A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, for Pentecost, June 9, 2019
In the name of the Holy Trinity: Creator, Savoir, and Giver of Life, Amen.
On Pentecost we celebrate the birth of the church and the gift of the Holy Spirit, who comes to empower us in our ministries. I believe the Holy Spirit is always blowing through our lives, we just need to listen to her whispers. Last Wednesday I had a couple of moments where I felt the Holy Spirit whisper a little more loudly, maybe even give me a nudge.
On Wednesday morning I took my 90 year old Dad back to Costco to replace his hearing aids that went missing. The audiologist put some special earphones over Dad’s ears, and had him sit down facing a speaker on the wall. Then she played an audio clip through the speaker. I could hear it, too.
There was a chorus of many voices speaking all different kinds of languages at the same time. It sounded just like the “Pentecostal sounds” we just heard when we read the Gospel together.
The audiologist said the audio clip is a compilation of voices and languages that includes all the sounds the human ear is designed to hear, and with the special earphones she could diagnose what my Dad was hearing and what he was missing.
As soon as she said that, I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me. When this happens (very occasionally) I stop, look, and listen. What was I supposed to notice?
As the week went on, I think The Holy Spirit was nudging me to think about: How do we listen to and hear God’s communication to us especially during a time of transition? How do we listen to the Holy Spirit so we can communicate God’s message of love to the world in our day?
My Dad left Costco saying I was talking way too loudly and he could understand so much more, which was a Holy Spirit moment of its own.
Our readings show us several approaches to this idea of listening to God’s voice and communicating God’s message.
The Genesis reading shows us the fascinating Tower of Babel story, which explains why there are different languages and different groups of people scattered all over the world, and the reason is telling. Though this story happens at the beginning of human history, I think it speaks pretty directly to us in the 21st century. Human beings became too full of them selves, and began to see themselves as becoming as powerful as God.
So God acts, and scatters the people and adds diversity to humanity. People have to learn how to communicate with each other anew, and unfortunately, it became unlikely that they would work together again. We’re struggling with the Babel event to this day.
One commentator I read this week says that our historic human response to the Babel event is the source of individualism, and a survival of the fittest mentality that’s so prevalent in our culture. The Babel event made us into “us” and “them,” which leads to individual and corporate sin.
That is not what God intended for us when God scattered everyone and caused us to speak different languages. God saw that if we were all the same we weren’t going to learn anything new. God wanted to challenge us to grow and mature into the people God formed us to be: like Christ. God wants us to love each other and build a world that embraces all humanity, and protects the beauty and diversity of God’s creation.
Throughout history, humanity has done a fairly poor job of listening to God’s intent, and living up to God’s plan for us. That’s why Christ came to live among us and teach us how to live, and reconcile us to God’s image.
Our Reading from Acts shows us the opposite of the Tower of Babel. When the Holy Spirit whooshes in she empowers the disciples to speak many different languages so that the scattered peoples are able to hear and understand the Gospel.
Diversity is honored, and embedded in that diversity there is one, unified message: God’s love is active and God wants us to share it.
The Pentecost story is about gathering many diverse peoples together under God’s flame of love, and sending us out to share it in many ways of expression.
When I first arrived at All Saints’ in February, I started to read Larry Holben’s history of All Saints’. As an Interim, it’s a pretty amazing to have a 400 page book about the history of the parish where I serve.
In his forward, Larry Holben writes about the way All Saints’ has been challenged to transform itself many times, and that embracing diversity has always been a strength of All Saints.’ In the 1950’s Father Leon Harris reached out to a Haight-Ashbury Community that had become more diverse after WWII, and brought people together under the Anglo-Catholic style of worship. He famously reached out to the Hippies in the late 1960’s. But then, when the Haight went through its rough times with crime and heavy drugs, there was a deep trough in membership at All Saints’; the church almost closed.
Rev. Lloyd Prader and Neil Little reached out to the LGBTQ community, which built up the All Saints’ community again, continuing under Rev. Kenneth Schmidt. The AIDS crisis was a major blow for All Saints’ but the parish ministered to their members and stood by the needs of the neighborhood.
All Saints’ has successfully listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the past, and that is what we are called to do now in our Transition period.
It takes a lot of time and energy to do this sort of listening to the Holy Spirit, and we will be doing more intentional parish listening through all parish meetings in the coming months. We’ll review the past and celebrate our history and our ministries.
And we’ll do serious work on who we are now as a parish without your Rector of thirty years. The identity of the parish and the identity of the Rector became tightly woven together over the years. We need to untangle that, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
At our Vestry Retreat last Saturday our Vestry began some of this discernment work on a leadership level. It takes more time than we thought to have these conversations, and I was very pleased by the Vestry’s willingness to engage and by their level of mutual respect. I believe the Holy Spirit was drawing us out and encouraging us, like a good coach does. I’m grateful for the work we’ve begun to do together.
My other nudge from the Holy Spirit happened after Wednesday’s 6:00 Mass. We had a visitor is a professional coach of Episcopal clergy. She came to the Bay Area from Seattle for a silent retreat at Mercy Center in Burlingame starting that evening. She had a hunger for taking the Eucharist before starting her retreat. She did a Google search to find an Episcopal Church that held a mid-week evening Eucharist in San Francisco, and guest what: All Saints’ came up as the number one hit on her search! She also read my statement on the website about the Interim time being a time of renewal and congregational growth, and was very interested in talking more about that. In turn, I was thrilled to meet her, and may use her coaching services.
Again, I felt the Holy Spirit giving me a nudge. Stop, look, and listen. This is what I heard: Our improved online presence is working well enough that she could find us. Our online presence is a ministry of communication that’s become extremely important. I also heard that our Wednesday 6:00 Mass is something significant we can celebrate. And sometimes the Holy Spirit sends along a particular person as their messenger.
In our Gospel reading, the Risen Christ stood among the disciples and said, “Peace be with you…As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and left them with a message to continually forgive others as they went out into the world with God’s message of love.
I believe the Holy Spirit blows through our lives and through All Saints’ all the time, and we need to be ready for her nudges. Stop, look, and listen!
Come Holy Spirit! Come refresh and empower us for newness of life. Amen.