Sermon for Pentecost Sunday – May 31, 2020

St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church
Canon Claude Schroeder

Today on this 50th day after Easter, the Church celebrates the wonderful and joyful Feast of Pentecost, although it is for us a slightly bittersweet occasion, given the fact that we are not able to physically celebrate together. That is the bitter part. What is the sweet part? The sweet part is that “God has shed His love abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit is that He has given us.” (Romans 5.5.) It is the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts that causes us to cry out to God, “Abba, Father! So that you are not longer a slave- (to sin and the fear of death), but a child, a child of God, if a child then also an heir.” (Galatians 4,6,7) And so, wherever we are this morning, in this we rejoice, and in this we celebrate.

At his Ascension, as St. Luke describes it in the Book of Acts, Jesus instructed the apostles to stay in Jerusalem, and to wait for the promise of the Father when they would be baptized, when they would be drenched and immersed, in the Holy Spirit, and receive power to become his witnesses  in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1. 4,8)  And so it was that when “the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place, and suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”  (Acts 2. 1-4)

It’s no doubt the kind of church service that would clearly have fallen outside the bounds of the guidelines issued by the provincial government last week for the reopening of the churches. As the chief medical officer stated, “We have seen in other jurisdictions where there’s a lot of singing involved then maybe there needs to be a bigger separation, because talking, shouting, singing, crying all these things increase transmission risks!”

We might say that what happened on the day of Pentecost not only would have fallen outside the bounds of the guidelines of the provincial government, but also the guidelines of The Book of Common Prayer for the conduct of Divine Worship.“Let all things be done among you in a seemly and good order” ,  is how the revisers of the Prayer Book, quoting St.Paul, put it way back in 1549, which leads to the old joke, “How do you know an Anglican is getting really excited about her faith?” “She raises her eye-brows!” 

Mind you, in many places in the Anglican Communion, notably Africa, Pentecostal talking, shouting, singing, crying, and even dancing in worship is the norm….

So where does that leave us?

There is no denying that the Christian Church was born in the experience of spiritual ecstasy, an overwhelming experience of the presence and power of God. Thanks to the charismatic renewal that swept through the Anglican Church, in many places there is now an openness to the experience of the presence and power of God, that can be quite, well, ecstatic. What we are talking about here is the prospect of God actually showing up in your life, and making His Presence felt.

The description of that first Pentecost of  “the sound like the rush of a mighty wind” recalls the creation account in the Book of Genesis, where the Spirit of God that swept over the waters of creation, producing forms of life, breathing into lifeless clay, and bringing forth a living soul. 

This also recalls the scene in the Book of Ezekiel, where God’s people experienced the trauma of having their land invaded, their temple destroyed, and being taken into exile into Babylon. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?” ( Psalm 137.4)  It’s a question many of us are asking in this time when we are experiencing certain aspects of exile, spiritual exile. But Ezekial standing in the Valley of Dry Bones, once the site of a massive military battle, sees it is filled with the bleached skeletons of the slain, and is commanded by God to preach to the four winds: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live! And as he preached, the breath entered them, and they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army!(Ezekiel 37. 9,10) Here we see the beginning of what we now know as The Resurrection from the Dead, and The Life of the World to Come.

In the Scriptures, God’s presence and God’s power is manifested not only as life-giving and life- renewing Spirit, but also as a sin-judging, and sin-purifying fire. The Lord appears to Moses in the fire of the burning bush. ( Exodus 3.2).  The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire from heaven. (Genesis 19.24)  John the Baptist announced that Jesus would baptize with Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3.11)

So it is that in every generation God continues to make His presence known among as people, as wind and as fire. Although what that actually looks and feels like, need not, as some suppose, be a matter of emotional fervor and ecstatic experience, such that if you do not speak in tongues, and wave your arms, you obviously haven’t received the Holy Spirit. 

Through the Anointing of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and through the laying on of Hands in Confirmation, God confers on us His Holy Spirit, whose life-giving, life-renewing, sin-judging and sin-cleansing power we to acquire and fan into flame ( 2 Timothy 1.6)  through  repentance, prayer, and fasting and repentance.  How tragic that so many of us have either not heard of the Holy Spirit, for some strange reason,  or have simply ignored, despised, and neglected the gift that has been given. It is something that should cause us to weep copious tears of repentance on their behalf. 

