Pentecost – June 9, 2019
Sermon preached by the Reverend Louise Kalemkerian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
In the name of the God of all, Creator, Redeemer and Breath of Life. AMEN.
I’ve always loved today’s lesson from Acts when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first disciples and they started to speak in different languages. With rushing wind and tongues of fire, the apostles experienced the presence of God. The Holy Spirit descended upon them and literally inspired them to shed their fear and go out onto the busy streets of Jerusalem, packed with folks from all over who had come to that city to mark the holiday. And then Peter gets up and gives a speech that doesn’t try to explain away the strange and wondrous things that were happening.
Peter gives what must be one of the all-time great opening lines in a sermon. He basically says, “Okay, I want to clear away some confusion right up front. We are not drunk. For heaven’s sake, it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning and the bars aren’t even open yet.” And then Peter goes on to talk about the Spirit turning the world upside-down. It is strange and wondrous and somewhat scary. It is about the power of the Holy Spirit let loose in the world, and a people filled with the Spirit of God who have been empowered to change the world.
I love Pentecost because it makes clear to me that from the very beginning God has intended that all persons of every nationality and ethnicity are part of the community of God’s love and inclusion. “For God so loved the world.” The whole world. Pentecost represents the inbreaking of God’s purposes for all humanity, bringing humanity together in understanding, despite their differences.
Imagine the scene that is described for us in the Acts lesson we just heard. The setting is Jerusalem, about 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. The city is filled with Jews from all over the known world, people who have gathered to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot, known to Greek speaking Jews as Pentecost. This joyful celebration, commemorating the giving of the Law to Moses, took place 50 days after Passover. If you recall, the disciples had been more or less in hiding, waiting for the Comforter, as Jesus had told them to do. And of course, they had no idea what/who they were waiting for.
Luke says miraculous things happened immediately. The apostles experienced the presence of God, and were empowered to speak languages they didn’t know previously. From our account, the coming of the Holy Spirit was a noisy and visibly stunning event, which turned a bunch of frightened disciples into bold proclaimers of the good news of God’s gift to the world in Jesus the Christ. Thousands of lives were transformed by the preaching that day and the membership of Christ’s newly born church grew exponentially.
Our reading of 2000 year old Scriptures every week is intended to make connections with our 21st century lives. And it is true of all our lessons, especially this one from Acts. What this passage makes very clear is that God’s word and God’s love are open to persons of all nationalities and races and abilities. It is not restricted to Americans or western Europeans or Christians. The Gospel of Jesus is for all persons. God’s love is for all persons. The Church must not be confused with the destiny of a single nation or a single race. The primary identity of every person, EVERY person, period, is “beloved child of God.” God has created each of us and each of us is beloved of God. That is true and will always be true, regardless of external identifiers or behaviors, regardless even of which religious path—or none—we choose to follow.
So what does this all mean for us in the 21st century? How are we to translate and live into the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in the life of this community and beyond? I don’t have to tell you that our world is sorely divided. Or that the political rhetoric both at home and abroad encourages racism, violence, divisiveness, nationalism, exclusion. All contrary to the Gospel of Jesus.
You and I are called by our baptism to resist bigotry and intolerance, to remember that each and every person is created in the image and likeness of God. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul insists that among Christ’s followers there is “no longer Greek nor Jew, neither slave nor free” but only the unity, peace, and blessedness that derives from being children of faith, the Church. This is at the center the Pentecost experience.
Pentecost is traditionally a feast day on which we baptize new members into Christ’s Church as we will today. (at 11:00) Willa Eyah Nair’s parents will bring her to the font. When I pour water on her head, we are making the astounding claim that the triune God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, is claiming her as God’s beloved daughter, uniting her to Christ in his death and resurrection, filling her with the Holy Spirit and sending her out with gifts that can turn the world upside-down.
God in baptism is pouring out the Holy Spirit upon adults and children in order to resist evil, to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people. It’s outrageous talk, but in baptism and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God uses frail, fragile, fallible human beings like us to proclaim God’s love in word and deed and to bring about God’s kingdom of love and justice and peace. God has no one else! Willa, know that this community promises to walk with you in your faith journey.
At Confirmation we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit again. We receive the Holy Spirit with every sacrament. The Holy Spirit is with us and in us all the time. Whether we live a spirit-filled – that is, inspired – life is in part up to us. The word “spirit” is in the word inspired, the very breath of life. “That very Spirit,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “bears witness with our spirit.” Not a spirit of fear, but one of adoption. And I understand a “spirit of adoption” to mean the confidence and courage that comes from knowing that each of us has been chosen, accepted, and loved by God for who we are.
And what does that Spirit compel us to do? To love God and to love others as ourselves. It’s old news, but good and current news just the same. The great lie of our times is that we will find an inspired life contained in our own self-interest and our own belief system. We can see the fruits of that lie all around us.
The ideals that make for common good and for a just and civil society — kindness, compassion, economic fairness, concern for our brothers and sisters, sacrifice, justice, and love — are anchored in the faith that there is a purpose and a value to life that is greater than our collective quest for personal achievement and daily comforts. The Holy Spirit inspires us to challenge the norms of the wider culture.
Living an inspired life, a Spirit-filled life, is not just being good to our friends and those we know but also extending a hand stretched out to our enemies, and to those we don’t know. It is sustainable food, shelter, health care and employment for the all. It is a fair and equitable inclusion of immigrants; it is a comprehensive listening and responsiveness to those who are on the fringes of society; it is standing against gun violence, racism and all the “isms.” It is to confront evil with tough love, a just resistance, and measured boundaries. And it is to spend our lives inspired by a God who loves us into being and guides and directs us to live fruitful lives, imitating Christ as best we can, every day.