Today is my last day at St. Andrew’s. So, before I begin today’s sermon, I would like to take a moment to thank each of you for the opportunity to have spent these past few months with you. You have taught me a lot, and I will always treasure my time here in this great parish. You will remain in my prayers, and I will rejoice for you when you call a new Rector (soon and very soon)!
But today’s sermon is about something much more profound that personal “good byes.” Today is Pentecost, the day when the Spirit of Christ Jesus blew into town, blew a new reality into existence in each of Jesus’ disciples. So today I want to share some stories about experiencing Pentecost, to share what experiencing Pentecost is like.
“Is the water magic?” That’s what the young boy—Jackson—asked just after his younger brother Dylan had been baptized, right here at this font. My colleague, Jeanie Martinez, was properly solemn when she answered the boy. “No,” she said, “but the water is SPECIAL.”
Maybe you have experienced a Pentecost moment such as this one, a moment when the concrete “reality” that obscures God at work in our lives is ripped away. Maybe you have experienced Pentecost, right here at St. Andrew’s. Somehow this young child sensed the Holy Spirit at work in baptism and named this reality in the only way he knew how, “Is the water magic?”
This wasn’t the first time that I experienced Pentecost at St. Andrew’s. Maundy Thursday was a double-duty Holy Day. On Maundy Thursday, when we celebrated Jesus’ last meal with us before his crucifixion, the Holy Spirit ripped through this nave. I vividly remember the Holy Spirit DANCING during the anthem, running around gathering up all those musical notes and combining them in a new way, a fantastic way, so that all the singers were one voice. Ask Jay Wilcox; he was here, and he can testify that the Holy Spirit showed up that night, reminding us that we are one and that God is very much with us here in our interim place of waiting.
We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit very often, do we? But I’ll bet that you have your OWN Holy Spirit story to share, or that you WANT to have one, or else why would you be here today? I’ll bet that you have your OWN Pentecost story to share, or you would if only you knew how to recognize a Pentecost moment.
I use three “tests” about Pentecost:
1) A near-impossible task;
2) Improbable agents (often with broken lives); and
3) The breath of God blowing a new reality into being, a reality filled with hope and joy.
You can use these three tests as I tell you some more Pentecost stories.
Ezekiel’s story, which we heard in our first lesson today, reminds us that Pentecost has been going on a long time, even before God came to us as Jesus. Ezekiel had been caught by the Spirit of the Lord, who set him down in a very desolate place, a place full of very old, dry bones. Those dry bones were everywhere. Maybe you have seen pictures of these bones, pictures from Auschwitz, Treblinka, Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia, and the like. Big heaping piles of bones like those, but more bones, older bones, drier bones. God told Ezekiel to prophesy to those old bones, to bring the Word of God to them, and make those dusty bones live again. Talk about an impossible task! Talk about broken lives; these folks were well and truly dead!
Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet who lived in the sixth-century before Christ, at the time when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and was taken into exile. We don’t know exactly how improbable an agent Ezekiel was at this “Pentecost,” but I’m certain that ANY human just wouldn’t be up to the task. And, sure enough, if we delve deeply into our Old Testament lesson for today we find that it took the Holy Spirit helping Ezekiel to bring those dry bones back to life. The Holy Spirit provided the breath to re-CREATE those old dead bones and restore them to the land the Lord had given to them. The Holy Spirit did this, not because those were the dry bones of especially worthy people. Oh, no! The Holy Spirit breathed life back into those bones only because God is merciful, and to show us that NOTHING is IMPOSSIBLE for GOD.
Now you may be tempted to blow off this dry-bones story as a quaint metaphor. In our experience, old dry bones don’t actually return to life, do they? I am here to tell you that I have experienced a LOT of Pentecost in my days, experienced a LOT of Pentecost right here in our churches, right here at St. Andrew’s. Let me tell you about a couple more Pentecost experiences. Real people. Elsewhere.
Dave was a lawyer; well, he HAD been a lawyer. He had been running around real hard trying to keep his life together, trying to keep people from finding out about the booze. His wife left him. Took the kids. He drank more. Lost his job. Lost his home. Then he found an “upper room” in a church, more as a place to be warm and get free coffee than anything else. But somehow— Pentecost, he says—the compulsion to drink left him.
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
Tracy was a teenager. Funny. Smart. Kind. Beautiful—except for her teeth; she needed braces. Did I mention that she was very poor? Tracy wanted to be an engineer—is an engineer today—but back then couldn’t figure out how to pay for college. Suddenly she had braces and a scholarship. Just like that. She told me, light shining through her eyes, that Pentecost had come. I also knew both the dentist and the heiress in the congregation, and that same light was shining in their eyes, also.
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Story number seven, in case you are keeping count, is a bit of my own call story. But don’t be fooled into thinking this story is about me. Oh, no!
I first experienced Pentecost on the eve of the now-famous 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Lenore and I were in the Minneapolis cathedral, a very deep and desolate valley jammed full of dry bones. There were bones in every nook and cranny of that valley. Bones of bishops, priests, and lay people. Tired people, very tired. Broken bones.
The acolytes picked their way up the aisle. They waved “spirit banners” over everyone’s head. Maybe you’ve seen spirit banners; they are streamers—representing tongues of flame—attached to the end of a long flexible pole. Just as if we were old dry wicks being primed to be lit. Sure enough, there was a “whoosh” that tore through the building, like the roar of a fire, not hot, not audible, but loud and flaming, followed by hope and pure joy.
We each were filled to bursting with the Holy Spirit, but that gift was not about US. Oh, no; we were just the recipients. I’ll never forget the sermon, though, which was this: “God is who God is, God does what God does, and God calls who God calls.” Silly me; at the time I thought that the preacher was talking about someone else, never dreaming that she meant me.
I haven’t been the same since. For the past nine years I have been caught up in the whoosh of the Holy Spirit from that fly-by. Carted off to the seminary. At my age!? That’s the thing about the Holy Spirit. You never know where you will end up. God is ALWAYS calling us.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
I wonder about you. Are you here today BECAUSE you have experienced the breath of the Holy Spirit blowing a new reality into your broken life? Or, did you bring your broken life and old tired bones here into the Upper Room to wait for the Wind? Either way, you are in a good place, a place where many have experienced Pentecost. I hope that you will share YOUR Pentecost story, both inside and outside this building; there is a whole world waiting—needing—to hear about Pentecost.