Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, June 4, 2017, Day of Pentecost (Whitsunday), Year A, John 20:19-28
“When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
Yesterday we gathered, as a diocese, in this space, to welcome to the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement individuals from Muskegon to Petoskey who came to make their adult commitment to this communion.
We heard lessons that attempted to frame what Pentecost has meant and means for us, today. The bishop preached about the meaning of the word Yahweh-Breath/Spirit and that the Hebrew people believed that God’s name cannot be spoken, not because it’s forbidden, but because Yahweh is the very breath we breathe.
And the action we take together when we are here is the breathing in of that spirit. While the sending out into the world to love and serve is the exhale.
It was a beautiful service. It was an honor to host. And even though we didn’t have any confirmands from here, we had a bunch of people who helped pull it off, and the Bishop wishes to convey his gratitude for our hospitality. So, thank you, St. Philip’s, for being the kind of place that opens its doors not only to our local people but for our brothers & sisters from around the Diocese.
The people who gathered here yesterday were making a particular commitment to God, the Church, and the world. Our catechism teaches that Confirmation is a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace. It is the rite in which we express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop.
The Church teaches that what is required of those to be confirmed is that they have been baptized, are sufficiently instructed in the Christian Faith, are penitent for their sins, and are ready to affirm their confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t hear many people talk about that much these days. “Penitent”, “confession”, “laying on of hands”…even baptism. What do all these words mean? Why do we still do them, after all these years?
It’s one of the quirky parts of being an Episcopalian. We still practice these ancient rites that connect us to the Acts of the Apostles, the Teachings of Christ, the one holy and apostolic faith.
How many of you know what Apostolic means? Just a show of hands, don’t be shy.
Soon after I started coming to an Episcopal Church, I had to know what this word meant. I thought it had something to do with the Apostles, but that was the extent of my curiosity, up until this point.
Well, The Episcopal Church has a published document that comes out each year that is a directory of all of the ordained clergy in our communion. And the Bishops all have these numbers by their name, along with three other bishop’s names which are called their “consecrating bishops”, one of which is either the Presiding Bishop or another Bishop appointed by the Presiding Bishop.
Now, this is all important because it connects us to the ancient custom of passing down the faith.
Apostolic Faith means that we can trace each of our bishops in TEC all the way back to Peter. Through the laying on of hands by a bishop, the bishop they had hands laid upon by, etc. etc. we are able to trace our faith lineage all the way back to the Apostles. That’s why these Episcopate services are so special. It’s a relationship with our ancient, Catholic faith, which means universal across time and continent.
The Bishop likes to call confirmation, “lay-ordination.” It’s the marking of time and formal commitment to these vows that we claim shape who we are as a body of believers. That’s why you’ll often notice tears in the candidate’s eyes and the eyes of their sponsors and congregation.
They are holy tears, evidence of the Holy Spirit, breathing on her people…new life…new hope…resurrection!
These rituals we do, to mark time, they are meant to tap into our deep memory, a memory that pre-exists our physical life span…that day so long ago, of Pentecost, as told in Acts 2: 1-21 that we just heard, a few minutes ago.
That story of what it was like when the disciples were huddled in that tiny dark room waiting for this Advocate to come whom Jesus promised he would send.
It had been 10 days since they watched their Lord ascend into heaven before their very eyes before they saw Elijah and Moses with him.
So much had happened, and yet so much had still not changed.
The Romans, who killed Jesus, were still occupying their land. They still feared to even show their faces. Where was this promised Advocate?
And then it happened. There came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.”
Because it was during a large festival, once again, people from all over were gathered and heard this noise and believed these disciples to be drunk. But Peter, being the “rock” he was, reassured the crowd that they couldn’t be drunk, for it was only 9 o’clock in the morning!
What a fantastic story we tell!
I was thankful to be witness to these folks, yesterday, have the experience of the ancient apostolic faith laying hands upon their head and shoulders, that they had the opportunity to feel the weight of the commitment they made, that they had the opportunity to experience the Holy Spirit breathing upon them to send them out into the world to love and serve!
I was thankful to hear these amazing new Episcopalians take in what the gift of the Holy Spirit means for us, today, as they had the bishop’s hands laid upon their head and recited the vows of our baptism before the cloud of witnesses in their own voice.
The Church is a gift, friends, a gift to help bring about God’s mission in the world; to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ, as she prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
Know that if you haven’t been confirmed or received and think that you may want to…heck if you haven’t been baptized and think that you may want to…we’ll be holding another class this fall for the preparation of the All Saints’ Confirmation. So speak to Fr. Christian or me with your questions and wonderings, we’d be honored to explore this with you in community!
“When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Amen.