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The Day of Pentecost: June 9, 2018
“In our own languages we hear them, speaking about God’s deeds of power.” So goes one description from the book of the Acts of the Apostles in Luke’s account of the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh. Apparently it was a rather noisy event, what with the wind and the utterance of various languages. More often than not what is first noted is the speaking, the expressions of the tongue. Yet, is this a day we celebrate a miracle of the tongue, or could it be more a miracle of the ear? If we give more attention to the miracle of the ear, the listening, even engaging the ear of the heart, we might discover more the depths of the Spirit who “prays in us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
Consider this account from a then 17-year-old, someone dear to me, preparing for Confirmation. We’ll call her Mary. This is a part of her story in her words:
“One Tuesday afternoon on the porch my grandfather sat reading to quench his intellectual thirst, and I sat a couple of feet away desperately clinging to my homework and not the nice day. My eyes, through with staring at my sunlit physics problems, gave in and looked up at the woods in front of me.
“I saw a sleepy wood grazing in the sun pick up a gust of wind and throw it at my face, causing some of my papers to fall askew. I saw three birds leap up from a tree and scatter into the distance. I saw the pollen rise into the air, the very particles that would keep me irritated for the next three days. I saw three ants trail through the condensation made by my grandfather’s water glass and create a swirly pattern on the table. I saw, what I believe to be, God at work.
“I could not explain it to you, but I do believe that the woods behind my house that day spoke God to me. The weekend before I had been dancing to my heart’s content at a local theatre. I was performing a duet and three minutes into that dance, the other dancer and I stare each other down. In her eyes I saw the fire from performance, the understanding two people have from working with each other for nine years, and a love for dance. Through those eyes, I believe, I saw God at work.
“A good while ago for me, not so long for some, and an age for others, I was sitting in the car with Mom. I had asked some question about God and we had a long chat. I specifically remember her telling me that when she was confused or lost she would look down at the palm of her hand and feel comforted. She then asked me how could something so intricate, so unique to herself, could not be made by God? I looked down at my own palm and I could not see God in it. I tried three more times, each failing. I can see it now, however.
“When I signed up for Confirmation class the motivation at the time was convenience. I did not know when else I would get the chance and I liked church, so why not? Now I know I can be confirmed, because I have confirmed that I believe what I say. I know that the gate of which Jesus spoke is the gate through which I need to walk, because when I look outside, when I perform, when I listen to music, read a book, go to a museum, or look at the palm of my hand, I see the imprint of God there, and I love it.”
A gust of wind from the woods was this young woman’s Pentecost, a manifestation pointing to every Pentecost in all of creation occurring every second of every day. It rose up unannounced and took her to new places. It filled her and everything around her, witnessing to the promise that the Spirit has been poured out “upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17). She became aware of the language of the forest and it empowered her to hear with new ears and thus see with new eyes. God, pouring out God’s Spirit on all creation will bring forth, among others, her “daughters to prophesy,” even to dance in union with the Holy One. We hear of it in Mary’s account. What we receive from this young woman is a glimpse of the Spirit witnessing to her spirit and ours. She awakened when the Wind blew from the wood that day, “because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:17).
Through such intimate experiences of the Spirit, we know ourselves to be, in the words of the Confirmation prayer, strengthened, empowered, and sustained for mission. Today on this Pentecost, the Spirit invites us once again, to live and breathe the story of God so that everyone, of “every race and nation” (Collect for Pentecost) may have the opportunity to hear of the wonderful works of God. We are invited to dream God’s dream for all flesh. It is the only reason St. Anne’s exists, it is the only reason to find land on which to build (and you will find land!), so that this place can continue to be where the dream of God is lived and can take root in us “to the ends of the earth” (Collect for Pentecost) and for the sake of all.
As we seek the language of our own life, the ways we are to speak the story of the wonder of God in us and for us, we celebrate in joy the promise of our baptism that in the Spirit we are sealed forever. So deeply held in love’s embrace we never have to be troubled or afraid. Bob Dylan told us that the answers are “Blowin’ in the wind.” Maybe, just maybe, they’re right in the palm of your hand.
