“Finding God in the ordinary”

“Finding God in the ordinary”

A Sermon for the
Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 23, 2019

Green at Trinity in Easton 2018

There is always a bit of surprise in coming into church this day and seeing green. After all, it has literally been months since we have seen this color. And in those cold days before the beginning of Lent, it was a color that we did not see much of outside in nature. Now, at the beginning of summer we see lots of green-in grass, in trees, in hedges—and in the abundance of flowering plants and bushes. It is, sadly, a color which we have come to take for granted. We see so much of it everywhere that it just becomes routine, even common, and ordinary.

In some liturgical traditions the word “ordinary” is used to describe these days after Pentecost. Originally it did not mean ordinary as we understand the word in daily use. It was derived from the Latin “ordinatus” or “ordo” meaning “counted” or “arranged.” For instance, today is called the “Second Sunday after Pentecost.” Thus it is a counted Sunday. Each of the Sundays and weeks which follow until the end of the Liturgical year will be counted in that order. And then a new liturgical year will begin with the Season of Advent.

I suppose that I prefer “Ordinary” to “After Pentecost” for two reasons. The first is that it gives the hint of an explanation as to what this Season is all about. It is about what happened in the life of the Church following the incredible drama of Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. After the Apostles recovered from the shock of all those momentous events, they found themselves living the new life in Jesus. It was in that daily reality of becoming the Jesus Movement that they found their ultimate meaning and purpose in life. It was in the proclaiming of the good news of Christ to the very ends of the earth that they found their ultimate mission. It was in going out and teaching, preaching, baptizing and celebrating the Sacramental Life that they welcomed so many others into the Household of God. That, they discovered, was the “new ordinary” ebb and flow of their life. As we saw in our readings today, this hardly seems ordinary to us. But more about that in a minute.

The second reason that I like the word ordinary is that it reminds us of a very significant reality. If we want to find God, we will need to do so where we are. Everything around us has the possibility of revealing God’s presence, love and grace. But to find and experience that presence we will have to take the time to really see our current and ordinary reality. We will literally have to take time to “stop and smell the roses” which are all around us. Otherwise we will be so busy that we do not even notice God’s loving and empowering presence all around us—and in us.

How is it even possible to find God? The first step in this process is to have the mindset of someone who is looking for God. That description of the quest or search for God is at the heart of the monastic vocation. Saint Benedict, in the Holy Rule suggests that the person who is called by God and responds is one who is “truly seeking God.”  The Holy Rule is a guide for the Christian Life, as St. Benedict calls it, a “School of the Lord’s Service.” As such it has meaning and value, not only to monastics, but to anyone who wishes to deepen their relationship with God. I would even go so far as to say that the guidance which it offers is of value to the whole Jesus movement. After all, it has been proven over more than 1500 years as a reliable way to progress in love and faith on the road which leads to union with God.

If we plan then, at each moment which comes to us in the course of the day, to look for and to find God, we may be sure that we will discover amazing things all around us.

The prophet Elijah gives us an excellent insight into the quest for God. It would be hard to imagine greater drama than witnessing the calling down of fire from heaven. To drive home the point that the God of Israel was far from ordinary, Elijah had a moat dug around the altar of sacrifice and covered the sacrifice on the altar with so much water that it even filled the moat to overflowing. Talk about monsoon season. Everything was so wet that it seemed impossible for fire to even ignite the sodden mess. Yet, when the Man of God prayed, the unexpected occurred. Such a mighty blaze erupted that the sacrifice was consumed, the altar was consumed, and the flames even dried up the water in the moat. One might have been deceived into thinking that this was the real presence of God.

Elijah quickly learned, though, that this was not the final answer in his quest for God. From this moment of victory the tables were quickly turned. Everything unraveled and came undone. The prophet left this moment of unbelievable success—a “mountaintop experience” and ran away into the wilderness. Queen Jezebel was not happy that Elijah had interfered with her agenda. And so, she put a contract on his life. She offered a huge reward for anyone who would bring her Elijah “dead or alive,” and preferably dead. Elijah thought that this was it. He went into hiding and found himself in a cave. From the sounds of his conversation with God, it appears that Eliah was not happy. After all, he had done what God asked and was looking for a happy ending. He thought that God would work everything out according to the “Elijah plan.” When that did not happen, he was confused, shocked, disappointed, and perhaps angry. Interestingly enough, Elijah was also brave enough to “give God a piece of his mind.”

