Genesis 11:1-9 Psalm 104:25-35, 37 Acts 2:1-21 John 13:8-17, 25-27
Pentecost Sunday marks three important events in my life. The first was the baptism our son Andrew. My father, the Methodist Minister, took that Sunday off and came to St. Paul’s in Fayetteville and to baptize him. I will be forever grateful to the priests who permitted my father to baptism each of our three children at our church in the presence of our church family.
The second was four years ago when I celebrated Pentecost in Old Town Jerusalem while there attending a program at St. George’s College. Pentecost is feast day in the Jewish faith, as it is Christian faith. We do not, however, share the same calendar so it is rarely falls on the same day. To be in Jerusalem when it did, was all the more special. I was able to see the crowds gathered at the Western Wall reading from the Torah, then attend an a Christian celebration of Pentecost at an Anglican Church a few blocks away.
The third event that makes this day special for me was two years ago when I lead my first service here. I was on vacation when I accepted the call to come to St. Paul’s and I remember looking at the calendar and thinking Pentecost would be a great Sunday to begin began my ministry here. After all, we celebrate Pentecost as the day the Christian Church began.
On Pentecost, also known as the Feast of the Weeks, the Jews celebrate the anniversary of God giving to them the Torah at Mount Sinai. Having been freed from slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel received the Torah and become a nation committed to serving Yahweh,our God. It is also a celebration of the wheat harvest in Israel and so they give thanks to God for the gift of the “Law” and their harvest.
In Ancient times, and still today, the people of Israel come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. After the ascension of Jesus, the apostles are gathered in the upper room. Jesus had told them to wait, so they are waiting for the Holy Spirit to come to them and give them the strength and courage to continue Christ’s ministry. As people from various tribes are gathering in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost – it happens. They are filled with the Spirit and Peter begins telling those gathered about Jesus.
They are all amazed, because everyone can understand him, even though they do not speak the same language. This story of what happens on Pentecost is a wonderful story, but it may be difficult for us to relate to such an experience. I can, however, relate when I consider the language that is understood by all – the language of love. Love is understood by people of every tribe, ever nation, and every language. It is a language that does not require words. It is a language that can be communicated by our facial expressions and by our actions. The story of Pentecost is about Peter and apostles telling the story of Christ and God’s love for us.
So, on that day, when the people hear of God’s love, they are also amazed by the story of Christ – and they are changed. They make a commitment to participate in Christ’s ongoing ministry and the Christian Church is born. In that day, the church was the people – not buildings.
The church is still the people, not the buildings, but we have built many wonderful places to gather. One of my favorites is the National Cathedral. On my first visit to the National Cathedral, I saw pictures of its construction. What began with mules and ropes hoisting stones into place was completed with modern day cranes. And, I learned, that once the last stone was in place, they began renovations to the oldest portion of the building.
Preservation of the cathedral requires ongoing repair and maintenance. St. Paul’s is only a decade newer, and like the National Cathedral, ongoing maintenance, repairs, and improvements are a given. Two years ago, when you and I began our ministry together, I did not imagine so much of it would revolve around preservation.
When we moved into the rectory there were contractors arriving at our new home each morning to finish the remodeling that began before we moved in. Main Street, too, was in the process of being updated with planters and fresh pavement. Our church basement was flooding in heavy rains and access to Columbarium was difficult for some. Although, construction and repairs at and around the church and the rectory have been a constant since I arrived, the end results are noticeable.
This past week, the drainage work, the addition of sidewalks to the columbarium, and the creation of a place to gather in front of it were all completed. Still there is work to be done. We have applied for another grant which will help repair our stained-glass windows and replace the foggy Plexiglas that was installed to protect them. Whether or not we get the grant, this is a project that is long overdue. We may need to wait a bit longer, but I plan to be here to see its completion along with many other improvements.
The work being done at St. Paul’s these past two years has not been limited to our building and grounds. We have also been working hard to improve communication and our accounting of the funds entrusted to St. Paul’s. The monthly newsletter has been resurrected, now named the St. Paul’s Epistle, the directory has been updated and made available online, and our financial reporting have been standardized. How our office functions, is also an ongoing project with even more significant improvements ahead as we complete the transition to our new software system.
As I said, I did not expect to come here to oversee construction, repair, and an overhaul of our office functions – but it has been necessary to prepare us for what is next. This work has helped us build a stronger sense of community among our members which will enable us to invite others to join us.
The disciples are gathered together, they are a small intimate group until the Holy Spirit enters the picture and they began sharing God’s love with anyone who will listen. They move from being faithful followers to leaders and evangelist. St. Paul’s is not just a place, it is the people who care about one another and our neighbors. It is now time for us to begin inviting others to be a part of our church family.
This past month, at one of the Community Meals, I sat at a table with a family I had not sat with before. Usually the table is full, but on that evening, there were several seats available so I asked if I could join them. I was learning about them and the challenges they face when additional family members arrived and joined us. One woman explained to the others that I was sitting with them, just as I had sat with others. It was their turn tonight. She then thanked me for joining them.
It still surprises me when people are touched by my presence, but I know that for many the collar I wear represents the church. By joining their table, they felt accepted by our church. Serving the food is one thing, it represents hospitality and care for them as people. But, sitting at the table and sharing a meal together represents our acceptance of them – just as they are. My experience of life has been much different for their experience of life – but we speak the same language, the language of love.
Demonstrating our acceptance of others by sitting with them and listening to their stories is evangelism. It is how we share God’s love. Whether it is at a Community Meal, or how we greet a visitor at our worship service, listening is key to speaking the language of love that unites us.
Let us pray.
Loving God, you have given us the Spirit of love that we might share it with others. Help us, we pray, to be present with them and listen to their stories that we might come to know our neighbors and be united with them in love. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.