Monday, May 24, 2010

Pentecost (PenteLOST) Sermon: Text

(Audio will be up on Tuesday)

Joseph P. Mathews, OSL
PenteLOST Sunday, C
23 May 2010
John 14.8-17
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Troy, AL

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, who gives us strength to do even greater works than those of Christ. Amen.

Some of you know this about me, but many probably do not: I despise being late. I hate being late so much that I am almost early to a fault, and I mean that it likely borders on being a fault. I did a great bit of work on this sermon last Saturday sitting at La Guardia because I had gotten to the airport, and was completely checked in and through security….two and a half hours before my flight was scheduled to take off. And not too much longer after I realized how dreadfully early I was, I realized that I’d left something in my building, something that I could not replace upon landing in Atlanta.

I’d left all of my Star Trek: The Next Generation DVDs with a senior. While I have the entire series, I usually keep two discs in my backpack. They have their own special place for such instances when I have long periods of time to kill and need to just use my computer. And they weren’t with me. I had a novel, which I read later during my wait, but I really wanted to watch Star Trek. I didn’t want to escape to the identity crisis of an English archdeacon during the Blitz just after his wife’s death. I didn’t want to to pop season five of The West Wing into my DVD player. Those were too real. I wanted to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new lifes and new civilizations.

Think with me, if you will, and it might be thinking back for some of us, to the ways we escape or have escaped in our pasts. Not the escape of romance or history as much as the escape of the impossible. Maybe you were just expecting me to continue “To boldly go…” from you time escaping to the bridge of the NCC 1701, the Enterprise. Maybe you couldn’t wait or still can’t for that day fo the week when the new issue of comic books came out. Or maybe you tuned in at the same bat time to the same bat channel. Think with me for just a moment about the impossible becoming real on pages or in motion pictures, in stories told around a fire or adventures over a radio broadcast. Close your eyes if you need to and remember.

Today isn’t just Pentecost Sunday. While our hymns and red vestments and readings remind us that it is very much Pentecost, it’s also something else: PenteLOST Sunday. The finale of LOST, another escape of mine, airs tonight. The show is over, and all things will hopefully be resolved..and a lot has built up over six years that needs resolution. And it is fitting that it comes today: those of us who have spent the last six years on the Island with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Sayid, Locke, et al get our answers as we celebrate the arrival of the one for whom the disciples had been waiting, hoping that they too would get answers. They have been waiting from the time of Jesus’s farewell discourse in John, a portion of which was our Gospel text for today.

In his preparing the disciples both for his crucifixion and his ascension Jesus promises them an advocate, someone to be with them forever. Today we celebrate the coming of that Advocate when God opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation. While the rest of our gospel passage deals with some tricky Johannine Trinity imagery, or at least a type of binary understanding of God, that’s for next week. Today we celebrate the Spirit. And today we celebrate LOST, where the impossible is reality.

Hear again what Jesus says to the disciples, those who had committed to following him, “I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the work that I do, and in fact, will do greater works than these…” Those are some big shoes to fill! Jesus blessed bread and was able to feed everyone present. He healed the blind, the lepers, and the invalid. He raised the dead! The Modernist says, “We don’t raise the dead. Once you’re gone, you’re gone unless medicine brings you back. There’s no room for miracles.” But that’s not what Jesus says. Jesus challenges us to do the impossible, and to do even more of it than he did!

In our fantasy worlds we fly, we explore galaxies, we zip off in the TARDIS, and we go into the depths of Mordor. As baptized people who have been given the gift of the Spirit, we feed the hungry, we heal the sick, and we raise the dead. Jesus, however, spent time with humans. He knows how we react. Remember the exasperated bit from the Gospel passage, “Really, Philip? Have I been with you all this time and you still don’t know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father! How can you ask me to show you the Father? You’re looking at me!”

