Saturday, May 19, 2018

Year B, Pentecost Sunday, PSALM 104.24-34, 35b, Spirit World

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
All of them look to you to give them their food in due season. You give it to them; they gather it; you open your hand, and they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.
(Psalm 104:27-30)
On Pentecost Sunday we remember that day in Jerusalem when the Spirit rested on the disciples and they spoke in the various languages of the people who had gathered there.
Remembering that day, there are many things we might say, many sermons that can be preached.
For some the focus will be on the miracle of Pentecost, that the disciples could speak in foreign languages and that through their witness thousands from every nation came to believe.
For others the focus is on the focus is on the new mission of the Church to reach out to all nations, not just the Jewish people, that all may be saved.
And for many the focus is on the gift of the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised when he said:  Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
Fifty days after Easter.
Another common theme concerning this day is to focus on the beginning of the Church.
3,000 people were baptized as a result of the Apostle’s witness. 
All of these emphases focus specifically on the roll of the Spirit in creating faith in the hearts of those who believe.
And the tendency for us is to view this work of the Spirit in very specific, exclusive terms.
When I was in college, back in the 70’s, the charismatic movement was all the rage.
One of the professors there at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, a man by the name of Stephan Emory, was a charismatic and made it his mission to share the gift of the spirit with the students on campus.
One of the things he shared was that the baptism of the Holy Spirit went beyond what the Church practiced in the Baptism of Water.
Those who were baptized in the Spirit were an elite class of Christians.
And with that baptism came special gifts, such as speaking in tongues.  This was the primary focus and remains so to this day among those who are Pentecostal Christians.
From this perspective, the Spirit’s activity is very specific.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is limited to a very few blessed people.
It’s an exclusive club.
Another professor I knew from seminary was also a charismatic, kind of a rare commodity among seminary professors.  He was an Old Testament scholar.
As an Old Testament professor he had been invited to speak to a gathering of Charismatic Christians, and the specific topic he had been asked to address was the “Spirit in the Old Testament”.
He related that his hosts had anticipated he would spend his time focusing on the Spirit of God as it was manifest in the work of the prophets.
Prophecy is one of the gifts of the Spirit that Charismatics love to focus on.
He didn’t.
He related that his hosts were amazed, somewhat surprised when the central theme of his presentation on the Holy Spirit was not prophecy, but creation.
His conviction was that if we are going to understand the breadth of the Spirit’s work among us, we must start with creation.
All of them, that is, every living creature, look to you to give them their food in due season. You give it to them; they gather it; you open your hand, and they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.

Literally, the Spirit of God is the Breath of God.
The Hebrew word for Spirit means breath, wind, spirit.
When God created Adam he “breathed” his Spirit into him.
When Jesus breathed his last, he commended his “Spirit” to God.
This said, the point is that the primary gift of the Holy Spirit is not faith, or any particular gift such as speaking in tongues, but life itself.
Not just human life, but all life is the result of the presence of the Spirit of God.
In this light, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is not some exclusive gift reserve for a select few of the most devout Christians.
It is rather what binds us together with all people, and indeed, with every living creature on the face of the earth.
Think of this, the next time you interact with a dog, or cat, or any other animal, even a plant.
We all share in the Spirit of God that gives life.
St. Francis of Assisi took it even one step further when he wrote his “Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon”:
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.

Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.

No second death can do them harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.

Paul writes in Romans the 8th Chapter:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
And in Revelation John writes:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
The Spirit of God.
All of creation is filled with God’s Spirit.
And God will redeem it all, bringing forth a new heaven and a new earth, and with it every form of life and being.
Just Wow!
I believe that one of the greatest mistakes and misunderstandings that we have as Christians and people of faith is that we tend to view God’s grace and mercy, and his redeeming activity in very exclusive terms.
We are prone to think that God concerns himself with humans alone, and that Christians alone have the assurance of salvation, and that even among Christians, only a select few will be saved.
And in so doing, we fail to see the breadth of God’s grace, and depth of his love, and the presence of his Spirit throughout all of creation.
I do not believe that any of us can ever rightfully judge that some are beyond the grace and mercy of God, or that they are lost.
Contrary to that, I invite you to recognize that God’s Spirit fills all of creation.
As Paul preached in Athens:
“For 'In him we live and move and have our being';”
It is by the gift of God’s Spirit that anything exists.
It is the Spirit that gives life, even to the plants that surround us.
It is the Spirit of God that breathes life into every living creature.
It is God’s Spirit that sustains and renews all people.
And apart from the Spirit of God, we die and return to the dust.
And yet even then, the psalmist writes:
You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.
Pentecost is about resurrection, it’s a follow up to Easter, and its promise is nothing short of a new heaven and earth, and a redeemed life to all of creation.  Amen

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