By the Reverend Kevin McGrane
Today is Pentecost, the arrival of the Holy Spirit in the birth of the church. To my mind, Pentecost is to the Holy Spirit what Christmas is to the Messiah: it’s sort of like their birthday.
I really like to read the book of Acts, which we heard at length today. Just like the Gospels are about Jesus Christ and his Good News, the Book of Acts is about us – his church – and how the responsibility of spreading the Good News is passed from Jesus to us, his apostles and disciples.
As the story of the church progresses after Pentecost, we will read in the New Testament how many of the miracles performed by Jesus now will be performed by the church.
The message to the world is clear: just as Jesus had authority from God as Messiah, Jesus confirms his authority to us, the church, filling the church with the Holy Spirit as his apostles and disciples.
We see a major part of this new message when we hear the apostles speaking in so many languages at the Pentecost. Remember that Jesus gave us the Great Commission to go preach the Gospel to all the peoples to the ends of the earth. We honor that commitment today by reciting the portion from Isaiah in the various languages you heard today, including my really rusty Russian. ...Kinda painful, that one...
But, let’s consider for a moment that people speak in a lot of foreign languages while actually speaking English to us, or whatever language that is our mother tongue. Have you ever noticed that?
By foreign, I mean they come from a background or a perspective that is so different from our own that it is like they are speaking a foreign language to us, despite the fact that we know they are speaking English. We hear the words, but we don’t know where they are coming from, and we simply do not understand them.
That’s when we, as Christians, need to learn another kind of language, the language of other peoples experiences, their histories, their family dynamics, their traumas, their challenges.
If we hope to carry on the Great Commission of carrying Jesus’ message to the ends of the earth, he requires us to study and learn those languages. Not the kind of study that you only find in books, as good as they are, but in engaging with people personally, where they are, listening closely to them, and searching for the sense of their words behind their words…their stories behind their stories.
That’s their language that we must learn if we are to be Christ for others.
We might ask ourselves, “But how do I do that? We’re closed. We can’t even meet for coffee!"
I hear you. And yep, it hurts. Yet I keep being reminded by friends of mine that the church is open – only our buildings are closed.
Pentecost is the birth of the church, not our buildings.
Recently, there has been a public debate about opening up essential businesses and services, and some say “Churches are essential. Open them up, too!”
Our bishop-elect, Deon Johnson believes we are essential as well. Allow me to share with you what he considers essential. He wrote just last week:
He says the church does not need to re-open because the church never closed. We are doing all those things right now.
We care for the marginalized by our meals, our pantry donations, and our prayers.
We speak truth to power and seek justice when we tell the Powers That Be that the police cannot choke a man to death in the street and expect to get away with it.
We welcome the stranger and the refugee when we continue to assist Welcome Neighbor STL by forgiving their rent because they cannot pay us during the lockdown.
We do the work of reconciliation and healing and caring when we call each other up on the phone to check in with each other and gather on Zoom liturgy services to pray together as a faith community.
We create a corner of the kingdom of God on this earth when we make our very lives safe spaces for relationships with the abused, the traumatized, the rejected, the exiled, and the isolated.
On this day of Pentecost, we are the same church today as we were 2000 years ago when we first were filled with the Holy Spirit. We are as much the church today as we were before we locked our doors for the safety of others.
The Holy Spirit has not left us. She is still here, feeling us with the grace of joy and in the call to serve others. The Holy Spirit calls us to learn languages we never heard before so we can listen with discerning hearts to the care and concerns and dreams of others, particularly in these times when listening is just about anything all of us can do right now. Are we learning to listen to those marching in the streets right now, tired of the murder of God‘s sons and daughters?
That’s why I’d like to end the sermon today with a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer which is a prayer of thanksgiving for the mission of the church, which is found on page 838. Please allow me to read it for you.
“Oh Mighty God, you sent your son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile the world to yourself. We pray and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the spirit to preach the gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and laborers, and that in every place your servants call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever.”
God bless. Stay safe. Amen.
The Reverend Kevin McGrane serves as a deacon in the Diocese of Missouri, and serves at St. John's.
Various members of the St. John's congregation contribute to this blog. For editorial suggestions, contact Jeff McIntire-Strasburg at email@example.com