The Sunday Sermon: In the Power of the Spirit (Pentecost)

Sermon – Pentecost – May 27, 2012 
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego, Ca.
The Rev. Canon Richard Lief
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-25, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Come Holy Spirit, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire. Your blessed unction from above is comfort, life, and fire of love. Amen

We are here today to celebrate the Day of Pentecost, one of the major festivals in the church year. As Jesus ascended into heaven, he gave his disciples his own spirit so that they could be his light in the world. Our candidates for baptism this morning will be sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.

In the Old Testament the Spirit of God, is described as the vital energy of the divine. It is the same Spirit that hovered over the chaos in the beginning of time and created the world. The Spirit is the energy that is given to us to empower us with abnormal skill, strength, wisdom, and love. It is the energy that is poured out on all flesh where sons and daughters prophesy, young men see visions, and old men dream dreams.

The early Christians experienced Jesus as living in them through the activity of the Spirit. The book of Acts describes them as being on fire with the Spirit with the ability to hear each other in their own languages and share with each other their experiences of the mighty works of God. On fire with the Spirit, they were able to do courageous things in his name – even if it meant giving up their lives.

Several weeks ago, there appeared in the Christian Century magazine an article by Thomas Long who teaches at Emory University. He relates the following story:

In the Spring of 1939, 47-year-old Paul Gruninger was a middle-level police official in a picturesque Swiss town near the Austrian border. Gruninger was a quiet man who lived a rather conventional life.

After dutifully serving his time in the Swiss army in World War I, he obtained a teaching diploma, settled into a position at an elementary school, attended church on Sundays, and married Alice Federer, who was a fellow teacher.

To please both his mother and Alice, Gruninger applied for a better-paying position in the police department, a job that involved mainly filling out reports and arranging security details for occasional visiting dignitaries. Or so it seemed.

But in April 1939, Gruninger found his way to work blocked by a uniformed officer, who told him that he longer could hold his position in the police department. An investigation had revealed that Gruninger was secretly altering the documents of Jews fleeing Austria for the safety of Switzerland.

“Non-Aryan” refugees were not allowed to cross the border after August 19, 1938, but all it took was a few strokes of Gruninger’s pen to predate a passport and perhaps save a life – a small action but one of great personal risk.

False rumors were spread that Gruninger had demanded sexual favors from those he aided. Disgraced as a lawbreaker and shunned by his neighbors, Gruninger peddled raincoats and animal feed until he died in poverty in 1972.

Paul Gruninger was an unassuming man whose family and faith formed him in the Spirit. Seeing what he saw in the passport office – the heartbreaking scenes, the screaming and the crying of mothers and children – he could not bear it anymore, and so he determined to try to save the people he encountered.

It is the Spirit of Christ which lives within each of us which calls us out of ourselves to be there for one another as well as for strangers. We may not be called to such dire circumstances as Paul Gruninger, but it is the Spirit which empowers us in our efforts to live into our baptism.

This past week, the Episcopal Public Policy Network issued a report of refugee workers laboring in Kenya and South Sudan in the midst of conflict, poverty and desperate need for development. When these workers were asked what they do to cope with the overpowering needs they encounter, their answer was: “We dance. Every night, we dance.”

In the power of the Holy Spirit we see things differently, and we are able to act differently. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes with sighs too deep for words. We can weep where Jesus weeps, we can rejoice as Jesus rejoices. Whatever our circumstances, we can dance in the Spirit. From my experience, to dance is to stir up the power of the Holy Spirit within me and to share it with others.

We are given the Holy Spirit within community. Paul Gruninger was a faithful member of his church. The social workers in Kenya and South Sudan are members of the world-wide Anglican Communion. In community, we are baptized into the life of the Spirit. We are baptized into Christ’s way of life with the fire of his love.

In community, we will in a few moments, repeat our Baptismal Covenant. We will be reminded that we are to respect the dignity of every human being, that we are to seek the Christ in all persons. The candle that will be given by the Dean to the newly baptized, symbolizes that we are to be Christ’s light, Christ’s fire of love, in the world.

Here at St. Paul’s we proclaim that when you enter this cathedral you enter a holy and sacred space – a place of sanctuary and safety, a living, breathing, dynamic community that celebrates great diversity and embraces the challenges of change.

The statement on our north porch door proclaims that “St. Paul’s Cathedral exists as a gift from the Holy Spirit to you. It is a place where a loving God receives your thoughts, reflections, meditations, prayers, tears, anger and joy.” You are invited to become a member of this holy family and to join us in being Christ’s holy fire, his light in the world. This is what the Holy Spirit is all about.

Thomas Merton shares these words with us: “If I am to love my brother or sister, I must somehow enter deep into the mystery of God’s love for him or her. The truth I must love in my brother or sister, is God Himself, living in him or her. I must seek the life of the Spirit of God breathing in them. And I can only discover and follow that mysterious life by (celebrating) the action of the same Holy Spirit which is living and acting in the depths of my own heart.”

Come Holy Spirit, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire. Your blessed unction from above, is comfort, life, and fire of love. Amen

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