St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
June 8, 2014
Year A: The Day of Pentecost
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
We are Not Abandoned!
Like everybody else I get caught up in my everyday life – all the tasks and challenges that we all face day after day – and often lose sight of the fact that I am so fortunate, so blessed.
It’s such a privilege to serve as your rector, doing a job that I love so much. I am loved and supported by a wonderful – and rather patient – wife. I have good friends. And I’ve always known – and still know – the love of my parents.
For my whole life they’ve always backed me up, supporting what I wanted to do, even sometimes when they had real doubts and misgivings.
I’m really fortunate. Really blessed.
So, unlike many, far too many, people, including, I know, some of us here, I’ve never really known the pain of abandonment.
As I don’t need to tell you, abandonment is one of the most painful human experiences.
I’m very glad to have been spared it. One time, though, I did get a brief taste of abandonment.
Among many other great things my parents did for my sister and me, one of the best was taking us to New York City starting when we were very little. From an early age I was really familiar with parts of the city. If necessary, I could have navigated large parts of Manhattan on my own.
It was on one of these trips that I got a little taste of abandonment. It was just my father and I this time. I think I was about eight years old. After a day in the city we were on our way home and, like we had done many times before, we arrived at the 33rd Street PATH station. Like we had done countless times before my father gave me three dimes (remember that?!) to put into the turnstile. The train was waiting at the platform, ready to depart. We both hustled through the turnstile. My father got through with no problem. But, although, I had done this so many times before something went wrong this time. Maybe I had put the dimes in the wrong slots. Maybe the turnstile malfunctioned. I don’t know.
All I know is, I saw my tall father walking briskly for the train, assuming I was by his side as always.
I felt the stomach-drop of fear and panic.
I could have just ducked the turnstile and ran for him.
But instead I started calling out, “Dad!” “Dad!”
And when that didn’t work I called him out by name: “Tom Murphy!”
Maybe that did the trick. Or, more likely, my father who would never abandon me realized that I wasn’t there. He looked back, saw me, and came back for me.
But, for a moment that felt a lot longer, I got a taste of the terror and pain of abandonment. In the great scheme of things it wasn’t a big deal. But, I’ve never forgotten it.
Jesus’ first disciples knew only too well the terror and pain of abandonment. In the lesson I just read from the Gospel of John, it’s still Easter. We’re told that in the evening of Easter Day the disciples are hiding in fear from the people who had been responsible for the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus.
It was perfectly reasonable for the disciples to be afraid that first the authorities who had knocked off Jesus would now be coming after his friends. The disciples feel the terror and pain of abandonment.
And then suddenly the Risen Jesus appears. Jesus has returned. He’s still himself – look at the wounds – but he’s also transformed, somehow able to appear without warning in a locked room.
Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his first followers. Pentecost.
And in that moment, Jesus’ first disciples realized that they weren’t abandoned at all. Jesus’ breath of peace turns their fear into rejoicing.
This morning we heard another Pentecost story, too.
Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, tells us it happened fifty days after Easter. Once again the disciples were all together in Jerusalem, all together in one place. Luke doesn’t say it, but I bet that once again the disciples felt abandoned. They had witnessed Jesus rise into heaven, seemingly abandoning them again, leaving them behind gazing up into the sky.
Then suddenly there’s a loud noise and “divided tongues, as of fire appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
The Holy Spirit whisks them out of their place and out into Jerusalem proclaiming the Good News in the languages of the city, the languages of the world.
Nobody had ever seen anything like this.
The cynics and skeptics scoffed, “They are filled with new wine.”
But this “new wine” that inspired the apostles would never – can never - be corked. Instead the Church is born that day in Jerusalem and the Good News of forgiveness and life begins its spread around the world.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
The great meaning of Easter and Pentecost is that, no matter what, God never, ever abandons us.
In a few moments I’ll have the great privilege of baptizing Olivia, Charlotte and Amir.
In the passage from his First Letter to the Corinthians that we heard this morning, Paul makes the point that in and through the water of baptism we become part of the Body of Christ.
That means no matter how many times Olivia, Charlotte and Amir mess up – no matter how many times we mess up – no matter what we do or don’t do, we have a bond with God that can never be broken.
In the words of the prayer book, “The bond which God establishes with us in baptism is indissoluble.”
That means when we’re feeling the pain and terror of abandonment, when we call out in panic to a God who seems to have gone on ahead of us, who seems to have forgotten us, God will always turn back, will always come back for us.
That bond means that God will be with them – is with us - the whole time.
No matter what, God will never, ever abandon us.
And that’s something really worth celebrating.
So, this Pentecost, let’s join with the first disciples who were so overjoyed that people thought they must have been drunk. Let’s join with Christians throughout the ages, filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s joyfully and courageously proclaim:
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!