50 Days Later—homily for Pentecost 2018
50 Days Later
May 20, Day of Pentecost:
Acts 2:1-11 or Exekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-11; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
Fifty days ago we started with a group of disciples locked in a room, afraid to go out, terrified of what might happen next. Terrified because they had seen Jesus betrayed, and flogged, and executed. Terrified because they had all deserted him…denied him…and what if they come for us, too?
For fifty days we’ve gone back and forth in time…first learning of the resurrection from other witnesses…women who saw…something…men who wrote us letters about what they had seen and heard (1 John)…and then from the Risen Christ himself. We saw him come and stand among them…witnessed them touching him…eating with him…and saw how he “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:41). And if this were a movie, it’s at this point where we might get a flashback montage…to things Jesus said before he died… “I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am the true vine.” “Abide in me… apart from me you can do nothing”… “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”… “As you, Father, have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…”
We’ve also gotten some flash forwards…Peter, no longer terrified, but brazenly speaking to multitudes….to Israelites, and Gentiles, baptizing many…Phillip, no longer afraid in that upper room, but boldly heading towards Gaza, engaging with the Ethiopian Eunuch, baptizing him….The author of the first letter of John, written, probably around the year 100, probably from modern day Turkey or Syria…a long way from the center of our Easter story…proclaiming clearly what he has seen and heard…namely, that God is light and love and fully revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.
For fifty days we’ve lived with the disciples in this upper room, locked in this temporal dramatic tension…remembering the things Jesus said before he died, and seeing into the future of this irresistible force…ordinary, flawed people going out and doing and saying extraordinary things. You’ve all seen movies and tv shows that do this…keep one of the central plot points veiled until the end…Lost, This is Us, are two that use this technique a lot…they create tension by showing us before the event, and after the event, and make us wonder…what in the world happened?
What turned this group of deniers…these cowardly, cringing “no, not me…I don’t know him” bunch into this irresistible force?
The short answer is: The Holy Spirit happened.
One of my favorite, short-lived TV shows was Joan of Arcadia. It only ran for two seasons back in 2003-2004. It was about a teenaged girl, Joan, who moves to the town of Arcadia with her family, and begins to be visited by God. God appears to her as ordinary people…a cute boy, an old lady, a young girl, a pizza delivery guy, a Nigerian doctor, a janitor…and tells her to do certain things…get a job, take an art class, make friends with certain people…never with much explanation…God’s purpose in the show seemed to be to get us to recognize and understand the interconnectedness of all things.
To some it seemed silly or sacrilegious, to me it seemed to be pretty close to how the Holy Spirit operates, after all, God visits Abraham disguised as three weary travelers. God worked through Peter, and a Pharisee named Paul, and an Ethiopian Eunuch, saints, apostles, and martyrs…Holy Women and Holy Men…And while I’ve never spoken with anyone claiming to be God, I have had a lot of experiences of God speaking to me through other people—in how they cared for me, challenged me, loved me…in how they have “opened my mind to understand the scriptures” in new and more faithful ways.
And that’s one other piece of this montage that has been playing these past fifty days…the reminders you’ve gotten from me and others about the traditions that have been kept aflame here—this ship of faith—the necessity of remaining attached to a nurturing community…the many shepherds that serve in place of and on behalf of the Good Shepherd…the powerful stories from our scriptures that challenge us to listen better and be more loving in our own world. God—the Holy Spirit—works through all of that… through all of this…through all of us to bring about God’s dream of a just, verdant, and reconciled world.
In the last scene of the final episode of Joan of Arcadia, Joan is talking with God, who at this point is a goth rocker dude. And she’s agonizing about the coming showdown with the “big bad” a guy named Ryan, who may be the devil, or he may be as God says, “just a connection…mostly neutral…a human and every human, by virtue of free will, has the choice of how to direct his actions for good or evil…The universe is kinetic…[and E]very day,” says God, “you have to make a choice. Make it better or worse. Most people do a little bit of both. And there are those powerful enough to overbalance the scales on either end.” What God wants Joan to do is provide a counterbalance.
She complains, “I can’t do this alone…I have no weapons…The other Joan had an army, I don’t have anything like that.” God looks past her shoulder, and the camera cuts to a shot of Joan’s friends—are a rag-tag bunch of misfits currently arguing and throwing wads of paper at each other…Joan looks, sighs and turns back to God, ”So basically, I’m on my own.” God smiles and says, “you have everything you need, Joan.” And walks off.
Fifty days ago we were sitting in a room afraid to go out. And if this were the end of the movie, the moment when The Event was revealed…the overlapping scenes of the things Jesus said and did before he died, and the things his disciples said and did immediately after THE Event and far into the future would coalesce and resolve into that first scene again. Reminding us that we’re still there…locked in, afraid and feeling pretty alone…and then the wind would start to blow, and fire begins to rain down…and the door would be flung open…
It’s scary out there…I know that. I know that there are very real fires and very strong…very ill-winds blowing. I know there’s like ten thousand things that need to be done. I know that at times it all seems utterly overwhelming. I know that most of you feel not unlike the disciples did… “I don’t know enough,” “I’m not faithful enough,” “I don’t pray enough, or do any of the spiritual things that I’m supposed to do…”
I don’t feel equipped or ready to go out there and be the change.
I know all that…I feel all of that, too.
Take a look around. Take a look at the people here with you. Take a look at this place…remember the history that lives here…the traditions that are tended and passed on here. The opportunities for true belonging, for growth and support…that thrive here. Take a look at the beauty, and harmony that can be seen and heard here. Take all of this in..and hear me say…with all of the pastoral authority God has entrusted me with and you have conferred upon me…
Take all of this in and hear me say: You have everything you need…