Monday, May 16

Pentecost Sermon

Acts 2:1-21
Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
John 7:37-39




Whitsunday


Listen sweet Dove unto my song,
And spread thy golden wings in me;
Hatching thy tender heart so long,
Till it get wing, and fly away with thee.


Where is that fire which once descended
On thy Apostles? thou didst then
Keep open thy house, richly attended,
Feasting all comers by twelve chosen men.

Such glorious gifts thou didst bestow,
That th' earth did like heav'n appear;
The stars were coming down to know
If they might mend their wages, and serve here.

The sun which once did shine alone,
Hung down his head and wisht for night,
When he beheld twelve suns for one
Going about the world, and giving light.

But since those pipes of gold, which brought
That cordial water to our ground,
Were cut and martyr'd by the fault
Of those, who did themselevs through their side wound,

Thou shutt'st the door, and keep'st within;
Scarce a good joy creeps through the chink:
And if the braves of conqu'ring sin
Did not excite thee, we should wholly sink.

Lord, though we change, thou art the same;
The same sweet God of love and light;
Restore this day, for thy great name,
Unto his ancient and miraculous right.

- George Herbert

Thanks to Katia for reading this aloud.

This poem by George Herbert is full of longing, full of desire for something that appears to be long past, perhaps even long forgotten. There is something despairing in these words. Listen again.


Scarce a good joy creeps through the chink:
And if the braves of conqu'ring sin
Did not excite thee, we should wholly sink.

So little of God is evident. So little grace is apparent in the world. The Spirit, Christ's promised advocate, seems quiet at times, silent except for the work of an heroic few: Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa may be contemporary examples. And if it were not for these heroes, we would surely be lost.

This could be a commentary of our own times as well. Sometimes I struggle with this kind of despair and cynicism myself. Herbert's seventeenth century anxieties and frustrations are so much like my own - fear of what might become of the Church, concerns over the political landscape - I simply wonder if God is near. Promise or no promise, I experience the feelings of God's absence.

And yet, here we are at Pentecost...here we are at the end of the Easter Season and in the face of the Spirit, in in the presence of the tongues of flame in the midst of Christ's promise fulfilled, George Herbert and I are both longing for a fuller experience of God. We are aware of our own lack. And thought I cannot speak for the seventeenth century poet...not with any authority at least...I believe that my experience of God's absence is always and everytime a sign of God's deep and continuing presence.


O, guiding night,
O, night more lovely than the dawn;
O, night that hast united
The lover with His Beloved,
And changed her into her love.
-St. John of the Cross

In the presence of God, what is night is actually day. Darkness is in sharp relief when God's light shines brightest. And when that light shines, I am often aware only of the darkness. And yet, in that darkness I am redeemed. A flame of love alights upon me. I am compelled to speak in a language that is not my own. Like poetry to prose, this is perhaps two sides of the same coin. Sobriety and drunkenness...night and day...death and resurrection...Word and silence...

Yet in God, at Pentecost, what appears to be drunkenness is sobriety. The apparent absence of Christ is the presence of the Spirit of God. The living Word is not silent...though we may not hear Him. Through the gift of the Holy Trinity, Christ is present in His Spirit.

John Calvin says it this way: the signs of Pentecost - flames and many languages - are not signs for the Apostles or those gathered with them. "Those signs which are here set down were about to be profitable for all ages; as we see today that they profit us."

Like the Sabbath, the signs of God are for us. The signs of flames, tongues, bread and wine are for us. And through us they are signs of God for the world.

And though it may appear as drunkenness...
And though it may appear as night...
And though it may appear as absence or silence...

It is the sign of God's presence among and within us.

Yesterday I attended the ABC Metro-Chicago Family Council. Our Interim Executive Minister preached quite a sermon. He painted of picture of what it might look like if the church at Pentecost were interposed upon the ABC-Metro region.
- gathered for mission
- seemingly short of resources
- a variety of nationalities and languages addressed
- God's signs made evident in diversity
- this was a public display
- from the outside it appeared to be confused mess - drunkenness
- from it the truth of Christ is proclaimed and witnessed

At each turn of a phrase, Larry Greenfield's vision for the region become a description of this congregation. We do not have to stretch our imaginations very far to see the correlations. Rev. Greenfield gave many of us present a great gift by reminding us of the signs of the Spirit so that we too may receive God's Spirit.

He named what he saw of God in the ABC. While the ABC struggles with its own identity, we can forget what is at work and what is at stake. The same can be said for my work here at Reconciler. Sometimes I forget what is already at work, and what is at stake. I see darkness when I am surrounded by light. There is nothing lacking! Can I not see?

So many have been generous in naming the Spirit at work here.

Alan Howell of Reba Place has named the Spirit at work in Rogers Park and has placed us within it. This is a good work, he said. Pairing intentional community along side a congregation is a good work. And we are not alone in it. They have been at it for decades and there are others at this same work.

Bob Webber and the students at Northern Seminary showed us amazing hospitality and thus the Spirit. And in their encouragement and challenges they proclaimed God's Spirit at work here. "I believe that this may be the future of the Church." said Professor Webber. I do not know tha I would go that far, but Webber's generosity and excitement are encouraging.

And at the Family Council meeting I was invited to stand as a representative of what the Spirit is doing in Chicago.

- People have witnessed the Spirit at work at Reconciler.
- People have named it so.

And as has been stated in other sermons here lately, the Lord is present in Rogers Park. We do not invent this. The Spirit meets us here. The work of God at Pentecost is the work of God now.

Lord, though we change, thou art the same;
The same sweet God of love and light;
Restore this day, for thy great name,
Unto his ancient and miraculous right.

God's work, the Spirit's work is the same as it has always been. We need not invent something new. In fact, it may be impossible to do so. We only need build where the SPirit reveals itself, depending upon wone anoth on occasion to set us aright, to name the Spirit in our midst when all we can see is darkness - we depend upon such signs and symbols to aid our memories.

George Herbert struggled with his own calling. He struggled with illness and marital troubles. He had a hard run of it and died young. Often, as this poem suggests, he seems not to see God in his own life. In stead, others did this for him. His colleagues and parishoners did this. His biographers did this.

Brothers and sisters, the Spirit has been named for us.
This is God's church.
We invent nothing.
Let us rejoice and be glad.

Amen.

Here are the hyms we sang for the service:
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
The Church's One Foundation
I Surrender All

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing