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The Spirit of Hope Sermon for Pentecost




--The Rev. Leslie Barnes Scoopmire

 

One of the bittersweet things that will occur this summer in the life of the Episcopal Church, and, I would argue, the broader Church is the stepping down of Presiding Bishop Curry as he completes his ninth and final year as our Presiding Bishop. This amazing, brilliant, kind shepherd and man of God has literally given his all to our church, and we all owe him a debt too deep for words.

 

I have been thinking about how I first really heard of him back in 2014, when he was one of the preachers at the Episcopal Youth Event that was held in Philadelphia, which our daughter Katie attended. You might think that an older man would have a barrier to overcome when attempting to connect with kids. But you would be wrong. Bishop Curry preached for over 20 minutes to a rapt crowd of teens and youth, holding them spellbound and leaving them excited about their faith. This is no mean trick, then or now. The next summer he was elected Presiding Bishop, and even our kids paid attention and approves this choice.

 

Bishop Curry’s preaching is rightfully described as “Spirit-filled.” Yet of the three “persons” of the Trinity, the Spirit is probably the one we talk about the least, especially we Episcopalians.Something about the Holy Spirit seems… intangible. God the Creator, we get. Jesus Christ the incarnate Son of God, a description which boggles the mind, we even get, because he was one of us, fully human. But the Spirit is a puzzle or a bewilderment.Maybe it has to do with other names for the Spirit, which include Holy Ghost; Advocate; Helper; Breath of God; Giver of Life or Life-Giver; or Paraclete. Yet the Church itself would not exist without the Spirit, as we see in the words of the Nicene Creed, where discussion of the “Holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” is placed in the section on the Holy Spirit. We always need to remember that the Church was founded after Jesus’s earthly life had ended, not before, becoming the Body of Christ in the world.


Today, the Day of Pentecost, is the day we celebrate and remember the Holy Spirit coming to consecrate and commission the Church to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the Earth.Last week and this week, from the Day of Ascension onward, we have heard Jesus promising to send the Spirit to guide his disciples once Jesus himself ascends into heaven. He promises that we will be filled to overflowing with power to work for the glory of God’s kingdom once the Spirit descends upon us and abides within us. Over the last few weeks, we have heard that phrase repeatedly: “abide in.” We heard it in John 15: “Abide in me as I abide in you…. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” We heard it again, twelve times, actually, in the brief first letter of John, which was our epistle for several weeks. This indwelling of the Spirit of Love was most beautifully expressed in 1 John 4:16: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  Paul beautifully addresses the Holy Spirit in Romans, chapter 8, which is subtitled “Life in the Spirit.”Life in the Spirit. Life upheld by hope, as Paul reminds us—a stubborn hope in the face of the cynicism and enmity that swirls all over our society right now. That hope that is a mark of living in a community of faith that we call the church, as flawed as she can be.


In his book, Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus, Bishop Curry spoke of Pentecost Day as a day of the power of collaboration and community, when the power of the Holy Spirit seized each one of those disciples and made it possible for the gospel of Jesus, the gospel of the power of love, to be heard and understood by all people—to abide in all people as a living presence. Bishop Curry wrote, “The story of Pentecost… speaks of barriers being bridged and divisions being overcome. On Pentecost, people heard the gospel of Jesus. And as they heard the gospel, barriers came tumbling down, bridges arose, and the new humanity in Christ began to emerge."(1) It is clear that when that Spirit is present and abiding in a community, barriers and divisions are broken, and bridges and community is built and made strong through planting within us the love of Jesus Christ, who scorns no one who seeks him, but instead embraces them regardless of any category we might us to differentiate one person from another.The gospel of Jesus is meant to bring us together. It is never to be used to divide, to hurt, or to wound another. Rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we abide in each other, we abide in truth and integrity, we abide in God.The Feast of Pentecost, ending the Easter season and beginning a long season known in the Church, unfortunately, as “ordinary time.” Yet the events we recall in our lives as Christians are anything but ordinary, and the readings we will hear this weekend confirm that.

 

Our faith is one in which of the power of words is emphasized from the very beginning—as in in Genesis, when God speaks the universe into being. in the response of the disciples after the power of the Holy Spirit comes over them, giving them the gift of language. In a blink they are outside, in the streets, doing exactly what the disciples were told to do in our gospel reading—they are out in the world, testifying to the power of God as revealed in Christ to the people they encounter there. It’s probably the most excitement you and I have ever heard coming out of a church meeting.In a kind of reverse of the curse of the Tower of Babel story, now these disciples, many of them simple country folk, have just learned to speak other people’s language. I think that’s an important point for us too in the Church today: we are called to speak to people in their own languages first, rather than expect them to immediately understand the language of Christianity.Through the power of the Spirit, we are reminded that language is power, empowering us to carry the gospel of Christ throughout the farthest reaches of the world as disciples, evangelists, and teachers—as Christians who are the Church.

 

Language is powerful—just as the wind that is often a symbol for the Spirit is powerful. Wind may be collected in sail or turbine to create momentum or energy. Place a spark before it and a dry prairie or hillside, and you soon have a wildfire. Language can help span divides, soothe grief,-- and spark conflagrations too. When we speak the language of Christ, the language of God’s reconciling, redeeming love for all creation, we seek to quench the conflagrations that divide us with the power of faith and hope.

 

The events of Pentecost remind us that diversity, not uniformity, is a strength, even a gift from God. And that’s a reminder we could all use today. Reminding us that, no matter what language we speak, in Christ we speak of love, redemption, and transformation not just of ourselves but of the whole world. It is the Spirit who draws us together as the Beloved Community, a community that is consecrated and charged by the Spirit to offer ourselves, souls and bodies, as witnesses and embodiments of God’s mercy, truth, and grace for the life of the world.

 

The same Holy Spirit who alights upon Jesus’s disciples, then and now, is the one whom we ask to consecrate the bread and wine and ourselves every time we gather around the altar in thanksgiving and communion, as we are reminded that we abide in Christ and in each other through the love of God manifested through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the same Spirit who at the end of worship sends us out into the world, just like those disciples on Pentecost, to carry of the work and healing of Jesus into a beautiful, hurting world. In the words of hymn 504, “Come, Holy Ghost our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire….”

 

By the power of Jesus’s gospel and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we are called to be a community of hope, a community of compassion, a community who imitates Jesus.

 

Today may we walk forth from here with this benediction: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

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