Homily from service on June 5, 2022 – Pentecost
Homily preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden // The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
On the craggy top of a mountain…in the dusty hay of a stable…in the watery depths of a river…in bushes burning in fertile fields…in heaps of dust and ashes…in locked upper rooms…God appears.
God appears in earthquake, in wind, in fire…in loud, crashing tempest, in cacophonous silence…in the surprised lowing of animals, in a warm, familiar voice calling you by name… God appears. God always appears.
The gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is sometimes earthshaking and confusing—like in the Book of Acts. Sometimes it is quiet and intimate—as in John’s gospel, when, after the Resurrection Jesus appears to the disciples, repeats the gift of peace he leaves with them today, then simply breathes on them and they receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:21).
But no matter whether it is quiet or thunderous, when God appears it is always life-altering. The appearance of God, whether in the silent beauty of a Christmas night, or the pre-dawn grief on an Easter morn, or with the rush of wind Pentecost is always life changing…world changing.
The Pentecost appearance of the Holy Spirit in Acts is dramatic and violent and always bring to my mind the famous C.S. Lewis line from Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe…when the Beavers tell the children that Aslan is a lion, they are surprised, and ask, “Is he-quite safe?”… to which Mr. Beaver replies, ”Safe? […] ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” The appearance of God, of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is not safe…it is never safe…God is not safe…God is good. Living as a Christian is not safe. Pentecost…is our annual reminder that we are literally playing with fire here…We are entrusted with the flame of God, the light of Christ, and with the Holy Spirit’s urging we are to tend that flame, keep it burning, and pass it on.
Pentecost is often called the birth of the Church. Because it’s that moment when these cowering, terrified, not-at-all-ready-for-primetime disciples are suddenly blown out into the world—ready or not—to carry on the work of Christ. To be the hands and feet, the eyes and ears of Christ…and like him, to proclaim Good News to all, especially the poor, to release captives, set free the oppressed, to love everyone as Christ has loved us. Are you all ready for that? Do you feel confident in your ability to do all of that? No? Maybe you want some more time to prepare? Another shot at Lent, maybe? Want to go back to Advent and start again? Can’t we just put this off a little longer? Well, sorry…it’s Pentecost…the wind is blowing, the fire is already a blaze…here we are…Now, it’s our turn.
When I think about that…when I think about how not ready I feel to take all that on…I think of the other (and actually a whole lot better) mid-twentieth century Christian allegorical fantasy novel, and remember Frodo saying, “I wish [this crisis with the Ring] need not have happened in my time.” Why us? Why now?
To which Gandalf replies, ”So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
So ready or not, Pentecost is here. And all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. How will we keep the flame of God’s love and peace, and justice alive? How will we ensure the light of Christ continues to shine? Here in this place, and in our homes, and in the communities we live and work?
Pentecost is the birth of the Church, but it’s also the culmination of a much longer story arc. One that began way back in Genesis 11. Right after the flood, we are told that, “everyone on earth had the same language and the same words.” But of course hubris and egotism, and a drive to match—or even supplant—God brings about a crisis. Humans build a tower. God confounds our speech. Makes it difficult for us to understand one another…and scatters us over the whole earth (Genesis 11, Jewish Study Bible). Then sets about calling Abram, and Sarai, and their family, and building up a people who over and over and over again have to choose what to do with the time given them. Not every decision they make is faithful or life-giving. They can be petty, and mean, and jealous, and they are often at odds with one another…individually they are not much better than any of us…but neither are they a whole lot worse…but taken together…in the aggregate…they are grounded in goodness and compassion, they feel remorse when they reject that goodness…and when they destroy those relationships …they faithfully, and courageously work on becoming reconciled. Pentecost, the undoing of the confusion of tongues at Babel back in Genesis 11, is a sign and a foretaste of that reconciliation; the reconciliation of all of creation to God and one another.
The arc of scripture moves from establishing the original goodness of all creation, through the shameful shattering of that goodness, to the making, breaking, and remaking of covenants over and over…with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and his brothers; Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Leah; Moses, Josuha, Ruth, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Mary, John, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and on and on…to the ultimate reconciliation of all creation…That’s the story that we are part of…the story that will continue with us…and how we decide to respond to the time given us. How we decide to respond when God appears.
So it’s ok to feel like you’re not ready…And when the silence is too cacophonous, or the fire burns to hot…when the wind gusts or the water rises, and that voice inside you says, “I just can’t,” remember the story you’re in…the story of how God so loved the world that Jesus came to live with us, to remind us that living a reconciled, cross-shaped life is possible…that God’s way of love is possible, and reachable, and visible in this world. And then…decide how you are going to be light in the world. And trust that God will show up.