Fiery Love

+ A sermon for Pentecost Sunday (Year B) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on May 20, 2018 +

Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27,16:4b-15

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Were you watching yesterday?
Hundreds of million viewers tuned in worldwide to see it.
I am, of course, talking about the Royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
And I loved it – I love the pageantry, the pomp and circumstance, the beauty of the space and the people.
But most of all, and maybe this is where my church nerd-dom will show, I loved the sermon!
Did you see it? It was amazing.
636623165161738380-gty-960057722The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church here in the United States, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, was selected to preach – and boy did he preach. [the text of the sermon can be found here]
He talked about the power of love and its ability to change the world.
How any love between the couple must be the same love they have for their neighbors.
He quoted Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., referenced a slave spiritual, and read from the book of First John – the same epistle we read throughout this Easter season.

Near the end of the sermon he referenced French Jesuit named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who wrote that the harnessing of fire was the greatest technological development in human history.
How fire literally built civilization as we know it from the bronze age to the digital age to the engines that powered our cars that brought most of us here this morning.
And then the bishop referenced when de Chardin said “if humanity ever captures the energy of love – it will be the second time in the history of the world that we have discovered fire…we must discover love – the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.”

It was truly remarkable, that in this seven centuries old chapel, at the heart of a thousand-year monarchy, this pastor born in Chicago – a descendent of slaves, preached a fiery sermon on the power of God’s love in what will surely be the most watched worship service this year – televised around the globe and translated into who knows how many languages – a kind of Pentecost moment.

In what in all likelihood would have been a stale, predictable wedding, the Spirit broke through in a completely unexpected way to deliver a message that told the world if we harness the power of love like we harnessed fire, we can end poverty, find peace, unite divisions – that love will change the world.

In what could have been a celebration of love between two celebrities whom we will never meet, the Holy Spirit spoke through this man to remind us that the love they share is the same transformational and life-giving love that we should share for each other.

Altar frontal for Pentecost from The Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew, Wells, Somerset, England, United Kingdom

Today we celebrate the feast of the Pentecost – and at this point I imagine most of us know the story pretty well – it’s one of the few scriptures we hear every year.
The disciples are gathered in the upper room, unsure of what to do next.
And then suddenly, a rush like a violent wind fills the room, the Spirit falls upon them like tongues of fire, and pushes the placid disciples into the streets where they proclaim the love of God to everyone around them in all sorts of languages.

And while I truly love the Pentecost story and the expansiveness of the gospel that is proclaimed, I wonder if its yearly repeating allows us to downplay what is happening here. If our yearly celebration with red vestments and paraments and joyous music kind of compartmentalizes the Spirit’s movement.

I feel like sometimes we don’t know what to do with a Spirit that might show up to induce charismatic experiences or speaking in tongues.
We like to have special days where we “allow” the Holy Spirit to be part of worship – days like baptism, confirmation, Pentecost Sunday, even ordinations – days where we are comfortable calling upon the Spirit and asking that she come among us again, days where it fits within our liturgy.
We have ways to talk about the Spirit, metaphors from scripture – dove, wind, breath, fire, comforter, advocate – but I’m not sure we know what to do with the Spirit when she’s here.
I think we like to domesticate the Spirit in a way – we want the Spirit to come to us and comfort us, or descend upon us like a dove, to come and solve things.

Hari Pentakosta, aka Benyamin (Indonesian), Pentecost, 1992. Source: Many Faces of Christian Art in Indonesia (Jakarta: Persekutuan Gereja-Gereja di Indonesia, 1993)

And after another week of death filling our news – in protests in Gaza, in a plane crash in Cuba, in yet another school shooting in Texas – we want the Spirit to come and heal the world and comfort us.
On Pentecost Sunday we pray that the Spirit will descend on us again to fix things for us, to make things right again.

But that’s not really all that the Spirit does.
I don’t think it’s a magical fix-all on which we can put off our problems.
I think the Spirit comes among us to kindle the fire of love within us and empowers us to live lives of service so we can heal this broken world in partnership with one another and with Christ our Lord.

Today, we have three different takes on the Spirit of God in our three readings.

In Ezekiel, the prophet sees a valley of dried bones. Death and destruction reigns. And then the Spirit breathes the breath of God and new life comes forth – life of the people of God, life to serve the Lord, life to bring life to others.

In Acts, in that familiar Pentecost story, the Spirit comes in like a rushing and violent wind and like fire – rouses the idle disciples from complacency and pushes them outside to proclaim the good news of God’s love for all people. Pushes them out and into service.

In John, Jesus promises to send the Spirit to his followers. Our English translations often use the word Advocate or Comforter to describe the Spirit, but the Greek word is paraclete which is more of a companion, one who walks along side us in our struggles.

Undated, untitled painting by Kim Young Gil (Korean, 1940–2008)

Jesus is sending the Spirit that will accompany us, comfort us, and push us as we challenge the rulers of this world that Jesus declares to be defeated – the rulers of this world like the forces of death, poverty, racism, and more. The Spirit that will come along side us and never abandon us as we continue the work of Jesus.

Here on this Pentecost Day, we pray for the Spirit to come among us again.
To breathe life into our bodies, to push us into action of love and service, and to accompany us along the way.
And we are assured that the Spirit is here, not only on Pentecost, not only on special days, but every day.

The same Spirit that hovered over the waters as God created the cosmos was in the waters of our baptism.
The same Spirit that breathed life into our ancestors Eve and Adam fills our lungs and gives us life.
The same Spirit that spoke through the prophets speaks to and through us now.
The same Spirit that descended on Jesus like a dove in the Jordan and pushed him into the wilderness is poured out upon us each and every day reminding us of God’s presence and love and power and pushes us out of our comfort zones.
The same Spirit that breathed out of Jesus on the cross and which Christ breathed upon his disciples after the resurrection empowers us to live free from the fear of death, a resurrected life where we challenge the ways of death that seek to rule this world so we can use the power of peace and love and abundant life.

Jyoti Sahi (Indian, 1944–), Pentecost, 1983. Detail of a Life of Christ mural painting made for the Holy Cross Brothers, Katpadi, Karnakata, India.

This Spirit cannot be easily contained.
It cannot be distilled into special events or certain Sundays – certain times where we recognize her presence and power.
The Holy Spirit blows and disrupts and breaks through in ways we cannot always see, she comes in and works through our dusty liturgy and old practices, she breathes life into our complacency and pushes us outside our comfort zone and into ministry alongside Christ in love for our neighbor.
Christ has sent the Spirit among us and it moves where it will. It moves among us, between us, within us, so we are united with each other and with God as we continue working with Christ.

The Spirit helps us dream dreams and see visions of a world living in God’s perfect reign – and empowers us to envision ways to bring about that transformation.
The Spirit inspires and motivates and accompanies us along the way.
The Spirit doesn’t come to magically solve problems, but to be with us as we struggle through them, struggle to fix them – God is with us in the struggle.
The Spirit opens our eyes to the love of God that surrounds us and kindles the power of love within us – the transformational love that can change the world as we know it.

And we don’t have to wait for a rushing of wind or flames of fire to come down upon us, the Spirit is here among us – the Spirit rested upon us at our Baptism, was stirred up in confirmation, descends again and again on all who eat this heavenly food, and blesses us throughout our life.

P. Solomon Raj (Indian, 1921–), Pentecost, 1980s. Batik.

And on this Pentecost day, we pray again, Come Holy Spirit.
Come among us, descend upon us, flow within us, stay alongside us, work through us.
Allow us to see the world as you see it, stir us from inaction into service, and help us harness the power of God’s love as we work to transform the world around us.



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