Sunday, June 04, 2006

Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:25-32; 1 Corinthians 12:4-13; John 20:19-23

What a joyful noise we just made! A marvelous jumble of sounds and words and voices! All those languages at once speaking the same gospel, the same good news, the same story of the night when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit – the breath, the life of God – on the disciples, filling them with power to do God’s work in the world.

The Holy Spirit – the breath, the life of God – has always been moving in and around and through God’s work in the world. It was the Spirit who brooded over the waters at the beginning of creation. The same Spirit breathed life into those created in God’s image. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, the same Spirit filled judges and prophets and dreams with the voice of God speaking in fiery passion or a still, small voice. The Spirit of God overshadowed Mary, and she conceived and bore a son. The same Spirit came down like a dove as Jesus came up from the Jordan River waters. Taking a deep breath, he went out to do God’s work in the world. The same Spirit.

But on the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit did something new. The breath, the life of God, moved, no, rushed in and around and through the disciples; and then, it rested on them. It rested in them. And although the disciples knew that Jesus had ascended, had left them and returned to God, they suddenly felt closer to him than ever before, as close as their own breath. On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples began a new life as Christ’s Body in the world, guided, protected, strengthened and empowered by that same Spirit.

It was a intimate moment….that sounded like a zoo at feeding time! One Spirit, one Body….but all those languages, all those voices! We heard only a few languages this morning, but the Book of Acts tells us that people from every nation under heaven were there that day, and that each one heard the disciples speaking in the native language of each. Visitors from Rome, residents of Mesopotamia, and Arabs heard them speaking about God’s deeds of power. Egyptians heard fluent Egyptian, Pamphylians heard perfect Pamphylian!

Do you hear what I hear? Bishop Gray heard, and has been repeating it to us over and over again. Filled with the Holy Spirit, living as the Body of Christ, our first and most essential act is to proclaim the good news to the whole world, and not just to people who speak the same language that we do. That may mean learning Spanish or Swedish or Pamphylian, but language isn’t just about ethnicity, nationality, or geography. The Woods know that – Nicholas and Henley and Ashby speak to them all the time. They don’t use words, but their parents and siblings still understand, mostly….

The truth is, we all speak many languages, whether we know French or German or just English. Our words and actions and voices and memories and emotions, our hands and faces and posture, our experiences and our silences, all of who we are speaks. Recognizing this, our baptismal covenant calls us to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.

Each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. This morning, an Episcopal parish in Pennsylvania is reading the gospel in many languages….all of which are English. Some of the voices are reading right from the bible. Some are telling the story in their own words. There are male and female voices, very young and very old voices, soft and loud voices. There are tired voices, excited voices, angry voices, anxious voices, hesitant voices, fearful voices, grieving voices. One Spirit, one Body….all those languages, all those voices at once speaking the same gospel, the same good news. Is one of them your native language? Perhaps several of them you understand, mostly….

The same Spirit rests in each one of us, and as Christ’s Body we are sent into a cacophonous world. Taking a deep breath or two or more, we are inspired, empowered to plunge deep into life, to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ first and especially in the lives of those no one else wants to speak to or listen to, those who are lost in their own languages, and those who have retreated into wordlessness. To learn to speak these languages we will have to listen very carefully – they are sometimes only audible in a rattling cough, only visible in an outstretched hand, only understood in a shared experience.

And sometimes, we find ourselves not in the midst of cacophony but, rather, a profound silence. Grief and loss in waves overwhelm us, take our breath away, and we cannot find in any language a single word to speak. Paul gently reminds us that in these difficult times, the same Spirit, on the breath of God, intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

Receive the Holy Spirit. We have good news for the world – a message of forgiveness and reconciliation and salvation, a story about God coming among us as close as our own breath. And we tell it best by listening, by engaging in the lives of our sisters and brothers, by hearing their voices and how they make meaning. Through the Holy Spirit, God is so intimately present in our lives – through the same Spirit we are present in one another’s lives, and that intimacy speaks volumes, silently or aloud, and even if we only understand one another mostly. One Spirit. One Body. Many members. Many languages. One Word, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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