Monday, May 12, 2008

The Proper of Yesterday: The Day of Pentecost

This past weekend was a busy one for me. In a joyful ceremony presided over by the Bishop of Newark, the Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith, we at St. Thomas's renewed our ministry in Vernon and Sussex County and I was inducted officially as Vicar, although I began my ministry here on March 3. My good friend C. Davies Reed, Associate Rector at St. Christopher's in Carmel Indiana, served as deacon for the Eucharist. He and I have managed to attend every ministry-related function either of us has had, and it's my hope we can continue that. I was grateful, too, that several friends from Trinity Parish in Bergen Point attended as well. Afterward, we had a festive reception in the community room, and there was more food than I have ever seen at a chruch function, ever! it was wonderful. My Dad is in from Toledo and it's been nice spending time with him. We've been doing some exploring and geocaching and generally having a good time.

Yesterday, of course, was The Day of Pentecost, the Fiftieth Day and the last of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. We celebrated it fully and honored the mothers, mothers-to-be, and mothers-in-spirit as well. Because I was a little tired, I did not fully write out my sermon, but the part I ad-libbed I leave as an exercise for the reader :-)

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:25-32; 1 Cor 12:4-13; John 20-19-23
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

May these words be in the Name of and under the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

This is Pentecost, the 50th Day after Easter. “Pente” means five, like Pentagon, the five-sided headquarters of the Defense Department. It’s one of the Principal Feasts of the church, and it’s the day when we especially remember and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. Luke records that it was on the fiftieth day that in a very real way the disciples were filled with that Holy Spirit. It was a physical thing that everybody could see, and could hear, too. Folks from all over the Roman Empire could hear the disciples speaking in different languages about Jesus. And in fact, for a long time in the church, the ability of speaking in tongues, as it’s sometimes called, was considered a sign that someone was truly saved. The apostle Paul wrote about speaking in tongues to the believers at Corinth in today’s second lesson, and mentions speaking in tongues as one of the gifts of the Spirit that the believers there showed.

Some Christians even today actively seek these spiritual gifts. Some wonder why so few people seem to have these gifts in this day and age, that they seem to have died out after the first few generations. Some thought that since it was promised that believers would have those specific gifts, when it didn’t seem to be happening, some concluded they weren’t truly saved. How can we be Christians when none of us to my knowledge have seen a tongue as of fire descend on anyone like it happened on the fiftieth day? What’s wrong with us? Hasn’t the Holy Spirit, the Advocate that Jesus promised us, not come to us after all? Are we just deluding ourselves into thinking that we are reconciled to God in Christ when in reality we’re not? What about this Holy Spirit anyway? How do we know this is for real?

My friends, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is indeed active and working in our lives, in your life and my life. We are indeed brothers and sisters in Christ, united with God and one another forever. I know this with every fiber of my being. Now, I have never spoken in tongues nor performed miraculous signs of healing. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that The Spirit is in this place. Let me tell you how I know. It’s the story of how I came to be called here. Now I know that yesterday, many of us helped celebrate the renewal of our ministry here at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church. Part of that was my official induction as your Vicar by the Bishop, but you’ve heard me say that yesterday was not about me. It was and is about us. So keep that in mind as I tell how I know the Holy Spirit is moving – because it’s me that got moved in the process!

[Recount story of call from June of 2007 until March 3.]

So that why I know a little about the Holy Spirit, because I felt her at work. But it might be natural to think, yes that’s all well and good, but you’re a priest and you must get special training or something to have been able to figure all that out. I don’t believe that to be true. Just because I’m ordained doesn’t give me any special access to the Spirit. It’s just as hard for me as for anyone else. But the reality is, it isn’t that hard. It may not have been so obvious to you, but I’ll bet you can think of instances in your life that seem in retrospect to clearly have been God working. And I think that, when that’s the conclusion you come to, it’s often indeed the case. The best way to double check what you’re thinking and praying is to ask others about it. Just like it took– deliberately, it’s supposed be this way – the search committee and the Executive Committee and the Bishop, and me, to agree that this call seems to be of God, any time you think you feel the Spirit moving in your life, it’s good to ask others about it. The Holy Spirit will always inspire you to actions that are for the building up of your own self and the community you live in. The Spirit is never a negative thing. She never tells you not to do something. She urges you on and up toward more positive things, the things that are of God and not of evil.

