Sunday, May 31, 2020

Pentecost 2020

This is the sermon I gave today on Zoom and Face Book. At least it's the sermon I reconstructed to write it down--the original was from a page of notes. I wrote it down tonight because I won't remember it for long. Often people tell me they liked my sermon 'last week' and because I try to be polite, I say 'thank you', when I really want to ask, 'what did I say?'

PENTECOST 2020 (Zoom and Face Book)
Welcome to Pentecost! This is the day the fire fell and the wind blew and the Spirit began the church.
Pentecost was a Jewish holiday commemorating the Spring Harvest. It was one of the most important holy days and people came from around the known world to celebrate in Jerusalem. For Jews, Pentecost was 50 days after Passover (‘pente’ is 50 in Latin). For Christians today, it is 50 days after Easter.
My early years were spent in the Conklintown, West Virginia, Pilgrim Holiness Church. They did not speak in tongues. Pilgrim Holiness was a break with the Wesleyan Church which had broken from the Methodist Church—each break declared that ‘we are holier than those we left behind’.
No tongues, but they were ‘holy rollers’! During prayers people would be ‘slain in the Spirit’ and fall to the floor quaking. That was very unsettling to the children, as you can imagine, seeing people lying on the floor, twitching.
But the Pilgrim Holiness people had a hymn that went—“Come on Holy Spirit, but don’t stay long!” These were people who appreciated the power of the Spirit.
Another thing they did was ‘testify’. They would stand up and tell how God had touched their lives—give ‘testimony’ to the power of the Spirit.
I want to ‘testify’ today about my spiritual journey.
When I was 14, my cousin, Mejol, locked me in her room with a Bob Dylan album and a copy of Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. My Spiritual journey began that day.
When I was a sophomore in college, I had an hour between classes on Tuesday and Thursday. I didn’t want to go to the library but I found a church a block from campus that was open all the time. So, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I would go there and sit in the silence to read. But one day, before I could get out, a funeral began. They used the Episcopal Burial Office and I had never known a church could be so solemn and formal, yet joyous in a way. There was lots of standing and sitting and kneeling and I couldn’t get it right at a funeral for a stranger. When it ended an older woman behind me touched my shoulder. She said, ‘don’t worry, young man, we never know when to knell or stand either.”
Only a few weeks later, I was in the student union with a friend and a big, red-headed man came over to talk. He invited us to a party at his house that night, so we went. He was the Episcopal chaplain to the university and the ‘party’ was the Eucharist around a huge table. After the service, we all finished the wine. I knew I had found my ‘church’!
I went to Harvard Divinity School on a Rockefeller Fellowship two of my professors nominated me for. It wasn’t in my plans. I was going to get a Ph.D. in American Literature, but it kept me out of Viet Nam because Divinity Students were the only ones eligible for a deferment in 1970.
After two years we moved back to Morgantown so Bern could finish college. The next Episcopal Chaplain had ‘house church’ in the attic of Bern’s and my third-floor apartment. Every one who came was under 30 except the chaplain and a woman in her 70’s named Mariah Cartledge. Once at what we called ‘coffee hour’ but was really ‘wine hour’ and even ‘pot hour’ for some since the service as on Wednesday night, Mariah came to me and said, “Jim, when are you going back to seminary and getting ordained?”
Being even more of a smart aleck then than I am now, I answered: “Mariah, when God tells me to.”
Not missing a beat, she replied, “Jim, who do you think sent ME?”
My blood went cold. I called the bishop the next week and he said, “I’ve been waiting to hear from you.”
God speaks in mysterious ways. Through Dylan and Salinger and my cousin. Through being in a church for a funeral for a stranger. Through two different college chaplains. Through Mariah.
God speaks in many tongues—different ways to different people. BUT GOD SPEAKS.
(Together in a room, the twelve gathered, missing their Lord, and the Fire fell and the Wind blew and the church was born!)
I want to invite you to get in touch with ‘WHY YOU’RE HERE’. I don’t mean on the zoom call, but why are you in the place where you are in your life.
How has the Spirit moved you? How has God spoken to you?
When and where did the fire fall in your life? When did the wind roar? How did God’s still, small voice sound in your ear.
It can be something small, almost incidental.
It can be that someone…or something…touched your soul.
Maybe the breath of God breathed into your fear and confusion.
Maybe, as if by accident, something moved you and warmed your heart.
Maybe it was a gradual thing, over years…a longing in you, some itch you couldn’t scratch.
St. Augustine said we all have a ‘God-shaped empty place’ within us that only God can fill it up.
“My soul is restless, Lord, until it rests in thee…”
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “faith seeking understanding….”
That’s what I’m asking of you. Let your faith ponder where it came from and seek to understand how the fire fell in your life. How the wind blew. How God spoke to your ‘God-shaped empty place’.
What GOT YOU HERE? Not just today, but ultimately.
Fire and Wind a still small voice…
Happy Pentecost.

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.