sin and death.

Our world is crying out through so many voices, that sisters and brothers among us are in pain or afraid. So much divides us in May of 2021. This prayer from Henri Nouwen speaks well to our times: 

O Lord, awaken the consciousness of all peoples and their leaders; raise up men and women full of love and generosity who can speak and act for peace, and show us new ways in which hatred can be left behind, wounds can be healed, and unity can be restored. (Source: A Cry for Mercy)

On this feast of Pentecost, we are reminded that what matters is that we are united with God in Christ who dwells in us. As followers of Jesus and bearers of his Spirit in the world, our response is to be present to God and one another in such a way that God’s powerful love in us is declared and shared by us for the benefit of all. God will show us new ways to do this as we continue our shared ministry of reconciliation until the whole world is “restored to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (The Catechism, BCP, 855) Amen.

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