Yesterday Bryon officiated at the wedding of his youngest niece. The whole family as well as their friends and guests gathered in a barn near Millersylvania State Park for the occasion. Bryon’s three brothers and their children and grandchildren were present. Bryon’s 89 year-old mom, Jean was beaming with pride and excitement. The weather cooperated and it was a very happy event.
Right near the guest book and gift table, they had set up a special table with a sign that read, “If heaven weren’t so far away, we know you’d be with us today.” Under the sign were photos of the two grandfathers of the bride who both died over ten years ago. It was a lovely touch and you often see some version of this at weddings.
During the photos you might hear a comment, “Oh, he looks so much like his grandfather.” Or at the reception there would be stories from their growing up years. It is clear that many family values and traits have been passed on through the generations. And while the grandfathers were absent, there was certainly a sense of legacy and the passing down of tradition.
I suppose that without Pentecost, gatherings of Christians might be similar. We might remember Jesus and his teachings, telling stories about his wonderful acts, recounting his words, missing him and wishing he could still be present. Life goes on without him, but his values have been imparted through the generations and we remember and memorialize him when we get together and listen to his words. We wouldn’t resemble him physically or share his DNA but maybe we could emulate him and try to be like him. We could put up a painting of what we thought he would have looked like and be glad that he was up in heaven watching over us.
Maybe that’s where the disciples would have ended up after their grief and horror over his crucifixion and their confusion and elation over his resurrection. Maybe they would have settled down into a kind of sad and gentle remembering, honoring all that he had been in their lives.
But then Pentecost happened and they were catapulted into a much more dynamic, risky and exciting future. Pentecost – 50 days from Easter, 10 days from Ascension. The disciples were gathered in a room, waiting, praying, fearful, wondering. I like to think they were catching their breath as they tried to make sense of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. They knew he died. They met him again after his death, sharing meals, touching his hands and feet. Then they watched as he physically departed this earth, never to be seen again. Where was he? Where did he go? What were they supposed to do? What comes next after all of that?
Pentecost. God pours out the Spirit upon the disciples in ways they could never expect. They leave the safety of their rooms to preach the gospel in every language. They are catapulted into the public eye at a time when it was pretty dangerous to be preaching about their crucified leader. The Spirit multiplies those who follow Jesus by 5000 in just one day and that expansion never slows down. Preaching, healing, teaching, confronting injustice, the disciples go forth from their own homes and country to reach out to everyone with the message of God’s love in Jesus.
Pentecost. Jesus’s physical departure ushers in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in ways no one could imagine. Pentecost. It is on this day that the followers of Jesus begin to gather as the people of the Way, the Christ followers, the Jesus proclaimers, the ones who will transform the world in the name of the one they know and love.
This is no act of remembrance in the absence of presence, but rather a bold proclamation of presence. The work of Jesus continues in the lives of his followers by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are the ones who embody him in the world. We are the ones who will do even greater works than he does because he has poured out his Spirit upon us.
Today the spiritual pilgrims come forward for a final ritual, the Affirmation of Christian Vocation. Their journey began with Ash Wednesday and a focus on repentance and returning to God. Through Lent we, together with them, considered what it means to live as a person of faith, to Turn, Learn, Pray, Bless, Worship, Go and Rest. During Holy Week, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday, we affirmed our faith and trust in the crucified and risen Christ, trusting that we have been baptized into his life and marked as Christ’s own forever. Through Easter we explored what it means to live out the promises we make in baptism. We celebrated with those who made public affirmation of their commitment by being confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church on Cathedral Day.
And now, at Pentecost we affirm that the Spirit of God is upon each one of us, calling us to lead lives of faith, hope and love and to minister to the people and in the places where God has put us. Before we are all dismissed today, each one of us will have the opportunity to affirm our own vocation, the unique way God had called us to “walk wet” in the world as the baptized followers of a risen Lord. Every one here is given the chance to discern where your own gifts, skills and passion meet the needs of the world. Just as Jesus must depart physically in order for the Spirit to expand through the lives of his followers, we must leave this worship service, empowered to love and serve God and our neighbor in the world.
Because that calling is specific to each individual and because the nature of our calling changes over time, here are a few questions to consider as you think about your own vocation as a Christian
Who are you called to walk with on the Way of Love? Often our calling begins with a person or a group of people. When God entered more deeply into our reality, God never sent a program or a policy. God always sends a person. Our vocation to serve others begins with those who are closest to us. You cannot love your neighbor in a foreign land, unless you learn to love the neighbor in your own home, workplace or family.
How does your occupation relate to your vocation? Many people struggle with their jobs, wondering if this is truly the most fulfilling and Christian way to live out 40-50 hours per week. It’s not unusual for someone who is dissatisfied with their occupation to come to me and say, “I think I would like to work for the church because it would be so much more meaningful and fulfilling.” I hate to disillusion anyone but I can truthfully say that there is just as much bureaucracy, politics, anxiety and difficulty in the church as in any institution. The truth is that you bring yourself with you into any job or career and there you meet others who are just as wounded and human as you are. As you discern your own occupation and vocation, it’s worthwhile to think about how it relates to your faith and what it might mean to bring Christ with you into your workplace. Brother Lawrence famously wrote a small devotional book about practicing God’s presence as he labored in the monastery kitchen, peeling pound after pound of potatoes. How can God be present through you at work?
As you think about our society and the world, what makes you angry? How might that show what you care passionately about? Anger is a powerful measure of what we most deeply value. It can also be a force when channeled to fight against injustice and to stand with those who need an advocate. Jesus shows us how to engage a righteous anger on behalf of the least, the last and the lost. Well directed anger can right wrongs, protect the environment, and promote reform.
Where might you be called to take some risks in order to follow Jesus more closely? The Spirit may be also known as the comforter, but that doesn’t mean that being led by the Spirit will always make us comfortable. Or as one of my favorite bathroom wall quotes goes, “If you’re in the center, you’re taking up too much room.” The disciples were sent out beyond the boundaries of their familiar lives to other countries, to people who were different from them, into situations that were strange and disorienting. Their willingness to take risks along with centuries of those who have put their trust in God are the reason why we are here today.
Finally, How do your finances reflect your values? Have you made a financial commitment to supporting the church and other ministries as part of your spiritual discipline? Does your will (if you have one) reflect the legacy you wish to leave?
Our relationship to money reflects what really matters to us. When we consider our vocation, how we spend our lives, our time, our gifts and skills, we also consider what we do with our riches. Our bank statements as well as our plans for after we die are an outward and visible sign of what is in our hearts. When we line up our lives with what we believe, our financial commitments will be part of that.
Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. We often pray for the gift of the Spirit. The password for St. Luke’s WiFi is “Come Holy Spirit.” It’s a risky prayer. It could lead to all sorts of excitement. Amen.