Pentecost, 15 May 2016

This Morning is the Feast of Pentecost. And since some of our folk come from traditions that don’t follow a liturgical calendar, or don’t have these special feasts, I need to say something about Pentecost.

 Prior to our present Prayer Book that was published in 1979, this Sunday was referred to as Whitsunday, or White Sunday. The liturgical color was white, and it was a special day for baptisms. But in 1979, when the present Prayer Book was published, that all changed. The day was renamed “Pentecost”, referring in Greek to 50 days after Easter. Its liturgical color was changed to red, referencing the tongues of fire. It has become sort of traditional    to wear red on the Feast of Pentecost. And it is considered one of the 3 great Feasts of the Church, along with Christmas and Easter. In some circles, it’s referred to as the Birthday of the Institutional Church, and some places will celebrate today with a birthday cake for the church. It is the last Sunday during which we light the Pascal Candle, except at funerals and baptisms. And it begins the longest season of the church year – “The Sundays of Pentecost.”

 Well, it’s all based on the events described in today’s reading from the Book of Acts. And even though none of us can begin to explain what happened in that event, we can’t just dismiss it as fanciful imagination. Remember, The Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke were written by the same person. And that person was trying to write history, and as accurately as possible. So, just the fact that it’s included here tells us that something happened that probably didn’t make any more sense to the writer, than it does us, the reader.

 Last week Julia used a wonderful image in her homily of a child trying to learn to ride a two wheel bicycle with training wheels. And she described the period between Ascension and Pentecost as “training wheel time” (that’s my label). But she was so right. Jesus had been telling his disciples that he would be leaving them. He would be rejoining the Father. But an “Advocate” would be sent to them. And in our reading today, from the Gospel of John, he describes the Advocate as “The Spirit of Truth.” I’ve always liked that idea. I don’t really understand it, but I like it.

 And going a little further with Julia’s model, Pentecost tells us that the training wheels are off. We have an Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit – better translated from the Greek as “the Holy Wind” or “the Holy Breath” – that empowers us to balance on our own without training wheels. Now, it’s up to us.

 Well – that’s Pentecost. And it’s an important turn in our liturgical calendar. It carries us through the summer, and into the fall, until once again we come to Advent.

 But there’s something else that I want to look at this morning. From time to time, someone will strike up a discussion of his or her prayer life. And quite often it’s along the lines of, “I don’t know how to pray”, or, “I’m not sure I’m praying right”, or, “I’m not sure my prayers are being heard.” Prayer life is a very personal, and sometimes very difficult thing. And I think it’s particularly hard for us as Episcopalians who grow us using a Prayer Book. We become accustomed to a very formal, stylized type of prayer. There’s a prayer for almost everything in our Prayer Book. And they are beautiful, and they are written with great  wisdom. But sometimes we need something from “inside.” Sometimes we need to have a sense that we are talking to God from the heart, not from a book. And in our reading from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Paul says: “When we cry, ‘Abba Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness.”

 That word “Abba” is an unusual word, and it appears 3 times in the New Testament – always related to prayer. “Abba” is an Aramaic word meaning something similar to our “Daddy” – or even “Da Da.” It’s child talk. It’s not used in adult speech. And in today’s reading, Paul says: “When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

 What I understand this to mean is that when we pray informally, we should talk to God like a young child talks to Daddy. We don’t have to follow a set format, as our beautiful collects do. We don’t have to be poetic, like our Psalms and hymns. We can just talk to God. Tell God what’s going on in our hearts. Tell God what we’re excited about. Tell God where it hurts. Tell God that we know and feel love.

 Think of what a young child tells its Daddy. “I love you Daddy.” “I’ve got a booboo, Daddy. Please make it well.” “I’m afraid Daddy. Please stay with me.” “I learned something new today, Daddy. Let me show you.” “Thank you Daddy.” I think we’re being instructed to talk to God all the time, in the very simplest of terms, like a child chatters to Daddy. It doesn’t take a Prayer Book. We don’t have to be in church, or getting ready for bed. It can be any time and any place.

 And in my mind, I like to think of the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Wind, or the Holy Breath carrying my simple prayer to the Father for me. That’s the way it goes together in my brain. I think my childlike prayer, and send it forth on “The Holy Wind” to the Father. And I find a strange joy and satisfaction in that feeling of my thoughts and prayers going forth to God.

From Romans: “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Paul sees a clear link between “living in the spirit”, and living as a child. Paul sees “the Spirit”, “the Advocate”, as a sustaining power that walks hand in hand with us as we teeter through this life. And it’s right there with us. We don’t need the training wheels. We can ride on our own, as children of God, hand in hand with the spirit.

 Amen.

Posted May 17, 2016 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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