Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost Farewell Sermon

The Feast of Pentecost - Sunday, May 19, 2013 - marked my last Sunday as rector of St. Francis Church. It has been a wonderful journey that began on February 1, 1998. Below is a written portion of the sermon I preached this weekend. A link to the full audio version of the sermon can be found here.

We heard the familiar Pentecost story from the Acts of the Apostles today, when…
…suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
It is very cool that so many of you are so gifted with all of these various languages. Remember how that sounded today, because our dramatic reading reveals an even deeper truth: that even when we are all speaking English around here, we in fact speak many different languages. I don’t know if men are really from Mars and women are from Venus. But I do know that gender shapes the ways that we experience God and speak of God, so we need to keep bringing many names. So, too, does our age affect how we experience and speak about God, so we need to keep bringing many names. Besides all of that, some of us here first met Jesus in the 1928 Prayerbook and others of us in Protestant congregations and still others in Roman Catholic congregations. Those early impressions stay with us for a long time. So we need to keep bringing many names, while trusting the Holy Spirit to help us to hear one another to speech.

We also heard these words today from St. Paul’s Letter to the first-century Christians in Rome, the eighth chapter.

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. 
Remember that the opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is fear. Fear causes us to fall back and gets us stuck and paralyzed. In Holy Baptism and as we grow up into the full stature of Christ, we have received a spirit of adoption, a spirit of love that allows us to mature in faith. Continue to live into that claim and all will be well and all shall be well.

And finally, these extraordinary words on the lips of Jesus, from the Fourth Gospel:

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 journey of faith really is like a labyrinth that takes us nearer and nearer to the heart of God. Someone once told me that they’d read the Bible in college and kind of “checked that off their list” and then wondered how I could keep coming back to it again and again and again, year after year. “Wouldn’t it get boring to do that?” I was asked in all sincerity. But I think the answer to that question is that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, keeps leading us into truth, keeps forming us as disciples of Jesus. Sometimes—wait for it—sometimes we even change our minds. We see something in a new way, from a new perspective. We hear from someone whose voice was previously not at the Table and we are all changed for good. The Holy Spirit comes to change hearts and minds and to bind us together in love with God and neighbor.  Ultimately the way and the truth and the life revealed in the Bible is not a set of doctrinal position papers; it’s a person. The Holy Spirit keeps bringing us back to Jesus again and again, who keeps calling us by name: follow me.

Today is all about the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is all about ministry—about what it means for us to be the Body of Christ. That brings us back to the work that God has given us to do: to love and serve Christ as faithful witnesses in the world.

What we do here, week after week, is talk about a dream and try to make it real. (There is your Springsteen quote!) A few years back the vestry read Verna Dozier’s book, The Dream of God: A Call to Return. It’s all about how the ministers of God are all the people and the Church is so much more than the clergy. It was first published in 1991, but like Dr. King’s dream for this nation it isn’t something that is achieved overnight. It takes work and it takes time. As we articulate that dream, and then as we try to make it real, we find ourselves engaging in the work of ministry. Together. And in so doing we are changed for good, as we discover and rediscover our vocation to be not just a nice place to be, but salt for at least this part of the earth and light for this part of the world.

No one person can do ministry alone or quickly. Over these past fifteen years, it has been our shared joy to have had some time together to see the Spirit do Her thing—continuing to amaze us by showing up again and again and again not only at those life events like baptisms and weddings and funerals but in all kinds of places along the way, and every time we gather to break the bread and share the cup. We take God’s good gifts and add human labor—grains of wheat and fruit of the vine. And what is ordinary becomes what is holy. We become what we receive, and empowered by the Holy Spirit we are sent into the world to be instruments of God’s peace and ambassadors of reconciliation. What incredible work we have shared!

You have been an extraordinary blessing to me and to my family, and always you will be in our prayers and in our hearts. You have taught me so much not only about how to be a priest, but far more importantly, about how to be myself and how to be a more faithful follower of Jesus. Thank you. And may God bless you all as the journey continues. 

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