The Day of Pentecost: June 4, 2017
Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Before ordinations in many dioceses, the ordinands are all taken away on a retreat for a few days to prepare themselves, usually to a monastery or some other kind of retreat center. My diocese did not do this, but I decided to take myself off on retreat anyway. With the help of a friend and a 4-wheel-drive truck, I went to Death Valley. The silence of the desert was deafening and unearthly, and exactly what I needed. But one day we climbed up Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park at 11,331 feet, where I sat for a time under some pine trees looking out over the desert. The wind picked up and blew through the pines, and after all the silence of the desert the sound seemed huge. And in that sound of the wind, I distinctly heard God saying to me, well, are you going to do this, or aren’t you? will you say yes to me? And I said, yes. The memory continues to mark for me the moment when I actually agreed to be ordained – and a few days later, I was, seventeen years ago. The wind of the Spirit got its way with me.
So the sound of wind in pines continues to get my attention, and I spend a little time being still and listening to it whenever I find it. I was thrilled to find it on a hill outside of Nazareth a few weeks ago, a place called Mt Precipice where the faithful locate the story of the angry crowd trying to throw Jesus off the cliff after he offended them all in the synagogue. Whether that happened there or not I don’t know, but it is a great place to climb up out of the town to get the view over the Jezreel Valley. And there, on the side of the hill, are pine trees – with the wind blowing through them. I thought there of Jesus, growing up in Nazareth, climbing the hill and hearing that wind. Hearing that wind and perhaps in it also, God’s voice calling him to his identity and mission in the world. The wind of the Spirit, as Jesus tells Nicodemus, blows where it wills.
There’s a whole lot of that wind blowing throughout all the tradition of scripture, actually. The wind moves over the deep before God speaks creation into being. The wind dries up the land after Noah’s flood. The wind blows back the waters and the Israelites cross through the Red Sea on dry land. The wind blows past Elijah waiting for God on Mt Horeb, and later takes him up away from Elisha. The wind blows into the dry bones in Ezekiel and brings them to life. God answers Job out of the whirlwind, blowing all his questions away. The wind kicks up several times on the Sea of Galilee, causing storms and fear in the hearts of the disciples that Jesus must calm and quiet. And finally, the wind blows on the disciples and followers of Jesus and turns them into apostles, those who will go and carry the good news to the world.
(We thought about doing a synchronized turning on all of the fans here as the sound of the mighty wind came about in the story of Acts. I also thought of having you all turn and blow in the ears of your neighbors, like what Jesus does when he brings the Holy Spirit to the disciples. But that all seemed a little more distracting than helpful.)
So today we celebrate and remember when the wind of the Spirit came upon those gathered believers in Jerusalem, lighting on every one of them and making them speak of God’s deeds of power in languages that everyone in the city could understand. It’s an event that we call the birth day of the church, the day when the promised Spirit, the Advocate, the presence of God, came to the followers of Jesus and turned them into a movement. The day the followers of Jesus stopped waiting around for Jesus to do something and started doing it themselves. The early church as described in the book of Acts shows those followers performing healings, raising people from the dead, and preaching to anyone and everyone around them who would listen and many who would not. The Spirit was a pretty strong force of propulsion. None of them seemed to sit still after that Pentecost day.
And neither, in fact, should we. The coming of the Holy Spirit wasn’t a onetime thing. In just a few moments we’ll pray that Holy Spirit into one of our members here as she is baptized, and we’ll make the sign of the cross on her head and say, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism. We’ll acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit in growing our community as we welcome new members here to this church of St Michael’s. We’ll ask the Holy Spirit to come upon the food of bread and wine and upon all of us as we receive Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. And we’ll be blessed and sent out into the world in the power of that Holy Spirit. Which is all of it so much bigger and more dramatic than our familiar rituals might indicate. We can forget what the Holy Spirit is really about.
While we’re here it’s a chance to be fed and nourished and drink deeply from the Spirit – to be followers of Jesus, disciples, students, learners at Jesus’ feet. Worship here provides a chance to take in the beautiful light and color in the church, rich music, inspiring words, smiles and caring from others around us in the pews. It should nourish and feed the soul. And every day, to stay fed and nourished, we continue to practice in our own times of prayer and quiet, being intentionally in God’s presence, reading words of scripture and prayers ancient and new, receiving from what the Spirit can give us. Spiritual practice, in the community and on our own, is what keeps us going.
But that’s all what we do when we receive, sitting in one place. Then we get up and go out. And that’s where we turn from disciples to apostles – from those who come to receive from the well to those who are sent to go out and give to others. Just as every Sunday we celebrate again the resurrection of Easter, Pentecost, you could say, happens every Sunday – every Sunday the community gathers and receives the Holy Spirit. And every Sunday the community disperses back out again, ready to communicate God’s deeds and God’s love in language that everyone else can hear. We don’t get spiritually fed for ourselves alone. We get it so we can give it out again. There’s a lot of work to be done.
Our challenge is to connect the two. To come and worship and pray and feel God’s presence, and then to take our awareness of that presence out into the rest of our lives. To feed the hungry and work to protect the planet and care for the refugee, not simply as good secular humanists, but as Christians. To act with integrity in our work and look after others we pass on the street and tend to our families, not just as good responsible citizens, but as people of the Spirit. To hear the voice of God’s call in the wind, in fire, in the stirrings of our hearts, and to heed it, impelled and sustained by the Spirit acting in us in all that we do. That’s really what it means to be the church. Not any less.
After the service is done today we’ll hear from the team of parishioners who have been sifting through the results of the Spiritual Life Inventory many of you filled out earlier in the winter. The Renewal Works team will tell us what the inventory said about this community and what recommendations they have for us to focus on as a church going forward. Ideas to help make that connection between what happens in our prayer and worship and what happens in the rest of our lives; ways to learn and understand what our worship and tradition means, and thoughts for how we practice the presence of God as a community. Pentecost seemed like the right day to report back, because our spiritual growth as a community is all about the Holy Spirit here among us.
The wind of the Spirit is blowing here – and what the Spirit does is change us. Create new things, open pathways to freedom, shake up our routines, blow our minds. She isn’t done with this place yet, nor with any of us, and sometimes it feels like a whirlwind hanging on to where she’s going. But we are all of us being turned into apostles, becoming prophets, being given the language to share what God is about here and in our world. May we hear the Spirit and spread the Spirit in everything we do. Amen.