The Day of Pentecost
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Acts 2:1-11

 

The wise Mother Superior was dying. The nuns gathered around her bed, trying to make her last hours comfortable. They tried to give her warm milk to drink but she refused it. Then one of the nuns, remembering a bottle of whiskey given as a gift the previous Christmas, carried the glass back to the kitchen and mixed the whiskey in with the milk.

Back at the Mother Superior’s bed, she held the glass to her lips. Mother drank a sip, then a little more, and then more until she had finished the whole glass. “Mother, Mother,” the nuns cried, “give us some wisdom before you die.” The old nun opened her eyes and raised herself up as much as possible. And with a pious look on her face she lifted her finger toward the window and said, “Girls, don’t sell that cow!”

One could just as easily say that the essence of Pentecost—the meaning and message of Pentecost—for us and the whole Church is, “Don’t sell—but hold on to—the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit that was given on that first Whitsunday by the breath and fire of God.

Recall.

It is the first Day of Pentecost. The disciples have been enlightened and enlivened by Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Now, as they are gathered together to form a game plan for carrying out Jesus’ command to make disciples in all nations, there comes the rush of a mighty wind–a violent wind–that fills the entire house where they gathered.

Being Kansans we know about violent winds. Many of you have experienced tornados. All of us have seen the result of their incredible power and sheer force. Well, this is the Pentecost tornado–an indoor one. And this one is not an act of nature, but an act of God. Lightning flashes in the eye of this tornado and it spits out tongues of fire as its swirling winds engulf the room.

The disciples’ jaws were dropped, their feet frozen to the floor. By the time they had recovered enough to run, it was too late. Each of them had been struck by the flame and they were burning–they were on fire! Yet, there was no pain. They weren’t being consumed or harmed by the flames.

Then the Holy Spirit came upon them and filled them, and they went out into the streets and began to speak and act in such a way that those around them thought they were drunk, except for the fact that these people, who lived in Jerusalem but came from every part of the world and spoke different languages, each of them could understand the disciples as if they were being spoken to in their own native tongue.

What was taking place that day in Jerusalem–the Day of Pentecost–was God’s promise (and fulfillment) of Jesus’ promise to send the disciples an advocate, his Holy Spirit, to accompany and support and uphold them in their work of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to every corner and every nation of the earth.

And ever since then, God has given to every Christian, at Baptism, the gifts needed to continue that work–the mission of proclaiming the good news of Christ in word and in deed–in our speech and in our acts. Unfortunately, we are not always ready or willing to “buy on” to that Spirit or to own its power or to subject ourselves to its life-changing potency. Sometimes we’re ready to sell the cow before we even try the milk. It calls to mind the words of the Christians at Ephesus, when Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit. They replied, “We had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit.”

Emptiness, rote-ness, dryness, boredom, a lack of energy for ministry and a true relationship with God. All of this seems to stem from our making the Christian experience our own making—whatever we choose it to be. We run on the illusion of self-will and self-mastery and self-satisfaction in the life of faith—and the result is we run out of gas. There isn’t much room for the Spirit to work in an environment or a Christian like that. And then we wonder why the Church looks and tastes like just plain old warm milk to so many.

Today is the third great festival of the Christian year, one of the three major feasts on our church calendar. On Christmas Day we celebrate the coming of Jesus into our world–the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus. A little later in the church year we celebrate Easter–the time of the death and resurrection of that same Jesus, who by those acts reconciled us to God.

And now, today, the Day of Pentecost, we celebrate God’s gift to us in the coming of the Holy Spirit.

God’s gift to us is Jesus. Jesus’ gift to us is the Holy Spirit. Our return of thanksgiving for those gifts is to live in Christ through the power of the Spirit.

Pentecost is the “Feast of Re-membering”–a reminder of those gifts that are given to each of us at our Baptism–when we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever, and given power and privilege, if we will accept it, to be about the work of God.

So how are we to understand these gifts? Why does God do this to us and for us? It’s a matter of grace, certainly; God’s loving us despite our undeservedness. But there’s another reason, I think. & that is, God needs us. –I got in trouble in seminary once for saying that. Maybe I’ll be in trouble with some folks here today, but I believe it’s true. God needs us.

It is God who, in an act of love, breathes on us, touches us, gifts us each one individually just as he chooses. God empowers us, transforms us, assists us, guides us, leads us, but God needs us to be his hands, his arms, his feet, his legs, his mouth, his agents to walk and to carry and to speak his word of love and truth to the world.

That, I think, is the reason for Pentecost. And why our Baptism is, in fact, a personal Pentecost for each of us. In that act we are touched at the most profound part of our being. We become an intimate part of the very God who created us, and we become an intimate part–an intimate member–of Christ’s body, which is the church.

We are dependent on God completely. But God depends on us, too, as surely as he empowers us, to carry out his work in the world, to extend his love and grace and Spirit, to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world—in word, in deed, in flesh.

And that is our charge in Baptism—and for all of us who will renew our Baptismal promises today, it is our “recharge.” To be faithful to that covenant, and in so doing to be the hands and feet and arms and legs of God and to join together as members of the body of Christ. –To always be dependent, totally, on God, and to remember that God is depending on you.

Do you want that Fire? Do you want the “flicker of flame” given at baptism to burst gloriously into a “burning bush” of creativity and potency of love beyond your wildest dreams? Then, Ask for the Holy Spirit, for the release of the Holy Spirit. And just wait and see what happens. To you! To us!

Today is your Pentecost. It is our feast of re-membering. It is a day worth celebrating. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we are all baptized into one body…and Jesus Christ is the head.”

So Liam and Israel, our baptismal candidates today, welcome to the body! Join us in our journey of ministry and belonging in God’s Name.

To all of you here, welcome to this re-membering day, when you recommit and rededicate yourselves to the body of Christ and to faithful service in his name and following in his ways.

May you be blessed.

“Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ”

Let it be so. Let it be so with us.
And in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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