Fr. Bill Carroll – Day of Pentecost, June 5, 2022

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Seeds of Faith.  It’s by Mark McIntosh, an Episcopal priest and one of our greatest theologians.  He co-authored it with Frank Griswold, our former Presiding Bishop.  The two were close friends for decades.  And then, Mark died an untimely death last year.  He died of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  

In one chapter of the book, Mark tells the story of a golden retriever named Chiz, who was his constant companion in childhood.  One summer, he recalls, Chiz led him into a vacant lot across the street from his home.  As Mark describes it, “it could not have been nearly as vast a region as I experienced it then, but at the time it was clearly an enchanted land whose farthest reaches might remain unknown forever.  Its outer flanks were guarded by thickets of buckhorn, and I was certain that only Chiz could have found us a path inside.  He charged through the sumac and hickory trees.  His exuberance taught me to delight in wonders I might never have seen for myself….”  Later on, Mark describes the death of his dog:  “I could see that my friend’s kind and noble muzzle was growing ever whiter.  When he died, I was inconsolable.”

But then, he writes, “One…autumn day several months after Chiz died, I wandered back to the vacant lot that had been our enchanted woods.  His absence was numbing to me, and I could feel that the magic of the place had drained away with him…[Until, at last] through a thicket of wild roses, I saw what appeared to be a clearing…I knew Chiz would never have hesitated to push me into the opening, so I followed his inspiration and found myself in an open space filled with fragrant grass and a young maple tree.  Suddenly, the leaden sky broke open and sunlight showered into the clearing.  The leaves of the maple tree changed instantly from a dull ochre to brilliant crimson, each leaf rippling in the wind and blazing brightness into the world.  In that moment, I had a sense of immense and limitless goodness, of joy beyond words.”

That is what it’s like when the Holy Spirit breaks into our lives.  God consoles us and strengthens us, and we are given a “joy beyond words.”  The Spirit is always ready to renew our friendship with Jesus.  This can happen, whenever we gather together, whenever we worship, whenever we practice forgiveness or serve other people.  Any time, any place, God can open our eyes.  Whenever we celebrate it, Baptism provides an occasion for rebirth and renewal.  By water and the Spirit, God gives us a fresh start.  God renews all of us—and not just the person being baptized—in the gifts of the Spirit.  God gives us new birth.

Grace is one of the names for the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.  Many theologians consider the Spirit to be the feminine face of God.  God is neither male nor female, but contains the perfections of both.  In Scripture, the Spirit is God’s boundless love—the source of our freedom in JESUS.  She is like the wind, who blows wherever she wants to.  Today, she is compared with wind and fire—two of the most powerful forces in nature.  But she is also so very gentle and subtle.  She is the still, small voice of God within us.  She is perfectly loving, good without measure.  She is utterly, totally free.

Like Jesus himself, the Spirit is God’s great gift to us.  She is the One in whom all God’s other gifts are given.  We don’t pay for gifts.  We don’t have to earn or deserve them.  People give us gifts, because they love us and want to make us happy.  In the Episcopal Church, we baptize children and babies, as well as older youth and adults, as a sign that God’s gifts are freely given.

We claim God’s grace in Holy Baptism.  Today, we will claim God’s grace for Avie.  We will reclaim grace at the center of our lives.  In Baptism, we are made one with Jesus in his dying and rising.  There, he gives us the same Spirit that lives in his heart—to fill our hearts with his love.  We join the family of Jesus, where he gathers us together from every language, race, and nation. And that fulfills what Peter says today to the crowds who have gathered on the Day of Pentecost.  He points us to God’s promise through the prophet Joel:  “In the last days, God declares, I will pour out my Spirit out on all flesh.”  Peter is telling us that God really means it.  God gives God’s Spirit to us all.  God gives the Spirit to good people and bad people alike.  God gives the Spirit to Jew and Gentile, male and female, old and young, slave and free.  At Pentecost, God gives all of us one and the same sacred gift.

By the grace and power of the Spirit, we are set free to live for others.  In the Spirit, we are given strength and courage to love what Jesus loves.  We learn to live like he does, rather than following the ways of death.  “For we did not receive a spirit of slavery (Paul writes) to fall back into fear.  But we have received a Spirit of adoption…so that all who are led by the Spirit of God may be children of God.”

And so today, Avie, you are “sealed by the Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”  That is an awesome, awesome gift from God.  It is a gift that no one can ever take away.  Today, we will wash you with the same waters that Jesus was baptized in—the very same waters through which Israel moved into freedom.  

We will pray for you, Avie.  We will ask God to open your heart to grace and truth.  We will ask God to teach you to love others in the power of the Spirit.  And we will ask you to put your whole trust in the grace and love of Jesus.  Today, you will give your life to him.  And he will give his life to you.  For the rest of your life, no matter where you are, you will open your heart wider and wider, until his love becomes the center of your life.

That’s hard work.  (It really is.)  But it is also Good News.  Because God does not give the way the world gives.  God does not give in order to get something.  God does not love us in order to control us.  God gives us the Spirit, because God delights in us.  God loves us so very much.  God wants to set us free.

And so, let us pray:

Come, Holy Spirit!  

Come, sweet, living fire.  

Come, wisdom and life-giver. 

Come, advocate and guide.  

Come, peace.  Come, courage.  Come, hope.  

Come and show us Jesus.  

Come, renew us in his love.  Amen.