Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Jun 09, 2019

    The day of Pentecost

    Passage: John 20:19-23

    Preacher: The Rev. Ken Massey

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    The story of the Ascension and Pentecost is timely for Holy Trinity. Our rector will soon depart from our sight and ascend into the glorious clouds of retirement. But we will not stand gazing up toward heaven; we will wait for the promised one; another rector who will come to us in power, making us all appear to be drunk, even on a Sunday morning. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.

    What are we to make of the sound of mighty wind, tongues of fire and the many languages of Pentecost? We know that 10’s of thousands came to Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks from across the African-Asiatic region and that there were as many as 375 languages spoken. The Spirit somehow enabled this diverse crowd to hear and understand the witness of the disciples. Genesis records the story of the Tower of Babel, and how humanity was forever divided by language. Pentecostal power bridged those divides, or as one mystic wrote, “awakened us from the illusion of our separateness.” We are all God’s children regardless of where we are born, what language we speak, what foods we eat, what clothes we wear, our nationality or even if we root for Clemson. Now that’s a miracle.

    Charismatics are eager to show that the Spirit is still at work in our world through signs and wonders. I too see the power of The Spirit at work, but through different signs. In the 14th and 15th chapters of John’s gospel, Jesus promised that another would come after he was gone. The one he promised was identified as the parakletos. The word has no simple English equivalent, so it has been translated Comforter, which makes me think of a “puffy bedspread,” but also as Counselor, Helper, Advocate, or the less creative Paraklete. Don’t forget the “L” in that word and be like the kid who told his mom he learned in Sunday School about the parakeet from heaven. The word means, “one who comes along side another” to comfort, counsel, help and defend.

    One of my favorite preachers, Fred Craddock, tells of preaching at Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta, the church where MLK served. Fred, the only white face in the crowd, was a very slight man in his 70s when he shuffled up to the pulpit. He was finding his text to read when the pastor began singing the chorus, “I feel much better now that I’ve laid my burden down.” The congregation joined in, and Fred was standing there in the pulpit not knowing what was happening, but decided he should participate. So he started clapping, and the congregation stood and there was a crescendo in the song and then the preacher sat down, the song ended and Fred began his sermon, getting some positive feedback from the congregation. He writes, “I could have preached all day in that place; so inspiring.”

    After the service, he said to the pastor, “you kind of shocked me with the song. You didn’t tell me you were going to do that.” The pastor replied, “well I didn’t plan to do it.” “Well why did you?” The pastor smiled and said, “when you stood up there, one my associates leaned over to me and said, “that boy’s gonna need some help.”

    It's the same thing the Spirit said to Jesus about his disciples: “those boys are going to need some help. Better let the women witness the resurrection.” So Jesus promised some help; some inspiration; some animation; some support. Do not let your hearts be troubled.

    The gospel word parakletos was the primary term in the first century Greek world for an attorney. The writers of the NT, trying to capture what Jesus communicated in Aramaic about the Holy Spirit, decided they should call the third person of the Trinity, a lawyer. Let that sink in. Do you know why God made snakes before he made lawyers?… to get some practice.

    But I invite the offended lawyers to hold off on the objections. You will actually come out of this interpretation looking pretty good. After all, the NT writers did not choose a word for the Holy Spirit that meant rabbi, prophet or priest. No matter our frustration with lawyers in politics, what would our world be like without those who came along side the accused and suffering in order to advocate for them and for justice? What would have happened to the people who got sick because of polluted ground water from Pacific Gas and Electric if there had been no Erin Brockovich, who wasn’t an attorney but did the work? How many more would be dead or chronically ill if these parakletes had not confronted drug companies, cigarette makers, polluters, companies using child labor, or Jim Crow laws? What would our world be like without those who come along side people who suffer injustice? That’s what the Spirit does. She stands by you when everyone else has jumped ship. Jesus promised the best. Do not let your hearts be troubled.

