St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
Isaiah 6:1-13, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
June 9, 2019
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
When I think of Pentecost Day, I immediately think of the scene as Luke describes it in the book of Acts with the tongues of fire and the and the early Christians being given the ability to speak in other languages.
The apostle John’s version of Pentecost is quite different. Instead of large crowds and what appeared to be drunken behavior, we get the intimacy of Jesus’s final moments with his disciples. These are the same disciples who followed him during his ministry on earth only to be devastated by his execution at Calvary. While they were overjoyed to discover that he rose from the dead three days later, his post-resurrection appearances were confusing to them, and ultimately, when Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after Easter, they were faced with this question: What happens when Jesus is no longer around? Will we ever get to experience his presence again, or will we be left all alone?
The opening line in this scene is Philip prompting Jesus to “show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Just before this passage, Jesus tells the disciples that he’s going to the Father and about his desire to take them with him. Thomas interrupts Jesus to ask him how they can “know the way” to where he is going, and Jesus responds, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
So, we shouldn’t be surprised at Jesus’ rebuke of Philip’s somewhat silly request. I mean, Jesus had just explained all of this. But he uses Philip’s prompting to go deeper by describing his relationship with God the Father. This relationship might be described as a “mutual indwelling.” “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” John uses this mutual indwelling between Jesus and the Father as a window – an icon – into how God will relate to the community of faith we call the church.
We could spend a lot of time getting into the nuance of Trinitarian theology, but let’s just cut to the chase about the nature of this relationship: Jesus promises his fledgling church that he will not leave them orphaned. In the King James translation, which you will hear the choir sing in a moment, he says, “I will not leave you comfortless,” one of the most beautiful promises in all of Scripture. This term “comfortless” or “orphaned” signifies the lack of parents and the unconditional love that good parents exhibit toward their children. Jesus says, “I will give you another Comforter, the Holy Spirit…you know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Just as Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him, so is the Holy Spirit in the Church and the Church in the Holy Spirit. To this fragile community of new Christians, these words were words of balm and peace. No, he would not leave them comfortless. Through the Spirit, they would have constant, eternal access to Jesus, and to the Father.
Thanks be to God, the nature of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the church isn’t left up to our imagination. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will remind them of all that he said to them. The Spirit doesn’t teach new truths, or do things differently than Jesus did. The presence of the Comforter brings Jesus to mind, and it is Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. The Holy Spirit quite simply points us to Jesus.
Over the past two years, I’ve told you all many stories about my time as a Southern Baptist minister – some several times, I’m sure! – but I think this story might be new to this pulpit. The pastor at the little country church where I served as music minister in college didn’t have much theological education under his belt. His sermons were very similar week after week, but unlike most Southern Baptists, he paced back and forth and got very worked up emotionally…especially when talking about the Holy Spirit. Bro. James liked to refer to the “Holy Ghost” like we do in our liturgy, but unlike what you’re experiencing right now, mentions of the Holy Ghost were usually accompanied by fist waving…like this. One day, he and I were talking, and I brought up some area in my life where I was struggling and asked him to pray for me. During his prayer, he began to “speak in tongues.” I won’t try to imitate what he was doing, but I was awfully confused and felt uneasy…almost eerily afraid. These utterances coming out of his mouth were strange. It sounded like he was repeating himself over and over again in some sort of simple language I’d never heard, but with a repetitive cadence that was quite frankly creepy. I remember thinking, “Is this what the early Christians sounded like on the day of Pentecost when others thought they may have been drunk?” I never felt like my question was answered satisfactorily until I came to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City. One of our members who isn’t here today and thus can’t defend himself came out of the Charismatic Movement and demonstrated to me how he was taught to speak in tongues. I mean, it was almost exactly the same thing that I heard that day in 2001 in rural Arkansas, but this time, the person “speaking in tongues” explained the vocal and nasal inflections needed to make these particular sounds. We would need at least an hour to dive in to the merits of the theology behind speaking in tongues, but I want to point out what St. Paul said to the Corinthians at the end of his discourse on speaking in tongues: “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.”
After announcing the coming of the Holy Spirit to his disciples, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
The peace that Jesus is talking about isn’t the opposite of war. He’s not talking about a peaceful moment in the mountains, or the peace that one might feel after drinking a few glasses of wine. Jesus is talking about a deeply rooted peace that comes when you humble yourself before God and say, “I’m a sinner in need of redemption. I can’t do this alone. I need to be in community with other people who feel this way too.” Jesus is talking about a peace that only comes when you allow yourself to recognize that despite all of your flaws, despite your desire to sin and your repeated decisions to commit sins, despite the fact that you’ve failed to love God and keep his commandments…despite all of that, you allow yourself to recognize that you’ve been unconditionally forgiven. That you are loved. This is the peace that comes when you view yourself the way God views you – as the Beloved.
The catechism in our prayer book poses the question, “How do we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives?” “We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.” This is the peace that Jesus left with his disciples. He promised that he would not leave them comfortless. And he fulfilled that promise by giving them the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. God longs for each of us to see ourselves like he sees us: sinners in need of redemption, but ultimately, completely and totally loved by God despite all of our faults. He longs for us to be in love and harmony with Him, with other people, and even with all of creation. And he longs to give us that peace that the world cannot give by pouring out his grace on his Church – even here at 13th and Holmes in the year 2019.
In a moment, God’s grace – God’s unearned and undeserved favor toward us – will be poured out by the power of the Holy Spirit on this altar in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. As a community of believers, we will offer and present ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a living sacrifice to God. And of his great mercy, God will fill us with his grace and make us one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.
Of course, there’s a rich irony in the contrast between the outpouring of the Spirit in the craziness of that first Pentecost Day, and the orderliness of the Spirit’s outpouring at a Solemn High Mass in a Gothic church with exquisite music and liturgy. This irony highlights the fact that while we are sure that Holy Spirit works through the Sacraments of the Church, she is not constrained by them.
Friends, this Pentecost Day, let us pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this community – St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. By the power of the Spirit, let us confess Jesus Christ as Lord and be brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation. Let us recommit ourselves to coming together as a community to faithfully receive God’s love outpoured for us in the Sacraments of the Church day in and day out, and let us open our hearts and minds to how the Holy Spirit may be at work around us in unexpected ways. In the words of our closing hymn, let us pray that the Spirit’s flame may break out within us, fire our hearts and clear our sight, till white-hot in God’s possession, we, too, set the world alight. Amen.
 John 14:1-7.
 David Lyon Bartlett, and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, 29.
 This paragraph is largely from Bartlett 22, Theological Perspective.
 1 Cor 14:33, KJV.
 BCP 852.
 BCP 336.
 Michael Hewett, Praise the Spirit in Creation. The Hymnal 1982 #506.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!