Late putting this up, but I preached this just after the funeral of a beloved and longtime servant leader of the parish, and was reflecting on how Pentecost gives us resources for spiritual resilience as Christians and as church. MP+
Preached at St. Margaret of Scotland Anglican Church, Barrie, Diocese of Toronto, Pentecost Sunday, 20 May, 2018
Lections: Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34,35b; Romans 8:22-27, John 15:26-27, 16:4b-25
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. John 15:26-27
In John Donne’s famous poem, “No Man Is An Island”, he writes that “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” Funerals can make us feel this way. St. Margaret’s will feel like a diminished place for a while. As Father Simon said on Friday at Ron Steffler’s funeral, there are many many ways in which we will miss Ron’s love, Ron’s service, and Ron’s gifts. He won’t be sitting back there at Mission Control as he did on many Sundays, running the audio-visual display. We’ll miss his care for the building, his attention to the website, and all of the many acts of help and assistance that Ron gave to so many of us – and so many of us can talk about something that Ron did for us. The place will seem poorer without him. As someone said on Friday, we’ve had enough funerals a St. Margaret’s for a while. We’ve said goodbye to Ron, and Kay, and Randy, and others in the last six months. Enough grief. Enough sad memories. Fortunately for us, it’s Pentecost.
Our gospel reading today speaks to those of us with sorrow in our hearts. It reaches out to us who may still be struggling with the grief and the memories that a funeral can trigger. Jesus in John’s gospel is bidding farewell to his disciples, who will be left behind, but he promises them that he will not leave them. He will send another, who he calls “the Holy Spirit, the Advocate”. The Spirit will be God’s ongoing presence with his people. The Spirit will be be a comforter, but it will be more than that. The Spirit will enable God’s people to be a community with a very specific character and purpose. Pentecost is about how God creates a community that has the faith, strength, and hope, to rise above adversity and to go on, even after the funeral of a beloved member.
So this Sunday, Pentecost, is about how we are here because God is all about community. The story of the appearance of the Holy Spirit is a story of God creating a community with a certain shape and character – let’s call it a Pentecost community. What are the hallmarks of a Pentecost community?
First, it’s a diverse community. It’s gathered up out of all sorts of people, different languages and backgrounds, different walks of life. The Pentecost community is not Wonder bread. It has the same diversity that we see at St. Margaret’s, very different people indeed, who are all here because God wants us to be here.
Second, the Pentecost community is a called community. It began in a core group of disciples, who were all called by Christ, but different people are constantly being added to the story, like the crowds attracted to the disciples in Acts. Think of how the community of St. Margaret’s and St. Giles is constantly growing and changing. Some of you remember the heroic days in the storefront and portable, but to many of us, who came later, those are inspiring stories. Whatever stage in the story we arrived at, we were called to be here.
Third, the Pentecost community is a gifted community. The Spirit was incredibly generous to the disciples, equipping them with gifts of languages so they could be heard by people from all over the known world. We too have gifts and talents, and we know something about God’s abundance. As we prepared for Ron’s funeral, I heard people talk about how they never saw food run out at a church function. That doesn’t surprise me, since our Saviour knew how to make a little bread and fish go a long way. But think how people of this parish also turned out to help feed and welcome the people who came to see the Deanery Play Saturday a week ago. Think too of all the gifts that came together in that play, and of how much money it raised for the Busby Centre, $6 thousand dollars. The same day Sarah Ash ran a golf tournament for her late father, Randy Packham, and raised over $7 thousand dollars for cancer research. The Spirit’s abundance works with our gifts in so many ways in our community, if we care to look for it.
Fourth, the Pentecost community is a community with a story to tell about God. In Acts the people in the crowd say that “we hear [the disciples] speaking about God’s deeds of power”. This gift of tongues and gift of communication is in keeping with what Jesus ways of the Spirit in John: “he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning” (Jn 15:26-27). A Pentecost community tells people about God and about our hope in God. I think of Ron’ Steffler’s work maintaining the parish website and fixing the church and helping with the audiovisual so that people could come and hear God’s word spoken and preached, and I think he got this. His ministry had a lot to do telling God’s story.
Finally, the Pentecost community is a hopeful community. Peter says to the crowds in Jerusalem that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”. We are hear because our Saviour rose from the dead. The resurrection tells us that death will not have the last word. We may be well schooled in death looks like. We may be uncomfortably aware of what cancer can do to the human body. We may see some among us seen to diminish and become frail, but we are undaunted. We are a resurrection people. We know that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We believe that God is not finished with us, that his work of creating the world is not yet done.
What that new world will look like, we are not sure, but we know that it will be a world without sin and death or cancer or any of the other things that we struggle with. We know this because the resurrection of Christ is a sign of God’s determination to rid us of these things. We may not know clearly how this will happen, but Paul says in Romans 8, in one of the most wonderful passages in scripture, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 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” (Rom 8:22-23).
So we are a Pentecost people. Our community is the church, which has carried on across the centuries, forming and reforming, speaking to us in our time. Our funeral liturgy speaks of how we go the grave singing our Alleluias, because we know that death does not write our ending, but is only the beginning. We baptize the newborn in the promise that they will have their gifts, their part to play in God’s life of abundance. And what abundance it is. This weekend I met Miriam, who was then celebrating her second day on earth. She really has no business being her. Her mother had a partial hysterectomy several years ago and was told she would never have children. And here Miriam is, a sign of God’s abundance and of the Spirit’s work in the redemption of our bodies. And so we say, as a Pentecost community, as we do each Sunday, Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation, in the church and in Christ Jesus. Amen.