The Feast of Pentecost
From Ash Wednesday to today, the feast of Pentecost, the people of God at St. Matthew’s have moved from ashes to fire. We have moved from the yearly reminder of our mortality, to resurrection, to a day celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit and birth of the church. Pentecost is a feast beloved by the people of St. Matthew’s. And, what’s not to love? Members of our community reading in many different languages, the Holy Spirit kite, music from around the world, red.
On Pentecost the Holy Spirit transformed Jesus’ followers into a community encompassing people from many different races and nations. United and reconciled in Christ, they were a sign, witness, and foretaste of what life in God is like. Entering into deep and meaningful relationships with their neighbors, caring for those in need within and outside their faith community, and giving thanks and praise to God, they pointed to a new and transformative Way of life open to all.
In Judaism Pentecost, also known as “Weeks” or Shavuot, was one of 3 major festivals. It marked the 50th day after Passover and the presentation of the first sheaf of the barley harvest. It was also considered the anniversary of the giving of the law at Sinai. The law given at Sinai was meant to express God’s will and to guide the people of Israel. On Pentecost the church received the Holy Spirit, which helped them understand and live out God’s will, known in Jesus Christ.
Pentecost is an old harvest festival, but in our story from Acts new things are happening. This is a common biblical theme. Throughout scripture we see the Holy Spirit repeatedly nudging God’s people, the church, to move in new directions. One of the most prominent examples was when Jesus’ earliest followers felt the Sprit calling them to move beyond their own cultural boundaries to reach out to people like Gentiles, or non-Jews. These Gentiles had different ways of understanding God and seeing the world. Each time the Holy Spirit called the people of God out of their comfort zone, they were changed in important ways.
The Holy Spirit has enabled Jesus’ followers to continue his ministry. The people of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, continue to embody and proclaim the reality of God and God’s profound love for all creation in a world that continues to associate worth with power, money, and celebrity.
There have been so many moments at STM when the Holy Spirit moved us in a new direction:
· During the 24 year tenure of my predecessor Grant Abbott the Holy Spirit led the people of St. Matthew’s to focus outside the church on the surrounding community, to welcome children, and to cultivate a faith community representing the global church.
· In 1997 Gary Johnson led a discernment process in which he insisted on dwelling in scripture at the beginning of each meeting. His leadership led to the construction of two youth rooms, the Library and the Parish Hall art gallery, which paved the way for us to share God’s love and Jesus’ Way of life with more children, young adults, adults, and the surrounding community.
· During the interim period before I was chosen as rector you expressed the desire to “go deeper spiritually.” While so many churches searching for a rector are interested primarily in numerical growth, you understood what was most important.
· Ray Dietman thought that the church should provide a meal to our hungry neighbors in need. He felt that it was important that our young adults learn to give back, and develop an ethic of service and contributing to the common good. He led us in this ministry for two decades and recently a team of eight people have stepped up to replace him.
· Before her untimely death in 2005 Beatrice Garubanda shared her dream that the young women and men in her home town, Kazo Town, in Southwestern Uganda would have a home, an education, and a future. She had travelled back home and seen the toll of HIV-AIDS: children living on the street. She was a woman of vision and prayer, and the Holy Spirit worked through her to inspire action and commitment. She and her husband James bought the property and her dream was realized shortly after her death.
· Megan Gangl and the vestry she worked with believed that our community should help members of our faith community who experienced severe financial challenges. They established the Acts II Fund to quietly help those in need of one mortgage payment or help with a hospital bill. Thus far over 40,000 has been quietly given to St. Matthew’s households, helping them get back on their feet. Many of the recipients are now thriving, and contributing to this fund.
· In 2008-2009, led by Senior Warden Terese Lewis, we engaged in a congregational wondering process focused on the future God was bringing forth. Together we prayed and reflected on this future imaginatively through dwelling in the Word, playing with Legos, painting pictures of the future we thought God was bringing forth, sharing children’s books that revealed something about God’s life and love, and planning a menu representing the future God is bringing forth. Global dishes and pomegranate ice cream were on that menu! The threads or themes unearthed during that process continue to be supported by our social justice ministries, worship, Christian formation offerings, and pastoral care ministries.
In all these instances and more, the Holy Spirit continually formed and reformed us. The Holy Spirit worked through our community in a public way to inspire and unite us, and to bring us into deeper relationships with neighbors in St. Anthony Park and beyond. The Spirit’s movement in our midst, and our ability to follow her leading, has changed us profoundly as a faith community.
Today the Holy Spirit continues blow through our community as we continue to discern what it means to be followers of the Way of Jesus together in an Anglican, generous, and expansive expression. Having a clearer vision of the Way of life God is calling us to as a community, the spiritual practices involved and the commitments we might want to make to one another will help us have greater focus and steward our gifts and energy in ways that will make a difference in our lives and the lives of our neighbors.
Reception of the Holy Spirit at baptism and Pentecost was and continues to be manifest in a particular form of communal life (Acts 2:42-47). It involves concrete commitments to God, the faith community, and our neighbors. It calls us into a life of prayer, compassion, service, openness to our neighbors from different backgrounds, worship, truth-telling, and giving and receiving hospitality. It is a life in which communion with people from every race and nation is made possible through Christ. In the days ahead we will continue to discern what sort of life God is calling us to together as followers of the Way of Jesus. May the Holy Spirit continue to guide, revitalize, challenge, comfort , and send us as we discern the shape of this life together. Amen.