(Reredos of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Denver, Colorado – depicting the Pentecost event and showing Saint John’s Cathedral (left) and Saint Andrew’s Church (right) as a way of celebrating the Cathedral’s founding of Saint Andrew’s Church.)
Pentecost Sermon – May 24, 2015,
Saint John’s Cathedral, Denver, Colorado
(note: this sermon was adapted and changed for the 10:00 service due to the presence of babies and mothers for Baptisms)
“ We are not alone.”
These are the first and last words of the new Creed adopted by the United Church of Canada. “We are not alone.”
The creed begins “We are not alone, we live in God’s world. We believe in God: who has …etc. …etc…etc” and ends “God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”
This new creed is a stunning statement of hope. And hope is the point of Pentecost.
The reality of Pentecost is that our world, at this moment is God-drenched. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals that. We are not alone.
What Julian of Norwich says is that “we are not just made by God, we are made of God.” And I believe that. We live in a God-drenched world. God moves within us. God moves around us. God stands with us.
God sends messengers to give us hope when we despair. And we do despair. The word Despair is simply two latin words meaning “without hope.”
The Gospel tells us that The Holy Spirit is sent to guide us to truth. And the truth is that we are not alone. And that is our hope.
We come to church putting our best face forward. We sing. We smile. We shake hands and hug. Sit, stand, sing, sit, stand, process, take, eat, sit, stand, process, coffee. Home. And if you are like me, I hide despair, tucking it, like a stray thread, back up under the hem of my coat. I don’t want people to see that life sometimes frightens me and can, at times of deep suffering, inspire groans too deep for words.
The epistle, again, likens God and creation to a woman in labor: “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 …
But then the reading defines Pentecost:
“…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; …that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
That is Pentecost. That we are not alone. Not alone in our suffering. Not alone in our fears. Not alone in our diagnoses. Not alone in our failures. Not alone in financial fear. Not alone in addictions. Not alone in betrayals. Not alone in our despair – our not-hope. Not alone in our suffering and especially, says the epistle from Romans, not alone in our prayers. The Holy Spirit stands there – keeping vigil with us among, or perhaps as, the company of angels – praying when our prayers are caught in our through in silent screams.
My problem is not that I do not believe in the Holy Ghost. My problem is that I am moving too fast to notice her presence.
We recently gathered our cathedral leaders for intensive training in the Art of Hosting Meaningful Conversation in an effort to break down control and order so that the creative freedoms of conversation could begin to thrive here. The Bishop chose twelve of his clergy to join us. At the end of this training –opened by the leader quoting this Canadian Creed “ we are not alone” – at the end of the training, a luminous priest came up to me with wet, shinning eyes and skin like silk. She put her warm hand on mine and told me this little story:
She was, before the priesthood, a midwife. She had spent many decades present with women and men and families in homes as children were born. On one occasion, the father and eight-year-old son asked if they could record this wondrous event on one of those big cassette tape recorders we remember form the 1970’s. This recorder, with its little built-in microphone was about the size of a shoe-box and sat on the little boy’s lap, giving him something to do – a little job in a bustling room.
Behind the small screen mother and midwife were at work, but complications arose, joy turned to chaos and chaos to despair as the mother’s groaning stopped. The baby died after attempts to save its life.
After tears subsided and doctors left, the midwife sat with the little boy while his father consoled his mother – a couple in despair – momentarily hopeless. There was no one to pray. Or so it seemed.
The midwife gently spoke to the little boy, explaining the event in words he could understand. He was silent for a bit, in collaborative weeping, and then asked a question. “Who were all the women in white?”
Sweetie, said the midwife, it was just you and me and daddy and mommy and the doctors in the room. “No it wasn’t.” said the little boy, with the conviction of witness in a trial. “I saw them. Lots of them.”
“What did you see?” said the midwife, as she felt the hair rise on her neck.
I saw women and then one woman, in white, like a ghost.”
“What were they doing?” Said the midwife.
“They were just standing there.” Said the boy, weeping. “I asked them who they were but they just stood there, looking at mommy.”
Gently, like removing a bomb from the lap of a hostage, the midwife slid the tape recorder from the little boy’s lap. It was wet with tears and a little snot.
She rewound the cassette and pressed play.
Replayed were the distant sounds of hope, the midwife coaching – the mother groaning, the father encouraging. Then the flurry. The shouting, the calls for a doctor, the dropped pan. The silence.
And then, small and curious was the voice of an eight-year-old boy, very close to the microphone. “Who are all of you? Why are you here?”
How does the Holy Spirit show up? Well, she is a Ghost – mischievous, powerful, compassionate and always praying on our behalf. Sometimes in the back seat. Sometimes in the back pew. Sometime in the birthing room while women groan and bed pans drop. Praying, praying.
I don’t know how the Holy Spirit does her work. All I know is that I believe “we are not alone…we live in God’s world…”
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. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.