June 4, 2017
+ This past week, I came across a hidden little treasure here at St. Stephen’s. I just happened to come across that Pentecost banner that is hanging there. I found it in the sacristy, along with several other banners. I realized we had not put it up for many years, certainly the last time it was put up was before I got here.
It was fun to do a little detective work on it these last few days. James shared that he remembered when it hung where our ikon to Our Lady not hangs.
But, what has been particularly wonderful about the detective work is, that as I sent the photo of the banner around, trying to find out more about it, I kept hearing from people, “”I love Pentecost.”
In fact, Alice Hauan loves Pentecost so much, she had her family come over early this morning to put up those wonderful red flags in front of the church.
That’s a good thing. It’s good to love Pentecost. Because it is an important feast in the Church. In fact, it’s one of the most very important feasts in the church, right up there with Easter and Christmas. Like Easter and Christmas, it even has a vigil service the evening before.
With the ending of this day of Pentecost, the Easter season officially ends. This evening, I will move the Paschal Candle back out to the Baptismal font in the Narthex. We will say Alleluia a bit less than we have during the season of Easter. But, we will continue to live into the resurrection and into the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence among us.
Pentecost is the feast in which we celebrate the Holy Spirit—or more specifically the Holy Spirit’s descent upon those first followers of Jesus. It also gives us an opportunity to think about a very important thing that we often just don’t think about but which works in our lives on a daily basis:
The Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, after all, is God in our midst. God’s very Presence here on earth with us and in us. The Holy Spirit is that gift that Jesus told us would be the gift we receive now that we no longer have Jesus physically with in the flesh as he was before his Ascension.
Today, we are commemorating the Holy Spirit moving in us. In us, as the collective Church. And in us, as individuals. And that moving of the Holy Spirit within us, has changed us and made us—both collectively and individually—a wonderful force of good and love in the world.
I think most of us—I hope most of us—have felt his moving of the Holy Spirit within us as some point. Still, even if we haven’t, when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we all find ourselves grasping and struggling to define who and what the Spirit is in our lives. The Spirit can be elusive and strange and sometimes we might have a hard time wrapping our minds around the Spirit.
And you know what? That’s all right. We don’t have “figure out” the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to understand the Spirit. All we have to do is be open and allow the Spirit to dwell in us and through us.
In a sense what happens with the Descent of God’ Spirit upon us. We now have the potential to be prophets, as you’ve heard me say many, many times. The same Spirit which spoke to Ezekiel, which spoke to Isaiah, which spoke to Jeremiah, which spoke to Moses, also can now speak to us and be revealed to us just as the Spirit spoke and was revealed to those prophets from the Hebrew Bible.
That is who the Spirit is in our midst.
The Spirit we celebrate today—and hopefully every day of our lives—is truly the Spirit of the God that came to us and continues to come to us—first to those prophets in our Hebrew past, then in the person of Jesus and finally in that rushing wind and in that rain of burning flames. It is through this Spirit that we come to know God in ways we might never have before. God’s Spirit comes to us wherever we may be in our lives—in any situation or frustration.
God’s Spirit is with us, as Jesus promised, always. Always.
For those of us who want to grasp these experiences—who want to have proof of them—the Spirit doesn’t fit well into the plan. We can’t grasp the Spirit. We can’t make the Spirit do what we want it to do. In that way, the Spirit truly is like the Wind that came rushing upon those first disciples.
So, how do we know the Spirit is working in our lives?
Well, as Jesus said, we know the tree by its fruit. In our case, we know the Spirit best through the fruits God’s Spirit gives us. It was on the feast of Pentecost in Jewish culture on which the first fruit of the harvest were offered to God. In a sense, what happens on our Pentecost, is God returning those fruits to us.
On the feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the fruits the Spirit of God gives to us and we can be thankful for them. The Spirit comes to us and is manifested to us in the fruits given to us by the Spirit.
We often hear about Pentecostals—those Christians who have been born (or baptized) in the Spirit. They are the ones who speak in tongues and prophesy and have words of knowledge or raise their hands in joyful praise—all those things we good Episcopalians find a bit disconcerting. These Pentecostals—as strange as we might find them—really do have a lot to teach the rest of us Christians about the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
For me, the Spirit of God came to me at various points in my life not in a noisy, raucous way, but rather in a quiet, though just as intense, way. The Spirit of God as I have experienced The Spirit has never been a “raining down” so to speak, but rather a “welling up from within.” The fruits of the Spirit for me have been things such as an overwhelming joy in my life.
I have known the Spirit to draw close when I feel a true humbleness come to me. When the Spirit is near, I feel clear-headed and, to put it simply, happy. And more than anything, when the Spirit draws close, I am filled with a true sense of hope.
Last Wednesday, on May 31st the Feast of the Visitation, I celebrated the 34th anniversary of my calling to the Priesthood. On that day, I can tell you, when I felt the Holy Spirit move in me, I knew that presence was holy and good and true and right. My life certainly didn’t get easier after that point. But my life changed, and I was led to places by that same Spirit which called me that I would never have thought for myself.
No doubt everyone here this morning has felt a similar experience of God’s Spirit, although you might not have readily recognized that experience as God’s Spirit. Maybe it was the joy and hope you felt when a child or grandchild was born. Maybe it was a sense of calm coming to you in the midst of a difficult time in your life. Maybe it was a comforting hand on your shoulder when you were sorrowing or a bit of advice you needed for some problem you had been carrying with you for some time.
This is how God’s Spirit comes to us. The Spirit does not always tear open the ceiling and force fames of fire into our lives. The Spirit rather comes to us just when we need the Spirit to come to us.
So, this week of Pentecost, let us look for the gifts of the Spirit in our lives and in those around us. Let us open ourselves to God’s Spirit and let it flow through us like a caressing wind. And let us remember the true message of the Spirit to all of us—whenever it seems like God is distant or nonexistent, that is when God might possibly be closest of all, dwelling within us, being breathed unto as the Spirit was those first disciples.
On this feast of Pentecost—this feast of the fruits of God—let us feel the Holy Spirit move within us and let us give thanks to God for all the many fruits of the Spirit in our lives.
And so, as we end this Easter season, as we celebrate the Spirit’s presence among us let us pray,
Lord Jesus, let the love we have celebrated in this Easter season be put into practice in our daily lives as we follow you. . We ask this through in your name, with God our Creator and the Holy Spirit who works in us and through us, One God, forever and ever. Amen.