The Suddenly of the Spirit
The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – May 19, 2013- The Feast of Pentecost
Some sermons are difficult to write ahead of time and not a surprise to many of you, this was one of those for me. Often we can look several days ahead and project ourselves forward but some weeks actually invite us right into the very moment, requiring us to stay in the now with very little ability to look beyond. Usually those moments are instances of crisis or major turning points, decision making moments, or celebrations marking a particular occasions. I can tell you that bishop elections are like that. And I speak now from experience. Baptism is like that too – baptism invites us right into the very now of what it happening among us. And odds are good that that first Pentecost, the day that we consider “The Birthday of the Church” was the kind of day on which the people had very little option but to be present to what the Spirit was doing among them. They were called to receive from and learn from that day, and to move forward with a new sense of the workings of God.
So, we’ll start with them. The Book of Acts tells us that they were all together in one place. (And I love that that’s often how these things happen – when “they/we are all together in one place.”) And then ‘suddenly’ something happened. Even though they had been told the Spirit would come, even though they were waiting for it and watching for it, it was a SUDDENLY when it actually arrived. These moments are always like that – as much lead up and anticipation as there tends to be, it’s the actual moment that breaks open some sort of new revelation. There came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Tongues of fire appeared among them and ALL of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other language, as the Spirit gave them ability.
I find it kind of wonderful that the church’s birth was not as a completely organized, well-functioning mechanism; instead what God gave us was a sort of Spirit led chaos. The people just started talking in about fifty different directions all at the same time.
And that’s what God did in that moment. And while it seems like a funny way to be Church, we should imagine it. It would mean that you would struggle to talk to the person sitting next to you in here, but you could lean out the doors and the windows and there would be people with whom you’d connect out there. So what this tells us is that the church was born as an entity made to give and speak beyond itself. And looking forward for the church meant not looking down one straight and absolutely clear path; there actually were possibilities leading in all sorts of directions.
Baptism is like all of that too. Today we will baptize William Archer and Eliss Marie as we gather around the ‘Suddenly’ that will change their lives forever. They will be brought into the Household, embraced and loved and cared for in here but we will also break the church open for them and for us too as we renew our own baptismal vows. We’ll vow to “respect the dignity of every human being,” not just us. To “work for justice and peace among all people,” speaking in different languages to this people and that people proclaiming the good news of a loving and resurrected Christ! Baptism is birthday too, and it’s a moment, a suddenly that is led by the Spirit of God. Baptism is also a re-birthday for all of us as we celebrate church not only for us but as gift to the world.
So one of the most important things I learned in this bishop election process, (and there are about one million learnings for me – I’ll be soaking this up for awhile,) but one of the most important things I heard over and over again is that Grace Church, Holland is the kind of church that nobody really believes exists! No kidding! It made me realize how un-normal our take-it-to-be-normal-is. You all should know this too. From interviews, to conversations with people around the diocese, to a couple of points when I and the other candidates were in the formal experiences of the Walkabout I was challenged in good ways to tell them more: “Really?” they would ask me in the midst of talking about a shrinking church, “You have a lot of young families?” And then I’d tell them how on one Sunday I counted eight babies out there. Others wondered aloud to me, “So, your ‘older members’ have stayed through all of the changes in the Church?” “Yes,” I’d say. “In fact, some of them have led the way.” “You open your houses to homeless people? . . .Feed the hungry? . . . Work for issues of justice out there and pray together in there?” “Yup.” One candidate even acknowledged to the audience at a Walkabout event how unusual it was to hear about a parish that practices open communion rather passionately AND values baptism and celebrates it regularly. That’s Grace. And the list went on. One of the valuable things I learned in all of this is that it’s very hard for people to even imagine a church that is inclusive, traditional, old and young, prayerful, active, and growing especially an area in which “Episcopal” is still a word we need to spell out whenever we tell people anything about this place.
While this bishop search and election process has involved me directly, it’s also been about us. And the fruits of this process are for us to share. We’ve been given a moment here. A moment to embrace these gifts of the Spirit that are Grace. To suddenly see them anew, reclaim them and acknowledge them as the kind of “not-normal” that the world needs, the community needs, and the Church apparently needs to hear more about. The Spirit is here! So crack open the windows! Prop open the doors! Welcome William and Eliss and everyone else who come! The Spirit of God is among us – the possibilities are endless.