I preached this last Sunday: 8 AM to thunder, lightening, hail, and crackling in the electrical system, and at 10 AM with a Baptism. This is what I had to say (with on the spot embellishments, of course.) Included here because I believe we Episcopalians are a Pentecostal people...if we just have the courage.
Sermon, Pentecost, 2009
If we Episcopalians had any courage at all, we would call ourselves Pentecostal…
Of course we are already: We call down the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine, we use oil for healing and ask the Spirit of God to give strength, we give double billing to the Holy Spirit in Baptism, complete with anointing and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, but still we don’t usually call our selves Pentecostal. If we had courage we’d say, “We are a Pentecostal Church!” The air would be electric with the possibilities.
If we are a Spirit Filled church, as well as a church that takes Scripture seriously (rather than literally or metaphorically), and take to being a community of about justice rather of conformity, all sorts of things are possible. Our young people could have visions, our old people dream dreams. We could old and young be filled with imagination, and leave the middle years to such trivia as getting along, getting ahead, making it, and so forth.
Why, we could be really imaginative – imagining what a loving and just community could look like – we’d talk about our visions and dreams as if they had present power.
We’d have “Holy Ghost” power. And having imagined it, we could do it. Why, we might even enjoy it!
We could say the beatitudes and live them out. Instead of merely mouthing them we could live them. You know the beatitudes:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
– and imagine - we could know with them that it was inevitable that God’s justice will win out. With Bishop Tutu we could proclaim that we have already won, we are only making the present conform to the reality of the future. We could take to the streets and dance….
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- We could weep and stomp about and wail and get through it and find comfort in one another and in God.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
– We could kick back and have a little inheritance party… "Look," we would say, "see the view from OUR front yard… great sunset don’t you think. This beach is our beach, this land is our land… God gave it to all of us, his children, all of us."
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
– We could begin to think of abundance and not scarcity of righteousness and justice. We could give everyone all the justice they could digest, after all there is always more! You want justice? We’ve got it to spare. We’ll do justice here, there, everywhere.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
– We could finally talk about what’s in it for me… give mercy get mercy; give bleakness and misery, get misery and bleak. We could just love mercy so much we would keep trying to give it away, only to realize that we kept getting it back.!
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
– We could learn to do one thing at a time (for as Kierkegaard said, purity of heart is to will one thing) and do it well:
when we dance we will dance,
when we weep we will weep,
when we praise God that is what we will be - Praise.
When we love we will be Love.
When we sleep, it will be as if we died.
When we rise up it will always be that great getting up morning.
Resurrection will happen, just like that!
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
-We could envision skipping through the garden as peace children, slipping the snake a soothing pet on the head, and wander off with Adam and Eve, and maybe the Fall could happen some other time. Wouldn't that be fine?
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
-And the best for last, we could realize that persecution for justice as no surprise, and persecution for any other reason as an injustice. At least then we could be alive to the consequences of our action. We could be fired up, on fire for justice knowing that the price is worth it.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
-Hey, we would say, at least we'd know who our friends are. The Spirit would be there as our Advocate, and for what better reason than the love of friend, the love of Jesus, the love of God, ought we be reviled and persecuted? And how wonderful to find the one on whose account we are reviled?
But unless we are a Pentecostal people, a Holy Ghost Church, all this stuff is just too far beyond us. It is wishful thinking, it is crazy, and it is foolish.
It is…. (and here is the terrible sin for Episcopalians and Anglicans) ...excessive.
The lessons for this day are full of excess, at least at first:
Acts records violent winds, tongues of fire, noise.
The Psalm rejoices in “That Leviathan, which you have made for the sport of it,” a great sea monster on the loose, and no one minds!
Then we get the whole creation groaning, a cry for the promised new life in God's new creation.
But then we close the readings differently, with a Gospel reading that is the Holy Spirit at its quiet presence: Jesus speaks quietly with his followers about the Holy Spirit, the Advocate. No noise now, only comfort. Be at peace.
The alternate Gospel for Pentecost also is one of quiet: the doors are closed, Jesus enters, calm, “Peace,” he says, and “Receive the Holy Spirit”
The excess of noise and beasts and creation groaning is all replaced by a still calm voice: Peace…
The excess of the Pentecostal spirit often leaves us suspect. It frightens us in the church to know that the spirit might get out of hand – the wind and fire could blow and burn the house down, the leviathan could end up being the devil banging around like a large sea snake, the multitude of tongues could turn out to be babble, not praise, the groaning could for a terrible birth. So we play down the Pentecostal fire. So we back away.
But when we do we also back away from the still calm voice of the Spirit.
In a quiet room Jesus says: Peace.
He says: God go with you.
He says: Be full of the Holy Spirit.
He says: Let the captives go:
If they walk free, they are free,
If you can’t let them free,
You are stuck with them.
There is the excess, even in this quiet room:
The excess of the Spirit is like that: It frees everyone, except the one who misses life in captivity.
Too often the church has become like a prison with its wardens and guards: we close people in as captives with all sorts of rules, regulations, beliefs, right expectations, and so on.
When we open the prison door and let the captives out we know there is bound to be trouble…but such trouble as we might have wished for all our lives – the trouble that comes with God’s Spirit dwelling in us.
There is a lot of fear in Anglican circles these days, the fear that we have lost our grounding. But, if we believe in the Pentecostal fire, the possibility that God can overwhelm us with presence of God’s spirit, then we have every business being open to that Spirit.
Most of us are proper Episcopalian sorts and Lord knows (as indeed he does) that we will mostly open out in seemly and rather proper sorts of ways…but perhaps we too can peek under the tent and into the Pentecostal meeting and test the waters of life that come with the Spirit flowering in us in new and wonderful ways.
Otherwise, why this celebration? Pentecost is a kind of madness unless we believe that the same Holy Spirit that gives us freedom from captivity also guides us to live as God's people. The Church got its start in such madness.
Remember the noise, and the wind, and the fire. But also remember the quiet close:
God go with you,
be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Free the captives.
Can I hear an AMEN?