In that cave, though, God opened Elijah’s eyes to see God’s presence in a completely unexpected way. God was not present in all the drama outside the cave. God was not present in the earthquake or in the tornado, or in the inferno—no, God was present in the silence of the cave. That was more than enough to convince Elijah. He realized that God was not finished with him. His career was not over. God had plans for Elijah which could only be fulfilled if he had the courage to leave the cave and go back into the world. God would be with him every step of the journey. Not even the wealth and power of Jezebel would get in the way of God’s plan.  And so, in that moment of seeming defeat, Elijah moved on—trusting in God—to the greatest victory. He saw an astonishing reversal. The mighty were cast down from their thrones and the poor were lifted up. God’s justice was restored.

Another discovery which we make in the readings today, is that the “ordinary” includes everyone. Saint Paul makes that clear to us in the Letter to the Church in Galatia. For my money, the most surprising and powerful words which Paul ever wrote are contained in the passage we heard today: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Wow! To God, none of the things which we humans spend so much time and energy worrying about matter. God is no respecter or persons. In God’s eyes every person, created in the image and likeness of God, is sacred. How sad that we spend so much time focusing on differences.

This is the very antithesis of the good news. It means that we look for ways to discriminate, and to determine who is or is not worthy of God’s love and acceptance. It means that we intentionally set about to exclude anyone who is different from us or who does not live up to our expectations. With God it is just the opposite. There are no binaries—them or us—male or female—rich or poor—heterosexual or LGBTQI—domestic or foreign—”red or yellow, black or white,” or brown. In fact, all those “differences” are just superficial. They are ultimately not important. The things which we share in common are far more important, meaningful and significant. Each variety offers something unique, special, and precious—something which we desperately need.

In God, In Jesus, there is a new creation. God is at work in the life and heart of every single person—without exception. The call to love and to serve God really means that, among other things, we are called to find God in every single person whom we encounter. Truth be told, we are more likely to find God in people we do not like, do not want to be with, who are different from us, and who challenge our basic notions of how things are supposed to be. Saints have told us that if we do not find God in the beggar on the street, we are unlikely to find God in the Sacrament on the altar. But how? By recognizing the inherent dignity and worth of the “other.” By speaking with them openly and honestly. By allowing them to teach us from their experience and knowledge. And by believing that in their presence and in their story, God has something to say to us.

It is no mistake that our Lord tells us that in reaching out to those who are in need, we minister to him. We must be concerned about the poor and needy. We must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minister to the widow and orphan, and visit those in prison. We must work to break down barriers which separate and divide. We must work for justice—to end oppression, injustice, abuse and exploitation. We must work to preserve God’s beautiful creation so that there will be enough resources for everyone to have what they need. And, for us to be surrounded by wonder and beauty which reveal the love with which God has placed us in this garden and entrusted it to our care.

We find God, then, all around us. We find God in the beauty of creation. We find God in other people—and especially in the vulnerable, weak and needy. We find God in the oppressed, and those who are discriminated against—for any reason. We find God when we gather in Community. We find God in Holy Scripture, and in Sacrament.  We have thousands of opportunities to find God each and every day.

The prophet Elijah, though, gives us a final insight. If ever there is a moment in which we do not know where to begin to find God, let us enter into silence. There, as we think, and reflect, and pray, we are sure to find God. It will be in the common and ordinary that, like Elijah, we have the most powerful and transformative experience of God.

Today I am not preaching in community, And so, this is a sermon which God thought I needed to hear.

Elijah in the cave--small whisper

“The first time I was accused of heresy.”

“The first time I was accused of heresy.”

A Sermon for the Feast of Trinity Sunday
June 16, 2019

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Holy Trinity Graphic

When I was in college at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, I served as the President of Catholic Campus Ministry. Not bad for someone who had only been Roman Catholic for a few years! I had spent most of my life as a Southern Missionary Baptist and had only been exposed to the Roman Catholic Church a few years previously, when I was selected to attend the Governor’s School, West, at Salem College, in old Salem. I fell in love with the Catholic Liturgy, though, and in my final year in high school made my profession of faith and was Confirmed.

