A Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost, Sunday, May 23, 2021. Preached via Zoom to All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto.
Texts for this Sunday (Yr B): Acts 2.1-21, Ps 104.25-35,37b; Romans 8.22-27, Jn 15.26-27,16.4b-15
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. John 15:26-27
Someone once wittily said that the Holy Spirit to Christians is a lot like Ringo Starr is to Beatles fans. Either you take Ringo for granted and kind of forget he’s there, or you madly obsess about him as your favourite Beatle. While some parts of the Christian family – Pentecostals and charismatics – are like Ringo fans, very attuned to the Holy Spirit and its gifts and presence, I think most Anglicans tend to regard the Spirit as the most mysterious part of the Trinity. We acknowledge the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but generally the Spirit is a bit of a stranger to our church, which is unfortunate, because the Spirit has never been a stranger to God’s people.
In our Monday bible studies, we’ve seen in places like Proverbs (Pr 8.22-36) and the Wisdom of Solomon (Wis 7.22-30) how God’s spirit of wisdom has been God’s partner since the creation of the world. Prophets like Ezekiel recognized the spirit as the life-giving breath and force of God. Peter in his sermon to the people of Jerusalem recognize the spirit as the gift of revelation, of God wanting to be known in dreams and prophesy. Jesus, as part of his long farewell to his friends in today’s gospel, says that the Spirit will take up where he, Jesus, left off, as the presence and voice that speaks the Father’s words just as Jesus the Son spoke them. The Spirit, then, is merely the continuation of God’s presence and speech to God’s people, but now at Pentecost the spirit is given a new task, namely the building of a new community, the church.
Peter recognizes this new work of the Spirit in his speech to the people of Jerusalem. Just as Jesus built a community of friends of God out of tax collectors and fishermen and faithful women, now the Spirit expands that community to include all races, men and women, slave and free. That community becomes the church, and so this Sunday, Pentecost, is about how we are here because God is always building community. The story of the appearance of the Holy Spirit is a story of God creating a community with a certain shape and character – let’s call it a Pentecost community. What are the hallmarks of a Pentecost community?
First, it’s a diverse community. It’s gathered up out of all sorts of people, different languages and backgrounds, different walks of life. The Pentecost community is not Wonder bread. It has the same diversity that we see at All Saints, old Ontario families and new Canadians, settlers and refugees, very different people indeed, who are all here because God wants us to be here.
Second, the Pentecost community is a called community. It began in a core group of disciples, who were all called by Christ, but different people are constantly being added to the story, like the crowds attracted to the disciples in Acts. Think back to when you first came to All Saints. What was it that brought you here? Whatever stage in the story we arrived at, we were called to be here. And why were you called? You were called because God loves you and delights in you and wants you to be fully alive. Think of our Psalm and God delights in the leviathan of the deep. If God can love a giant sea creature, how much more does he delight in you, made in God’s image, adopted into God’s family as Christ’s brother and sister.
Third, the Pentecost community is a gifted community. The Spirit was incredibly generous to the disciples, equipping them with gifts of languages so they could be heard by people from all over the known world. We too have gifts and talents, even if they’ve felt buried away since Covid. way. But think how people of this parish have faithfully turned out for Zoom church, of how the Friday prayers of a few have upheld the many for months now, or how we’ve kept up our ties with the Crosslinks community through cooked meals, love, and concern. Even through Covid, the Spirit’s abundance works with our gifts in so many ways in our community, if we care to look for it.
Fourth, the Pentecost community is a community with a story to tell about God. In Acts the people in the crowd say that “we hear [the disciples] speaking about God’s deeds of power”. This gift of tongues and gift of communication is in keeping with what Jesus ways of the Spirit in John: “he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning” (Jn 15:26-27). A Pentecost community tells people about God and about our hope in God. I think of Harry and Judith faithfully updating our sign on Keele Street, or Kristen’s role in revamping and updating our website so people now that All Saints is still open for business. In telling our story to the wider community, we are also telling God’s story.
Finally, the Pentecost community is a hopeful community. Peter says to the crowds in Jerusalem that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”. We are here because our Saviour rose from the dead. The resurrection tells us that death will not have the last word, that plague and pestilence won’t last, and that God can’t be locked down. We may be well schooled in death looks like. Many of you are widows and widowers, and I grieve with you. We grieve, but we come to Pentecost by way of Easter. We are a resurrection people because, like it did with Jesus, the Spirit raised us to life. We know that nothing can separate us from the love of God, and we know that death will have no dominion. We believe that God is not finished with us, that his work of creating the world is not yet done.
So we don’t know when Covid will end, or what the world will be like, or what the church will be like. What we do know is that God is determined to create a new world, one without Covid, without sin and death, without depression or cancer, without war or poverty, or any of the other things that we struggle with. We know this because the resurrection of Christ is a sign of God’s determination to rid us of these things.
We may not know clearly how this will happen, but Paul says in Romans 8, in one of the most wonderful passages in scripture, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:22-23).
So we are a Pentecost people. Our community is the church, which has carried on across the centuries, forming and reforming, speaking to us in our time. And so we say, as a Pentecost community, as we do each Sunday, Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation, in the church and in Christ Jesus. Amen.