Harrowing Of Hell
May 20, 2018

Happy Pentecost!

Preacher: The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia

Good morning Christians, seekers and friends:

Happy Pentecost! Here is a thing that I find interesting; doesn’t that sound odd? Happy Pentecost? It sounds strange to our ears because we don’t really go around greeting everyone we see with these words—Merry Christmas, yes, we do that, Happy Easter, we do that too – but mostly we don’t go around greeting folks with the words Happy Pentecost all day…. But I would argue that maybe we should…

Pentecost is a big deal, friends. On Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. We celebrate that the Spirit made a way out of no way – Jesus had died and yes risen and ascended; but the disciples were left behind not knowing exactly what it was they were supposed to do or where they were to start. Yet, just as Jesus had promised he did not leave them alone. As Jesus told his disciples, it was to their advantage, to our advantage, that he went away so that the Holy Spirit would come. And on Pentecost the Spirit did come– giving the disciples the power to speak the Good News to everyone around them in their native tongues.… and this was just the beginning, as Peter, calling upon the words of the prophet Joel, would remind those who were skeptical, because God had promised:

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy. ….

Then everyone, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

And all that God had promised through the prophet was beginning right now Peter testified. It is happening right now.

So, it is to our own detriment when we downplay the importance of Pentecost –because the Holy Spirit is an essential part of our Christian life. It is the Spirit that makes us the Church. We are the community of the Holy Spirit which means that God is never far away from us – just benignly watching over us from heaven, nor was God with us in the world just once long ago in the human person of Jesus Christ. No, God is not only all around us—God is within us. God is within us.

So, while we are remembering the grace of the coming of the Spirit to the apostles and the first believers of Jesus Christ, we are also taking part in it — welcoming and calling on the Spirit to visit this place TODAY as we raise up two new members, Josie and Emily, in baptism knowing the Spirit will work with them and through them throughout their lives.

So, I feel like our celebration of Pentecost warrants some over-the-top greetings and couple more festive, some might say, gaudy decorations in honor of the Holy Spirit. We probably can’t outdo the Royal Wedding—the carriages, crowd numbers, or the dress, but we might want to try on just a little of the spirit in the address by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at that wedding.

Following his lead of bold and audacious spirit-filled preaching, I might have liked to bring in one of those things you sometimes see at car dealers—you know the balloon man, literally given form by the rushing air filling him, who moves around all crazy as an illustration for my sermon.  I don’t know how that would work with our aesthetic but it is hard to say what would. It is an awesome thing we are recalling – it is an awesome thing to recognize the Spirit in this place brothers and sisters – and more importantly the Spirit that is in you and me and little Josie and Emily whom we will baptize…

I know that all of this is hard to get our head around—the Holy Spirit is impossible to explain—superlatives won’t even do it–Spirit is so BIG and awesome that it almost makes you feel deflated when you try to describe it. Of my first draft of this sermon, my friend and colleague Laura Sargent said, “It is a pretty safe sermon for such a powerful force.” And, of course, she was right. I, like so many of us, was trying to explain, contain with words, something so holy, so wonderful—so absolutely free. So maybe the balloon man is better than my descriptions might be.

The truth is that the freedom scares us a little. We in the Church, throughout our existence, have often downplayed – even neglected and been suspicious of the work of the Holy Spirit – because Spirit cannot be contained or mandated or spoken about in an ordinary way. It is not hierarchical. It is not bureaucratic. It is not awed by social status or wealth or power. The Holy Spirit brings vitality rather than form; purpose rather than structure; freedom rather than external authority. The work of the Spirit transforms our lives and the world.

For those of you who saw the sermon preached by our Presiding Bishop at the Royal Wedding you know what I am talking about. If you haven’t yet seen it, I commend it to you. Commentators noted his decidedly non-British delivery. Some critiqued his overly enthusiastic manner. Because Bishop Curry, unlike my first draft of my sermon, quote/ unquote “brought it.” Folks mentioned that his actually quoting the Bible, of all things, and gospel song: A Balm in Gilead, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were quietly subversive. But, of course, the one thing that nobody seemed to note was that in such a storied place in front of the Queen of England, the nobility of the realm and many notable and powerful cultural icons, Bishop Curry spoke to Prince Harry and Megan Markle as he would to any other young couple in love. And he called them brother and sister.

Bishop Curry’s parents were born of sharecroppers and slaves, but his words affirmed that he shares the same nobility of Spirit that belongs to all the inheritors of the Kingdom of God. Through the power of the Spirit no one is more worthy of love, respect, or dignity than anyone else. Because as St. Paul says, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for…[we] are one in Christ Jesus.” Through the Spirit then we are called to value ourselves and others, even those who differ most from us, as “somebodies” without having to justify our existence or our worth through external things like power, wealth, or fame. As the mystic poet Rumi said, “There are things borne of you – you brothers and sisters—that emperors want.”

For this reason, while we may call the liturgical season after Pentecost “Ordinary time,” we are called to do extraordinary things. We have for too long under-valued what we are called to do as a church – and what we are made to do as human beings. As Jesus reminds his disciples in his Farewell Discourse, of which our gospel is a part, “…the one who believes in me will do also do the work that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” As Christians, through the power of the Spirit, we are made to do great things, and for those of us who don’t feel up to it, the gifts of the Spirit can and will change us if we will let her. The Spirit wants to reveal Spirit’s self in different, wonderful and distinct ways in each and every one of us. The Spirit is just waiting for us to say: “Yes.”

Bishop Curry went where the Spirit led him, to the chagrin of some, but as David Holmes writing for Esquire notes: “It was a shot of adrenaline right to your feels…raw displays of emotions such as Bishop Curry’s are profoundly un-British …but. at this point in history when the world seems to be getting crueler by the minute, an impassioned plea for self-sacrifice, a call for a life centered on love for one’s neighbor is exactly what we need to be hearing…We will come through this. But we have got to start loving one another. He goes on to say, “We did not expect to get inspired by a Royal Wedding, but there you are. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to join the Episcopal Church.” Who would have thought that in 2018 that would be printed in a secular magazine?

I hope you all and my friend Laura will tell me how I have fared as I have tried to hobnob with the Holy Spirit up here.  But regardless of how I’ve done, I know the Spirit is at work here and is using the unique talents and gifts of this community to make the world a better place. Some of us may speak in tongues, some of us may prophesy, some of us may dream dreams. And it is all for the building of the Kingdom of God. That is what the feast of Pentecost is celebrating! Christ has died. Christ has risen so that the Holy Spirit might dwell in us and help us to grow. Here in this place. Right now. Where we are. And the Spirit will be part of all of the extraordinary things we are called to do throughout “Ordinary” time. The Spirit is at work in us. The Spirit is working through us. This is a big deal brothers and sisters! Happy Pentecost!