June 9, 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Acts 2, 1-11 + Psalm 104 + Romans 8, 8-17 + John 14, 15-16, 23-26
A couple of years ago, I was on a plane off to give a talk somewhere. I was wearing my clerical suit because the person picking me up did not know me. I had taken my aisle seat on the plane, and a lady came along and moved into the seat next to me. I opened a book in which I was intending to hide when she turned and asked, “Are you saved?” My toes curled as every possible motive for asking me that question raced through my mind. I glanced at her hands. Seeing a wedding ring, I asked: “Are you married?” She looked around for a moment. I began to fear she might think I was proposing something, but suddenly she said: “Yes, I am for thirty-eight years.” I said: “I’ll bet you are a lot more married today than you were on your wedding day, and I am a lot more saved than I was at my Baptism. I am also a lot more of a priest than I was on the day of my ordination.” With that, she pulled out emergency evacuation card and began to study it while I opened my book.
I have often said to couples who came to the office to plan a wedding that their marriage began the moment they decided to spend the rest of their lives together. The Sacrament they were preparing for was a celebration of a love that was already there. I would go to reminded them that the love they had for each had been there growing slowly but steadily from the day they met. Sometimes people ask me when I decided to become a priest, and I always say the same thing: “This morning when I got up.” Isn’t it true for you? The marriages you lived and celebrated happened every time you faced a problem and decided to make it work. Parents know this. When a child is born, parenting begins, but you are lot more of parent by the time they move out on their own. At the birth of a child you begin to spend the rest of your days making parenthood come true through your relationship with your children. Any of us who have made a commitment in a moment pass through a life-time of growth and development that grows deeper and more real day by day.
It is the same with Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. In reality, the action and power of the Holy Spirit started when those disciples first met Jesus and moved them to follow him. It only deepened each time they acted in the name of Jesus. That event on the 50th day did not start something in them, it revealed and made obvious what they already had and what they could become because of it. As we gather here to celebrate Pentecost, beware of thinking this is just a day or a time to remember what happened to those people in some “upper room” of Jerusalem. Doing that, misses not just the point, but distracts us from thinking about and realizing that we too have had the same experience. Perhaps there was no wind or fire, but you would not be here if the Spirit was not already stirring in your hearts and souls.
On the day Christ rose from the dead and became present in their midst, the disciples were struggling to take in the fact that death was not what they thought it was. because there was Jesus offering them peace. Uninterested in how slow they were to believe, he took them as they were, breathed his very Spirit on them, and gave them his mission: “Forgive.”
The consequence of forgiveness is oneness or the unity for which Jesus prayed so passionately the night before he died. It is the healing of whatever is broken whether it be hearts, lives, or relationships. As Luke describes the growing courage and awaked awareness of those disciples, Pentecost functions like a movement that breaks down the boundaries of time and culture, and most of all, our stubborn attitudes of privilege and power, of wealth and prestige which too often set us apart from another. That symbol of multiple languages represents all that divides us keeping us from understanding one another. Sadly, and painfully, I saw this in action just last week as I was standing the check-out line of store here in town. The person behind me turned to a family behind them who were speaking another language. She said hatefully: “Speak English, you are in America.” You should have seen the look on the faces of the children standing there with their parents. I looked at her thinking she needed a good lesson in geography, because America is a continent shared by several nations, but I just looked at her and said: “Come Holy Spirit”. You don’t have to be able to speak many languages to express love and respect.
We are here today to celebrate, nurture, and awaken the Spirit that is already stirring among us and within us. It is that Spirit making us uncomfortable in the face of easy but unfair judgements about others. It is that Spirit making us uncomfortable about enforcing divisions and separations that keep us apart. It is that Spirit making us uncomfortable and about walls and boundaries when people are desperate, frightened, and hungry. It is also that Spirit that makes our hopes sail and sets our hearts on fire dreaming of peace and justice.
So, with great trepidation should be have sung that Psalm verse today. “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” May God take us at our word, and when God does, hang on, we’re in for a wild ride, a new heaven, and new earth, a new life with a new mission.