Sermon for Pentecost, May 27, 2012
By the Rev. Kate Ekrem
Can any of you young people, I’m just asking people under 12 here, tell me what is the birthday of our country? (After some hesitation, several children said “the 4th of July” including our 4 year old baptismal candidate). Can any of you tell me what is the birthday of the church? (One child guessed Christmas.) It’s actually today, The Feast of Pentecost.
When I was a kid my dad always made me read the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July, it’s often printed in newspapers that day for that very purpose, and here on Patriot’s Day we re-enact the events that began our country. We do that because it’s so important that our children understand, that we understand, what our values are, what our forbears fought for and died for.
That’s the same reason we re-enact Pentecost today.As we did with many languages in our reading today, all of you wearing red to remind us of the flames of fire of the Holy Spirit, and we’ll even baptize C. and H. today, like the disciples were baptized in the wind and fire of the spirit. We’re going to go with water instead of fire, it tends to work better, but it’s the same idea.
We remember and reenact Pentecost as the birthday of the church to remind ourselves of what our values are, what our forbears in faith struggled and sometimes died for. It’s a reminder of who we are, what we proclaim, where that proclamation comes from, that is passed down from generation to generation.
And the most important thing that we emphasize about that, about how the church began, is the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit that comes in wind and fire, it’s the holy spirit that makes the disciples speak in many languages, it’s the holy spirit that we pray will blossom and grow inside Caroline and Hannah from this day on.
The Holy Spirit makes church (and church community) happen. Church happens when the Holy Spirit fills people, making them into a fellowship, calling them to be witnesses to God’s deeds of power in the world.
So, what’s so important about church? Can you be a Christian without a church? In this day and age I think we know, at least I firmly believe that God loves a devout Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or whatever person who is active and involved in their faith community just as much as any Christian. We’re hopefully beyond having to debate that. The real question is, if you are a Christian, can you just do that on your own as an individual thing? Do you really have to be part of a church? Ok, you probably know where I stand on this, but let’s really think about it for a moment. Many people feel very comfortable with enjoying God in nature and going for a hike or bike ride on Sunday morning, and then also volunteering in a soup kitchen or doing something like that. So why are you here? Why all this?
A friend told me a story about someone from this part of the world who went to Georgia for the first time. He went to a restaurant for breakfast and noticed that everything on the menu seemed to come with a side of grits. So he asked the waitress, "Could you tell me, exactly what is a grit?" She looked at him and said, "Sugar, you can't get just one grit. They always come together." I think that Christians are maybe like grits. They come together. Or as Annie Dillard says, "You can no more go to God alone, than you can go to the North Pole alone." (John Ortberg)
You can't go to the North Pole alone because it's hard. You need supplies, support, logistics, help. You need them for the Christian life, too.
We need help to learn how to love, how to forgive, how to reconcile, how to listen, how to forgive again. All these things we practice in community. May not realize we’re learning how to forgive and love when we have a difference of opinion about what really should be served at coffee hour or which hymns we should be singing, but you are, we all are. Doing those things, practicing doing them, modeling them for others, in context of living out our Christina life, in the context of gathering around this altar each Sunday and eating this bread and this wine, this body of Christ together, as we become and are the body of Christ: That’s church.
But the foundational values of our church that Pentecost reminds us of, is that what the church is is something that is meant to be shared. The disciples didn’t get the Holy Spirit and then sit and hang out with each other in that upper room, enjoying food and fellowship with the 12 of them. They got the Holy Spirit, then they started speaking about god’s deeds of power, being witnesses to the miracles they had seen, the movement of God in their own life, and they spoke about this in all the languages they needed to to get the message out. If they had needed to set to rock music, or rap it, or do it in sign language, they would have done that, too. The spoke in all the languages of people who needed to hear the good news.
Pentecost makes us all prophets. Pentecost calls us more than anything to be evangelists, not just learning and supporting here, but taking that sweet sweet spirit we have in this place, the love and forgiveness and caring we have learned here, out into the world, sharing it with those who need it, perhaps you known someone who doesn’t feel in control of their life, or someone who is experiencing grief or loss, or who is in need of healing. You have something to share with them, you can tell them about God’s deeds of power in whatever language they speak.
Today is the birthday of the church, the day that God gave us the power to take God’s message of love and reconciliation to the whole world.