Here’s my holiday-weekend present to you: A short sermon. This morning, we’ll baptize 10 new Christians, young people and adults, which is a fabulous time-management challenge to face. So we all get to benefit from tight preaching this morning.
First, let me say, Happy Memorial Day weekend. Every year at this time, we honor those who’ve gone before us, traditionally visiting the cemetery to decorate the graves of those we love but see no longer. Particularly we remember those who died having served this nation, their lives a living sacrifice and sometimes a final gift to their fellow citizens. The flowers on the graves this Decoration Day remind us, and the world around us, that “life is changed, not ended” (BCP 382) when we die – that those we remember are continuing to live their eternal lives empowered by the same Holy Spirit that empowered the apostles and that empowers our witness to God’s love and Christ’s kingship.
For we who are the Church, this weekend also brings a different holiday this year, one of the seven most holy days on the Church’s calendar. Today is Pentecost – the feast 50 days from Easter and 10 days after Jesus’ ascension. That gap between Ascension and Pentecost always puts me in the shoes of the apostles, that dubious leadership group, who had 10 long days to stare at each other and wonder, “Now what the heck do we do?” The Book of Acts tells us they took that time to replace the traitor Judas with Matthias and that they were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14). I’ll just bet they were. I mean, Jesus had promised the disciples he would send the “Advocate,” the “Spirit of truth” that comes from the Father, the one “who will guide you into all truth” (John 15:26;16:13), as we heard in today’s Gospel. But my hunch is that by about day 3 or 4, the disciples were getting a little nervous about what was next for them. By day 10, no wonder they were all in a room hiding out from everybody else.
Then came the Jewish festival of Pentecost, with faithful Jews from across the Roman world gathered in Jerusalem. And as the disciples prayed together, that Holy Spirit literally blew into the room, literally set the disciples on fire like burning bushes with flame that did not consume, and empowered them to speak in other languages – the tongues of the people gathered there in Jerusalem and living throughout the rest of Caesar’s empire. The disciples had been equipped and inspired to be apostles, which means those who are sent – sent to speak “about God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11); sent to tell a story they themselves had lived, the story of resurrection and hope and the vanquishing of the power of sin and death. They were sent to make God’s kingdom a living, breathing contrast to the kingdom that Caesar thought he ran.
It’s pretty crazy stuff. For the baptismal candidates and baptismal families, about to celebrate the joy of coming into this movement known as Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church: Did you know what you were getting yourselves into? Violent wind rushing through the house, fire resting on you, the Holy Spirit filling you to reveal God’s deeds of power in languages you didn’t know you knew. All this, and it’s only your first day of being a Christian. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?
Well, I’d like to hazard a guess at what tomorrow may bring – and the next day, and the next. It is the stunning opportunity for you to be the living, breathing, on-fire presence of God in the world God loves. Among the many amazing realities wrapped up in the mystery of baptism is this one: that God chooses to continue incarnating God’s presence in the world, through you. And me. And all of us.
In baptism, we receive that flame and that in-Spiriting breath of God; and thus literally inspired, we can reveal the fruits of the Holy Spirit. You’ve probably heard these before – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). All those are great, but another fruit of the Spirit strikes me today, one you don’t find in that list but one that truly makes the kingdom of God come to life. And that fruit of the Spirit is passion.
From this glorious, crazy, holy holiday weekend, here’s what I hope you’ll take away: Your passion can make all the difference. And it doesn’t matter whether that passion seems more secular than sacred. Maybe it’s writing poetry; maybe it’s playing golf; maybe it’s reading to children; maybe it’s throwing a great party. Passion doesn’t have to seem particularly “holy.” You just have to use it that way.
Memorial Day tells this story of holy passion in its own language, too. When you think about those who’ve gone before, when you place that flower to decorate that grave, what do you remember? Well, the person’s passion and how it made life better, how it furthered the purposes of God. Bring to mind someone you love but see no longer: “When I think of ________, what I remember is his or her _________.” If it were my wife’s grandmother I was remembering, I’d fill in that blank with cinnamon rolls. It’s not that homemade cinnamon rolls are inherently holy (though I could make an argument for that). But with those homemade cinnamon rolls, Ann’s grandmother poured out the love of God on all kinds of people – saints and scoundrels, within her own family and beyond – regardless of whether they deserved that delicious love, or not. Cooking for people was her passion because it was her best way to say, “I love you”; and that’s what God had sent her into the world to do.
You, too, are an apostle, sent into the world empowered by the Holy Spirit with passion for something. Use that passion to put your own flesh and bones on the love of God. Use it to evoke the kingdom of heaven in the corner of the world you’re given to touch. Use it speak and enact the power of Jesus Christ in a world that still listens to Caesar all too easily. Your passion is the Holy Spirit’s playground. Give the Spirit legs, and let it run.