The Love of God in Action
The Day of Pentecost
St. Anne's, Conway
May 24, 2015
John 15:26-27, 16:4-15
A basic principle of the Bible is that God has chosen through history to interact with human beings. God Almighty chooses to interact with people, the Bible says over and over again. As Christians, we believe that this interaction has its primary focus in Jesus Christ. Thus, he is God become man, in order to interact personally with human beings.
As the story of God’s interaction with us unfolds, we come today to a significant landmark on that journey – Pentecost. To review for a moment, God has come to earth as a baby in a manger. Jesus has lived and healed and taught among us. He has been arrested and tortured and killed. He was raised from death, and he appeared to people afterwards, in confirmation of his resurrection. Then, forty days after Easter, Jesus ascended to heaven, in order to be with God the Father. However, Jesus’ ascension also resulted in his departure from his followers on earth. A good deal of concern and anxiety about Jesus’ absence came about, on the part of his disciples. However, that absence is not the end of the story. In fact, next we come to today – to Pentecost. This day marks the occasion of the gift of the Holy Spirit – given to a collection of people, from countries spread across the known world.
This gift of God’s Holy Spirit on Pentecost indicates a new means for God to interact with human beings. In fact, I consider the Holy Spirit to represent God’s love in action, following the ascension of Jesus.
Today’s Bible readings offer several perspectives on the Holy Spirit – on the continued interaction of God with human beings and on God’s love in action.
St. John’s Gospel includes earlier words from Jesus, anticipating the gift to follow … the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. We read these words of Jesus this morning: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (16:13).
From this Gospel account, therefore, we understand that God’s Spirit is an agent of truth – a conveyor and an encourager of the truth. Truth represents a divine gift from God, given by the power of the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans includes other effects of the Spirit’s work. Actually, Paul indicates that we now only have the “first fruits of the Spirit” (8:23). One of those first fruits, though, is hope, for as St. Paul asserts, “In hope we were saved” (8:24).
Thus, to be hopeful – or, hope-filled – is to live in the power that the Spirit provides. The Holy Spirit of God, therefore, also conveys and encourages hope.
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles includes a description of the event of Pentecost itself. There it was that we read of the variety of people gathered together from throughout the known world. We read of wind and of fire that probably were as difficult to understand at that time as they are for us today – probably, even more so. Miraculously, somehow, people who spoke many different languages all heard and understood the same message, in their particular language.
By way of explanation of this event, the apostle Peter referred to the prophet Joel with these words: “God declares that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17). Therefore, this particular interaction of God with humanity indicates that God chooses for all people – “all flesh” – to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The extent of the variety of people involved on that day of Pentecost really was remarkable. Not only were different countries and languages represented. Also, different ethnic groups were there. People who would not usually have associated with each other were included – perhaps even enemies of one another. It was a remarkable gathering, in most every way.
In this part of the world, I think we have heard of the term “indiscriminate inclusivity.” Pentecost was in fact indiscriminate in its inclusiveness. And the inclusivity of Pentecost involves us as well – across nations and languages and ethnic groups and through time. All people – “all flesh” – are included, as God continues to choose to interact with human beings.
The General Convention of The Episcopal Church begins in a month’s time. There was also a General Convention twelve years ago, and that one – in 2003 – was controversial, to say the least. For those of you who do not remember, that General Convention voted to consent to the election of an openly gay man as bishop in New Hampshire. Following that convention, I returned to East Tennessee, where I served as bishop. I had many subsequent conversations about General Convention, and I held several public forums as well. It was a challenging and difficult time – one of patient listening, repeated explanations, and holding the diocese together.
A month or two later, a friend who was also a bishop asked Annie and me to visit. His wife had a neurological disease which had prevented her from attending General Convention, and so, she wanted to see her friends that she missed. I must say that this was a welcome invitation, and I was glad to have the opportunity to get away for several days.
On the first night of this reunion, though, my friend said that he planned to meet with his clergy the next day, to discuss General Convention issues. Further, as he put it, it would be helpful to have “other voices” in the room. By the way, my friend was bishop in the Diocese of Newark. Suddenly, my friend’s invitation did not seem quite as attractive.
As the next day unfolded, like Alice, I realized that I was not in Kansas anymore. Responses to General Convention in Newark differed greatly from those I had heard in East Tennessee! Time came for me to say a few words. And, with some hesitation, I spoke about the need for inclusion in the life of the church – the indiscriminate inclusivity of the Holy Spirit and the importance of both liberals and conservatives in the community of faith.
Several clergy spoke to me later, indicating their appreciation of what I had said. And, the bishop – my friend – privately expressed to me his concern that Newark not become known as the “gay diocese”, in an exclusive way. Later, on the plane ride home, I remember saying to Annie that somehow the world’s axis must have shifted. For this white, Southern boy to go to Newark and talk about the importance of inclusion is as remarkable as it is surprising.
Such, though, is the message of Pentecost. God continues to choose to interact with human beings, through the Holy Spirit. That Spirit of God conveys truth to the world. The Holy Spirit offers hope to God’s people. As on Pentecost, the Spirit blows like the wind and burns like a fire. And, that same Spirit reaches out and embraces all people, for it is the very love of God in action. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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