June 12, 2011: Happy Birthday to Us


Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Day of Pentecost

My aunt baked a wonderful cake for each Christmas Day – fluffy sweet icing, moist cake, and fresh coconut. All was good for Christmas, until grandkids came along. Candles were added and she had us sing Happy Birthday to Jesus – pretty cheesy but the kids loved it. I hummed along, smiled and kept my unsolicited thoughts to myself. Christmas was huge and festive in our family. Easter rated ham, deviled eggs, and potato salad. Pentecost didn’t exist.

Had I been on my game, I would have demanded a cake and birthday song for Pentecost, the church’s birthday. God’s Holy Spirit falls fresh on run-of-the-mill, average, mildly intelligent Jews. Miraculously they start talking in different languages, astounding the festival crowds in Jerusalem. But the real miracle is the transformation that came over those Jews. Peter finally understands and proclaims the Jesus story with courageous conviction. The Spirit’s work takes off like a Roman candle. And the church is born – Happy Birthday. And that miracle still rises –here we are 2000 years later.

Pentecost is like a second creation story. First creation, God breathes into chaos and creates a livable world. Second Creation comes at Pentecost when God again breathes from faulty, flawed, confused and sin-prone lives, taking what is and making new – a church, empowered people who are sure now about what God is doing. We are “Pentecosted” with the Holy Spirit in baptism, sealing us as God’s forever. Nothing we can do removes God’s imprint, the Spirit. We respond by being witnesses of God’s love to the ends of the earth. Daily God keeps breathing in us, with us, and through us.

Here are some signs of Pentecost. A friendship ends badly. You accidently bump into the former friend, and before you can stop, words you never intended to say tumble out, “How are you? Let’s have coffee.” You do, and find you are laughing and friends again. Pentecost is a moment the Spirit makes a new creation out of what’s broken in our lives.

People abused by religion – told they don’t belong – change or leave, realize they can’t give up on God. That’s the Spirit deep within not letting them go. They search until a find a community where gospel is for all, where they can genuinely encounter God, and learn they are part of God’s love story. They meet people who help them grow in love with God, listen to their struggles, know their flaws, and still holds, loves and encourage them. That’s the Body of Christ offering different gifts from people working together and unified in the same Spirit, as Paul says. That church is inspirited with Pentecost’s Spirit. God’s love pours out for everyone and opens the way for women and men, young and old to proclaim His love and life.

I’ve talked with people who turn their tragedies into triumphs – the death of a child or spouse, a divorce, huge disappointments. They hang onto God. The Spirit reaches to hang onto them. They dream up ways to use their experience to help others going through similar dark days. They offer support and encourage them, “You’re not alone. I am making it – and I’ll help you.” That’s the Spirit’s power of new creation.

The Spirit brings raises new faith again in times of our doubt. The Spirit helps us proclaim God’s love and life for all. The Spirit stirs up compassion in us; keeps our egos in check; empowers us to love those we’d rather not. The Spirit of Pentecost is all over the place – not just back there in Jerusalem once and historical, but new life offered each day in God’s reign for all.

Sometimes people wonder where God went when the bottom falls out. Often we think God is absent when days are dark – God has abandoned us. We forget God is there with us also. And we forget to look for God at work when things go well and sun shines brightly over us. Where would we be if Jesus’ followers had given up hope when the bottom fell? The Spirit keeps us alert, and keeps hope alive when we are in the dark.

The Spirit nudges and challenges us sometimes. I am reading a new book.[i] Researchers interviewed thousands of inactive or marginally involved church members. They have become our new mission field, now numbering more than non-churched unbelievers. I am stunned by that. Have we forgotten to help all in our flock grow? Can we even say we are spiritually alive and growing?

How many of the marginally involved are among us? Who are they, and how did they get there? Do we care? I hope so – that’s part of our witness. In our own parish, less than half our members are involved meaningfully in ways that change their lives. Does our life together encourage spiritual growth? What might we need to do? A little over a third of us are present on a given Sunday. Do they care – do we? If we don’t care, neither will they.

Maybe God’s breath will nudge us and challenge us to care and reach out to those among us who once believed, may still believe something, yet whose connection with God has gone dead. And what about those who do not believe – or believe but don’t do anything about it – we need to help restore them to active faith. Are we forming ourselves to be role models for God, reaching out in love for them – as God reaches for us? Our mission is be and grow as Jesus’ disciples. We join Jesus – and learn and grow spiritually in the church – hopefully. Our purpose is to create disciples first. The church is the resource to help us be transformed into loyal disciples of our Lord. We study, pray, read scripture together, share our stories, help and encourage each other to become spiritually alive disciples of Jesus.

I hope I am not alone in feeling God’s spirit stirring. Maybe some of you will be inspired and inspirited enough to join me in conversation with the goal to reclaim the 80% on the fringes and make sure all of us are growing spiritually as Jesus’ followers.

If Pentecost’s story tells us anything – it says that God’s in the renovation business. God takes us where we are and makes us new – empowering us to be witnesses to the truth of His love to all people. Can you sense and see God’s spirit at work around us and in us? God breathes us into a deeper love for him and each other, to see each other as He sees each of us. Breathe deeply – breathe the fresh air of God’s Spirit, and who breathes love and new life into you.


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