Sunday, May 19, 2013


 Acts 2: 1-21

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 modern Church Calendar the grand conclusion and finale of the 50-Day Easter Season.  Trumpets and flourishes.  A dazzling moment.   The traditional name “Whitsunday”from “White Sunday,” and referring to the status of this day as a great baptismal festival, in those ancient days when the liturgical colors for the day would have been not Red for the Spirit but all Easter resurrection white and gold, in the fresh baptismal robes of the newly baptized.

Where we start: 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.  A perfect day.

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.  The New Covenant doesn’t replace the Old, of course.  God speaks himself in the Word, he speaks himself in the Son, he speaks himself in the Holy Spirit.  The Torah and God’s Word continues to stand in its definitive way in our midst.  Now fulfilled and perfected.

Just for a moment this Whitsunday 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.  All of them. And for me at this moment it’s impossible to read this passage without thinking of that moment in John 17, our lesson from last week, as Bishop McConnell framed it for us so well in his sermon last Sunday, 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, “my spiritual journey,” 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 our brokenness, so 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 be ourselves the living witnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord in everything we do, and in a unity that is not simply spiritual but visible and transformational.  That they will know we are Christians by our love.  By word and action.  Always pointing to Jesus, who is the heart of our life, the head of the body.  Remembering always this word over us every week, from John 12, “and I when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.”  The mission statement of the Cross.  To become then our mission statement.

All about “opening doors,” if I can shift gears and make use of that phrase, and recall what is going on here at St. Andrew’s in this season.  The overall title of our Capital Campaign and of the initiatives of repair and expansion and renewal that are now beginning.   The disciples had been in that Upper Room with the doors locked.  Hidden away.  But the promised gift of the Holy Spirit descended up them, and the doors are suddenly wide open, the new Israel of God bursting forth.  A continuation of the Easter theme, as that heavy stone was rolled away from the door of the tomb.  The final and triumphant fulfillment of the word of the angel, “you shall call his name Emmanuel, which means, ‘God with us.’”  God with us.  In this world and here to stay.

And that we would live that way already, here and now. To know that same promised gift of the Holy Spirit, the breath and expression of God, descending upon us, filling us.  One Body in Christ in baptism, one Body at the Table, one Body in the wide world.

An old acquaintance of mine, Bishop Tony Burton, who served for a number of years as a bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada before feeling a call to a return to parish ministry and then moving across the border and to the Episcopal Church to serve as Rector of the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, Texas.  A very exciting and dynamic place, one of the largest congregations of the Episcopal Church, annual attendance in their Saturday and Sunday services approaching 2,000.  And something they have in common with us is that they also live in a parish facility that was designed in another era and which needs significant expansion and renovation to meet their missionary needs for the 21st century.  Just like us.  And last week Tony announced the final results of their Capital Campaign.  As I will be doing later this year.  Their Campaign somewhat different in scale, as they raised and then have exceeded $25 million  for their new century goals.  (Texas!)   But again, deep down with the same kinds of goals and concerns for the stewardship of resources for mission and ministry.  And Tony had a great quote, as I read the story, which I copied to echo here for us, talking about the near doubling of their congregational numbers of the past decade, and then of this incredibly successful campaign.  He said that despite the dazzling numbers his congregation's focus "is not” and must not be “about growth, but” about “changed lives."

"Size does not make a church better,” nor does money, nor beautiful buildings, “ but if its clergy and parishioners are sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, God can cause their work in His name to grow a parish that is a resource of great blessing . . . .”

A good word for us, about Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit, as we sail on into this season of growth, development, expansion, renewal.   As we hold this precious gift in our hands, everything about St. Andrew’s, who we are, who we are becoming.  With the Whitsunday and Pentecost prayer that God the Holy Spirit would create in us clean hearts and renewed minds and strengthened lives to be good stewards, to be good and faithful and effective witnesses, in all that we say and all that we do, in what we build, in what we share: that he will work in us and through us in a good and wholesome and powerful way to accomplish his purposes.

A great season, a great moment.  Pentecost.  Watch the disciples out there in the streets of Jerusalem.  The excitement, the fun, the refreshing joy of that moment.  Pretty cool.  Long ago, but still so much a part of who we are, who we can be.  And to pray and give thanks, remembering those disciples two thousand years ago, and all those in every generation since then, and the heroes of Christian life that build this place and set us on our course, for 176 years at St. Andrew’s and 107 years in this beautiful church, that we in our turn each one of us, all of us together, may have the grace to glorify Christ in our day.

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