MAY 15, 2016
by The Rev. Deacon Patricia Marks
John 14:8-17, 25-27
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.+
Today, I have a story to tell you.
And it begins on a beautiful sunny morning in May, when the people of Christ Church gathered together in celebration of Pentecost.
They had come from all over: Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota. They brought with them their roots in other lands: Germany, Norway, Hungary, Kenya, France, Viet Nam. There were cradle Episcopalians and visitors, and all those who, like me, had begun their life’s path in other churches. There were clergy and laity; there were doctors, and lawyers, and Indian chiefs.
And the light of the lavender-tinted windows shone upon them, and the flame of the Paschal candle, the resurrection light, danced in front of the altar.
Everyone was still—so still that the only thing that moved was the very air around them. So still that they could hear the breath of their neighbors, feel air wafting from the air conditioner, hear a faint sigh rippling along the organ pipes. The whole place felt full, full to bursting with presence, as if Love divine had poured into their souls, as if the very Word of God had made them all one. As if it were the beginning of a new creation, when the whole earth would have one language and the same words, when the whole earth would dance together in joy.
Today is Pentecost, the day the church was born! This is the festival of the Holy Spirit. And this celebration, like all of us, has roots that stretch back to other times and places. To the ancient Jews, this would be Shavuot, a harvest festival celebrated fifty days after Passover, when the laborers were called to go out into the fields of praise, to gather the first fruits and offer them to God in thanksgiving.
Today, fifty days after Easter, we too are celebrating—celebrating the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that causes the young to see visions and the old to dream dreams; we are celebrating the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that gives voice to the poor and hope to the despairing.
And that Holy Spirit is in us. We have a promise from Jesus, who says, “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these!”
But stop for a minute. How is that possible, how can it be that we will go about the world, doing the work that Christ does? We have only our two hands, our two feet. We are human, after all; and where on earth is the Holy Spirit in a day filled with phone calls and emails, a family to take care of and a non-stop work schedule?
Perhaps, just perhaps, we all need to find a quiet space, a space where we look into our heart and see God. In the Celtic understanding, this is called a thin space. To see the early sunlight filtering through the trees; to hear the birds flitting here, there, everywhere; to stand with the ocean foam curling around your toes; to look into the heavens and see the showers of starlight. Simply to sit quietly anywhere at all.
Gerard Manly Hopkins had it right when he wrote,
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.
“There lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” he says.
The thin space is here, all right. And it is where you might not expect it. That thin space, where the Holy Spirit works: it’s in the hand that gives a sandwich to a hungry person, it’s in all things creative–the flourish of an artist’s brush, the strings of the cello. It’s there when you walk over to greet a newcomer, when you open a door for a stranger. It’s there with our Dominican team as they put up fans and screens in the children’s classroom.
We are told, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” But there are no specific commandments that say we are to feed someone or create something, that we are to eat certain foods or wear certain clothing. Really. It is much simpler and much more difficult than that. If we love Christ, then we will love our neighbor.
The Holy Spirit is the gift of grace that lives in us; it is what gives us the strength and the courage to follow Christ’s call. Love is what helps us all speak the same language, the language of the heart. Love is what sends us out into the world to follow in Christ’s footsteps and, as He tells his disciples, “to do the works that I do.”
And there is a further promise. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you,” he says. But in no way is it the peace of doing nothing. Years ago a friend gave me a kitchen magnet that puts it well:
Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid,” Christ says. I think that as we sit here together on this day of Pentecost, we have been gifted with a special kind of Peace. It is a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that comes from loving God and loving our neighbors. That peace is the thin space where the Spirit abides.
May we all find the Holy Spirit flaming in our lives, enabling us, inspiring us to speak the language of the heart to all we meet.
In His Holy Name. +