Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23
Something stunning is about to happen this morning. It’s something you’ve probably seen before, even something that may well have happened to you. But every time it happens, it’s new and miraculous. Are you ready? Here it is: The Holy Spirit is about to descend upon three small, normal, everyday people – babies, in fact. And that Holy Spirit is about to change their lives and change the life of the world.
Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit among Jesus’ apostles – his friends he sent out into the world. We call Pentecost the birthday of the Church because it was on this day that 12 normal, everyday people became gifted in a way they could never have been on their own. God sent the same Spirit that moved over the waters in creation to move among them and within their hearts, equipping these 12 normal, everyday people to be something I guarantee you they’d never imagined themselves to be: witnesses of God’s transforming love. Each one of those 12 people changed the world, going places they’d never imagined going, meeting people they’d never imagined meeting, sharing their passion and experience of God’s love, and inviting people into eternal life – life in the here and now that means so much more than what passes for life in most people’s day-to-day grind.
So that’s Pentecost, when 12 normal, everyday people received gifts of language and calling that they never knew they had.
We’re participating in that story this morning. A few minutes ago, we spoke and heard words that sounded odd and confusing, Good News from Jesus to his astonished friends, when he told them they should both be at peace and stretch themselves in ways they’d never considered. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus said, “so I send you” to proclaim peace, and to forgive, and to love, and to draw people into beloved community (John 20:21). In a way, his call sounds even stranger in clear, everyday English than it did in the multitude of tongues we just heard. It sounds strange because, surely, Jesus can’t mean us, right? We’re just normal, everyday people.
But then we come to the other way we’re participating in the Holy Spirit’s story this morning. In a few minutes, these three small people, just beginning their journeys in life, will come to this font – and something stunning will happen. You may have seen it a hundred times, but it’s still stunning because, as I said, it’s new every time. They will come to this font to die with Jesus symbolically and rise with him into resurrected life, the life he brought to his friends in the upper room behind their locked doors. And in that moment, the Holy Spirit will come upon them and enter into their hearts. The three of them – Graham and Margot and Madeline – will come out of the water not just with Christian names, an identity inextricably intertwined with Christ, but also with the gifts of the Holy Spirit: among them, “an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love [God], and the gift of joy and wonder in all [God’s] works” (BCP 308). God will open their hearts to grace and truth. God will fill them with life-giving Spirit. God will teach them to love others in the Spirit’s power. And God will send them into the world to witness to Christ’s love. (BCP 305-306) Those aren’t just lofty hopes. Those are divine promises, the equipping power of the Holy Spirit anointing us, like the apostles, to change the world.
We don’t know how that will look exactly, any more than the apostles knew what lay ahead on that day of Pentecost, as they felt their hearts catch fire and knew they were, indeed, sent to speak words they didn’t know they knew. Starting with these 12 normal, everyday people, the Word went forth from one community to another. Soon, people in all kinds of unlikely places began to learn how following this way of our resurrected Lord can transform your life – people in Greece and Russia, people in Persia and India, people in Egypt and Ethiopia. The travels and proclamation of these 12 saints reflect deep passion and commitment and trust, the stuff of legend. But actually, those saints were no more special, and no differently empowered, than little Graham and Margot and Madeline about to be baptized this morning.
And, those saints were no different than you. Or you. Or you. Or you. In just a few minutes, we’ll each renew our Baptismal Covenant. We’ll remember who we know God to be, and we’ll remember what the baptized life looks like – gathering for strength and praise with a community of fellow travelers, resisting evil and repenting when we miss the mark, proclaiming Good News by word and deed, seeking and serving Christ in everybody, and striving for justice and peace by respecting the dignity of all. Our Baptismal Covenant will remind us of this high calling, the job description of apostles today.
But as we remember that, I want you to remember something else, too. If you’re anything like me, on any given day you’re likely to look in the mirror and think, “You’ve got to be kidding, Lord. You’ve made a huge mistake. I’m not exactly apostolic material.” Like Moses on the mountain trying to talk God out of sending him to free the children of Israel, we all probably have our moments when we figure God must be crazy, when we just can’t see God sending us out for divine work – or, when we just don’t want to go. “O, my Lord,” Moses finally said on the mountain, “please send someone else!” (Exodus 4:13).
But here’s the mystery: You’re the one. Graham and Margot and Madeline and me … and you. You have come through the waters of new birth. You’ve been welcomed into God’s own family. You’ve been cleansed of your sins. You’ve been reborn by the Holy Spirit. You’ve been marked as Christ’s own forever. And you’ve been gifted and empowered as an apostle, sent “into the world in witness to [God’s] love” (BCP 306).
The same Spirit that blew through that upper room on Pentecost blows through your life, too. It was poured out on you in baptism, perhaps evoked again and claimed by you in confirmation. That same Spirit wants to make your heart dance. God longs to hear your heart beat with love, and God longs to see you to act on that power you’ve been given.
What would happen if we lived as if it were all true? What if you had words you didn’t know you had? What if you had stories to tell about God blessing you in surprising ways, or turning your life in a new direction, or using you to touch another person’s heart? And what if you had a commission from God on your heart to be an agent of change and healing and hope? What if God actually loved you and believed in you that much? What would you say and do in witness to that love? How would your Spirit-filled life change the world?