Here is the wonderful thing about the gifts and calling of God: they are irrevocable. (Romans 11.29) And so there is always hope for the Church, and for this reason we must never tire of preaching “to the four winds”  and praying for the fulfillment of the promise when through the Gospel God will “pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.” (Joel 2.28)

The Collect for Pentecost in The Book of Common Prayer speaks about God sending us the light of the Holy Spirit that we might have a “right judgement in all things, and evermore rejoice in holy comfort.”

The world is, at the best of times, a confusing and bewildering place. Having  passed through the modern period, with its rejection of  the tradition, that is the Gospel, and the championing of reason and science as the principle ways of uncovering the truth, and having passed through the post-modern period, where truth became a matter of perspective and point of view, and knowledge was fragmented into any number of mutually contradictory philosophies and ideologies, we have now entered into what some commentators have described as the  ‘post-truth age’, where  Who knows what the truth is anymore?’, and where  all we have to go on is strong opinions and feelings, and where the argument goes to whoever can shout or tweet the loudest or succeeds in silencing the opposition. 

We are in a terrible situation.

How on earth are we ever to come to have  ‘a right judgment in all things’, not only with respect to what the Baptism service  calls ‘the deceits of the world , the flesh, and the devil,’ which are very real,  but also the very practical problems of daily living, which have been compounded by this  confounded virus. 

God has promised us to have a right judgement in all things through His Holy Spirit.

He has promised us a right judgement, and has promised us joy in His holy Comfort.

That word “comfort” needs a little bit of explanation. We tend to think of comfort principally in emotional terms. When somebody comforts us they give us a shoulder to cry on, and help us to feel better about the situation. God knows, what a difference it can make to have this kind of comfort.

But the root meaning of the word comfort is “ with strength.” Here to comfort is to lend them strength  to someone- physical, moral, but above all spiritual strength. 

And so the comfort of the Holy Spirit, is the strength of the Holy Spirit, which is the spirit not of timidity or cowardice, but a spirit of power, and of love, and of self control. ( 2 Timothy 1. 7)  

There is as scene in the famous Bayeaux Tapestry which depicts in a series of panels the Norman Conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066. One panel, shows Bishop Odo, Williams’ half brother, on horseback with his drawn sword, beating and prodding the foot soldiers into battle! The caption reads, “Bishop Odo comforts his troops…”

So the comfort of the Holy Spirit isn’t actually the comfort of, “Oh, I see you have an ‘owie’, let me kiss it better.”

The comfort of the Holy Spirit is, “Let me bind up your wounds, and then get back out there and fight!” In Holy Baptism, you were signed with the sign of the Cross, “in token that hereafter you shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully fight (that includes the women, who these days are often the better fighters) under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil, and continue  Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto your life’s end. ( BCP 537-538) 

And so as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “put on the full armour of God, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, take the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 4. 14-19). 

They don’t call it the Church Militant for nothing. But this is not so much an offensive war, as a defensive one. This is where you need to stand your ground and defend yourself.

We heard of plans this week for Phase 3 of the re-opening of the economy, which will see bars and restaurants and gyms being reopened , along with such personal services as estheticians, tattoo artists, make-up applicators, electrologists, manicurists, pedicurists, sun tanning parlours, and then, almost forgot, there is the churches…

 Which brings us to the great  miracle and the great gift that is Pentecost: Communication. Luke tells us that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave then ability… And at this sound the crowd gathered was bewildered, because each of them heard them, (these unschooled Galilean fishermen) speaking in the native language of each: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” ( Acts 2. 4, 6-11)

It is the Holy Spirit which gives us the words which enables us to communicate, build bridges and relationships with all kinds of strangers and connect them with Jesus. If the spirit of the age in which we live separates and divides people according to racial, ethnic, cultural, tribal, class, political, and a whole host of other identities, it is the Holy Spirit that was poured out upon the Church at Pentecost which unites people under One Head, our Lord Jesus Christ, and makes them very members of His Body, as St. Paul wrote,  “In the One Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, salves or free- and we were all made to drink of One Spirit ” (1 Corinthians 12. 13). in the forgiveness of sins.

And in this terribly divided and conflicted world in which we live it has been given to us here at St. Mary’s through our prayer and worship to drink and to drink deeply of God’s Holy Spirit, and in the exercise of our spiritual gifts for the common good, to manifest that unity and communion of love that is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, whom we worship and adore this day, and world without end. Amen.