Yesterday morning, I woke up early so that I could watch the Royal Wedding and text my mom and sister. Did anyone else watch? I was prepared to be amazed by the dress and the ceremony, but what really blew me away was the sermon. Bishop Michael Curry, the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, preached and I’m not sure that anyone knew quite what to expect. It was certainly a change from the norm! He spoke about love, about the power of love, and also the power of fire. Fire, he said, makes it all possible, and on this Pentecost Sunday I am increasingly aware of the power of fire.
Bishop Curry reminded us that if we were to harness the power of fire, we could do anything, and I sat on my couch wondering what kind of message this was for the church. If we were to harness the power of this holy fire, this Spirit given fire, if we were to truly live into this call, what is there that we can’t do?
I wondered what it would look like for us, individually. What does harnessing the power of fire look like for you? The fire in your gut, your calling, your passion—if you’re to harness that so that you might live it out, what does it look like? Isn’t this what we’re to live into? What is a life lived with no passion? What is a life lived without love?
The two passages we read this morning remind us of both sides of the Spirit. She’s powerful, mighty, and unexpected. She moves in mysterious ways, pushing you to things that might leave you wondering how exactly you ended up in whatever position you’re in. She’s fierce, she’s strong, she’s not something to mess with. That’s the Spirit we see in Acts. Can you imagine what was going through those disciples’ heads? All of a sudden they can’t speak to those they were speaking to. Their friends are all speaking different languages, nothing is as it once was, everything is different, eveyone thinks they’re drunk! Imagine their frustration, their confusion, perhaps even that bittersweet feeling when you realize that life won’t be what it once was. And yet, there is still something to celebrate. The Spirit moves, dances into our lives.
We’re told in the Pentecost story that our “sons and daughters shall prophesy; your young men shall see visions; your old men shall dream dreams.” This Pentecost day, we’re released from the fears and challenges that hold us back. We are reminded that all are tasked with sharing the good news, no matter language, nor race, nor culture, nor age. We are reminded of the power of our young people. Part of why Confirmation Sunday is today is this reminder of the power of our young people. Today we’ll be recognizing Zach and Cooper and Alison, each of whom have reminded me of the importance of listening to the young leaders in our midst. These young people are our now, not just our future. These young people are our church TODAY, not just in ten years. And they have visions and dreams for what our church can be. I encourage you to listen to the young people in our midst. Hear their ideas, value their wisdom—share your stories, and hear theirs too.
I was grateful that the Romans passage was the lectionary reading this week. It’s a favorite of mine, particularly during weeks like this one has been. It highlights another side of the Spirit, a quieter side. We’re told, “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.” Sighs too deep for words. How many of those have been uttered this week? How many on Friday morning, when the news came across of the shooting at Santa Fe High School? When the news on Friday night of the shooting at the high school graduation in Georgia? How many sighs over the loss of those lives? In those moments, the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
This passage reminds us that we are released from the need to know the exact thing to say at any given time. What’s important about us is not always our words—in fact, sometimes are words can be a mistake. On Friday night I watched my favorite movie, Steel Magnolias, and cringed at the same part I always cringe at: Annelle talking to M’Lynn after Shelby’s funeral. For those who haven’t seen the movie in awhile, Shelby is a young mother who dies after her body rejects a kidney transplant. It’s devastating, particularly for her mother. After the funeral, M’Lynn’s best friends come to be with her at the graveside, and Annelle offers the opposite of good pastoral care: “Miss M’Lynn…it should make you feel a lot better that Shelby is with her King…We should all be rejoicing.” You sit there watching this scene thinking “Annelle! JUST STOP! Just stand there, just be! You don’t need to say anything!” It’s painful, each and every time you watch it. When you are standing with someone deep in grief, sometimes the thing to do is just be. Sigh. Breathe. Let the Spirit move, interceding with sighs too deep for words. We are released from the pressure of needing to know exactly how to take on the pain and grief of the world.
On this Pentecost Sunday, I’m struck with the reminder that these disciples are likely still deep in throes of grief. Their teacher has been crucified, and then came back. And then left again, as they watched. Their emotions, their understanding of how things were supposed to happen, the patterns of life, have been tugged in so many different directions over a pretty short span of time. As I imagine this using my own frame of reference, in today’s context, I wonder if their hearts weren’t still stuck in that graveyard, unsure how to move forward. Sure, Jesus told them what to do—but then he left! He’s gone! They haven’t even really gotten to process all of this, and now they’re supposed to just move forward? I imagine them sitting together, wondering what to do. Maybe one would speak up, only to trail off as his idea of how to move forward seems too overwhelming, too much to do without Jesus. Maybe they’re all just staring at one another. Grief still there, raw. Those feelings of helplessness, knowing the world will never be the same.
Easter already came. Jesus returned, he came back to the disciples, but to me, Pentecost feels like another resurrection day. We are reminded that the Spirit is still on the move, still working in our midst. Nothing can keep us from spreading the word of God to the people of God—we have been given the gifts of languages, of relationship, of community that surpasses all boundaries. We have been given the tools so that we might call out the good news, easy or not. We are to call out injustice, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Pray for our world, trusting that the Spirit will intercede when our prayers are not what they ought to be. Friends, this is good news!
We are a resurrection people, called to be open to the Spirit’s movement so that we can share God’s love with the world. But the Spirit doesn’t always make her presence known—sometimes we must admit that we are living in the mystery of our faith. And yet, we belong. We belong to the mystery. We belong to this Spirit that moves in our midst.
On Wednesday night, my favorite band came to DC. I was able to go to the concert, and when I tried to explain to Sheri and Bryan what it was like, I had no other description that “it was my church.” Delta Rae is southern, based out of North Carolina, and their music is a unique blend of gospel/rock/country/bluegrass that I haven’t found elsewhere. One of their songs is called Dance in the Graveyards, and it was the perfect Pentecost prep for me. The chorus goes like this:
I don’t want to rest in peace
I want to dance in joy
I want to dance in the graveyards
And while I’m alive,
I don’t want to be alone
Mourning the ones who came before
I want to dance with them some more
Let’s dance in the graveyards
Isn’t that us? The disciples were forced out into dancing and community. Their community expanded with the help of the Spirit, as they were launched into a whole new way of being church. The time for mourning had gone, and the realization became that sharing the light of Christ with the world was the best way to continue to live with his presence.
Sometimes, friends, it feels like we’re stuck in the graveyards. Our world is hurting. We are confronted by injustices, particularly against our siblings of color, each and every day. All too often we see our children being killed in places that should be safe. It feels like we are in the graveyard. But this day, this day is the reminder that the Spirit still moves. The Spirit is moving and we are called to dance our way out of this broken and fearful place, to be examples of the Spirit on the move. On this Pentecost Sunday, let’s live in the light of the Lord. Let’s dance. Let’s sing, let’s work, let’s play, in the name of God! May it be so for all of us. Amen.