You may also be wondering what gifts the Spirit has given you. St. Paul wrote in today’s excerpt one list of spiritual gifts that he and the Corinthian believers discerned were of the Spirit. Just because we don’t see some of those same gifts manifested in 2008 doesn’t mean the HS is inactive. It just means, as we look around, that the gifts needed in our communities in AD 2008 might be different than those needed in AD 68. St. Paul noted: "All gifts given by the Holy Spirit are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses." Why should we think that what the Christian believers in Corinth needed would be the same that we Christian believers in Vernon need now? What might some of these gifts look like today in your life?

I can see many of them at work powerfully right now on this community. I see gifts of organization. I see gifts of hospitality and welcome. I see gifts for building and construction. I’m aware of gifts of generosity in time and money. I see gifts of comfort and healing. As Bishop Mark noted to our credit yesterday, I see an overall gift of energy and passion for this worshipping community. I know many of you want to continue to offer what you can for the good of this parish. I’m going to suggest a practical way to do so.

As many of you remember, we have set for our selves five goals for this parish for the next few years.
- Energize for growth. That’s hospitality. If we want to attract new members we have to create new patterns on how we think about the next person who walks in the door.
- Inreach and Outreach.
- Christian Education.
- Becoming a parish.

The Exc. Comm will be meeting for a mini-retreat in June so we can do some deep thinking and praying and planning about how we want to go about reaching these goals. I have suggested that a way to keep us focused on these goals is to form some what I am suggesting we call commissions. A “commission” is to “mission with.” That’s what “co-“ means, after all. Commissions are groups of members interested in offering their gifts in a particular area. In addition, Commissions can be, well, commissioned, that is, formally recognized and charged with performing the work they’ve undertaken. We’re talking about having a commission for each goal, splitting inreach and outreach because those are pretty big by themselves. A lot of work still needs to be done on this idea before it’s ready to roll out. After all, remember that when you think the Spirit is working, it’s good to check with others. The Exec. Comm and I will be depending on the Holy Spirit to guide us as we test whether this is a positive way to begin to realize the great potential that I firmly believe exists here. I believe we can achieve parish status within two years. We have, after all, the greatest gift there is, the gift of the Spirit’s presence in, with, and among us, here at St. Thomas’s. Like the spiritual goes, I know the Spirit is in this place!

In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Notice the order here. Jesus greets us with peace, and actually gives us his peace before sending us out to do the work he has given us to do. I am mindful that there are lingering tensions here among some of us at St. Thomas’s. I’m starting learn some of the details and the history as I continue to get know you a bit. As Bishop Mark pointed out so well yesterday, all communities have tensions and disagreements. However, remember that Jesus gives us a command – as the Father has sent me, Jesus says, so I send you. But before we can be sent, before we can fully be the beacon of life and hope for this township and Sussex County that I’m convinced Jesus is indeed sending us to, we must accept and embrace God’s peace first. We cannot move ahead if we are divided. And so I invite you to continue to reach out in the power of that same Spirit to others with whom you might have had a disagreement in the past. It’s hard work, and if you need me to help, please come talk to me. I don’t expect us to never disagree or even fight. It’s not conflict itself that is a problem, it’s how we deal with conflict that reveals whether we’re letting the Spirit really work in our lives or not.

Mt brothers and sisters, I know the Spirit is working here! And I invite you to awaken or re-awaken to that same knowledge and begin to let the Spirit work in your own lives. Each of you here today is making a wonderful continuing step by your presence, by being in community one with another and worshipping at this Altar. Even when we do so at more than one time, we do so at one Altar. Let that be for us a symbol of the unity we already share, as fellow members of the household of God in Jesus. The work of the Spirit is not always as a tongue of fire that appears instantly and causes you to do miraculous things. That was right for that age. For us here today, the Spirit’s work is more often quieter and more subtle. On this fiftieth day, let’s be glad for the work of the Spirit that brought us together, and that powerfully inspires us in our parish goals. We’ve got much to do, and by the power of the same Spirit, I know we can do what we have set out to do. Because that’s of the Spirit, and that means nothing will be impossible for us.

Here's a wonderful song celebrating the power of the Spirit:

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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