Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday

Baptism of
Bennett Morrison
and Parker O’Rourke

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, on this Feast Day of the Holy Spirit--on the Church Calendar the grand conclusion and finale of the Easter Season, and this morning indeed a very festive occasion as well as Bennett Morrison and Parker O’Rourke are presented by their parents and godparents, family and friends, and all of us, truly, in just a few moments to share in the great sacramental mystery of Holy Baptism.

This simple act in which faithful intentions and prayers and the splashing of a little water at the font rings out through the universe and opens wide the gate of heaven to those new born into the risen life of Christ Jesus our Lord.

A dazzling moment. Memorable for all kinds of reasons for family and friends, and life-changing for us. A splash of water and a dab of holy oil on the forehead: the medicine given to us for the healing of our souls, the healing of the world. The source and spring of reconciliation and forgiveness, renewal and hope.

For this moment we gather around the font and stand at the center of the world and the turning-point of all history. Angels singing overhead, and as Jesus was born long ago in Bethlehem, he is born here as we are all reborn in him. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee,” this morning, leading us to this moment, on this Whitsunday, Pentecost. And it is such a great pleasure and a great honor to be here. Truly a privilege.

The holiday Shavu’ot, on the Jewish calendar 50 days after Passover, the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and in all ways the perfect day for Holy Spirit.

In the Old Covenant the Torah is the instrument that transforms and guides the Chosen People in the way of holiness and in relationship with God, the Torah that is the source of identity and purpose for God’s Israel--and now in the New Covenant given at the Cross and confirmed in Easter we are all in faith gathered in by the Spirit of God and made a new people, a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, now we ourselves just like the disciples marked as Christ’s own forever and sent forth to do the work he has given us to do, to preach, to teach, to bind up the brokenhearted, to forgive and to bless. Our identity, our purpose.

Not to preach a long sermon this morning, I promise, and certainly the baptismal service preaches and teaches on its own with incredible power—but just for a moment I want to pause over the first verse of the reading from Acts as we have heard it read first in English and then in that wonderful Pentecostal jumble of tongues. The story begins, Acts 2:1, “When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place.” And I want to pause right there.

Pentecost, and they are “together in one place.” That place the Upper Room. In just a couple of months now for them a place of such powerful associations and sacred memory, a place of laughter and tears, made holy by such deep experiences. Here, where Jesus had gotten down on his knees to wash their feet. Where he had offered his heartfelt High Priestly prayer. Where he had broken the bread, blessed the cup, offered himself in a perfect promise.

That same room. Here where they had run on Good Friday to hide out in fear of the authorities. And where the women had come to find Peter and John and bring them to the Empty Tomb. Where the friends from Emmaus had come to tell their story of meeting that stranger along the way, who was suddenly revealed to them to be Jesus. Where Jesus himself then appeared, that same Easter evening. And where Jesus returned to be with them again a week later, this time Thomas being with them at the table.

They were “together in one place” here. It could have been anywhere, but this is where it was. All of them together. And for me at this moment it’s impossible to read this passage without thinking of that moment in John 17, our lesson from just a week or two ago, when Jesus prays in that High Priestly prayer, “that they may be one, as you father are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us, may be perfectly one, that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

They burst out of that Upper Room on Pentecost morning on fire with the Spirit and full of power to preach the gospel and to teach all nations, and from that day forward the world would be turned upside down, never the same again.

And I would simply be reminded in this that in an era and a culture that so much values our individuality and self-direction and personal boundaries and constitutional autonomy, all of which are so important in so many ways, Jesus prays that we would be one, and the Spirit arrives when they, we, are all together.

We become complacent in so many ways in our brokenness, that for some there is even a rhetorical effort to turn that brokenness into a virtue. Which it most certainly isn’t, can never be. We are baptized into one body—and as incarnational and sacramental Christians it can never be enough to say that this is to be only a “spiritual” unity. Instead we pray always that we would be empowered and inspired to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. To put God’s love into action. To be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.

So about bridge-building. About making relationships and connections, and doing what we can in prayer, in thought, word, and deed, to be about reconciliation, to build our lives on the hope and the expectation and a fierce commitment to reunion. A long process, no question, and beyond our own efforts and our own generation. But something to lean toward.

And that we would as best we can live that way already. One Body in Christ in baptism, one Body at the Table, one Body in the wide world.
A job description for Bennett and Parker this morning, and for their parents and godparents and families and all of us, every last one of us. That they may be one, that the world may know . . . .

Now I would invite Bennett and Parker and their parents and godparents to come forward as we would gather together at the font in this most perfect way to celebrate the Day of Pentecost.

Bruce Robison

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