A sermon preached at St. John’s-McAllen on May 23, 2021:
What a joy it is to be with y’all again! Please do not mistake my giddiness to be early morning drunkenness as some did the disciples in their exuberant proclamation of the good news. Getting to share the good news of Jesus with people we love and adore is worth being over-the-top excited about!
And, getting to be with y’all on Pentecost makes it even more thrilling! This is the place where I first began to discover my priestly voice as I learned how to lead others in finding their kingdom voice.
I remember one particular Sunday – I’d been here about a year and a half or so – as I began the Eucharistic Prayer, it felt different, I felt different. The words sounded different even though they were the same words I’d spoken behind this altar many times before. And a few of you noticed and said something either that day or in the week following.
The difference wasn’t anything I had done and, no, I hadn’t snuck into the wine cabinet before the service. It wasn’t even a special Sunday like Pentecost, it was just an ordinary Sunday. An ordinary event transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When the disciples gathered together to celebrate the Jewish festival of Pentecost they didn’t know that this festival they’d celebrated their whole lives would be transformed, that God would use something common and familiar to transform them and all who heard their voices.
These ordinary Galileans were transformed into holy people of hospitality as everyone, regardless of their background and heritage heard of the mighty works of God. Where language had been a barrier, God created connections and relationships. In a civilization formed in the us vs. them of the Romans and Israelites, God issues the invitation to everyone: all are welcome into this new life in God’s kingdom.
AND just as important as the invitation itself is the delivery. We are all called – and empowered – to proclaim the goodness of God in our own unique way with our own unique voices. One of the many formative lessons of Pentecost is that God didn’t design nor does God call us to be identical robots.
Each of us has something unique and necessary and needed and wanted in the building of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. My voice and skills and talents cannot be complete without all of yours and yours are not complete without each other or mine.
We are only completely who God created and calls us to be with God and each other. We do not and cannot follow Jesus independently.
The extraordinary events of that day some 2000+ years ago transformed Pentecost from a festival of God’s law into an invitation for everyone to come into the Kingdom. That’s fairly easy to see in the story as told in the Acts of the Apostles that we read each year on this day.
The challenge for us is in how we, reading this story in a different time and culture, carry it with us out of these doors and into the ordinary moments of our lives.
We know that after Peter assures the crowds that the disciples aren’t drunk and that they are witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promise, the disciples didn’t just look at each other and ask “what’s for brunch?” and resume life as they had known it. They went out with their newly transformed voices and proclaimed God’s love to the ends of the earth as they had the ability and were equipped by the Spirit.
How do we do the same? How do we take our own Spirit given Kingdom voice and proclaim God’s love to the ends of the earth? Or at least proclaim it in our neighborhoods and workplaces?
For me, the best story to help us answer ‘how do we do the same’ is the conversation between Jesus and Peter on the beach sometime after Jesus’ resurrection as told by John. And although it isn’t what we are scheduled to read on Pentecost, y’all know how I like to redesign the lectionary from time to time1.
Jesus has just shared a beach breakfast with Peter and the disciples when he asks Peter, “do you love me more than these?” Peter assures Jesus he does and Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.”
Then Jesus asks, “do you love me” and Peter again assures Jesus he does to which Jesus says, “take care of my sheep.”
And yet again Jesus asks Peter, “do you love me?” And Peter, we can imagine a bit frustrated and perplexed at the repetition of the question says, “you know I do”.
Jesus responds with “Feed my sheep” and reminds Peter of his original invitation to discipleship: “Follow me.”
And Peter, oh, dear Peter, instead of keeping his eyes and attention on Jesus, looks around and says “what about him?” What if his relationship with you looks different than my relationship with you? What if he has something I don’t have?
It encourages me so much that the one whom Jesus proclaimed would be the foundation of the church is as fallible as I am. Peter doesn’t give us some unattainable perfection example of being a disciple but the very real and authentically human way. Isn’t it good to know that when God chose to bring about his kingdom on earth that he factored in our authentic humanness?
On our own, by ourselves, without God, we’d make a slippery, shaky, crumbly foundation for anything. It is God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that glues us all together. I don’t want to get ahead of myself here because we’ll get to more about this incredible ‘thing’ called the Holy Trinity next week.
For now, lets get back to Jesus and Peter on the beach.
Jesus reminds Peter that following him isn’t a competition of who gets more but a companionable journey on which we all receive the abundant benefits of God’s salvation.
We are all the beloved children of God and God doesn’t have favorites because God loves each of us as if we were the only one, the one sheep who’s wandered off, the one pearl of great price, the single piece of treasure lost and found and worth celebrating. And together we make up this amazing Body of Christ, the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, Jesus’ Church!
Together we proclaim the good news of God in our own unique voices, using our abilities and skills, our talents and treasure to feed and care for each other, our families and neighbors, others in our community, and in other parts of the world as we are able.
Pentecost isn’t just a day or a celebration, it is the way of life, the way of love, that Jesus calls us into with the invitation “follow me.”
God has poured out the Holy Spirit on us and we proclaim the goodness of God with all that we are and all that we do, extending the invitation of Jesus to everyone we know and encounter. The ordinary days of our lives are transformed as we become more and more aware of God’s presence with us at all times and in all places.
We are The Church and, yes, we come together from time to time in this building to worship but that’s not the goal. Our holy worship of God together is one of many ways we open ourselves up to the continuous transformation by the Holy Spirit so that we, too, proclaim the good news with our Kingdom voices.
This Pentecost, our new birth as The Church has been transformed yet again as we begin to venture into the world forever changed by the COVID19 Pandemic. Our collective voice of God’s Love is more necessary than ever. And your particular way of proclaiming the good news of Jesus – and yours, and yours, and yours, is desperately needed by someone.
Use your Pentecost voice!
1I was preparing my regular weekly blog posts and this sermon at the same time this previous week. At the time of the blog posts, I hadn’t planned to work the story of Peter and Jesus on the beach into the sermon but it just sorta worked itself in there. So, if you are a regular reader, I’m tempted to apologize for the redundancy but then again, it’s always a good thing to hear a good story more than once.