The following is the final sermon offered to the parish in which I have served for a little over a year and a half;
Today, we commemorate the beginning of the Church. Today is the Church's birthday. What is the Church? It is much more than a building. It is much more than an institution. The Church is the concrete reality we call the body of Christ. The Church is the presence of Jesus Christ in the world today.
What does it mean for us to call ourselves the body of Christ? Let's look at what happened to the disciples. They are hiding, literally fearing for their lives. Then, suddenly they are out proclaiming the good news in every language, with their fears forgotten, their confidence restored, and joy in their heart. What happened to change them so dramatically?
We have two versions of what happened in this morning's lessons. From the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of a dramatic event, with tongues of fire resting on each disciple, and all of them miraculously knowing a new language. We are told the source of all of this excitement is that they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
What is the Holy Spirit? It is the spirit of the living God. It is God dwelling within the created order. It is Jesus in my heart. The Gospel lesson offers us a more domestic, but equally astounding account. The resurrected Jesus appears before them, breathes on them, and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
Obviously, it is the addition of the Holy Spirit that made the difference. We need to talk about this spirit for a moment. The disciples had a dilemma. Jesus was gone. Their whole focus had been on following Jesus, being part of his entourage, sharing the excitement, learning at his feet. But now, he is gone. What do they do ?
Some catalyst woke them up to what was going on. Rushing wind, tongues of fire, an appearance of Jesus, something happened that shifted their consciousness, so that they could see the movement of God. And they found God moving all around them. And they found God moving within themselves, at the very core of their being.
How did they explain this phenomenon? Thank goodness, they kept their egos in check. Otherwise, we would have had 12 new Messiahs running around. But that's not what they proclaimed. They shouted to the world, in different languages, the good news of the powerful deeds of God. They had discovered God within them, but they did not claim to be God. The disciples knew that they were created by God, and did not give into the temptation to make themselves God.
We don't deal with being God very well. We don't handle that kind of power very well. Our finite minds and limited awareness assures us that we will botch it all up every time we try to play God.
But we do experience God in our lives. We feel a divine spark within us. The way that the Church has helped us avoid the temptation of imagining ourselves as the supreme being has been to suggest that we were created incomplete, that something was missing when God made us. So, at some later date, if we want it, we are given the divine spark, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
That way of understanding things protects us from the temptation to make ourselves God. But it doesn't quite work, and is contrary to the experience of some of us, isn’t it? I have met plenty of people who were full of the Holy Spirit but never publicly confirmed this in church through the rites of baptism or confirmation. I’m sure you know folks like this as well. It seems that the wind of the Spirit blows where it will, ignoring our carefully plotted flight plans.
Maybe there’s another way to look at this. Possibly we were created complete. God looked upon creation and said, "It is very good." We were created with the divine spark, but it lies dormant within us, waiting to awakened, waiting to be used. The dramatic events on the day of Pentecost activated the Spirit within the disciples, and they became empowered by God, and witnessed to God's presence within them, and within this world.
The Holy Spirit dwells within each one of you here today. And this spirit of God dwelling within you will manifest herself, in one way or another. You don't have to speak in tongues. You don't have to fall on the floor. You don't have to hand out tracks on street corners. We each have gifts. The spirit will manifest herself in different ways with different people. What are your gifts? What do you do well? What do you enjoy doing? Offer these abilities to God, and allow God to use your unique gifts for the furthering of God's kingdom and to the glory of God.
When we start becoming aware of the Holy Spirit working within us, and all around us, watch out! The wind blows where it will. The Spirit is going to shake us up. And this same Spirit may even cause some havoc within the Church. Often, institutions can kill the spirit. The more organized, the more routinized, the Church becomes, the less room the Spirit has to move. Being full of the Holy Spirit means being willing to give up control, and let God be God. Allowing the spirit to work through us involves an element of risk. Are we up to it? Can we set aside our control needs long enough to allow the Spirit to work through us?
I know you can, and I know you will. This is the challenge for the Church of today; to press on toward the new thing that God’s Spirit is doing in the world. The old is falling away, and behold, the new has come.
Your new Rector will be here in August. We have done what we can do. And we have trusted the Holy Spirit, the spirit of the living God, to guide us. The search process was done well, the selection has been made, and a new chapter in the life of this parish will now begin. I ask you to support your new rector as you have supported me over the last eighteen months.
I have experienced the Holy Spirit in this place. I can feel God’s glory here. That is a special thing. It is not true of all places. Cherish that gift, the gift of God’s presence here among you. And now, I pray that you press on toward the new thing that God is doing in your midst.
May God continue to bless you, my friends, and may God’s Holy Spirit continue to dwell in this place, now and always.