Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Spirit Abides With Us

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City
May 15, 2016

Year C: The Day of Pentecost
Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17, 25-27

The Spirit Abides With Us
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            Ten days ago, early in the morning, a handful of us gathered in the chapel to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, when we remember and celebrate the Risen Christ being taken into heaven.
            I love the way Luke tells the story in the Acts of the Apostles.
            He tells us that the Risen Christ and his disciples had gathered together one last time. The disciples - who, true to form, still don’t quite get it - think that this might be it – this might be the moment when Christ is going to restore the Kingdom of Israel.
            But, Jesus tells them, “It is not for you to know the times or the periods that the Father has set by his authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses…”
            And then Luke tells us that Jesus was taken up out of their sight.
            I always imagine them staring up at the sky with their mouths hanging open, in awe and wonder.
            Finally, we’re told that two men in white robes appear and tell the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven.”
            And then the two men in white robes are gone.
            After yet another amazing experience, I imagine the disciples confused and frightened and, maybe most of all, with their Lord gone yet again, I imagine the disciples felt abandoned - and very lonely.
            Many of you know that when I was first ordained, I served as the assistant at Grace Church in Madison, a big church (by Episcopal standards, anyway!) in a an affluent suburb.
            Soon after I arrived there, I began to explore how I might minister to the many men in the parish.
            To learn about their needs and issues, I invited a local priest who was also a therapist to have breakfast with me.
            I asked him, “What are the big issues for men around here?”
            I expected him to say that these often high-powered and driven suburban men faced a lot of demands at work or they had marital issues or they feared losing their jobs and not being able to provide for their families.
            But, no. Without hesitation, the priest-therapist said, “loneliness.”
            He explained that these guys would leave home early in the morning often to take the train into the city, work hard all day and then come home in the evening to be a husband and a father, go to bed and then get up the next morning and do it all over again.
            These guys were left with very little time for friendships or their own interests.
            I was surprised by the answer but it resonated with me as I was dealing with my own bout of loneliness.
            As most of you know, I had been a teacher before becoming a priest. So, I had been used to being surrounded by lots of people all day – students and colleagues.
            But now, as a priest, even in a big suburban church, I found myself spending a lot of time by myself, working in my office (never had had one of those before!) all by myself.
            Even my day off, then as now Monday, was as lonely day – since Sue and most of my friends were at work.
            Of course, you don’t have to be a suburban dad or a priest to know loneliness.
            Over my years as a priest, I’ve become aware of just how lonely so many people are – those who have lost husbands and wives and jobs and careers - and those who haven’t managed to find who or what they’ve been looking for.
            So many of us are lonely – the loneliness when we feel like nobody cares what we think or how we feel – the loneliness when we feel like we can’t make ourselves understood to others no matter how we try, sort of like those babbling people in Babel long ago.
            Like the first disciples staring up at the sky, we feel lonely.
            Here at St. Paul’s, here in the church, as Christians, we may feel lonely, but we’re not alone.
            Once we stop looking up at the sky and look around and really pay attention we realize that we have each other – which is amazing - and even more amazing than that, we have the Holy Spirit.
            In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the disciples that God the Father will send the Holy Spirit who will be with us forever.
            And, today, fifty days after Easter, that’s what we celebrate today: God did send the Holy Spirit to the first disciples in Jerusalem, giving them amazing gifts.
            And today we also celebrate that the Holy Spirit abides with us – dwells with us – lives with us – and the Holy Spirit gives us amazing gifts, too.
            Out in Madison, I saw the Holy Spirit abiding many times and in many places, including in the Men’s Group that we started. We would meet every once in a while with no real agenda – just to have some food and drinks, to enjoy each other’s company, to lay down our burdens even for just a few hours.
            And, I see the Holy Spirit dwelling all over the place here at St. Paul’s – among our men as they gather together not unlike the guys in the suburbs, and as they teach the boys valuable life skills and lessons, as together they prepared and served a fantastic meal last week for our mothers and for us all.
            I see the Holy Spirit living with us here – at our Stone Soup supper the other night, bringing together parishioners, neighbors, and friends - chasing away our loneliness with love, laughter, some pretty amazing chow and even a birthday cake.
            I see the Holy Spirit abiding with us here, right here this morning, as we welcome four new brothers and one new sister to our Christian community in the water of baptism – where the Holy Spirit is going to do some amazing work in just a couple of minutes – you won’t want to miss it!
            And, I see the Holy Spirit dwelling with us here, giving us the courage and strength to together live out our baptismal promises – our sacred vows to break bread together, to resist evil, to proclaim the Good news, to love our neighbor as our self, and to respect the dignity of absolutely everybody.
            So, yes, many people – many of us know – or have known – great loneliness.
            But, the more we come together to pray and to sing and to embrace each other with forgiveness and friendship, we are reminded – we experience – that the Holy Spirit abides with us.
            The more we come together to eat our amazing food and to eat the most amazing bread and drink the most miraculous wine – the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation – we are reminded, we experience, we know, that the Holy Spirit abides with us.
            Men and women of St. Paul’s, why do we look toward heaven?
            Look around: the Holy Spirit abides with us, right here and now!