Pentecost Year C 5-19-13
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Acts 2: 1-21; Ps. 104: 25-35, 37; Romans 8:14-17; John 14: 8-27
All we who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For in our baptism, we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but we have received a spirit of adoption. We cry to you, "Abba! Father!" and it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of you, and joint heirs with Christ-- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. AMEN.
On this mighty Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of the giving of the Holy Spirit, you have already sung and danced in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit made manifest in our processional hymn (and you will sing and dance in it again at the recessional hymn too!). Many of you witnessed the Spirit dancing in the Food Festival contradances yesterday, full of young residents of the Fresh Pond Apartments making our acquaintance for the first time! You have heard our new Associate Rector Judith Atkinson’s testimony in her Living Epistle of the work of God and the call of God in her life, which is always a work of the Spirit, the part of God that lives and breathes and imagines and creates and loves and responds and perseveres in us, INSIDE us, in the very fabric of our mortal human being. You are about to meet five new soon-to-be members of the Body of Christ here at St. James’s, three infants, Jonathan, Christopher, and Meg, and two young adults, Guy and Kazue, who are about to be “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever” this morning.
Moreover, to use the disconcerting – if not just plain disturbing – image from the Thanksgiving over the Water in our baptism service (disconcerting and disturbing, but, I might add, taken straight from Paul’s Letter to the Romans), these young people are “burying themselves with Christ in his death,” so that they may “share in his resurrection,” “be reborn by the Holy Spirit,” and moreover, “share with us in Christ’s eternal priesthood.”
In baptism, by the Spirit, we are God’s very children, offspring of God, and sharing in Christ’s own priesthood. Though in our mortal, fallible, often confused and messed-up bodies, we suffer, though we struggle and let God down as all children let their parents down from time to time, though we even die, YET SHALL WE LIVE AND DO THE WORKS OF LOVE IN CHRIST. And moreover, even amidst all our shortcomings and failures of imagination – and sometimes our imagination can be mis-directed, after all, to wit, our delightful company of young contradancers at the Food Festival yesterday who so quickly devised a means by which to corner the Pie Social masks so that they could control the pie-winning – a “Pie Mafia,” forming so quickly the rest of our imaginations had to hustle to catch up! -- and our inability to “see the nose on our face,” as my mother says, as God’s children, we are still empowered to do incredible things, mind-blowing awesome things.
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these,” says Jesus to the disciples in today’s Gospel passage from John. He’s not talking about “belief,” like what you do with the frontal lobe of your brain. He’s not talking about intellectual assent. He’s talking about belief that saturates your whole being, belief that disposes your whole being – body, mind, and spirit – toward loving kindness, toward creative imagination, toward seeking and serving the wellbeing of others as you do your own wellbeing. In baptism, your entire being, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is disposed toward Godliness, and by Godliness I don’t mean some kind of attenuated sanctimony, that kind of snooty piety that flattens life out into simple moral formulas and judges others meanly and meagerly by them. I don’t mean the kind of piety that forgets to laugh and find “joy and wonder in ALL God’s works,” not just the cleaned-up and spit-polished ones. By Godliness, I mean, the depth of compassionate, forgiving, hopeful love that Jesus Christ has for us, that sees possibility even in the depths and dregs of impossibility, and that goes for it. The kind of Godly love that looks at every single human being around you and sees possibility in that person, and nurtures it. The kind of Godly love that flings itself over the barriers and TOWARDS the Marathon bombing victims, not away from them, no matter the danger. That’s the kind of “belief” Jesus is talking about, the “belief” that inspires Christly works in us, the “belief” in which the Spirit of truth, the Advocate, has opportunity to teach us in everything and remind us of, over and over, as the words of the Eucharistic prayer remind us week after week, how much Christ loves us and gives himself for us, his Body broken – again! – his Blood poured out – again! -- ever merciful, ever hopeful, holding nothing back.
