Sunday, July 10, 2022
Embracing the Spirit.
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
There are two very different stories about the giving of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. The first, that most people don’t seem to remember, occurs in the evening or late afternoon on Easter. That version is in John when Jesus appears in the upper room. He greets the disciples and says, “Peace be with you..” Then he shows them his hands and his side. Next he breathes on them and says “Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” That’s it! No rushing wind, no tongues of flames, he breathes on those gathered in the upper room where they had eaten the Last Supper and sends them out. And of course Thomas misses all this.
The version in Acts it is an entirely different story. I fear that the way the appearance of the Holy Spirit among the disciples seems very tame in the NRSV translation. The Message Bible creates a different image. Listen to that translation: “Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. 3 Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks,” Gale force winds and wildfires, now that is more dramatic. Sometimes the Spirit operates that way and other times, the Spirit is more subtle. No matter how the Spirit chooses to appear you can be sure the Spirit was active then and is still active in our world. The Holy Spirit has been there from the beginning.
Pentecost is of Jewish origin and the Jewish Pentecost is 50 days after Passover. Shavuot is the Hebrew name and this is the third of the three great holy days in Judaism. This marks both the giving of the Torah to Moses and is the festival of booths which mark the first fruits of the spring harvest. In our passage from Acts today the Spirit comes when Jerusalem is filled with the faithful from all over the world. Jerusalem was a multi-cultural and very diverse city so even on a normal day there would be people from all over the world in town and even more came to visit or make a pilgrimage. Imagine the effect of hearing the good news spoken in your native language.
Pentecost in the Christian world is often referred to as the birth of the church. This in-breaking of the spirit on what seemed like a very ordinary group of people was quite exceptional at that time. Many believed that God had finished speaking to people and that the time of prophesy was over. The Spirit had different plans and we have this extraordinary experience of the in-rushing of the Spirit like a loud wind and wildfire.
However, this in-breaking of the Spirit, this connection with the Spirit, continues to happen today. Over the last couple of weeks, you have heard about how the Vestry and I believe the Spirit is at work in our parish. You also heard from Josh about the Spirit’s role in starting our community garden project. I want to give you one more very personal story about the Spirit.
While I was in the process of discerning whether I was called to be a priest I visited Virginia Seminary in Alexandria VA. On Sunday of the weekend, I attended the service for the First Sunday of Lent at the National Cathedral. It was a magnificent service with the full choir and procession walking all around the cathedral as they sang the Great Litany. On the altar were two very unusual candles. Gone were the normal large brass candles, instead were two very plain wrought iron lights that burned with a flame that looks like what you see when using those little sterno flames that you put under a dish at a buffet to keep the food warm. Bright blue with just a little yellow at the top and very hot. I found myself drawn to that flame as if it was speaking to me about the flame that I carry in me.
As the service ended and the worshipers left there was this flood of people coming in the main doors in the back. I remember looking at the crowd reflected in the window of one of the doors and a distinct feeling of someone saying, “What’s wrong with this picture?” In my mind I replied this cathedral is filled with tourists. More tourists were coming in to see the building than were there for the service. Then again the feeling that the voice again said, “Fill my house with believers not tourists.”
So the three flames that you see on this stole are my way of remembering the my experience that day. There are three flames for the trinity. And one of my check up questions when I am praying is to ask, what does my flame look like today. That is actually a good question for all of you to ask on this Pentecost, what does your spiritual flame look like. The stole is asymmetrical because the Spirit is not neat and orderly but extremely messy. People often walk up to me and try to balance the stole out and you cannot do that. This stole is specifically made for Pentecost, but it also the stole that was made for my ordination and I use this as a reminder of that day.
We ask the Spirit to be present in many ways. When a person is ordained for sacramental ministry the bishop prays for the Holy Spirit to come down upon the person being ordained. No difference whether priest or deacon.
Here is what the Book of Common Prayer says:
Here the Bishop lays hands upon the head of the ordinand, the Priests who are present also laying on their hands. At the same time the Bishop prays Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to N.; fill him with grace and power, and make him/her a priest/deacon in your Church.
But the Spirit is not just for the ordained, but also for all of us. The oil of chrism I use at baptism, blessed by the bishop is put on the forehead of the newly baptized with the words. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. I often tell people that your job as a Christian is to make that cross on your forehead visible for all to see. You do this in part by the ministry that you participate in.
The reality is that according to our Catechism we are all ministers, that is why my title is priest rather than minister. My ministry is a sacramental ministry focused on the table and the baptismal font. But you are all ministers by your baptism.
There is a big difference between a consumer-oriented church and a missional or mission driven church. In a consumer-oriented church people say, “I go to church.” They sit there expected to be fed and cared for. All that type of church wants is a priest who is there to perform the basic functions, hatch match and dispatch to put it crudely. This is like my one friend from my previous life who said, “I love my church, I go there on Sunday and come home feeling good.” When asked what else do you do at church, he looked at me with a puzzled look on his face. He just came on Sunday morning for shelter from a difficult world.
A missional or mission driven church is filled with people who say, we are the church. This is a body of people sent on a mission who gather in community for worship, encouragement, and teaching from the Word in addition to what they are self-feeding themselves throughout the week.
I believe that the Spirit is calling us to work towards becoming a missional church, one that makes a real difference not only in our own lives, but in the lives of people that are outside of our walls. This is what is behind some of the new ministries that we are working on and the current ministries that we support in a variety of ways.
And now we are going to stand and reaffirm our faith with the Renewal of Baptismal Vows that we do on Pentecost. I hope as you say these words, you will take the time to listen to not just the words, but also listen to the Spirit. Listen for what the Spirit has to say to you and your part in furthering the mission and vision of our parish.