The Seventh Sunday of Easter: June 2, 2019
Have you ever had a moment when you had made plans for something, thought you were going in one direction, and then everything around you changed and you ended up in a place you never expected? It can happen in a day when the list you made that morning never gets attended to, or it can happen in one’s entire life-picture when circumstances around us take us in directions we never thought we would go, positive or negative. I recall a movie some years ago, although the title escapes me, where the main character is shown how her life unfolds when she chooses to go through one door on a subway train, and then how her life would have been radically different if she had chosen a different door that morning.
All of life is a constant transition, a time of in-between, that is, leaving what we think we know and moving toward something new or different and yet to be. We see this scene played out in the Book of Acts as it describes a moment in the life of a Roman jailer in Philippi. I am guessing that when he went to work that day he did not expect anything different from his usual duties guarding prisoners, in this case Paul and Silas. But an earthquake occurs, not only shaking up the jail and popping open the doors, but shifting the ground of his entire life. The jailer ends up becoming a follower of Jesus, he and his family are baptized, and his life is never the same again as a whole new unexpected future unfolds.
We are in the midst of the season of graduations and although it is a time of great excitement for many, including the parents, there is an element of the unknown of what life will bring that must be faced. Varying levels of anxiety arise. We experience this in our personal relationships and in our jobs. We certainly experience this in the life of our Diocese as we wait for decisions to be made over which we have no control. Rectors come and go. Bishops retire. In ultimate times of transition, loved ones die. Yet, in the midst of all those life-changes, we hear the great promise in the Gospel today as we listen in on Jesus’ prayer to God as he prepares the disciples for their big transition in the face of his impending execution: “The glory you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one…so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” That’s you and me and Maya, being baptized today! The promise is that he is with us always, sealed forever in his love.
Yet, even with that great promise of presence, we know that parts of life can be excruciatingly difficult. We see the horrifying scenes of destruction from the floods and tornadoes moving across our country. A cursory reading of today’s news events, locally and just yesterday in Virginia Beach, will hand us glaring pictures of death, literal and metaphorical. Just as the disciples and Jesus did, we discover betrayal, broken relationships, violence, language of hatred, bigotry and the drawing of lines in the sand, war, degradation of the beauty of mother earth, and the list goes on. We also know, however, that it is right in the midst of what we find most threatening and fearful that we promise in our baptismal vows to work against everything that corrupts and destroys God’s people and God’s earth – all that conspires against God’s love for the entire creation.
So it is that on this same earth we also discover life and goodness: the beauty of a mountain vista or a piece of art, re-creation in communities restored, possibility, hope, healing, forgiveness and love is renewed. It’s why we like that last good story on the evening news. We may be part of restoring a polluted stream, challenging the systems that keep people in poverty, or assuring interfaith dialogue that deepens relationships and opens the possibility for God’s justice to take root despite the fear mongering in our political environment. It is the ongoing presence of God who promises to restore the earth and establish his reign of love, but it only happens through us. We commit again today to be such followers of Jesus.
We have work to do. Prayer and action go hand in hand. In case we have forgotten, we have been baptized into Jesus’ death in order to be raised with him even now, in this life. Big transitions – it is what we are about, moving from death to life, with Jesus, and trusting the God who promises presence with us no matter what it may be with which we are wrestling. We become the answer to Jesus’ prayer on this earth.
As the Body of Jesus, we go into the world vulnerable, suffering, praising, praying, sometimes misunderstood, misjudged, yet vindicated and celebrating. Sealed by the Spirit through your baptism, you go bearing in your body the dying of Jesus to all that opposes God’s love and justice, so that the life of Jesus may be evident in your life in transforming you and the whole creation. We have the joy of co-creating with God the future God desires for us. We get to do that with you, Maya!
This day reminds us as we hear Jesus’ prayer for unity and love, that our lives are caught up in something far more grand than we can imagine. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Even as Jesus is no longer among us as a man, he now dwells in each of us. We are now Jesus, the ongoing presence of Christ in the world. It is that for which the Church exists. It is what defines us – Christ’s Body now.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.