"ever-expanding circles of grace"
This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached on Pentecost, May 23, 2021 - St. Luke's first worship service in their new worship space. [Note: the congregation occupying the building at 4301 Meadowbroook Drive is not an Episcopal Church affiliated with The Episcopal Church.]
May 23, 2021
Karen A. Calafat+
I have felt a bit like Dorothy this week. You know, Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz -- blown to and fro, occupying a strange land, trying to find something that feels like home. I think we could all be good companions with Dorothy and her friends, the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow.
The winds of change have surely been relentless the past several months, the past year plus, really. Many of us are struggling to come out of a Covid pandemic fog. Others are reeling from the unfavorable litigation results that, like Dorothy, have knocked our foundation out from under us and landed us in a strange land. Then there is the ongoing
tornadic activity of racism across our country and before our eyes on a daily basis. We might feel Dorothy’s words, “We aren’t in Kansas anymore!”
I can’t help but think that those disciples gathered on that Pentecost described in Acts must have been feeling some of this same disorientation that we are experiencing. Now, Pentecost was nothing new to them because as faithful Jews, Pentecost was one of the major pilgrimages of their faith. The Book of Leviticus describes Pentecost, which was originally a harvest festival observed on the 50th day after Passover. There are detailed instructions about the way the harvest is to be conducted and the way offerings are to be made to God. It was essentially a tithe of the harvest, giving to God 10% of the profits. But there is more to the harvest as well. God’s instruction was for the farmers to harvest only so close to the edges of the fields, leaving a portion untouched for others – for those who didn’t own land or have harvests of their own. Out of thanksgiving for God’s presence with them, delivering them from slavery and providing them a promised land, they fed those who were struggling. The Book of Ruth is usually read during Jewish Pentecost because of its emphasis on caring for the lost and for those on the fringes, as well as welcoming outsiders into the faith family.
An additional focus of Pentecost was the celebration of God giving the Torah. There is a rabbinic tradition that says when the Ten Commandments were given, it was with a single sound, but the sound went forth and divided into seven voices and then seventy tongues, so that every people heard the law in their own language.
This sounds similar to the Pentecost the disciples experienced after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. People from foreign lands gathered together in one place. The Holy Spirit showed up and all kinds of strangeness broke loose. People were suddenly fluent in foreign languages and those from far lands and other cultures felt right at home as their language was spoken and understood. It must have been a perplexing experience all the way around as the Spirit fell upon them and moved through them. The Spirit moved through the first disciples – Jewish disciples and Gentile; male disciples and female; rich and poor; slave and free; old and young. The Holy Spirit flowed through everyone without discrimination, without judgment. The Spirit empowered those first disciples to proclaim the Good News of God’s love through Jesus Christ – crucified and resurrected! The Holy Spirit moved in and through those disciples and empowered them for mission. You might say our presence here in this place today is a direct result of that same Pentecost Spirit. That same Holy Spirit flows in and through you today – you gathered in this one place today.
Theologian Bruce Epperly says, “The Spirit’s “intention is always the creation of wise, compassionate, and healthy people and communities.” That is certainly what St. Luke’s is – what you are – “a wise, compassionate and healthy community.”
Epperly continues, “Peter’s sermon… describes God’s embrace of all the people of the earth and enjoins us to cross every boundary to fulfill our role as God’s partners in healing the world. The Pentecost(al) church … embraces diversity in all its many forms. This is what it means to be church, for Pentecost – to be unity in diversity, moving outward in ever-expanding circles of grace.” I love that! That’s the church I want to be part of: a church that is “moving outward in ever-expanding circles of grace!” That is why I love St. Luke’s. You live into ever-expanding circles of grace -- in your faith and in your actions.
We are one and many in God’s ever-surprising Spirit.
Dr. Christine Valters Paintner, a Benedictine Oblate says, “Pentecost is a story of the courage that comes from breaking established boundaries. Life is not about knowing with more and more certainty. Life is about moving more deeply into the mystery of things.”
I would say we are pretty deep in the throes of mystery right now, discerning the future for our church and mission. Like Dorothy, we are searching for that place called “home.”
Together, we will find our way forward. We have everything we need to do that because of the Spirit that shows up with us week after week, empowering, enlightening, encouraging. We may lack awareness at times, but we really have everything we need.
You recall the Scarecrow in search of a brain, the Cowardly Lion in search of courage, and the Tin Man in search of a heart. And what happened in the end? They all discovered they already had what they were searching for.
What St. Luke’s needs is already here, in and through each one of you, the Holy Spirit lives. That Spirit is present in your unconditional welcome of all God’s children; in your choice “to be about the loving and leave the judging to God.” The Holy Spirit empowers your generosity and care for those in need, especially those in need of food. The Spirit flows through your gifts – gifts of music and song; finance and organization, creativity and worship; in your hospitality, service and leadership.
On Pentecost, we remember the power and presence of God’s Spirit. We may live in times of mystery and unknowing, but the Spirit always shows up right on time – not usually our time, but in God’s economy, right on time. So as we move through the mystery of our current circumstance, remember you already have what is needed – you have the heart, the mind and the courage that makes you St. Luke’s - that makes you bearers of the Good News of God’s love for all! Like Dorothy, we are on a grand adventure where we will learn a lot along the way, and by the guiding of the Spirit, we will find home.