Pentecost Sunday A-17
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
This day of Pentecost is an occasion of profound initiation. It is an awakening of the Divine spark within you. With the gift of spirit and flame, God uncovers the image of God’s own self that has always been and will always be the essential ingredient of who truly you are.
It can feel like a paradox. We are always just ourselves—but this initiation and awakening to who we are in Christ has changed us profoundly. The community Jesus formed, fired, and prepared, was propelled onto a new stage. They were an ordinary group of people and not large in number. The Book of Acts tells us there were just 122 in all.
122 people. They were not learned. For the most part, they were not wealthy. Most were not charismatic. Not even St. Paul, who’s letters comprise most of the New Testament, said of himself he was not a good public speaker. They didn’t have a lot of social capital. Yet what they discovered at Pentecost is that following the Way of Christ and his cross is how ordinary people uncover their dignity, their worthiness, their beauty, and their power. An awakening of Spirit that was already within them enabled this simple, humble, salt of the earth group of people to change the world, not by their own skill or power but by the power of the living God working through them. God knit them together and gave them a home with each other. They discovered their true self by being a living sanctuary of hope and grace.
Like a clay vessel in the furnace of a kiln, the followers of Jesus received the transformation of their hearts. They were no longer simply a rag-tag group of believers, but a catalyzed community, a single body of 120 people enlivened by the Spirit to continue the work of Christ. (Jan Richardson, The Painted Prayerbook)
This great initiation and awakening of Jesus’ flowers at Pentecost was like a birthday. They were born again. Their lives found a new trajectory. They uncovered different and higher purposes for their lives in the ordinary everyday things they said and did.
When is your birthday in Christ? The first answer for any Christian is the day of our baptism. But it may also be any day you recognized the gifts of the Spirit working in you. Today those who have been On The Way will complete a journey they’ve been on together since Advent as we name for them the spiritual gifts we see operating in them later today in the rite of Christian Vocation. In my experience, it is easy to name the gifts of others, but not so easy to name them for myself. One of the best birthday gifts we offer each other in Christ is naming the gifts of the Spirit we see in one another. In that way we experience a little of the joy of discovering we are not alone but part of a large community in which our unique gifts reinforce and enrich one another.
There are a great many ways we are called to share the gift of God’s grace with one another. Yet sadly, sometimes in the history of the Church, Christians have narrowed this list to serve their own purposes. In Luther’s time, people thought only church related activities such as prayer and fasting and alms giving could be truly God pleasing. Luther was adamant. He wrote, “the Christian life is not about what the monks claim—that it means sending people into the wilderness or cloister. On the contrary, the Christian life leads you to those who need your works. (Martin Luther, “Sermon on the Fourth Sunday after Trinity, 1529). Each of us is blessed with a unique mix of skills, talents and opportunities to serve God in daily life. Awakening to who God has created and is calling us to be is uncovering our own unique Christian vocation.
Luther saw a God who is present, a God who is deeply intertwined with creation. Each of us are equipped and called to earthly service as faithful followers of Christ. The Spirit issues a call against poverty, injustice, and desecration of the environment; and a call to be good friend, parent, spouse, neighbor, church member, worker, and citizen. All these involve the arts of discretion, negotiation, compromise, and forgiveness. We must be good listeners, learners, and participants. There is nothing very glamorous about any of this. Our vocation is a difficult calling to live up to. Yet, there is joy in heaven whenever and wherever simple love abounds.
Today, at Pentecost, we are joined together in Holy Communion with the living, moving Spirit of God. Like water, wind and fire, our new life in Christ must continually reach toward God’s future. It is the awakening of our true selves that can be both frightening and fascinating.
In her book Reinventing Eve, Kim Chernin describes our initiation into Christ this way: “Initiation is not a predictable process. It moves forward fitfully, through moments of clear seeing, dramatic episodes of feeling, subtle intuitions, vague contemplative states. Dreams arrive, bringing guidance we frequently cannot accept. Years pass, during which we know that we are involved in something that cannot easily be named. We wake to a sense of confusion, know that we are in dangerous conflict, [yet] cannot define the nature of what troubles us. All change is like this. It circles around, leads us [on] a merry chase, starts us out it seems all over again from where we were in the first place. And then suddenly, when we least expect it, something opens a door, discovers a threshold, [and] shoves us across.”
The Greek word for church is ecclesia –it means literally “the called out.” To be in the church is to be called out and set apart from the world. It is not the intention of the Holy Spirit who does this great work to create a closed club of insiders (William H. Willimon). Instead, we are called out of the world for the sake of the world. At the table and the font, our hearts are transformed to become bearers of living water for all those who are thirsty. We are called into the streets and marketplaces to declare “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). This is the way. In this we find life. We are born again and uncover our true selves. In this way, “The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:11).