Pentecost Day, Year B
May 20, 2018
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Today is Pentecost Day, one of the seven principal feasts on the church calendar along with Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Trinity Sunday, and All Saints. Only two of those days – Christmas and Easter – have widespread corresponding traditions in the secular world like Christmas trees and Easter bunnies…well, three if you count Halloween candy as somehow connected to the Feast of All Saints. But not so on today’s feast! For me, Pentecost is a breath of fresh air when it comes to church festivals – no Christmas in July, or Easter chocolates temping me during the Lenten fast.
On Pentecost Day, the Church celebrates – quite simply – the birthday of the Church. I’m not sure about you, but what happened on Pentecost Day isn’t quite like any birthday party that I’ve ever been to. The description of the events that occurred on the first Pentecost Day seems a bit crazy to me. The “signs and wonders” that happened in Jerusalem that day – rushing wind, tongues of flame, and the miracle of speaking in foreign languages – sound awe-inspiring and almost fantastical. St. Peter’s sermon, based on the prophet Joel’s words, “fill the air with Spirit-filled visions and dreams involving blood, and fire, and smoky mist.” It’s no wonder that some of the observers thought these early Christians were drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning!
And yet the church in today’s world seems to be in sharp contrast with this story from the Book of Acts. Like it or not, we hear many voices tell us that the church is in decline, and in particular, that The Episcopal Church is losing members. In fact, we very rarely hear good news about the state of the church. Many Episcopal preachers don’t talk much about Jesus in their sermons, and many parishes – if they even offer Christian education – have a hard time getting folks to attend. It’s not surprising that many Episcopalians have a hard time articulating their faith in a reasoned and yet passionate way. People don’t give enough to support the expensive upkeep on old historic buildings like ours. Church budgets hardly can squeeze enough out of the turnip to take care of ourselves, let alone spend money on those outside the walls of the church. Those aspiring to be ordained are told time and time again, “Don’t quit your day job. Have a source of income outside of the church, because the church is in such a horrible state that there likely won’t be money to pay you a full-time salary.”
On Pentecost Day, when we hear of the signs and wonders, the Spirit’s power, the amazement and astonishment experienced by the crowd – it’s hard to relate those events to what’s going on the church in 2018.
What do you think would happen if the Holy Spirit descended afresh on our church? Would we hear new things from those who are different from us? Would we be pushed in new, astonishing directions?
I’ve had the privilege over the past few weeks to care for one of our newer parishioners during his stay in the hospital – I’ll call him John. John has been coming to St. Mary’s for six months or so, and came to us with a longing to serve Christ and to be in community with other Christians. A few weeks ago, two others from St. Mary’s and I were sitting with John in his hospital room, and he said to us something like this: “I’m so grateful that you all would visit me and spend time with me while I’m sick. Not too many years ago, when I was sick in the hospital, no one wanted to come visit me because I was a jerk. Now, I’ve changed my life and decided to follow Jesus, and I’m thankful that he’s brought me to St. Mary’s and that you love me enough to come spend time with me.” The differences between John’s life experience and mine sometimes makes it hard for us to understand one other. But in the end, I have learned so much about repentance and gratefulness and the “ministry of presence” by spending time with this man in his suffering. Our differences stretched my heart and mind in new, astonishing ways. In other words, the Holy Spirit breathed life into both John and me through these visits.
Not only did the Spirit move the two of us, but the two others from our parish who ministered to John were ministered to by John as well. And thus, we have a glimpse of something new and beautiful that is starting in the life of St. Mary’s – the beginnings of a formal, trained, and willing lay pastoral care team, ready to unselfishly love and care for those among us in need.
One of the men in our parish, whom I will call Rick, is sold on the mission and vision of St. Mary’s. He loves the preaching, the music, the young people he sees in the pews, and the fact that we’re trying to reach out to those who live downtown. Rick is so sold on who we are that sometime over the past couple of months, he invited more than a dozen people who live in his apartment building to church, and then to brunch afterward. Rick did something that most of us are hesitant, or perhaps even afraid to do: he invited his friends to come to church in the hopes that they will come to know the love of Jesus and to become part of this community of faith. Rick put himself out there and asked, knowing that they all come from different perspectives and different faiths, and that some or most of them might even reject his invitation. He did it anyway. I know him well enough to know that that this was such an unselfish act on his part – so unselfish that I’d get in big trouble for calling his name out from the pulpit, so I won’t do that.
If you and I are friends on Facebook, you have no way of not knowing that I was up at 3am yesterday morning to go to Union Station to watch the wedding of Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Merkle. For you see, I am an Anglophile. You may know an Anglophile or two, but probably not at the level I’m talking about. When you leave the church out the parish hall, look immediately to your right, and you’ll see my car complete with a window decal of HM Queen Elizabeth II on the back window.
There were many remarkable things about yesterday’s royal wedding. All of the expected pomp and circumstance were there, and all of the beautiful Anglican liturgy, all of the historical trappings of a thousand-year-old monarchy. But there were several rather stunning breaths of fresh air amid all of the tradition. First, the royal bride was bi-racial, and a descendent from slaves in the American south. The People of Color in the wedding – the preacher, one of the choirs, and many of the attendees – gave visible witness that God’s love is liberating for all those held captive in oppression. Second, the preacher was the Presiding Bishop of our own Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, who preached the love of Jesus in a way that has likely never been heard at a place like St. George’s, Windsor – and he preached this love of Jesus in over a billion listeners worldwide. The stuffy Brits didn’t quite know what hit them.
What do you think would happen if the Holy Spirit descended afresh on our church? Would we hear new things from those who are different from us? Would we be pushed in new astonishing ways?
The stories of John and Rick here at St. Mary’s, and of the message of love we heard at the royal wedding – this is what happens when the Holy Spirit descends afresh on our church. This is what happens when you and I choose to extend what Bishop Curry calls “the unselfish, sacrificial redemptive love of Jesus” with those around us, both at church and outside these walls. In all three cases, individual followers of Christ saw the Holy Spirit at work in some, small way, and said yes, I want to be a part of that.
It seems to me that despite the constant negative messages we hear about the state of the church today, we are seeing glimpses of the Holy Spirit moving in powerful ways, here at St. Mary’s and around the world. All three of these stories exhibit unselfish, self-sacrificial, redemptive love. What do you think would happen if you and I intentionally opened ourselves up to the possibility of even greater outpourings of the Holy Spirit here at St. Mary’s?
Like a bud that grows into a flower, we are seeing glimpses of such a potential outpouring of the Spirit – in the budding pastoral care team, in the parishioners who boldly invite their friends to church, in fresh and liberating expressions of old ceremonies and traditions. We are seeing a foretaste of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the uptick in Sunday attendance, in the increase of diversity amongst our members (diversity in gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and socio-economic status).
Friends, these things don’t have to be a mere glimpse or foretaste. These buds can grow into a flower. The Spirit is waiting to fulfill the visions and dreams we’ve been given about sharing the love of Jesus with our friends and neighbors and especially those who live right here in downtown Kansas City. What do we need to do to get these buds to grow into a beautiful flower? You’ll hear more about the practicalities and mechanics of fleshing out this vision in the coming weeks and months, but the answer for today is quite simply love. Not romantic love, not the love you feel for your parents or siblings, not sentimental love. By saying yes to the unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love of Jesus. By spending time with Him in prayer – both here at St. Mary’s and at home – and by loving those around us without expecting a darned thing in return.
Let us open our hearts and minds to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit around us, leading us to new and astonishing things…and let us heed the Spirit’s call to say yes to love. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, vol. 3, Year B (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 3.
 This was a questioned asked by The Rev. Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement, that I came across in a Facebook post sometime the week of May 14, 2018.
Fr. Charles Everson works as a banker by day and a priest by night. His love for music and liturgy led him to a suburban parish as a simple chorister, and as of late, to St. Mary's as a priest. He feels called to share the love of Jesus Christ with a broken world in desperate need of hope and reconciliation.