Fr. Bill Carroll – The Day of Pentecost, May 23, 2021
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This August, Tracey and I will have been married for twenty-eight years. And, by my count, we have moved ten times now since we got married. Whenever we move, we always chip or break several dishes. Now, our dishes weren’t terribly expensive, but many of them were gifts for our wedding. They are precious to us beyond price, because they remind us of that beautiful day and the people who gave them to us.
Our most recent move, here to Longview, has been a little different. All of our dishes are still in boxes. We don’t know how many we broke. Because Danny gets into the cupboards and breaks things, we’re trying to preserve those last few dishes we have. And so, until we find a long-term home for him, we’re eating off of paper plates or getting takeout. I’ve bought some cheap pots and pans for when I need to cook, but most of our kitchen goods are still boxed up—not being used.
Wedding gifts are beautiful, because they often provide a young couple with some needed start-up capital for that riskiest of ventures, life. They are also beautiful, because of how they bind us together with the people we love. People give us gifts because they love us and want to make us happy.
I mention gift-giving this morning, because today is the Day of Pentecost. With the first disciples, we are gathered together in one place, waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit. And then, all of a sudden, that Spirit falls with a violent rush of wind and tongues of fire. And he equips us to go out and share Jesus with other people—with every family, race, language, and nation, beginning at Jerusalem.
Sometimes, we can get distracted by the wilder gifts of the Spirit. This story seems a bit extravagant, given what we know in our worship. The neo-Pentecostal movement stresses gifts like speaking in tongues and supernatural healings. For many of us, gifts like these are inconsistent with our lived experience of the Faith. We hear people talking about them, and we feel left out in the cold, because our experience isn’t like that.
I am convinced that one of the chief things the Spirit does is to open us up to the many, many other gifts God has for us. Indeed, the Spirit is “the one Gift, in whom all God’s other gifts are given.” Writing to the Corinthians, Paul says that “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” It’s never a question whether we’ve been given any gifts. The question is always “Which gifts has God given us?” In baptism, we are filled with the Spirit, who makes us Christ’s Body in the world. And God distributes his gifts among the Body, so that we can all bear witness to Jesus alive.
God gives us the Holy Spirit to equip us for the work of ministry. Paul mentions some gifts that few of us have—like working miracles or speaking in tongues. We forget that there are often quite ordinary forms of every spiritual gift. Wisdom, for example, might have to do with insight into human hearts and the mysteries of God. We can get that by living our lives faithfully and time spent in prayer. Knowledge might include disciplines we perceive as “secular,” as well as our knowledge of the Scriptures. It might even mean knowing how to lay a tile floor on a mission trip, or how to facilitate an important meeting or comfort a friend. Discernment might mean good, sound judgment, informed by listening to God and to other people. Prophecy might mean truthful speech with personal integrity, speech that is willing to speak the truth (even when it’s costly) and to strive for the righteousness of God. Healing might come through prayer, but it might also come through healthcare professionals and the kindness we show to other people. There are other gifts too. In another letter, Paul mentions such gifts as service, teaching, exhortation, generosity, diligence, compassion, and leadership.
But the most important gift of all, as Paul reminds us in 1Corthinans 13—the highest gift of God is love. And I’ve seen that love at work here at Trinity. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have said “yes” to the call to serve God here with you. In Romans, Paul tells us that the Spirit “helps us in our weakness.” Paul also tells us that “the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that’s been given to us.” With God’s love living inside us, we have all the gifts we need.
God’s love in action. That’s a perfect description for the mission of the Church. The Spirit’s chief work is to help us follow Jesus together—and to share his love with our neighbors. That means putting all God’s other gifts in the service of his love, so that we might fulfill his mission.
Now, for the past fourteen months or so, the Spirit has been alive and at work here at Trinity. He might seem to be hidden away, but he is at work here. The Holy Spirit has been helping us to adapt to some very difficult circumstances. We’ve sought to stay connected with each other, to make our worship available online, to keep other ministries going in modified forms, and to lay the foundation for the hard work we will have to do together as we regather the church on the other side of Covid. We’ve added a new roof. We’ve hired a new Head of School. We’ve called a second priest, reorganized our ministries, and prepared to sell real estate if we need to. We’ve made some adjustments to our plans. And we have sought the wisdom of the Holy Spirit as we have done so.
And yet, so many of our gifts remain dormant—like our dishes boxed up in the garage, gathering dust. I am convinced (and your Vestry agrees) that it is time to enter the final phase of regathering Trinity Church. It is time to respond to the movement of the Spirit and get ready for the next chapter of our life together. And it will take all of us, working together—allowing God to breathe new life into our dry bones and help his Body come to life in this place. Over the summer, we’re going to continue to make adjustments. With grateful hearts, we are expecting bold new ventures in mission. In terms of how we gather, we aim to return quickly to a new normal. But there can never be a return to business as usual. That’s not how the Holy Spirit works.
This afternoon, I will be sending out notice of some new policies that will reopen up our building for this holy work in many, many ways. In response to the latest guidelines from Bishop Doyle, your Vestry and I have been engaging in a serious conversation this week about what comes next for Trinity and how we gather for worship, fellowship, formation, and service. What we’ve come to is a compromise that tries to meet the needs of both those who are ready to regather without masks and social distancing and those who need or want to maintain a measure of both these things. As I mentioned, a more complete description will come out by email this afternoon and in the June edition of the Trumpet, which is going out early this week.
But here’s the meat of it. Here’s the most important things you need to know. Effective next Sunday, it will be possible, for those who are ready, to worship without masks or socially distancing. Because we are not all ready to do this, we do expect that everyone will continue to respect the personal space of other people. In addition, there will be a special seating area for those who need or want to keep their distance. We will continue to keep more extensive restrictions in place at our Wednesday service, and we may provide other opportunities as well for those who need them. We are planning to reopen our Wednesday night fellowship and our Tuesday morning Bible study. (We’re going back to the Grizzly. We’re going to be in person again.) And we’ve made provision for church groups and other groups that use our facilities to gather here as a base for mission in the world.
I believe that the Holy Spirit is hovering over the Church, just as he hovered over the waters in creation. He is God’s powerful Spirit, who equips us for the mighty works of God’s Kingdom. The Spirit is the Lord and giver of life, the very Breath of God who spoke by the prophets.
And, when he comes, he often comes in simple, humble ways, as well as the loud and noisy ones. Often, in unexpected ways, he comes. And he equips the whole Body for service, just as God provides. Now we must unbox our gifts and start to use them. (We must risk chipping a few dishes even. No more paper plates for us.) As the Spirit lives and breathes within us, with sighs too deep for words, new life will come into Trinity and our ministries. The Spirit will fill us like a mighty wind from God.
Listen to these words from Paul: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God (the same God) who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Think about that. Pray about that. What gifts has God given you? How can you put them in service to the Kingdom?
Come, Holy Spirit! Come, renew your Church. Renew your Church around the world. Renew your Church, right here and right now.
Come, Holy Spirit! Come!