SERMON – Pentecost
May 27, 2012
+In the Name…
“And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting" (Acts 2:2).
The Season of Easter ends today. This is the last time for another year that you and I will exchange the Easter acclamation, “Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia." But you and I know that whether we state it or not, Christ IS risen; He is alive. He has defeated the grip of sin and death, and He reigns as the Head of the Church.
The Church was established this day over 2000 years ago when He sent the Holy Spirit from heaven, where He had returned at His Ascension. He had charged the Apostles before He ascended, “… not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father." And that promise was that the Holy Spirit was to come down upon them for them to “receive power."
So for nine days after His Ascension, the Apostles “together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers,” “…devoted themselves to prayer." They held the first Novena – a time of prayer and waiting for what had been promised to them.
On the tenth day after our Lord’s Ascension, the promise of the Father was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came down upon them from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind. It filled all the house where they were sitting. Tongues of fire appeared upon the heads of the Apostles – the fire of the Holy Spirit’s power to burn itself into their hearts, and to burn away sin and fear. Everything had now changed for them and for the world.
They spoke in tongues, that ecstatic manifestation of the Holy Spirit that has come upon Christians throughout the life of the Church, and they were gifted with speaking in a way of the mighty works of God that people from many nations who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost understood. These people from so many nations exclaimed, “…we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
Some critics and cynics accused the Apostles of being drunk! They said, “They are filled with new wine." But Peter (we are told in the Gospel of St. Luke) “standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them…these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it only the third hour of the day…”
The Holy Spirit had been breathed upon the Apostles by Jesus on Easter night in the Upper Room (a giving of the Spirit to them in the sense of the Spirit being planted in one’s life in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism), but on Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and the disciples gathered with them with power so that they would be strong for the Lord; that they would speak boldly of His mighty works; and they would do so in a way that was understood by people of different races and cultures.
The Church’s mission had begun, and the world would never be the same because what Jesus had done through his death and resurrection was now something very much beyond Himself and fully alive in those who had followed Him. Power had come upon them that would show itself as they stepped out in faith and with great courage.
But before they received that power of the Holy Spirit, and before they moved out into the world to change the world for Christ, they had waited for the Spirit.
For nine days, the Apostles and the women with them (including the Mother of our Lord) waited for something to happen. Nine days is a goodly period of time to wait for something that has been promised, but sometimes the wait for something we hope will come is much longer.
A woman moves through nine months of pregnancy in anticipation of the birth of the child she carries within her womb. She hopes and prays that the delivery is without complication, and that the child is born healthy. Many a man who lost his life in our nation’s wars (those we thankfully and prayerfully honor this weekend) waited for a letter from a loved one at home hoping that he would hear words of love before entering into the theatre of battle, where I believe many a man knew that he would die.
You and I believe, in the words of St. Paul, that “in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). We know that God is for us because we believe in His Son Jesus Christ. God is well pleased that we have accepted His revelation, and have decided to strive to serve His Son Jesus Christ in faith and works. But this is not a magic formula for things to happen for our good when we want them to happen, or think that they should happen.
Just as God chose to act in Christ Jesus at a particular moment in history, He chooses to act in our own lives when He chooses – for our good – when we’re ready, when we are free from ourselves to respond to His giving, and when we give ourselves, our burdens, our pains, and our fears to Him. He acts for great good beyond all expectations when we invite Him into our lives and situations. He acts for good even in the mystery of Providence when we find ourselves dis-spirited and discouraged by various forms of darkness.
The group who was gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, where the majority of them had been the night before Jesus was arrested, obeyed the Lord’s command to stay in Jerusalem and wait. He had not instructed them to pray as they waited, but St. Luke has told us in the Book of Acts (as I have already cited) that they “with one accord devoted themselves to prayer." I would say that if one is called to wait, one should be praying.
They obviously ate and talked to one another; they slept; and certainly expressed their feelings about how they understood the promise of the Holy Spirit that was to come, but throughout this time of waiting, they devoted themselves to prayer.
You and I are often faced with waiting for things, guidance in and for many things – resolution of things that have gone on for a period of time, for which we yearn for relief; or when sudden and unexpected events occur that change our lives, causing us to wonder how things can ever be the same. Possibly things aren’t to be the same for some greater good beyond our vision and understanding.
In all such things and at such times, we must pray to God for our faith to be maintained by His grace. We are to pray for wisdom to know where we stand in our relationship with God, and to know what remains in the way for the relationship we should have with Him. We are to pray for trust in His ways, and for the grace to be patient. We are to pray as we wait to know what we should be attending to and focused upon, instead of cutting out the world and others we need to care for, as we write the agenda. We are to pray for Him to hold onto us and to hold us up when it is so very difficult to stand and to function. I believe that He will make it clear what we need to realize, and what we need to do.
Prayer is that action of the Christian soul which invites God into the situation. It’s an intentional action that a Christian does to relinquish control, in order that God is given control for Him to act upon others and upon himself. As I understand God as revealed in the scriptures, and in the writings of the great saints of the Church throughout the ages, it is clear that God normally waits upon us to allow Him to take control. He rarely steps in to take control uninvited.
We fail so often to hand the reins over to Him because we think we can handle things and make them turn out the way we want them to; or we don’t trust God enough to believe that He can and will handle things for our good and for the good of others, if we let Him, even when there are things that we judge as bad or negative.
Today, on this Memorial Day weekend, I cannot but think of something that happened three years ago on Sunday, May 25th that put a whole host of people in a place of being out of control. That was the day that young Tom Shea took his life, leaving a big hole in the lives of Lynn and Dave, and his brother, Sam, not to mention his extended family, his friends, his teachers and coaches, and us.
We think of Tom and his family today because it is fitting that we all do so, but secondarily because it is connected to our focus on the Holy Spirit today.
Those who were part of that incredible witness of both sorrow and love at Tom’s funeral Mass, four days after his suicide, experienced both consciously and unconsciously the power and presence of God the Holy Spirit. We felt the gentle, soothing, and unifying presence of the Spirit as He connected us to the reality of God in Christ, and as He created an atmosphere within the walls of Good Shepherd and around the grounds of the church where hundreds of people stood outside the windows listening and participating, an atmosphere of solemnity and reverence the like of which I have never witnessed in my life. The Holy Spirit touched each and every heart of those present with supernatural grace, a touch that I believe made a permanent mark of truth, and of the reality of God on the souls of those present.
The Holy Spirit comes to make spiritually positive and powerful life changes, ministering to our deepest needs. Jesus said, “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you….He will guide you into all truth." (John 14:15-17, 16:13).
We celebrate today what the Spirit gave at Pentecost; but more particularly how the Holy Spirit continues to move upon and within those who seek Him. The Spirit moves in mysterious ways and different times for hearts and minds seeking comfort, guidance, and direction.
+In the Name…