Although the beauty of the Eucharist—I had never experienced this kind of liturgy previously, and honestly had no idea that anything like this even existed—was the thing which first lured me in, it was my discovery of theology which most captivated me and engaged me. Although I came from an intellectually inquisitive family, the church in which I was raised was decidedly anti-intellectual (they were also unabashedly anti-Sacramental, but that is another story). For instance, one of the great heroes was a preacher who had been illiterate until he received the “call to be a minister of the Gospel.” His wife taught him to read and write. There was a real fear of “too much education,” and the very concept of seminary would have been anathema. This preacher, it was believed, received his knowledge from God, and not from humans. As a result, the idea was that his preaching was not contaminated by human thinking and reasoning. It was “dabitur vobis” theology in its purest form. (As an aside, I was closely related to both the preacher and to his wife).

I recall being shocked, at the age of 17 to have been introduced, for the first time, to the dogma of the Trinity. It is entirely possible that I may have heard the word. But I actually doubt that I would have known what it meant. I say that because I recall being stunned! The Church in which I was raised primarily talked about Jesus, or more commonly, “The Lord.” There were occasional references to God (as in “God the Father,”) and even rarer ones to the Holy Ghost. The great irony was that the Baptists of my childhood were afraid that people might accidentally mistake them for Pentecostals, or “Holy Rollers.” And so, there was always more than a bit of apprehension if anyone started sharing too much about the role of the Holy Ghost in their lives. The one thing which would NEVER have ben tolerated was glossolalia or “speaking in tongues.” I suspect that the taking up of serpents might have been more acceptable than that.

The only time that I ever recall hearing a reference to what I later learned was the Trinity was at baptism, “We baptize this our brother in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” Had I asked about the use of the Trinitarian formula, though, I suspect that people would have looked at me like I had two heads. Actually, that was not an uncommon experience for me. They never quite knew what to make of me. Even so, there were so many who loved me and accepted me—even though I confused them regularly.

Leaving aside the Baptist experience, though, and getting back to ASU, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte had an amazing retreat program for college students. It was called “Encounters with Christ.” I do not know where the program originated. I suspect that it ultimately had a connection to Cursillo, and may well have come from some larger diocese.

Encounters with Christ served two amazing purposes. Perhaps the most important was that it gave interested Roman Catholic students the opportunity to bond. Aa a time in which Roman Catholics were still a small minority in North Carolina–and still experienced hostility and persecution–it gave us a chance to be in a loving, supportive, and affirming environment. In those times together, we really became a family. We did not have to be ashamed of our faith or to be defensive. No one was going to attack us or make fun of us when we were together. There was also an interesting cultural and socio-economic dynamic. Most of the students were either from “the North,” or else their families were. And so, it was a gathering of “Yankees.” I, of course, was fascinated, because I learned from them what it had been like to grow up and to live in places where “we” were in the majority.

We were all in college, and I suspect that I was the only farm boy in the group. Most of them came from families which, on Beech Mountain, would have been considered “well to do.” And so their life-experience was quite different from what I had known. As I came to know a number of the families, I was introduced to wonderful things like “gravy,” “kielbasi,” and tiramisu.

The other amazing thing which this retreat did, though, was to provide opportunities for leadership and for evangelization. It was intentionally designed around a group of themes which had real-life application for college students. On a given weekend, there might be ten presentations. Half were given by the Campus Ministers from the various colleges in the Diocese (in those days there were two Roman Catholic Colleges: Belmont Abbey and Sacred Heart College—all others were either state schools or affiliated with some Protestant denomination).

The other half of the presentations were given by college students. For many of them, this was the first time that they had ever publicly spoken about their faith. Almost all of them shared openly about their own personal experience of God. It was not uncommon for them to share about how they had not really been interested in faith in their childhood and adolescence. But in college, that had all changed. Perhaps it came from having others ask probing questions about their faith. In other cases, they had just been lonely and had started going to Mass again. A few brave souls started attending Campus Ministry (there was always a free meal-often home cooked by parishioners). And before they knew it, they were more active than they had ever expected to be. I have often wondered what happened with those friends? It would be quite interesting to learn how their lives have turned out.

In my Junior year in college, I was on the team which planned the retreat. As a result, I was part of the “test audience .” The students who were going to be speaking at the retreat had to first present their talk to us. Afterwards, we gave them constructive feedback to help them refine and improve their talk. It also meant that they were not speaking for the first time to the large group. They had already had the opportunity to share once. And so, it made them less anxious. I realize now that it also gave the Campus Ministers a “heads up” about what they were going to hear at the retreat. I do not think that there was “censorship” but do occasionally remember the Campus Ministers making helpful suggestions.

I was deeply touched by one of the young speakers. He was a Senior at Belmont Abbey College and was a theology major. He shared with us his ultimate desire to become a Benedictine monk and a priest. Not only did he speak eloquently about the way in which he had experienced God in the Eucharist and in the Divine Office (which he was able to attend with the monks at Belmont), he also spoke of the ways that he had grown in love and knowledge of God through his study of theology. This was all new to me and excited me and frightened me at the same time. It was, perhaps, the planting of that first seed which ultimately led to my own decision, a few years later, to “seek God” in the monastery.

My hope was that this neophyte and I could become friends. And so, I wrote him a letter telling how much I had been touched by his presentation and asking him for prayer as I discerned my own sense of calling and vocation. To my disappointment, he wrote back a very curt and dismissive response. In it he accused me of heresy! He said that my comments about God, in the letter, had been condemned by at least one of the Ecumenical Councils (or perhaps more). Sadly, I no longer recall which heresy it was? Modalism? Subordinationism? I lacked the “theological sophistication” to even understand what he was saying. I was really hurt. But, I was also curious and wanted to know more. Was this a reason for going to seminary? Who knows. But, I have never forgotten the hurt that went along with receiving that letter.

Those who have studied theology are often leery of saying too much about the Trinity. We recognize how easy it is in “unscripted comments” to make casual remarks which we later realize to have been “heretical.” Later in life, I have come to think that may not be such a bad thing, after all. An Adrian Domincan Sister once told me “Every good sermon contains a little heresy.” That may well be true. And since most of us are not going to be professional theologians, I don’t even think that is something we should even spend any time worrying about. St. Anselm said that “theology is faith seeking understanding.” As I wrestle trying to make sense of my faith, I have to use the language and categories which I have. As I struggle to articulate my feeble understanding of the indescribable and incomprehensible, I will no doubt do so in a limited and flawed and paltry way. But, if the alternative is to say nothing, and by so doing fail to give witness to the love and empowerment which I have experienced by being connected to the Triune God, I will speak from the heart and allow others to “clean up the mess” which follows.

God really does have a funny sense of humor! The second Sunday following my ordination as a priest, I returned to Boone, to my home parish of Saint Elizabeth of the Hill Country, for a Mass of Thanksgiving. It was Trinity Sunday. I was the preacher. The Pastor was a Jesuit!

Thankfully, in seminary, I had been forced to read an amazing article by the German theologian Karl Rahner. The very mystifying and confusing title was something like “On the ontology of the Symbol.” It turned out to be one of the most helpful and thought-provoking theological works I ever read! As best I recall, Rahner said something like “for any reality to be real, present, and effective, if has to reach out beyond itself in love.” He then went on to say that this was as true of God as of anyone or anything else. If God had remained “self-contained,” God would not have been real, present or effective. From all eternity, God is love. That generative powerful love reached out-and thus was the eternal Son begotten before time and before creation. The Son, in turn, loved the Father-totally, absolutely and without limitation. The reciprocal and life-giving love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. For the first time, the Trinity became not just a dogma for me, but an invitation to enter into, to be transformed by, and to become a small conduit of God’s love. This is what I shared at that Mass. The Jesuit approved—no one said anything about heresy! Talk about feeling relieved afterwards.

The Church seems very wise, to me, to conclude the Easter Season with one last Sunday in which we celebrate the Holy and undivided Trinity. Next Sunday we will return to “ordinary time,” and will change again to the color Green. But as we begin to follow the Apostles, fresh from Pentecost, headed out into the streets to carry the good news to the ends of the earth, we will do so knowing that they do so in the “name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

In the final commission in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus made this clear to them: “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 16-20).

