May 19, 2024 – Day of Pentecost

Speaker: Drew Brislin
Category: Weekly Sermons

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104:25-35,37; Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27;16:4b-15

The Rev. Drew Brislin

We often hear of the Day of Pentecost as being referred to as the birthday of the church. I have even heard that some churches will even get birthday cake to celebrate. And as the Christian faith was one born out of Judaism, I’m sure it will not surprise you to learn that Pentecost or Shavuot was a Jewish feast that served primarily as a service of thanksgiving that was given to celebrate the first fruits of the wheat harvest and later this feast came to be associated with the remembrance of the Law (or the Ten Commandments) being given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Ten Commandments were not so much given to Israel to create a penal system but rather God gave his people the Law so that they might share in a special relationship, and it is these themes of thanksgiving and relationship that we celebrate on this day in the church.

Allison and I spent this past week on vacation. While we were on our way we began to discuss the Northern Lights which came into view for many here in the South last weekend. It was a gift that we here in the South are rarely afforded. As we were headed north to the mountains, we were hopeful that we might have a shot at seeing this jewel of nature. I also was extra hopeful that I could stay awake long enough to see them as they were not supposed to come into view until around 9:00 pm and that was eastern time so super late for me. As we were on vacation to celebrate our 13th Anniversary, this event of the Northern Lights reminded Allison of one of her favorite singer songwriters, Josh Ritter, that she was especially into when we first started dating. He had a song titled Kathleen that begins, “All the other girls here are stars? You are the Northern Lights. They try to shine in through your curtains: You’re too close and too bright.” As I went back and listened to the song on Spotify, these lyrics seemed to speak to me of a deep abiding love, that same kind of abiding love free of distractions that Jesus has been speaking to his disciples and speaking to us about over the last few weeks in his Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel.

We must remember that the community that is writing John’s Gospel is writing to a minority community that is being severely persecuted. A community that I would imagine is very much looking for hope, looking for someone or something to guide them. They are looking for their own Northern Light. The fulfillment of that hope comes with Pentecost, with the sending of the Advocate or Paraclete in Greek. Jesus has been calling his disciples to abide in him and now he will send the Holy Spirit so that they might know that abiding love in a new way so that they might know what it is to share this love with those whom they will serve and call into this new community of believers. The Holy Spirit will abide in that liminal space between you and me so that what the author Richard Rohr calls ‘The Flow’ can happen and the many, the you, the me, the whole of believers can become one. In his book The Divine Dance, Rohr discusses Rublev’s icon of the Trinity and how it has been suggested that there might have been a space made for a mirror within the icon. This feature of the icon was to be indicative of the acknowledgement that you and I have a special place within this spiritual relationship. The Gospel gifts us this promise, but just like most relationships, this one too will require work. Jesus doesn’t say you might encounter difficulties, no he almost guarantees that we will encounter hardships. Because he knows how the world will react to those who follow him and will continue to do his work, Jesus will send them the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the one who will not simply be a friend but will stand with them in the fire. We wear red today because of this imagery of fire representing the Holy Spirit. Our reading from Acts reads that divided tongues as of fire, appeared among the disciples. Flames sit atop the heads of the disciples in icons to distinguish them in this art form and even the bishop’s pointy hat called a mitre is supposed to be emblematic of this flame. Whatever imagery or language we use to bring this very real mystery to life, is confirmed by the Holy Spirit in its glorification of Jesus as it confirms for us the very real presence of God and Jesus in a visible and experiential way. How do we experience this movement of the Holy Spirit today? What challenges us today as a Christian community that draws out this very real and very visible presence of the advocate?

Over the last few weeks, Candice has led us in a discussion of the book Toxic Charity as we have begun to contemplate as a community what outreach will or should look like for us in the future. I think more importantly it has challenged us to think about what it means to be a neighbor and a community. Rohr reiterates in his book the E Pluribus Unim notion that we are so familiar with that out of many comes one and that if we can let go of our egos and desire for uniformity that brings us comfort, we can find the value in the gift of diversity. None of us are the same, yet we all have something to offer. The question though for me is ‘Am I willing to accept the gifts of others? Especially if they come from a different race or socio-economic background. As we enter a new political season this gift of community that Pentecost offers will be ever so important as the Holy Spirit reminds us that we all are different, and yet we all are the beloved creations of God. Out of many comes one, this is the celebration of diversity that draws us into unity.

That first evening on vacation, I found it extremely difficult to stay awake to have a chance to see the Northern Lights. Allison and I endured, and we made it and we were to be denied as clouds made viewing much of anything in the sky difficult. We may not have seen the Northern Lights, but we were gifted the opportunity to be with each other and the promise of rest and rejuvenation that comes with vacation. As we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit on this day what are the stars of distraction in our lives and who are the Northern Lights that guide us? Who are those steady presences in our lives who visibly manifest the Holy Spirit to us? Who draws us into community and how do we open our hearts to these new gifts of relationship?