Pentecost Sunday – June 9, 2019
I suspect that some of the parents in the Cathedral today can resonate with this story. … It was a Sunday morning, and a mother hurries into her son’s bedroom and speaks agitatedly at the sleeping bundle. “Look,” she cries, “it’s Sunday. Time to get up. Time to get up and go to church. Get up!” The son mumbles something under the covers, “I don’t want to go.” “What do you mean, ‘I don’t want to go’?” responds the mother. “That’s silly. Now get up and get dressed and go to church!” He says, “No, I don’t want to go and I’ll give you two reasons why not.” He sits up in bed and continues, “First, I don’t like the people at Church and second, they don’t like me.” The mother replies, “Now, that just plain nonsense. You’ve got to go to church and I’ll give you two reasons why you must. First, you’re fifty-one years old and, second, you’re the pastor!”
A little bit of a surprise ending, don’t you think? … And probably even more of a surprise that I opened this homily with a joke. But there really is a point to these surprises. … We all experience surprises at various points in our lives, don’t we? Sometimes they make us smile. Often, they catch us off guard. And occasionally, they challenge us to look at life differently.
And that’s exactly what the disciples experienced in today’s gospel. … For all that we have come to know and understand about the Pentecost event that we celebrate today, in its initial experience, the sending forth of the Holy Spirit into the lives of Jesus’ closest followers was a surprise. It was hardly an expected event despite all that Jesus may have said in the days leading up to his suffering and death.
If you’re uncertain about such an assertion on my part, then let’s return to the gospel for a moment. St. John’s description of the moment of Pentecost puts this assertion into clear perspective. Here’s what we encounter. The disciples of Jesus were hiding in fear behind closed and locked doors, shutting out the rest of the hostile world that surrounded them – a world that took away the life of their leader and friend – a world for them that was now filled with suspicion and accusation. They felt better and safer, huddled together in isolation.
Then comes the surprise! Jesus bursts into their isolation, despite the closed and locked doors. Surprised and fearful, the disciples are stunned. Despite the fact that, from our vantage point at least, most of us believe that the disciples likely understood that this moment would come and were waiting for it to occur, there’s nothing in the scriptures that leads us to conclude that they did. With Jesus’ death and burial, they thought it was all over between Jesus and themselves. After all, their conduct leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion had been anything but sterling with denials, betrayals and flight, leaving Jesus to face his crucifixion alone.
And yet, there he was in their midst. He sought them out in their weakness. He was there to speak words of forgiveness and, above all, to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit: the Spirit of the second chance – the Spirit who would break down doors and send them out as a community of wounded, forgiven healers, to preach the Good News of God’s love and mercy.
Simply put, through the indwelling of the Spirit of God, a frightened community of followers of a rabbi from Nazareth became the Church. … An inarticulate band of fishermen and a tax collector became a source of goodness, justice, truth, and mercy for searching people in Israel and well beyond. … Wounded and grieving souls went up against the powerful forces of a broken world and made certain that the hungry were fed, the homeless were given shelter, the sick and the dying were healed, and the sinful were forgiven and loved.
My friends, today’s celebration of Pentecost proclaims that the Spirit continues to breathe upon us through our experience of the very Church that was first called into being by the same Spirit’s power and presence. Through the presence of the Spirit within the Church – the faithful People of God – our lives receive the greatest of gifts: meaning and purpose, hope in the midst of turmoil, and the promise of peace at our center through the indwelling of God; peace even in the midst of a world turned upside down.
With the opportunity for such life-giving treasures, my brothers and sisters, we begin to see the true beauty and value of the Church – rooted in God, a reality far bigger than ourselves. … Yet, sadly, in the midst of the unsettling and challenging experiences that the Church has weathered during the last year in particular, many have begun to question whether they should remain a part of such a broken and fragile community.
This Pentecost day, however, reminds us that there is simply never a good time or reason to leave the Church. Never. … Are there good reasons to criticize Church people? Plenty. … Are there legitimate reasons to be angry with corruption, stupidity, careerism, cruelty, greed and sexual misconduct on the part of leader so the Church? Absolutely. … But are there grounds for turning away from the grace of Christ? No. Certainly not if we are honest with ourselves and our need for fulfillment in our lives – a fulfillment that will never be achieved through the things of this world, but is only and always found in God.
The real miracle of the Church, my friends, is that in spite of the brokenness of its members, the Church has always been blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit given to us in the Pentecost event – a presence that has the power to transform lives that truly seek something more in life.
What is it that we mean when we speak of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit? … We speak of the love of God poured into our lives – an unconditional, selfless love that knows no limits and embraces every human person made in the image and likeness of God. … We speak of a love that places a responsibility in our hearts and calls us to look beyond ourselves. … We speak of a love that has the power to enable us to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in and through our service of our brothers and sisters. … We speak of a love that can change the world for good when we are truly and authentically open to the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives.
Brothers and sisters, for all that we have faced, may we find hope on this great day of Pentecost. And may we be wise and humble enough to sear into our hearts the words of Pope Francis as he reflects upon all that is possible for those who seek to walk with God. “The world needs men and women who are not closed in on themselves, but filled with the Holy Spirit. … The world needs the courage, hope, faith and perseverance of Christ’s followers. The world needs the fruits of the Holy Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’ (Gal 5:22). … Strengthened by the Spirit and his many gifts, may we uncompromisingly battle against sin and corruption, devoting ourselves with patient perseverance to the works of justice and peace.”