This has been an exciting week, full of good news. I know there is sadness out there in the world. I weep for the families in Santa Fe, Texas, who lost loved ones in Friday’s horrific school shooting. Legislatures are proposing and implementing laws that restrict human rights and promote prejudice. The bloodshed in Gaza continues to scandalize and grieve all people of faith. The world is hurting, and our hearts hurt too.
But I am excited, because I have witnessed good news this week. I’ve had the privilege of talking with incredibly gifted priests who are part of our bishop discernment process. Our New Camino workshop over the weekend opened up possibilities for mission in our diocese with people who are hungry for community. On Wednesday I got to bless the healthy newborn son of a cathedral family, just a year after they suffered a tragic loss. And today is Pentecost, the birthday of the church and the day when we remember how the Holy Spirit filled the hearts of the first disciples and sent them out into the world to witness to God’s life-giving love.
What is your good news? Where did you see the Spirit move this week? Where did you see signs of hope in spite of disaster and dysfunction?
Yesterday our Presiding Bishop preached at the royal wedding in England, and, as he always does, he stirred up every heart with the love of God and the excitement of the Spirit’s work in the world. Michael Curry seems to channel the Spirit when he preaches. He is irrepressible, overflowing with joy and love. It’s not every day that the British get to hear a progressive yet evangelical, black southern preacher let loose. I’m sure they were as surprised as those ancient pilgrims in Jerusalem were when Peter, James, and the rest spilled out onto the street proclaiming the news of the life-giving and liberating love of Jesus in words they could all understand.
I wonder if the conversations in the streets were like those conversations everyone seems to have been having this week over theYanni/Laurel recording. Did you hear what I heard? What did it sound like to you? How could each of us have heard different words?
And yet everyone understood what they were hearing. God’s deeds of power: healing, feeding, forgiving, life-restoring deeds that the world needed and still needs to know about. A radical expansion of the God of Israel, no longer barricaded behind rules and prohibitions but released for all the world to experience, no barriers, no litmus tests, love offered freely and fully to all who have ears to hear. That’s exciting stuff. That’s the kind of God I want to know. That’s the God we strive to follow in the Episcopal Church and especially here at St. Paul’s.
I’m excited too about the stirrings of the Spirit in this congregation. Jesus tells his disciples that they will receive the Spirit of truth, and I have been hearing some truth this week. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear, but only the truth sets us free, and if we are going to grow as a community of faith we need to hear and accept the truth. I am really grateful to those parishioners who were brave enough to share their truth about our declining attendance, in response to the letter I wrote you all last week (see all my letters here). Issues range from the music to the preaching, to the forums, to our emphasis on social justice, to the length of the announcements, to the bulletin format. Each reason is meaningful because it matters to someone. But maybe they would matter less if we were all really excited about being part of this community. How might we recapture some of the Pentecostal spirit that the first disciples experienced and that Bishop Curry exudes?
On that first Pentecost the disciples didn’t build a church. They didn’t designate a place to go to every week to worship. They actually came out of the building and went into the community, creating church wherever they found people willing to hear the good news. The church isn’t a place we go to; it’s the body of Christ that forms whenever people of faith come together to celebrate God’s love. As Bishop Curry likes to say, we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement. It’s a movement. We aren’t part of the Jesus movement because we spend an hour in this building once a week. We are part of the Jesus movement because we are moving in the world, trying to live out the love that we have known in Jesus.
How will each of us share God’s love in the world this week? What will you say to the people who are now curious about the Episcopal church? Will you tell them of the love and care you find here, of the unique blend of beautiful tradition and committed service that the Episcopal Church offers? Will you invite them to come with you to worship, or to a musical event, or to Showers of Blessings? I hope so.
The disciples were together when the Spirit overtook them. As church we are meant to be together. We are meant to see Jesus in each other and to love each other. It’s hard to love someone if you don’t know them, so let’s get to know each other better. Let’s be church. Let’s move beyond church being a place we go to and make church a family, a community, a body of people who want to be together even when we disagree, a body of people whose love for each other and for the world is contagious and visible.
Let’s make church together this summer. Let’s hang out together and come to know what makes our hearts sing and our spirits soar. Let’s infect each other with the Spirit of love so that the world will sit up and take notice, saying as those Jerusalemites did, what kind of people are these that they can’t refrain from sharing good news, what kind of God is this that fills them with joy and courage?
Several parishioners have offered to host informal gatherings, Summertime Socials in their homes over the next few months; you can sign up to come for happy hour, or a potluck and just be with your fellow cathedral peeps. Nobody will ask you for anything. I will be at all of them and I am looking forward to spending more time with the people I love and serve. The first one is on June 1, so look for the signup table today and find a date and time that works for you. We already have eight Summertime Socials scheduled and more will follow. This is exciting stuff, a way to nurture our community and to invite friends to meet us too. Please come to one, or offer to host one!
On this Pentecost Sunday we celebrate being church, and we lift up the many ways that all of you serve and share your gifts in small and large ways for the benefit of this part of the body of Christ here at St. Paul’s. Scripture tells us that there are varieties of gifts and varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit for the common good. There is no insignificant work that is done among us. All efforts — from maintaining our property to cleaning the church to leadership to visiting the sick to praying for one another and for our ministry — all are important efforts by which we are mutually blessed and by which our ministry prospers.
I am thankful for each of you and for all that you give. Ministry leaders, thank you for the ways you inspire, coach, and organize our ministries. If you are active in a church group, you are the workers in the vineyard and we wouldn’t be church without you. Thank you. Everyone else, together we are the body of Christ and your presence matters. Thank you for being a part of us.
Let us pray. Almighty God, you have called us into fellowship as the Jesus Movement in this place, and you have blessed and enriched our lives through your Holy Word and Sacraments. You strengthen us and inspire us with your Holy Spirit to live lives of mutual love and service in the world. For all this, and, above all, for the gift of your Son and our salvation, we give our heartfelt thanks and praise. Bind us to your love, and through that love, to one another, for the sake of the gospel. We pray for our past, for our future, for our mission and ministry, and for our purpose for being the church. Make us cheerful givers and faithful workers for the kingdom of your Son. Make us one in the body of Christ that we may acknowledge with joy and gratitude the importance of all our members and all our gifts for the mission that you give us, by sending us your Holy Spirit to glorify your son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Pentecost May 20, 2018
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges
(Adapted from the Litany of Thanksgiving for Workers in the Church by The Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel)