This is the sermon Bishop Scott Mayer gave at the diocesan worship service for the Day of Pentecost, May 31, 2020.
The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth The Day of Pentecost May 31, 2020
Today we celebrate one of the three primary feast days in the life of the Church: the Day of Pentecost. In the words of our Eucharistic Prayer, “In fulfillment of his true promise, the Holy Spirit came down on this day from heaven, lighting upon the disciples, to teach them and to lead them into all truth; uniting peoples of many tongues in the confession of one faith, and giving to [God’s] Church the power to serve [God] as a royal priesthood, and to preach the Gospel to all nations.”
And so we celebrate this day with the symbols of Pentecost – symbols of the Holy Spirit – as the nave and sanctuary of St Luke’s in the Meadow are decorated with doves made by you from around the diocese, while red streamers representing the fire of the Spirit emanate from the arms of love on the cross.
This morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (read in multiple languages) tells us about the beginning of the Day of Pentecost, and how “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, … and divided tongues, as of fire, rested on them, … and all were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages – and yet they were understood.
And some observers thought they were drunk, but Peter raised his voice and began to preach, taking as his text a passage from the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Even daughters shall prophesy – but I digress.)
He continues with the apocalyptic imagery of blood, and fire, and smoky mist, and concludes: “The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
And if we keep reading, the story tells us how this newly risen body of disciples devote themselves to the teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And they have all things in common, selling their possessions, and distributing the proceeds to all, as any have need. With generous hearts and having the goodwill of all the people, they share with others and one another – whether earned or deserved, or not.
That’s love. This is not a forced political agenda or economic system. It is love, empowered by the Spirit and freely chosen. And so attractive is this love for others, that “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” This is a salvific event, as people are being saved.
Of course, we can read the rest of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and we can read 2000 years of Church History, and we can observe our present moment in history, and we will see that the Church’s capacity to both love and grow has not been a straight and steady incline.
But I would like to think – and I hope – most of us have experienced such love: sacrificial love; love without conditions; love when we have not been easy to love. And we know from experience that such love changes lives. We know that such love has the power to raise the dead. We know that God’s love is the answer – even in our own time and place. We know that love is the only way to really change this world.
When you, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, reorganized over a decade ago, you made choices to love. You could have entrenched yourselves and waited. But from “day one” you chose living over survival, and love over fear.
For example, you paid your full asking to the Episcopal Church before you paid another bill. You budgeted your fair share to support such church-wide institutions as seminaries. Congregations with little in the way of financial resources looked beyond yourselves to your respective neighborhoods. You founded such ministries as the 4Saints Food Pantry.
As a diocese you tithed your budget, and through Mission and Outreach you have supported countless local ministries. I have witnessed you supporting the Navajo in New Mexico, an orphanage in Kenya, a children’s home in Mexico, a leprosy ministry in India, and speech therapy in Zambia.
That’s love: loving people who can never pay you back, who will never join and support your congregation, who may never say a word of thanks or praise. This is not transactional. This is unconditional. This is unconditional love manifest in and through a diocese who believes God loves all, and calls us to proclaim and embody God’s love for all. I am humbled to serve you. And simultaneously, I am proud.
And now we feel the ground shifting beneath our feet. It feels out of control. I would suggest a particular word: it feels apocalyptic. I don’t mean that like the man on the street corner holding a sign about the end of the world. He might be right, but I don’t mean that. And I sure don’t mean anything resembling those “Left Behind” novels.
Throughout history there have been moments in time that scholars reference as “apocalyptic” – an apocalyptic age of deep sea change; the end of one era and the beginning of another era. I don’t know if we are living in an “apocalyptic age” or not, although I suspect we are.
Already, we are living in a deeply divided nation in danger of losing its soul. Three months ago we started feeling the effects of a pandemic, and we are grieving the loss of lives, the loss of livelihoods, and the loss of gatherings – the loss of touch. And now we in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth have received an adverse decision from the court. And we are shocked by it. We don’t yet know what it means for us. We don’t yet know what might change.
But we do know what will not change.
We know that the unconditional love of God does not change.
We know that the call to proclaim and embody the Good News of God’s love for all people does not change.
We know our participation in God’s mission to change this world by the power of God’s love does not change.
We know that just as the Spirit “swept over the face of the waters” in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth; and just as the Spirit came upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a child was born; and just as the Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism; and just as the Spirit descended upon the followers of Jesus on the Day of Pentecost … that same Spirit is alive in this diocese, and has empowered and inspired you to courageous and sacrificial acts of love. That does not change.
In this diocese women are ordained to the priesthood. Two daughters of the diocese have become bishops. During the month of June, five women will be ordained to the priesthood or diaconate. That does not change.
In this diocese we strive to include all people fully. God loves all. That does not change.
One day, as Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another. All will be thrown down.”
It’s a shocking statement, an apocalyptic statement, announcing endings and proclaiming beginnings. We know now what the disciples could not know at the time: they would become the temple; they would be the living stones of the temple – as are we. We know that already.
Our church buildings matter to us deeply. They are outward, visible signs of God’s presence, grace, and love. And I don’t want to lose them.
Yet, if it has cost us every last stone or brick, every last paten or chalice, to call women to ordained ministry, and to include all of God’s children fully in the life of the Church, it will have been the right decision, the faithful decision – even the kind of decision that saves.
I don’t mean “saves others,” however true. I mean “saves us.”
I’m mindful of the words of an Aboriginal woman (Lilla Watson) who said: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
To those of you who once were not fully included – and those who don’t feel fully included yet – thank you for not giving up on this Church. Thank you for helping God liberate me, set me free, save me. Thank you for helping God liberate and save this diocese. Thank you for helping God liberate and save the Episcopal Church. For like the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, this Church has been raised to new life as a new body in this new age – largely because of you. You didn’t “cost” us something; you helped God save us.
Let us pray: “O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” Amen.