And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered….
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A blessed Pentecost Sunday to you all! It’s hard for me to even begin to express how moving it is to see all of your faces today, no longer shrouded by those pesky masks. It’s the first time that I’ve witnessed such a sight here since I arrived last summer. It’s almost like the vision of God itself -- we’re no longer seeing through masks dimly, but face to face. Ok, not really. But still! What a momentous occasion this is to finally -- finally -- be able to return to normal worship together; to sing our hymns together, and perhaps best of all, to receive the blood of Christ from the chalice together.
It’s been such a long and arduous journey to make it to this point; so many cherished parts of parish life have had to be sacrificed and suspended. And we have weathered this journey with remarkable grace and patience. It has impressed upon me the extent of your devotion to this parish and how it goes straight to the heart of what it means to be the Church. Christ promised that even the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church, for the Church is full of the Holy Spirit, who embraces the Church in the victory of Christ. And so no matter what something on the scale of the pandemic has done to restrict the normal life of the church, it can do nothing to prevail against what the Church actually is. As we take our first steps to move ahead of this epic tragedy, my hope is that we begin to see the many ways that God has carried us through it; and not just carried us, but even worked to help us lay the foundation for what is to come next in the life of Grace Church. So start looking around and keep your eyes peeled for these glimmers of God’s providence that has been so faithful through all that has past and will continue to be so in the future.
All of the changes that have gone into effect this morning are so conveniently timed with the Feast of Pentecost -- itself already a glorious occasion on its own. For Pentecost celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit onto and into the gathering of the faithful in Jerusalem. And it’s the same Spirit that descended upon them that gathers us together as this particular “manifestation of the Spirit” that is Grace Church.
As we heard from our lesson from Acts, “when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place,” just as we’re all together in one place here this morning. And in that gathering, they witnessed to their surprise that:
...a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit….
Now, one of the themes that I’ve been repeating nearly every week since Easter is that anything that God does in Christ and through the Holy Spirit is necessarily eternal. It may happen in a single event in history -- like the death and resurrection of Christ or the Day of Pentecost -- but the effects of that event transcend the particular moment. You could say that when God acts once, God acts once and for all.
Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Likewise, just because it was on that particular day in Jerusalem that the Holy Spirit descended to fill those who were gathered together, God’s action was not limited or confined to that day. It is an action that God continues to perform even now, as the Holy Spirit has continued to fill the Church with the presence of God. Here in this gathering of Grace Church on Pentecost Sunday, we therefore discover again that we have an essential connection and unity with that original gathering in Jerusalem; for it is the same Holy Spirit that fills us both. This is just repeating what St. Paul says in our Epistle lesson today: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.” The simple point is that God Himself is the foundation of the unity of the Church, once and for all, world without end.
This is also why St. Paul can speak later on of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the present tense, even though the gathering of Christians in Corinth to whom he was writing was no more present on the Day of Pentecost than we were.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
So see how for St. Paul to be a member of the body of Christ is to be a member of something that lives in the here and now. For Christ reigns in glory from the right hand of the Father, and thus he can be fully present through the Spirit wherever and whenever his Body is gathered as the Church. There is one Christ, just as there is one Spirit by whom we are baptized into one Body.
Our lesson from Acts says that “they were amazed and wondered” when the Holy Spirit descended upon them. No doubt that it was amazing enough to see people from all kinds of places suddenly speaking in a way that they all could all understand. Pentecost is the decisive reversal of the Tower of Babel: Babel was where God confused the languages of a people that had presumed to make a name for themselves and scattered them in judgment; Pentecost is where God gathers a people “from every nation under heaven” and gives them a shared language -- the utterance of the Spirit -- which is intelligible to all who are gathered. And that’s pretty remarkable!
But for us who are gathered here today, what is God setting before us for our own amazement and wonder? Pentecost is about the new thing that God has done and is always doing in the Church. And today, it certainly helps that Pentecost happens to coincide with our newfound return to “church as usual.” There’s so much to celebrate this morning. But the thing about Pentecost is that it reminds us each year that being the Church is about that original sense of amazement and wonder that filled the gathering as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s been so long since we’ve been able to do “normal church” that all these things that were once predictable routine now get to be experienced as though they were fresh. But soon enough, all this will become routine again, as it should -- being a liturgical and sacramental church is nothing if not an exercise in normality and repetition. And yet, the danger of “normal” is that we lose the amazement and wonder; that we forget that it is the Holy Spirit that indwells the Church and makes us what we are as the Body of Christ. On this morning of Pentecost, we’ve been given the peculiar opportunity of doing church “again, for the first time,” so to speak. But this is just the beginning, just as it was the beginning for the gathering in Jerusalem. We are looking out on the mission that God has given to us in Ponca City, the good works that God has prepared for us to walk in. And because it is the Holy Spirit that meets us here at this fresh start of Pentecost, we are reminded that all of this stuff that goes with being the Church is no less amazing and wondrous on the most normal of Sundays than it is today, when we get to finally experience it anew. “To drink of one Spirit” through Baptism or to eat and drink of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist is truly an incomprehensible thing. And so is the Church, for that matter, for the Church is nothing less than a sacred mystery.
My guess is that we will probably be more aware of this truth today than others -- it’s a Sunday full of amazement and wonder, for sure -- but my prayer is that our awareness will persist into the future as well, just as the Holy Spirit has persisted to guide and govern the Church since the Day of Pentecost, when “the multitude came together, and they were bewildered.” So Happy Pentecost! Let’s keep it bewildered.