5/30/04 , Pentecost Sunday, Year C
ur family lived near a river and I could drive just a little bit out of my way to see it every day. There is something majestic about a rolling stream; it's our mother, our life source. This river was special in that there was a flock of geese that lived on its banks. Actually, they lived off the children who fed them year around. They had been there for years and had forgotten how to fly. They looked to fat to migrate. They were satisfied. I often wondered what would happen to them when the children who had fed them went off to college. Gradually, the young people did leave home and the parents forgot, and the geese gradually disappeared. The neighbors assumed that the geese had died but we never saw a corpse.
Sometimes folks forget how to fly. Life is good! The stock market is going back up and the gas prices are starting back down. Other people are fighting our wars to maintain our way of life. We are happy and fat and there is no reason to fly much anymore. Flying north for the summer, what's that all about?
Outward religiosity can become deadening and make one almost immune to God's Spirit. However, there is something that Pentecost Sunday is chirping about, but we can't quite remember what it is supposed to be about from year to year. This story about hearts on fire, “the witness of the Spirit…” What is that all about? We can identify with the tourists and non Christian Jews in Jerusalem who were “bewildered” by hearing these Galileans, country folks, speaking in all of the known languages of that day. “How can these things be?”
Pentecost is a kind of culmination of the events that marked the last weeks of Jesus' life. During the past weeks we have remembered his death, resurrection, post-resurrection appearances, and ascension. We have made reference to the story in Acts 2 about flames of fire, the miracle of languages, powerful preaching, a vision of world evangelism, and the potential inclusion of everyone into the Church whose birth we also celebrate today. Pentecost marks the end of the reign of the Messiah on earth and the dawn of the current age in which we are still living, of the ministry of God's Holy Spirit directly in the hearts of believers.
Pentecost was a time of closure for the disciples. Jesus has attempted to prepare them for His physical departure but they never seemed to fully understand that He must go away so that He could return to all of them in an even more profound way as the ever-present Holy Spirit. They had known that God was the Spirit that was present in Creation and throughout the Old Testament; however, it took the experience of Pentecost for them to begin to grasp this new way in which the Spirit wanted to come to them as the continuing presence of Jesus. Their emotional crescendo at Pentecost seemed to be the catalyst that finally enabled them to begin to experience closure and understanding.
Closure is not closing a book, but it is more like ending a chapter and later reading further with a sparked interest. What is really going on at Pentecost is a new way of experiencing God on a very personal level. God the Father who was usually considered to be “out there” has “come near.” So, biblically speaking an entirely new dispensation of grace has begin, and the old chapter has been closed. A new chapter in the history of the world began at Pentecost. All of us are able to pray at one time and the Spirit interprets every prayer. Each of us can experience the personal presence of the Holy Spirit in our souls. Great power has been unleashed by God Almighty through the cumulative body of the Church as individual believers band together. Indeed, closure has occurred and a new chapter has begun.
Marilyn and I heard Dr. Maurice Boyd at The City Church of New York several years ago. He illustrated this idea of closure by sharing that he had just the day before been watching the Yankees and Cleveland Indians baseball game and the TV announcer made the comment that all Yankees fans were glad that Bernie Williams is hitting better, and then the announcer remarked, "Bernie has achieved closure." Evidently his father had died and it had taken him some time to deal with it but now he is hitting as he used to.
We have been in that time between times when we were dealing with a change of jobs, a new school, or the loss of a dear one. We too have struggled with moving on and resuming a new life. Closure can bring renewed enthusiasm.
My former, former church member at Atlanta First, Henry Grady, Editor of "The Atlanta Constitution" after the Civil War, must have known the strength of Jesus' presence and power. As the "Architect of The New South" his editorials encouraged his fellow southerners to put that horrendous war behind them and to build a “New South.” He was calling for closure; a time to move on to a new chapter. He certainly remembered the atrocity of the burning of Atlanta and Sherman 's destructive march trough Georgia , but Grady was willing to forgive and move on. The Holy Spirit, through just one Methodist Christian, led the movement toward recovery and soon Atlanta rose up out of the ashes.
Theologian Paul Tillich described forgiveness as, "Remembering that we can forget." All of us have to remember to forget at times. Not that we wipe our memories clean, but we look back differently through a new set of spiritual eyes implanted by the Spirit. A vital work of the Holy Spirit is enabling us to forgive and reminding us that we can forget.
Jesus' ongoing presence makes a difference in how we live: “…We are not led into the future as slaves but as adopted children of God; joint heirs with Christ. This same Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are indeed a part of the Father's family.”
Without His infusion we would be as powerless as were the disciples prior to Pentecost. Our text says that when we face trouble the Spirit comes and joins with us in bearing up.
I am still holding out hope that my river ducks remembered to fly away again. A fellow told me that it can sometimes happen.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor