Saturday, May 10, 2008

May The Circle Be Unbroken

11 May 2008 Pentecost * Acts 2:1-22/I Corinthians 12: 3-13/John 20:19-23

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…”

The day of Pentecost was at the time of our story, as the name suggests, the Fiftieth Day after Passover. For those who called upon the name of the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus, it was a Harvest Festival. It also had become a time to celebrate the giving of Torah, God’s Word, God’s law, on Mount Sinai back when the people God had gathered were beginning their wilderness journey.

It was this Festival of Harvest and Torah that the disciples and assorted followers of Jesus were in Jerusalem to observe and celebrate. They were all together in one place. Suddenly things began to happen. The wind blows. Fire appears. All of them were filled – filled with the Holy Spirit. They all began to speak. People from all over the world, no matter what language they spoke, could understand what was being said.

Since everyone was seemingly speaking in different languages, different tongues, some folks outside the house sneered and accused them of being drunk.

Peter sets them straight. “It’s only nine o’clock in the morning, they cannot be drunk.” I am guessing Peter never saw the nightshift coming out of Sparrows Point or Bethlehem Steel stopping off for “a pint” or “a shot” on their way home.

Peter goes on to say that the prophet Joel imagined a day just like this one. A day when God says, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy…young men, old men, ..even slaves…shall prophesy. Then everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

All people, everyone, are included. Think about it: bringing all people into unity with God and one another. As Peter recalls, and he is right, hundreds of years before this particular Pentecost God rolled out a plan that included men and women, sons and daughters, slave and free, Gentile and Jew, proclaiming the Word of God – proclaiming a vision of a New Creation where all people are included, united, filled with the same Spirit

Isn’t this what harvest was meant to be about? Isn’t this what the giving of Torah was meant to bring about? A world in which, as Paul puts it, everyone has a gift, not everyone has the same gift, yet every person and every gift is necessary for the common good.

“We were all made to drink of one Spirit,” Paul concludes. (1 Cor 12:13)

In this vision of Joel, Peter, Paul and Pentecost, there are many different people into which to pour this one spirit. Here we have an ice tray, a glass and a tea pot. What these different containers have in common is that they can be filled with the same thing: water.

Once in each container (as the water is poured out) the water takes a different shape. And when the containers are used to their best purposes, the same water can take on different properties: ice, steam, and water. Yet, it is still the same water. So it is, says Paul, with the Spirit. Various gifts are given to each of us “individually just as the spirit chooses.”

“To each,” says Paul, “is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The common good. Or, as our Catechism puts it on page 855 of the Book of Common Prayer,
”according to the gifts given to us” we are to complete “Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.”

The good news here is we are not all meant to be doing the same things – we are not all meant to be on the same page. This is a truth hard for us to accept, but it is a truth after all. And no one is expected to do any more than God has equipped us to do through this pouring out of God’s Spirit. Of course we know for sure that we are also expected to do nothing less that what God has gifted us to do.

Another saint of the church, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) had visions of what this community of common good is to look like. She painted these visions, and almost all of them look like this one: a circle, a mandala, with everyone and everything united within the circle. No lines are drawn to divide us, but rather concentric circles of God’s angels holding us all within the circle of God’s community. (Pass around the mandala)

I was in the Carl and Lilian Sandburg home earlier this week. A marvelously simple place in the mountains of North Carolina – Flat Rock – where he wrote and sang poems and songs, and she bred and raised goats. In a video of an interview with Edward R. Murrow, Sandburg was asked “What is the most terrible, most detestable word in the English language?” Without hesitation and tremendous energy and animation Sandburg replied, “The most terrible and detestable word in the English language is the word ‘exclusive!’ Because with the word ‘exclusive’ you can write off whole parts of humanity and not give them another thought!”

In our story of Pentecost we see God going to great lengths to break down the barriers that divide all those whom God has created – to make the world inclusive. In our Baptism, God calls us to be about the work of breaking down all barriers and live up to our evangelistic calling – to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

It is significant that Peter recalls the vision of Joel, because it comes from a passage we read on Ash Wednesday, a passage that calls us to repent of all the ways in which we have failed to contribute to the common good, and we have failed to break down the barriers that continue to divide the peoples of the world – barriers that divide us even within the Body of Christ itself.

Any attempt to live into our Baptismal Promises, our Baptismal Vows, needs to begin with a serious call to repent of all those ways throughout the centuries down to our own day that the Church has been about the work of drawing lines instead of circles, and failing to recognize the great variety of shapes and forms the same Spirit takes when poured into the vast diversity of individuals we know as humankind.

Then we need to be so filled with this Spirit, and so joyful and celebrative in our proclaiming the Good News that people might actually think that we are “filled with new wine,” so delirious will we be in bringing all people into unity with God and each other!

“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live,

I will praise my God while I have my being.

May these words of mine please him;

I will rejoice in the Lord. Hallelujah!” (Psalm 104: 37) Amen!

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