Jesus knows that we tend to not think creatively on our own, particularly as we become burdened with day-to-day things that we consider to be reality or “real life.” And so Jesus promises to send us the creative Spirit. We escape as children or adults, we break out of the known into the impossible with the help of JJ Abrams, George Lucas, JRR Tolkein, Marvel and DC, Gene Roddenberry, JK Rowling, and Tamora Pierce among many, many others.

This Holy Spirit that comes to the crowds outside Jerusalem ten days after Jesus’s ascension is the same, ruach -- a feminine noun in Hebrew meaning spirit or wind or things like that -- present at creation. This is God’s at-work imagination, as our closing hymn today reads, “Breath of God, life’s origin: Spirit, moving on the water, quickening worlds to life within, source of breath to all things breathing, life in whom all lives begin.” The act of Creation is God in her patchwork apron, hair in a bun, rolling pin in hand as she mixes raw ingredients with no recipe or real measurements. She adds pinches here and dashes there as she turns to the Father and the pre-existent son, smiles with delight and says, “Let’s make us a world.”

And she breathes. And we breathe. At Pentecost she sounds like a rushing wind and appears like flames on heads. Jesus says, testimony to the evolution of language from feminine ruach in Hebrew, to neuter pneumna in Greek, and finally masculine spiritus in Latin, “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you….the Holy Spirit...will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” She’s still with us, and the church has set aside this day to pay special attention to her work.

“Children, what’s holding you back?” she asks. “I’m here for you. I made you, and I give you the bread of heaven each week to strengthen you, and every time you take in air, you bring me into you. I’ll nourish you and guide you. Like Paul says in Romans, if you follow me, you’re my children. I’m all around you if you look for me!”

When last I spoke to you, beloved, I asked you just before Christmas, “Could the world be about to turn?” Now, the world has turned, but we have to be conscious of it. And we have to celebrate those turnings and keep helping the world to turn. Church, you feed the hungry, you heal the sick, and I truly believe that you raise the dead corporately each week. Our food pantry feeds those who are in need. Our priests anoint the sick with oil monthly, and on hospital visits and home calls. We take new life to the jail each week, and give new life through the rector’s discretionary fund.

We have to alter our perception filters, as it were, to see God, celebrate God, and thank God for the small things in life: hearing, “I anoint you with oil in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” receiving the eucharist from black hands through bars of imprisonment, hearing four year olds start singing a song in round. It’s not enough to simply know that God is with us. Not enough to go through our lives giving our canned food and praying for the whole state of Christ’s Church and the world, though both of those are important.

Where does the Good News of the Resurrection need to be proclaimed in everyday life? What bleak situations -- or situations that just need a positive word, a hug, or a smile -- do we encounter every day and not speak to? This can be as simple as a student who is battling the sibling demons of pride and anxiety being told, “Excuse me you’re not going to crucify yourself on the popsicle stick cross of your Greek grade. I’m not going to let you. There’s already been a crucifixion and resurrection, and that’s where your worth comes from.” How do you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Let’s think about that patchwork apron just another minute. It’s colorful. It was a work of imagination in its combination of so many fabrics, but it’s functional: it’s meant to get dirty. And it tells us to use our imaginations, too. “We made a world,” the Spirit says, “Now you make a better one, where there are no hungry people, where people can live a full, healthy life without worrying about meeting all basic needs, where women and men are treated equally, and racism isn’t attested to in sentencing statistics or guidelines, where all human life is valued from beginning to end where, shared humanity is more important than where you were born, where everyone knows the work that has been done in Resurrection, and everyone shares in its joy.” She dismisses us by telling us, “I’m going to go mix some flour and water up for your Sunday feast.” She takes her apron off and says, “You might want to borrow this; you’re going to get dirty.” These things that she has called us to do sound impossible, like they cannot be done. But on this PenteLOST Sunday, when we think about the impossible becoming reality for us, let us remember rejoice that God has given us the creative Spirit to pull us from our perception of reality.

Glory to the Spirit whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to her from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.


  1. I'm offended I didn't get credit for "PenteLOST" comment. I made that on the day they announced the finale. One dollar, please.