SERMON Pentecost 2018
By Pastor Leo E. Longan
Don’t look now, but Pentecost is about the happiest day in the church year; it’s a very well kept secret. I’m sure if we were to take a survey on this question, most people would say that Christmas is the happiest day (because we have made it all about us), hopefully followed by Easter. But after that, what? Mothers’ Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving … most wouldn’t think of Pentecost unless the word Pentecost is in the name of their church.
But really Pentecost is the happiest day for us, because Pentecost really is about us, about who we are, about our lives and our future, about something that God has done (and is doing) to us and in us. God created humanity long ago, according to Genesis breathing into us the breath of life; today in the breath, the wind, the power that is the Holy Spirit, God recreates us, give us new life, opens to us a new future, and for once does so in a big honking public way.
Think about it: up to this point Christianity has been a pretty quiet business. The birth of Jesus was a silent night, a squalid night, attended by a few grimy shepherds. The angels sang, but they went home fairly quickly. The three wise men came, dropped off the presents and disappeared. In his ministry, sometimes Jesus spoke to large crowds, but was known mostly for his healing work with individual sufferers and sinners.What happened on Easter happened invisibly and was a secret at first, eventually shared only among Jesus’ closest friends, who had no idea what to do about it. Pentecost, on the other hand, happens in public at a great festival, on a bright morning when many thousands of people were already in Jerusalem, people from all over the world (“…Cretans and Arabs, residents of Mesopotamia, Cappadocia … “) It was like that volcano in Hawaii, not spewing boulders and gas and lava, but a just as powerful, just as dangerous an eruption of the sweet Holy Spirit of God in a miracle that – for that day anyway – undid the curse of the tower of Babel, and the gospel was heard by everyone in their own language. For the first time ever, the gospel was spoken and heard in public, with a power that brought thousands of people to Baptism, right then. And it was a party. Not many parties are so big and so life-changing that they are remembered and celebrated for 2000 years. Some party. Our party.
Thinking about this brings to mind something that happened to me last week. Out of the blue, I had a text from an old friend, a seminary classmate who now works as a chaplain at a federal prison in Connecticut. (Some of you met him; he came on Ascension Day to help me with the food). His text contained an invitation I don’t get every day: “I’m off next week” he wrote, “and I’d like to come down and take you to a Yankee game.” (I was wondering / expecting a few boos … I’ve managed to learn over the years that the Bronx Bombers are not all that popular here in Queens) but I’ve never taken enough interest to care; I’m lucky if I can remember which teams play what sport …
Anyway, Jerry bought tickets and I went to Yankee Stadium for the first time in my life, to see the Yankees beat the Red Sox 9 to 6. We got there early and stayed for the whole thing – it was about four hours long – and in that four hours, not much happened. I guess that’s just how baseball is: there may be a couple of home runs, a few double plays, sometimes, I gather, a fight breaks out. But mostly baseball seems to be about waiting around to see what might happen, what could happen. There might be a home run; there could be a strikeout … ) Meanwhile, there’s an enormous television screen (is that what they call a Jumbotron?) that picks up the slack in the vast stretches of down time when nothing is happening.
Now that all seems to me like the very definition of boring. Except that nobody seemed bored. No, on the contrary, most of the 50,000 seats in Yankee Stadium were full on a Wednesday night, and everybody was exploding with excitement when the teams took the field, or when a batter swung hard and missed, or when there was a foul ball on the third strike, and of course much more so on the much more rare occasion that somebody actually hit the ball and the rest of them had to chase it … when that happened, the energy, the excitement, the spirit of the thing was explosive, volcanic. Fifty thousand people swept up in the spirit of the game, yelling for all they were worth.
The spirit had lots of help: the Jumbotron was pumping and thumping the whole time, video ran on every flat surface, even making it look like the balconies were on tire, huge screens all around us exhorted us to “Make Noise” and “Louder” and “I can’t hear you”. Then they blow the charge and everybody screams louder, until the crowning glory, the great shout rises from every corner of the stadium: “Boston sucks!”.
You certainly know me well enough by now to know that sports teams and the games they play don’t mean a whole lot to me. Never did. I’m an arts guy, not a sports guy.
But I have to say that it felt great to be in a place where thousands and thousands of people were having a really good time. And I thought: silly me. All these years I thought it was about the game. The boring old game. Well: It’s not about the game; the game is a more or less meaningless excuse to have a good time. It’s about the party, about the experience of being in a crowd being swept up in waves of energy and enthusiasm and joy. It’s about the spirit that gets let loose in the crowd and being lifted and carried by it. It’s not what’s happening on the field, but what’s happening in the stands, and in the fans that makes these things what they are. It’s about the spirit.
Dear people, the same thing is true of us today. We gather to do something that, like baseball, is not, in itself, very exciting. Certainly not surprising: we sing and pray and listen, we eat and drink the same food every week. We know the team that suits up and takes the field. The most important thing about it is that we show up for it and that we put our hearts into it and let the spirit of the thing happen to us, and in us. To be together in the Holy Spirit of God, the share it, to shout it, to feel it, is the real event of today and every time we gather. The organ is not a Jumbotron, though it does invite us to make noise, and sometimes louder noise. The Holy, Holy, Holy doesn’t call forth from us exactly the same energy as “Boston Sucks”, but it is the spirit that brings us to the party, and the spirit we bring to the party, that contains its real meaning and purpose.
That purpose, like the game on Wednesday, is mostly about being called together to share the spirit. And if the spirit of God – unlike the supercharged spirit of Yankee Stadium – turns out to be a gentle spirit, it is still a happy spirit, happy with a happiness that doesn’t fade by the time you make it to the Six Train, happiness that abides because the victory God has won for us doesn’t depend on anybody keeping score or on the results of a series or a playoff or whatever. We know how this series comes out. There is really only one game, and God has won that game, decisively and forever. If that takes a little of the suspense out of it, it also deletes the fear. God’s spirit may be a gentle one, but it is a spirit of victory over sin and death and hell.
And the spirit we share when we celebrate that victory, blows us away, blows us up, blows us right through the gates of the kingdom of God.
So it’s a really, really happy day. A day about us, and for us, a day when it’s OK to get a little rowdy if we want to. But a day full of grace and joy.
This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Meanwhile, just for you: Let’s Go Mets!)