May 23, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Happy feast day to you! And what a glorious feast it is in which we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the fledgling Christian Church The earliest believers were together to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot, 50 days after the Passover. The Festival of Weeks celebrates the anniversary of the giving of the Law by God to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai in 1312 BC, an event for which Jews who were scattered all about the land regathered in Jerusalem.
God’s ongoing presence in the world in the person of the Holy Spirit, long foretold by and promised by Jesus himself, begins with a vision of a reconstituted Israel. It’s not a reconstitution of the 12 tribes, but of a diaspora of Jews who live in all sorts of far-flung places, brought together for a common purpose. In this moment, God breaks in and announces Good News. It is fitting that on today’s feast of Pentecost, St. Mary’s begins a new chapter in our common life together at this phase in the pandemic by having our first meal and social event together) in over fourteen months (tomorrow after Mass).
It is, of course, an incredibly happy occasion, but many of our parishioners are coming back to church after being fully vaccinated only to find new people they’ve never met. And more than a few of you became a part of this community during the pandemic and have never met some of our long-time members. St. Mary’s is a different community than it was when the pandemic began, and it will take awhile for everyone to get to know one another and find out what the “new normal” looks like.
On that first Pentecost Day, the disciples and others heard a sound like the rush of a violent wind bringing divided tongues as of fire causing them to speak in other languages. When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, Luke says they were bewildered, astonished, and perplexed. “What does this mean?” they ask (v. 12). They mill around, stepping on each other’s toes, their faces reddening, their voices rising in confusion. This confusion sounds just like the story of the Tower of Babel when in response to the people trying to build a tower tall enough to heaven, God confounds their speech so that they can no longer understand one another, and scatters them around the world. With the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the confusion of Babel begins to be reversed. Instead of widening confusion, there is a growing understanding, little by little. In this fantastical moment, divided humanity begins to come together in harmony as people speak languages other than their own and understand one another.
The Holy Spirit continues to work in this way in our world today, and even here at St. Mary’s. Pentecost reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people. No one is excluded. We humans like to erect divisions between ourselves, mostly to find ways to show that we’re better than others. Peter quotes the prophet Joel in his Pentecost sermon to indicate that God is pouring out the Holy Spirit on both sons and daughters, the young and the old – even the slaves representing those at the margins of society are included! The Roman imperial authorities allowed groups of people like the Hebrews the freedom to be themselves in most ways, but they required each of these linguistic and national groups to stay in their own silo as a way to control them. We do the same today in politics, religion, race, socio-economic class, national identity, etc, but the Holy Spirit powerfully unites those of us who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord despite our differences making us one body, one Spirit in Christ.
St. Mary’s is not the same community it was in March 2020. But we are united by the Holy Spirit who has continued to work in and through each of us whether we were here in person or in quarantine. I can think of many ways in which I saw direct evidence of the Holy Spirit at work throughout the past year at St. Mary’s, in person, and in our online small groups, and perhaps especially in the many phone calls and porch visits between parishioners and clergy, caring for one another as best we can.
As we begin to explore what the “new normal” looks like in the coming months, I encourage you to do a lot of listening. At the barbeque after Mass (tomorrow), have a conversation with someone you don’t know. Listen to how the Spirit has worked in his or her life over the past year, and tell a little about your story. Whether you’ve been at St. Mary’s 1 week or 12 weeks or 12 years, the Holy Spirit unites us in our common baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, and continues to work in our midst. The Holy Spirit continues to break down barriers that divide us, bringing bring order and understanding to confusion and chaos.
On this joyful feast day, let us pray for the grace to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst. And let us pray for the strength and courage to join in the Spirit’s work of breaking down human divisions wherever they exist, here at St. Mary’s, and in the world around us. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 19.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!