Saturday, June 02, 2007
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:8-27
Pentecost - May 27, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor
It’s a pretty amazing scene, isn’t it? I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to have been there, on the day of Pentecost. Was it an act of nature? Might it have been a tornado or a very strong whirlwind? Perhaps. But, how would that have explained the fact that “devout Jews from every nation under heaven who were living in Jerusalem” were speaking their own language and yet, everyone understood? That makes no sense, no sense at all.
A similar thing happens in the gospel. Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”
Jesus is saying clearly that if you want to see God, look at him, for Jesus and God are one. That same unity would be seen on the Day of Pentecost, except this time, all the people are one, all speaking their own language and yet everyone understanding.
Everything is one, every person of every nation and tongue are one, just as God and Jesus are one. Everything has been redeemed. Eden has been redeemed by Calvary, and the Tower of Babel has been redeemed by the Pentecostal spirit that day in Jerusalem. The circle is complete and the earth has been made whole again. There is peace on earth and good will toward humankind.
It’s almost tempting to say, “And they lived happily ever after.” Except, of course, they didn’t. We didn’t. Indeed, this is Memorial Day Weekend. This is the time when most folk are having a lovely holiday – the first of the summer season – at the Shore or in backyard barbecues. In some communities there will be a parade. Old soldiers will put on their tired, tattered ill-fitting uniforms and march in memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and have given their lives for their countries.
If you peek under the nationalistic bunting and red, white and blue decorations on the parade floats, you will find the reason for that “ultimate sacrifice.” Several reasons, actually. Wars – previous “foreign” wars and wars which claim the lives of American soldiers as well as the lives of innocent men, women and children in their own homes – continue to rage even as we speak. Wars, centuries of wars, are damning evidence that we are far from united as a people “of every nation and tongue.”
So, here’s my question: What, do you suppose, happened the day AFTER the of Pentecost? Why didn’t the miracle that was Pentecost last beyond that day? Why didn’t the healing and wholeness of redemption last forever? Was it a matter of belief – or, rather, lack thereof?
We know from the story in ACTS that not everyone believed: All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine." Do you suppose their disbelief spoiled it for the rest of us? Can the miracles of God be that fragile? I don’t think so. However, miracles have their greatest power when they are believed.
Which is precisely the point Jesus makes to Phillip. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? Even Phillip, who has been with Jesus – broken bread with him, walked with him, talked with him – even after all that, Phillip still misses the miracle of God incarnate in Christ Jesus. So, if Phillip has missed the miracle, I suppose we can be forgiven for missing it too.
Which is why there are still wars and rumors of wars, and why we have national holidays to memorialize those whose lives have been claimed by war. Because we have a hard time believing in the miracle that was – is! – Pentecost. Indeed, I don’t think we much believe it at all.
Oh, we talk a good line about The Holy Spirit, but if our hymnal is any indication of our theology, we like our Holy Spirit pretty tame. If you listen to the hymnal music, you might think you were listening to a Memorial Day Parade – all victorious and triumphant. Other Holy Spirit hymns sound like sweet lullabies – “like the murmur of a dove’s song,” indeed! None of these hymns come close to revealing what it is we witness in the gospel account of the earth-shattering Day of Pentecost.
So, what happened? What happened the day AFTER the Day of Pentecost that got lost in sweet hymns? I think these words of Jesus to Phillip give us a big clue. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And, what are those commandments? Jesus said, “Love one another.” Indeed, he said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Memorial Day is all the evidence anyone needs to know that we fail miserably at that commandment. And, Jesus makes it pretty clear that this is what is needed for us to be one, as he and God are one. Jesus also understands that we can not do this alone. Listen to what he says to the disciples: "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
The gift of the Day of Pentecost – the Holy Spirit, the Advocate – is with us, still, to teach us how it is that we are to love one another. We have everything we need to be one, to end wars, to be at peace. All we need to do is get up off our excuses and love Jesus enough to keep his commandments. That’s all. It’s just that easy. And, that incredibly impossible. We’d have to believe the miracle of Pentecost in order for the miracle of the Holy Spirit to take hold in our lives.
That takes enormous courage. Oh, I get glimpses of that power in my life from time to time, and I see it in the lives of others, but it’s pretty scary. It’s an awesome thing to behold the miraculous power of God. You find yourself ‘amazed and perplexed’.
It’s a bit like drinking too much wine. It makes you tipsy and you begin to lose your sense of equilibrium. So, you step outside and get some fresh air. You back away and seek a bit of shelter from what might really happen if you let the winds of the Holy Spirit blow through your life. What you’d have to give up. What you’d lose. What you might gain. What that might cost you.
Jesus knows our fear. I believe this is why he 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."
Be not afraid. These three words are always spoken just before an incredible, miraculous event is about to take place. Angels have whispered these words to Abraham and David, to Mary and Joseph. Jesus gives these words to us today. Jesus said: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And then, knowing full well what those words meant, he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” And then, he promised to send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit . . . who will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
It’s all pretty amazing, isn’t it? Miraculous. Unbelievable. And yet, the power of Pentecost is the essence of our faith. It is the power to stand with the ancient church and say the only creed you ever needed to say: “Jesus is Lord, we are the body of Christ.” Saying those words were enough to put your life in peril. Not Caesar is Lord, but Jesus is Lord. Saying ‘we are the body of Christ’ means that death has lost its sting and Jesus lives because Jesus lives in us. Everything else is just details.
Today is the Day of Pentecost. Today, we will sing the ancient creedal words of our faith. Today, we will receive again the gift of the Holy Spirit. Of this, there is no question. The only question for our lives of faith is, what will we do the day AFTER the Day of Pentecost?