We have to keep renewing our baptisms in the Eucharist every Sunday because if we’re not reminded regularly that we are God’s children and capable of wonders, we keep forgetting and losing track of our own capacity and selling ourselves short (or “selling ourselves and each other down the river,” as the old slaving term called it, referring to the horrific way in which slave communities were broken up and sold away, destroying families and turning people into commodities). Forgetting our baptisms, we easily take on “the spirit of slavery, falling back into fear” as Paul says in the Letter to the Romans in my opening prayer for today.
It’s that spirit of slavery that whispers to us, “You can’t possibly change the impetus of global warming.” It’s the spirit of slavery that says, “You can’t stop gun violence in this country!” It’s the spirit of slavery that says, “There’s no remedy for sexual assault in the military!”
It’s the spirit of slavery that, at its most horrific and insidious, slips into our inner spirit and tells us our own bodies are the enemy when we’ve suffered sexual assault, putting us dreadfully at odds with our very own precious selves. That slips into our inner spirit and counsels us that one more drink, one more hit will make us feel better. That trips us up in our commitment to exercise or healthy eating and drags us down when we’re trying to get out of debt. It’s the spirit of slavery that lures us into addictions to shopping and pornography and overwork.
Poet Emily Dickinson knew this, knew our own liabilities to think too meanly of ourselves and thereby diminish our own capacity, when she wrote,
We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies--
The Heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
For fear to be a King—
But remembering our baptisms – re-membering them, re-populating the world with the dynamics of baptism, with our royal priesthood of all believers, with that in-Christness that disposes us toward loving creativity, we can accomplish nearly anything.
In case you think this is just the standard “self-esteem” talk that drives so much educational theory these days, I’m not just trying to pep you up to think well of yourselves. Let’s remember there’s suffering and death, there’s our own human vulnerability and fallibility at the heart of this baptismal equation. Paul tells the Romans they are children of God “if they suffer with Christ that they may also be glorified with him.” Our baptism service “buries us” first, THEN raises us up to new life in Christ! The world is far too complicated a place – and we are far too complicated a set of beings – for simple self-affirmation to bring God’s commonwealth into being. That way lies self-aggrandizement and maudlin sentimentality, not reliance on the power of God to overcome our deficits and liabilities.
It is the women and men who have already suffered assault who are the most effective advocates and counselors of those newly afflicted. It is those in recovery from addiction who are most trustworthy in their wise and judicial support of those struggling to recover. It is the women who have freed themselves from prostitution rackets who mount the most effective campaigns against sex slavery, and those who have been raped themselves who testify most powerfully and helpfully to those recovering from rape and who hold the rapists accountable. Even if we have not experienced such atrocities ourselves, we have all suffered, and from that well of fellow-feeling, the Spirit draws forth the compassion from which healing can spring, and the reliance upon God as the ever-present, ever-reliable source of all power for good. As Nicholas Hayes – off on retreat at the moment, now that he has completed his seminarian internship with us – observed after an intensive community-organizing training with the Industrial Areas Foundation last month, it is when we touch into the rage of our own experience of helplessness and remember the presence of the Spirit in us that we are fueled to commit to the hard work of community organizing, that we are stoked to inspire others to find the same rage and commitment and reliance upon the Spirit, so that together we can set ourselves to dismantle the entrenched dynamics of social injustice with sufficient will and perseverance to make change. “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” [Romans 6:8]
You might think that these young people who will be baptized today can know nothing of such things, but you would be wrong. Suffering knows no age limit, no age onset. Even the smallest children can be direly afflicted, and from their affliction can be tempted to “receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” We are baptizing them THROUGH the suffering into the STRENGTH & COMFORT, the FREEDOM of Christ, to know they are truly children of God and full of the promise of God. And we are committing ourselves as the members who share their new Body of Christ to “do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ,” to seek and touch and know how God has entered the places of suffering in us so that we will be able to witness to them about the power of God and the wisdom of God to realize great things in them as God has lovingly – forgivingly, healingly – realized great things in us. For we too have been “buried with Christ in baptism” and “raised with him through faith in the power of God. [Colossians 2:12] Who KNOWS what they and we may accomplish together, in the power of the Holy Spirit?!? AMEN.