Bearers of Hope

A Sermon for the Day of Pentecost

Year B –  May 27, 2012

David Hathaway Knight, Priest Associate

Come, Holy Spirit, come: come as the fire and burn; come as the wind and cleanse; convict, convert, consecrate, until we are wholly yours through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

So writes Paul in his letter to the church gathered in Rome.

Today, the Church throughout the world gathers to  celebrate the third major feast day of the year, a day equal in significance to Christmas and Easter, yet this Feast of Pentecost seems not to have the same importance in our minds as does Christmas or Easter.  There are no secular holiday traditions to accompany it so it passes through our church year all but unnoticed.   And when it comes on a Memorial Day weekend such as this, people seem to stay away in droves, yet you are here and for that God rejoices!

 So today, we gather to celebrate this third major feast day as it marks the birth of the Church.  On that day there came from heaven, like the rush of a mighty wind, the Spirit of God.  That Spirit was to empower the disciples and the devout Jews from every nation who on that day were assembled inJerusalem.  The account in the Acts of the Apostles tells of how people began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.  This was to fulfill not only the commandment but also Jesus’ promise that the disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit would light upon them.  On that day of Pentecost that the Church began to take shape.  On that day, the hands and the feet and the voices of those who were empowered would go forth into the world to bring the hope of the Gospel and the world would never be the same again.  It was a day long promised. Ancient promises such as that of the prophet Ezekiel that we heard a few moments would come to life. Listen again to these words of the prophet Ezekiel that Al Rider has just read to us this morning:

 “Then (the Lord) said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel.  They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”  Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the LORD God: I am going to open their graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.  I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.’ says the Lord.”

 The Gospel today proclaims that it is through the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit that the Church receives power to witness to the presence of God.  The Gospel reminds us of what Jesus promised to his disciples at Easter, that he will remain alive in the community and that he would send the Spirit of hope so that whatever lies deepest in the human soul will find God in the midst of all that life brings.  On that Day of Pentecost, the Spirit commissioned the Church to continue the work of Christ in the world.  The Spirit still speaks through the church to this day and for all time. That Spirit speaks  to us here at St. Mary’s. As we prayed in the Collect for this Feast of Pentecost, “O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore rejoice in his holy comfort.”

 I share with you a wonderful image that our new bishop suffragan bishop-elect, Susan Goff, painted for us in her Ascension Day homily at the chapel at Roslyn just the other evening.  She was talking about the feet of Jesus. She described Jesus’ feet as we might have seen them beginning with his infancy, tiny little feet with those small toes that would grow as he became a toddler, then as a young child playing with other children.  (It was fun using these images with our St. Mary’s School children last Thursday at the graduation service. One little boy said that they didn’t have playgrounds when Jesus was little. We agreed that while he did play with his school mates, the playground would have been different and none of the children in his time had those shoes with lights that twinkled as they ran!). Then, Jesus’ feet would be the feet of one who learned his father’s trade, then the feet to carry him on his journey through his ministry, feet that would be pierced and nailed to the cross by those who would come to reject him and to crucify him.  Then, finally, the soles of his feet would be all that was visible to his followers as he ascended into heaven, leaving the small gathering so that he could then be with us all for the ages to come.  After hearing how she described Jesus’ feet, I shall never think of his feet, or anyone else’s feet, for that matter in the same way again.  It is our feet that carry us through life. On the Day of Pentecost, the Church would receive power to become Jesus’ feet as it would carry the message of the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth.  You and I, through our baptism, become his feet as well.  It is our mission to be bearers of hope in a world that desperately cries out to have hope.

 We wonder sometimes what the Spirit is doing today as we observe what is going on around us in our nation and in the world. It is one thing to hear about that first day at Pentecost. But what about today? We, like the people of whomSt. Paulspeaks in today’s epistle, often groan inwardly. We look for the hope that that is promised, yet that hope so often is illusive.  Our prayers at times are inarticulate under the weight of our concerns. The promise, however, is that even in those difficult times when hope seems so illusive, it is the Spirit that will come to us to carry our burdens with us.

 “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

 If, for example, we are with someone in despair who is looking for hope, we discover that it is no comfort to them for us to deny their present suffering by trying to focus only on the hope that is eventually to come. For that person, it is not the future but rather the present that calls for our most careful listening.  You and I do not pass over the present sufferings, rather we must pass through the present sufferings. It is the Spirit of God that accompanies us through that journey. Many years ago, for example, there was a woman in a parish in which I was serving whose husband had died. Initially for her, any hope for the future seemed unimaginable.  The first year for her was rough.  The second year wasn’t much better, if any better at all, in fact it was perhaps even worse than the first.  I vividly remember, however, what she told me one day a couple of years later. She said, “I realize now I cannot rush the process of grieving. I must head into it because I can’t get around it.”  By her being attentive to her present suffering she was able to face the future. She would discover that hope would come.

It is the presence of the Holy Spirit ultimately that gives you and me patience. It is the Spirit ultimately that gives us hope. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers the Church to be present with its people in the midst of all our groaning as each of us heads into all of what life brings as yet we look forward to the hope that is yet to come. And God says to us, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.” The day does come when you and I can rejoice in his holy comfort.

 “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

 The gospel speaks to a world that is groaning on many fronts. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers the church today as it did on that Day of Pentecost, to carryout the mission of bringing hope to a creation yet in the midst of present suffering for it ever will be our prayer:

 To the members of Christ’s Body, to the branches of the Vine,
to the Church in faith assembled, to her midst as gift and sign:
come, Holy Spirit, come.

With the healing of division, with the ceaseless voice of prayer,
With the power to love and witness, with the peace beyond compare: come,  Holy Spirit, come.                    Amen.