For those of us in the liturgical traditions, it is second nature to begin every prayer with the Trinitarian words “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We end many prayers the same way “We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.” And for those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours, we so often pray the doxology: “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” That daily invocation of the Trinity can not help but have an effect in our lives. But may this prayer be transformed to enable us in every context in which we find ourselves to become truly real, present and effective.

With all our hearts, with all our minds, with all that we have and are may we truly pray, “Glory to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–from this time forward, now, and always, to the end of the ages. Amen.

Final note: Since I am not preaching in a parish today, I had the freedom to focus on the day, rather than on the Scriptures. A heresy? Perhaps. But this is where God led me.

“If you’ll say this is for me, you shall be filled.”

“If you’ll say this is for me, you shall be filled.”

A sermon for the Day of Pentecost
June 9, 2019

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life
to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy
Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the
preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the
earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.


This beautiful banner is the work of artist Patti Pasda
and hangs in the nave of Trinity Episcopal Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

This weekend I am not preaching. For some time I have considered the option of trying to write a sermon each week, whether I am preaching or not. But, until now, I have not acted on that impulse.

I do find myself in an interesting situation. Each Wednesday, I am honored to preach at the Weekday Eucharist at 11:30 a.m. where I work at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bethlehem. I try to make those sermons very short—no more than five minutes or so. They are a fascinating connection for me to those years that I served as a Roman Catholic priest. The homily plays a different role there. Early on, I came to the realization that, unless it is a very special occasion, the typical Roman Catholic congregation was willing to accept a length of one hour for Mass. Anything more than that was going to make some unhappy—and drive some away. So, that meant that the homily could not normally go beyond 8-10 minutes. Over a period of many years, I learned to work with that limitation.

With two or three exceptions, I never wrote the homily out in advance. And, it became easy to tell when the congregation was growing tired—and to know that it was time to “wrap things up.” From my own personal sense of the liturgy, I believed then—and still believe now—that the actions which recalled the words of Jesus and his own example were far more important than any words I had to offer. So, I invested more time in being a good presider at Eucharist than in being a good preacher.

The Sunday Episcopal Liturgy is another matter. To my delight, Episcopalians seem to operate more on the model of an hour and a half. The joy of that is that there really is no rush. This allows the preacher, and I would imagine, the priest presiding at the Eucharist to be more relaxed. There is no sense that the clock is ticking. It also means that the expectations are higher. I do not really thing that I spend any more time in preparing Episcopal Sermons than I did in preparing Roman Catholic homilies. The Episcopal ones are more polished—and developed in a different way. It seems that 15 minutes would be an appropriate length for an Episcopal sermon.

I have recently given all of this a good deal of thought and consideration, because this Summer, at Trinity in Easton, the preachers are also leading a discussion in the Forum each Sunday. When asked about this, I thought it was a wonderful idea and a great opportunity. Whenever, I have led Bible Study classes in the past, I have learned as much as I have shared. That really is the joy of exploring the Holy Scriptures—Hebrew and Christian in community. There are always new insights gained. Others see things that I do not see. And, at times my own ideas are challenged or validated. Both of which are very good things! In such sessions, I often feel the presence of God. Of course, it takes a willingness to be vulnerable for those studies to be successful. Especially if the participants share their own life-experiences, that means that they have to be unafraid to open up and let people know sometimes very personal things about themselves. I think that is also true of the preacher. The sermons which have moved me most powerfully are ones in which I have connected with the hurts, pains, struggles, and joys of the preacher.

Pentecost, provides a wonderful experience, I think, to reflect on the role and power of the spoken and preached word in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. Our Presiding Bishop and Primate, the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry has shared two vital ideas which have had a powerful impact on my own spiritual life.

The first is “If it’s not about love, it is not about God.” I am convinced that the single greatest longing of every human heart is to be loved. Nothing else is even remotely as important as this. When it happens, that love is truly transformative, empowering and life-changing. Sadly, not everyone has had an experience of being loved. Many people have been hurt, wounded, and feel un-loved. Their experiences have led them, in some cases, to feel that they are not loved. Even, at times to fear that they might be unlovable. They feel flawed, broken, and rejected. They have given up on any hope of every finding love or of being beloved.

