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Sunday, June 08, 2014

A Brave and Startling Truth

—If you know the title and artist of this work please let me know so I may give proper credit.
June 8, 2014 – St. George’s Chapel, Harbeson, DE
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12;3b-13
John 20:19-23

Much has been written and much can be said about this moment known as Pentecost. Most of it, I think, is the stuff of Bible Studies and Christian Formation Class and Adult Forum.

We can talk about the historicity and the theology of Pentecost. We can get into debates about the Christian co-opting of the Great Fifty Days of Jewish tradition, and the Counting of the Omer, and whether or not John’s Gospel is a reliable report of an actual event or, rather, part of a tradition of Jewish literary and spiritual mysticism.

We can try to discern the literal meaning of the great, violent rush of wind and the tongues of fire, or we can understand these phenomena as part of a metaphorical language to express an awareness of a freedom from the Law to a freedom of the Spirit of the Law.

We can wrestle, as well, with the great mysteries of the Resurrection and its gift of the Holy Spirit – the one sometimes called Ruach and sometimes called Shekinah – the same Spirit who was present at the moment of creation, brooding over the swirl of chaos, even as She was present at the moment of the Incarnation. 

She was there, too, in the midst of the violence of the Crucifixion, and the grief and sorrow, confusion and joy of the Great Fifty Days after the glory of the Resurrection, even as she is present to us, today, opening our eyes to the way the presence of God’s glory continues to be revealed in our day and time.

How to explain – how to understand – all these things in this brief moment of our worship together of Word and Sacrament?
When the day of Pentecost came. Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012..
This is a sermon. It is meant more to inspire than explain. Indeed, this is a sermon about what happens when we come upon a brave and startling truth that is so earth shattering that our lives are changed and transformed and will never again be the same.

As you may well know, poet and author Maya Angelou recently died. 

She is probably best known for her first book, “I Know Why the Caged BirdSings” and, perhaps for the poem she wrote for the Inauguration of fellow Arkansonian, Bill Clinton, “On the Pulse of Morning.”

It is her poem, “A Brave and Startling Truth” that has been speaking most powerfully to me about Pentecost and what it may mean for us today, in our own day and in our own time. Allow me to read to you an excerpt from that poem.

When we come to it                       
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun.
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores.
These are not the only wonders of the world.

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

If anyone knows the title and author, please let me know
That, I think, helps explain to me more about the Pentecost event than any book of theology or doctrine of the church.

It explains why today, Pentecost, is considered "The Birthday of the Church".

Hear now, again, the words of Jesus to the disciples in that house where they had met with the doors locked for fear of the religious leaders of their day.

“Peace be with you,” he said and he showed them his hands and his side which bore the scars of the unspeakable, cruel violence that had been done to him.

And then he breathed on them the hot breath of vocation, the breath that finds its way to the very core of your being and shakes it like thunder, the rush of wind that you know – in the deep places of your knowing – was there at the moment you were called into being, is here now, and will continue to be with you as you take the first step onto this new, somewhat frightening, uncharted path of your vocational journey.

On the rush of that wind you suddenly know that the words of the Prophet Joel were true and that God continues to pour out God’s Spirit upon all human flesh – not because we are either demon or divine or even deserving in any particular way, but merely human – and that God’s sons and daughters will prophesy and young men shall see visions and old men shall dream dreams and even slaves – men and women – shall be freed by the Spirit to prophesy.

And the prophecy – the brave and startling truth – that you encounter, when you come to it, is this: you are neither demon nor divine. You are merely mortal, with the potential to do great good and great evil. And Jesus has said, even to you, oh mortal, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

And you understand, when you come to it, when you come to this Pentecost moment, that the slate has been wiped clean and you stand at the moment of choice. You understand, when you come to it, that, being neither demon nor divine, you can create a climate where every man, woman and child of every ethnicity, race, tribe and nation can be set free from blind obedience to the crippling laws of man and set free to live into the spirit of the laws of God.

When you come to it, that cross in the road, there comes a Pentecost moment, when from the heavens the sound like a rush of violent wind comes and you know things now that you never understood before, and you know, as St. Paul tells the early Church in Corinth, that ‘there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord . . . . and to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. … to one wisdom . . .to another faith . . ..  to another gifts of healing . . .  and all these activated by the one and the same Spirit . . . .”.

And, you know, deep in your places of knowing, when you come to it, that this is how the church - the very Body of Christ - is born. You are - I am - the church, not when we become grand buildings, but when we become "pillars of flame", on fire with the passion of the Gospel.

And you know that the time has come and is now to face a brave and startling truth that you, even you, have your own unique gifts, and choose to use them to the glory of God, and in service to God’s people, and to your own deep satisfaction and yes, even your own delight.

When you come to it, that Pentecost moment of that brave and startling truth, the mighty wind comes to blow all obstacles from your path, and suddenly you know a spirit of joy and peace which the disciples first knew. 

And, you, too, will know the deep wisdom of Dr. Angelou: That the caged bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

I don’t know if I’ve taught you anything about Pentecost. If I did, I didn’t mean to. It was purely accidental. 

I will leave you with the ending of Dr. Angelou’s poem which I hope will inspire you to live into the gospel that you may find the brave and startling truth God has for you in your Pentecost moment:

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.                                                                            



whiteycat said...

What happened to the post that followed this one? It was here yesterday and now it's gone!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'm sorry, Whiteycat. I don't know. I don't seeing or remember responding to a post here. Sure you got the right one?

whiteycat said...

It was a post about eliminating the use of the titles Father and Mother for clergy. It had something like 65 comments when I saw it yesterday.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

it's here:

Or just go to the search feature and type in "Giving Up Father"

Unknown said...

The artwork you asked about above is "The Holy Spitit" by Gisele Bauche (Canada)