    A woman received a phone call that her daughter was very sick with a fever. She left work and stopped by the pharmacy for some medication. When she returned to her car, she realized she had locked her keys inside. She had to get home to her sick daughter, and didn't know what to do. She began to panic. She called home to the babysitter who said, "You might find a coat hanger and use that to open the door."

    The pharmacy gave her one, but when she went outside, she bent it around a bit and said, "I don't know how to use this." As she was crying and praying for help, an old rusty car pulled up, driven by an scary, dirty, bearded man with a biker skull rag on his head. The woman thought, "Dear God, this is what you send to help me?" But she was desperate. The man got out of his car and she approached him: “please, my daughter is sick. I have to get home to her; can you use this hanger to unlock my car?" He said, "SURE." He walked over to the car and in seconds the car was opened. She hugged the man and through her tears said, "THANK YOU SO MUCH...  You are a very nice man." The man replied, "Lady, I ain't a nice man. I just got out of prison for car theft." The woman hugged the man again and cried out loud... THANK YOU GOD FOR SENDING AN EXPERT!!

    If you’ve not been in deep trouble, you might not resonate with lawyer word. But when you’re in the crosshairs, you want Perry Mason or Aly McBeal. You want the best. Years ago, I was in a serious faith crisis, which is more complicated when faith is your vocation. I could not hold on; I was free falling. And two people stepped beside me. One was a spiritual director and the other an author. Only later did I recognize them as parakletos; the Spirit. Sometimes the Spirit looks like a therapist or a writer or a priest or a friend. And sometimes, the Spirit even looks like a stranger, and angel in disguise. If anyone has come to your side when you were weak, hurting, vulnerable, broken, outcast, sick or afraid, this is the work of the Spirit; it’s Jesus keeping his promise to you. The Spirit is your defender; the one who sticks by you no matter what. Do not let your hearts be troubled.

    But receiving the help of the Spirit is only half the sign of Pentecost. Becoming parakletos is also our vocation. All of us are called to walk alongside others; to give what we have received. The Spirit is poured out on all flesh; young and old, male and female; rich and poor; gay and straight; black and white. Thank you Tim for walking beside so many over your 30 years of ministry; and bless all of you who have walked alongside the marginalized; the poor; the disabled; the suffering; the immigrant; the mentally ill; the imprisoned; the addicted; those who have been abused by religion; persons of other races; and some even walking alongside our planet which is in distress. The Spirit is calling you to come alongside those GOD chooses to represent, because they need an advocate. Where is the Spirit leading you? Preaching is not the primary Pentecostal gift because the Spirit loves and moves beyond words. The Spirit indwells your every act of love to bring about the beloved community of God.

    Jean Vanier, died last month. He established homes for adults with intellectual disabilities in 150 communities and 38 countries, serving over 5000 children of God. He was French-Canadian; served in the Navy for a few years at the tail end of World War II. After his discharge, the writings of Thomas Merton, came alongside of him and encouraged him to pray and meditate. In 1962, he earned his doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of Paris. Still unsure about the direction of his life, because the Spirit blows where it wills, he visited the French village of Trosley-Breuil where he discovered a dark and horrible asylum for the mentally disabled. He was struck by the overwhelming atmosphere of sadness within those concrete walls. The Spirit moved him.

    He bought a fixer upper in that community and began to restore it. When he was finished with the house, he invited two residents from the asylum to come live with him: Phillipe and Raphael. He invited them because they were friends and on one of his visits to the asylum, Raphael had asked Jean, “will you be my friend?” And the Spirit in Jean Vanier said what the Spirit always says: “yes.” Vanier named his community L’Arche, which means “The Ark;” a place of sanctuary; of salvation; of being held by God.

    This is the miracle of Pentecost to be repeated; the awareness that we are not separate, but in the same boat; friends, strangers, even enemies. Who can do this? Only the best lawyer money cannot buy. Thanks be to God.