This has been so devastating for them that they have withdrawn from life and find themselves existing rather than living. This is especially true of people who have been rejected for who they are. People of Color, people from other parts of the world, those who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, or Intersex, and those who suffer from various addictions know this all to well. At the very core of their wounded souls is either the fear that “if they really knew me, they would not love me.” Or else, they have been made to fear that they are “less” and not “deserving” of love. Bishop Curry’s message, though, is that God is primarily about love rather than judgement. And, God loves very single person who lives, who ever lived, or who will live. That is the message of hope which needs to be proclaimed. If someone listens to a sermon or homily and does not hear the good news that God loves them—that sermon or homily may be about many wonderful things, but is it about God?

The second important idea is that the Church is really nothing more-or nothing less-than the Jesus Movement! If it is not about Jesus, it is not about the authentic church. That does not mean that we have nothing else to say—or that we have the only answer. It does mean that in Jesus we have found an answer that makes sense to us. An answer that gives value, meaning, and purpose to our lives—as individuals, and as a community of faith. Seen in that light, every single action of the church must be evaluated in light of one question: “Does this lead people closer to an encounter with the loving, healing, saving, and life-giving Jesus?” If not, it may be interesting, and even important, But it will never be essential.

Sadly, we have allowed the fundamentalists to co-opt talking about Jesus. We are afraid that if we do too much of that, we will be thought of as “fanatics.” There has been so much hurt and pain caused by allowing others to hijack and distort the loving message of Our Lord, that there is no time to waste in introducing others to the real Jesus. A Jesus who loved unconditionally, who welcomed everyone, who served the needs that he saw in each person without ever stopping to ask what it would cost him. A Jesus who loved us so much that he endured the passion and crucifixion and the experience of death—not to show us that he suffered to take away sin—but to show that God’s love can never be halted or overcome by hatred or prejudice or cruelty or violence. That love is made especially clear in the power of the Resurrection and in the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

It raises the question, then, “How do I come to encounter and to know this Jesus?” How can I experience that limitless and transforming love? Although I have had amazing personal experiences of God—of Jesus—in moments of prayer and solitude, my primary and most powerful experiences of God’s love have come in the gatherings of community of the Jesus Movement. To be very specific—I have found and find God through the Sacraments.

In Baptism, I was claimed and sealed as Christ’s own for ever! I was made a member of the household and family of faith. In Confirmation I was empowered to become an evangelist for Christ—not like the televangelists or even the local preachers in a tent revival. But like every Confirmed Christian, I was anointed with the Holy Spirit—as was Jesus—to be a witness in the world of the reality and power of God’s love. In the Holy Eucharist I received the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ—the “bread of heaven” and the “cup of salvation.” I was invited to become the reality I consumed—to allow it to transform me and to then carry that presence of Christ into the world. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a successor of the Apostles laid hands on me and invoked the power of the Holy Spirit giving me a sharing in the Ministerial Priesthood of Jesus Christ, as a Deacon, and as a Priest—to build up the Jesus Movement in conjunction with Bishops in whose dioceses I served—and with the women and men in whose parishes I exercised that ministry. At moments of illness-physical, emotional, and spiritual, I received healing and restored wholeness through the Sacraments of the Anointing of the Sick and the Reconciliation of a Penitent. Until now, God has not gifted me with a husband, and so I have not joined with another in Holy Matrimony. If that is part of God’s plan for me, I welcome it. And, if not, I will be accept that too.

Today, though, I want to say a few more words about Confirmation. For me, Confirmation, is about empowerment. Jesus told his disciples that when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they would receive “power.” To me, it seems obvious that they did not have power! There was something missing, something lacking in their lives. One reading of the texts would suggest that they might have already been baptized, and after that Final Supper/Seder, some claim that they had even been ordained. But before the day of Pentecost they were hiding out in fear in that upper room. After the power of the Spirit came upon them, they became fearless, public witnesses and preachers of God’s love on the streets of Jerusalem—and ultimately to the ends of the earth.

This was not a simple liturgical rite showing that they were now adult Christians. This was not a rite of passage. This was an explosion that rocked them to the core of their being—and which literally changed the history of the world. The Jesus movement was born on the day of Pentecost. Without the power of the Spirit the followers of Jesus would have returned to their old way of living with conflicting emotions. They would never have become the Apostles on whose witness, teaching, and ministry, the Church was built.

It is no mistake that we have been introduced to the idea of “Gifts of the Spirit.” Especially in the writings of Saint Paul. But we often make the mistake of thinking that those gifts only apply to a few people—certainly not to us! Another traditional approach was to speak of the seven “Gifts of the Holy Spirit”—these clearly are intended for each of us: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Without saying anything about the particular gifts, one way to understand them is that they give us everything that is needed each day to accomplish God’s will in our lives. That is something which Baptism does not give!

In the first year after I was ordained as a priest, I served a year in a parish in North Central Pennsylvania. During that year, I was invited to lead a retreat for a group of High School Students who were preparing for Confirmation. They were wonderful young women and men. And, they took this very seriously! Yet, it was clear to me that, after listening, to them, that they really did not expect that it was going to make much of a difference in their lives. They thought it would be a nice day—and some were looking forward to spending time with relatives that they had not seen in a while. All of them had done many hours of service in preparation for Confirmation. For a few of them, it meant that they were finally going to be finished with catechesis and classes (they were honest enough to admit that). A few of them were not really sure how active they were going to be about Church afterwards. They were finally going to be able to make that decision for themselves when they went away to college the next year!

I honestly felt sad! They expected so very little to come at and after Confirmation. Really, it was not their own fault. No one had ever told them that there was another possibility. There was the possibility that they could have an experience of the Holy Spirit like that which had happened to the Apostles and the Disciples gathered in that upper room. Who was to say that there could not be a mighty rushing wind and tongues of flame or even the gift of tongues? Even if that did not visibly happen, they could have such a powerful experience of God that their lives would be changed forever!

What prevented this from happening? One possibility, I think, is that God will not give us more than we are willing to accept. God is a gentle person. God will not come into our lives uninvited and unwelcome. But, if God is invited and welcomed—anything is possible! All things are possible! Pentecost in the here and now is possible!

There is a lovely Pentecostal hymn which I learned in traveling through the mountains of Eastern Kentucky one summer: “You shall be filled with the power of the Spirit. You shall be filled with the anointing from on high. If you’ll say this is for me, you shall be filled.”

May prayer for all of us on this Day of Pentecost is that we will say “This is for me,” and that we will permit that power promised to us—and gifted to us–in the Sacrament of Confirmation to be unleashed!

I will conclude on a personal note. On June 6, 1991, in the crypt of the Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica, I presided at the Eucharist for the first time. It was the Vigil of Pentecost. That day I was empowered to serve as a priest in Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Thus, Pentecost will always be for me not only the Birthday of the church—but the day of my rebirth and empowerment for service. That in all things God may be glorified.

“Come Holy Spirit”

“Come Holy Spirit”

A sermon for the
Sunday after the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church
In Easton, Pennsylvania
June 2, 2019

Veni, Creator Spiritus,
mentes tuorum visita,
imple superna gratia
quae tu creasti pectora.

“Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our souls take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.”

We stand at a liminal moment-we stand at the threshold. We are caught between two realities and are in movement from one reality into another. We are challenged to let go of everything which we know, and which we think we know, and which we hope to know. We are called to surrender, to let go, and to trust. We do not really know what is coming, and yet, we are challenged to believe that even though it may not yet make any sense to us at all, what lies ahead has the possibility be even better than what we have known until now.

In any event, we do not have any choice. The decision has already been made for us. We can not do anything to change it. Events have transpired in a way that we did not want, did not expect, on which we did not plan, and over which we have no control. So, the only options left to us are either to fight against the inevitable or to somehow find a way to accept what is to come.

It really is like the experience of death. And we know all too well those confusing and conflicting emotions which come at the reality of death: hurt, anger, loss, disappointment, sadness, denial, pleading, bargaining and depression.

We are those followers of Jesus, hiding out in an upper room, fearing that, at any moment, someone is going to come knocking at the door, and haul us away to trial, to jail, to torture, and to death. We have run out of options, and possibilities. We are just exhausted. There is only one option-the option which Our Lord gave to us—the option of huddling together in our weakness and confusion—and praying.

The Sunday after the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ is, it seems to me, one of the most fascinating moments in the Church Calendar-in the “Year of Grace.” It seems to have a startling—even shocking—resemblance to Easter Saturday.

To remind us, Easter Saturday has been described as the most “real” day of the year. It is the day in which everything is reduced to the most basic reality. The events of Holy Week have largely concluded. The church is empty. The altar is stripped. There are no flowers, no decorations, nothing to cover up an overwhelming sense of loss and grief. Everything is revealed as it truly is. Nothing remains hidden!

The Lord has died! We gather at the tomb. There is not yet any hope of Resurrection-something which has not even occurred to us yet. Everything is revealed—nothing is hidden. There are no cosmetic cover-ups. There has been only a moment to catch our breath after the overwhelming horror of the crucifixion and the shock of death. There is just an abyss of grief, of loss and sadness.

Today was a similar day for the friends of Jesus. Following the joy of the Resurrection, they spent 40 days with the Lord. In that time they began to heal and to recover. They re-visited familiar sites and places which had been at the center of their experience of Jesus.

Perhaps, in their own minds, they began to plan and to hope. Perhaps they were like tender buds which begin to bloom-even at time when there is a danger of killing frost. The Lord told them that he would be leaving them again—and this time for good. Did they really believe him? Did they understand the words he said to them about a Comforter, a Paraclete, and Advocate who would be coming?

I doubt it. And now, they were alone again. For nine days they hid, and shivered, and wailed in that room. And they prayed. Something was coming, but they did not know what. Someone was coming, but they did not know who it was. Something would happen to change everything, but they did not know that yet. They had not experienced it–it would take them by surprise! It would shake them to the very core of their being. It would transform them, and empower them. It would complete what had already begun. It would be an explosion! It would be Power! And like any encounter with power, it would shock them! It would shake them!

It would energize them! It would give them the courage to run out in the streets and proclaim to everyone, everywhere, the good news—and even in languages which they did not know, did not understand and had never even heard before. It would make them so fearless that they did not care who wanted to arrest them or interrogate them or mistreat them. It would set them on fire. It would be the Holy Spirit falling on them with wind and fire. But it would not happen yet. This was not yet Pentecost, these were those long, frightening, and confusing days following the Ascension.

At this time, there was something which gave them hope. They reflected on those mysterious and often-confusing words which Jesus had spoken to them before his departure. Words of comfort, and hope and love. Words which, even though, they did not fully understand them, seemed to make a kind of sense. And, having no other option, they chose to cling to those words, to try to trust in them, and to risk hoping that they might be true.

We hear again, those words today from the Holy Gospel According to Saint John—from a passage which is called the “High Priestly Prayer.” In these words, Jesus prays for his friends. We are able to eavesdrop on that prayer and to hear what Jesus wanted and asked for on behalf of his his closest friends—of his chosen family. We hear what we wanted them to have, what he knew they most needed—what he wanted them to become, and to be.

“Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

What an astonishing prayer! Connect these people. Make them one. Unite them to you, help them to reconnect to me. Help them know love! So love them, so empower them, so illumine them, so enlighten them that they will be able to embody love. Make them such powerful and credible witnesses that they world will believe their message. Help the world to realize that I have sent them. And, while you are at it, bless everyone who will hear the message they proclaim. Open their ears to hear the message, their minds to comprehend the message, and their hearts to welcome the message and to give it a home. Help those hearers to be so transformed by that same love that they will be united in you and in me. And then send them out as well. To love, to proclaim, and to share. In this way, draw everyone to me-and to you.

What fascinating words we hear: love, glory. And elsewhere we heard that most amazing word: power. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

My dear friends, the Easter Season comes to a close. In just a few days, the Church will be born at Pentecost. The Jesus movement will begin! Our hearts will be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and we will become witnesses to the very ends of the earth. As we hope and long for the coming of that reality, let us pray. Let us unite in faith and in belief. Let us ask God, our Loving Parent, to send the Son into our hearts so that we can accomplish the mission which has been entrusted to us. “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”

If you remember it, I ask you now to join with me—in prayer—in the words of that first novena to the Holy Spirit. Let us pray:

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.
And kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And you will renew the face of the earth.

by the light of the Holy Spirit
you have taught the hearts of your faithful.
In the same Spirit
help us to relish what is right
and always rejoice in your consolation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.