Sunday, June 04, 2017

Guided by the Holy Spirit in the Days of Decision

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
June 4, 2017

Year A: The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

Guided by the Holy Spirit in the Days of Decision
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            Today is the fiftieth and final day of the Easter Season – it’s the great feast of Pentecost when we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit on that memorable long-ago day in Jerusalem – Pentecost, the day when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to us today here in Jersey City.
            But, first I want to back up to this past Monday, which, you’ll remember, was Memorial Day.
            On the day set aside to remember and honor the men and women who have sacrificed their lives in the service of our country, we had the usual civic rituals: parades and speeches – some took the time to reflect on this profound generosity and many more simply enjoyed a day off from work and school, maybe taking advantage of Memorial Day sales.
            On Memorial Day, I turned to our prayer book, to a prayer called the “Thanksgiving for Heroic Service.” It begins:
            “O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy.”
            This year, for whatever reason, it was the phrase “the day of decision” that caught my eye and got me thinking and praying.
            The day of decision.
            Or, better, the days of decision.
            I love the story of the first Pentecost that we heard in today’s first lesson, from the Acts of the Apostles - the mystery and the power of the whooshing sound from heaven and the divided tongues like flame resting upon the disciples – this divine energy sending the disciples out into the streets of Jerusalem announcing the Good News in many different languages so that all the people no matter where they were from could understand – it was all so mysterious and powerful and unusual that some thought that these Jesus people must be wasted, though, as we heard, it was just 9:00 in the morning!
            I love the story but I also think, you know, for the disciples that day and for the people in Jerusalem who saw and heard them, it would have been easy to believe, it would have been easy to be guided by a Holy Spirit that was making such a big scene.
            The real challenge must have begun later that first Pentecost day, and the next day, and the weeks and years ahead – when the Holy Spirit seemed to quiet down and there were so many days of decision.
            How challenging to be guided by the Holy Spirit when there is no big show, no pyrotechnics, when people just shrug their shoulders at the Good News, or roll their eyes in mockery, and go about their business – and we’re tempted to live just like them, to live just like everybody else.
            How challenging to be guided by the Holy Spirit when living in an empire ruled by people who only care about their power and wealth, who see compassion and love not as virtues but as signs of weakness, who dismiss the poor and the sick as losers, who view the world as a harsh place where if you win then that means I must lose.
            How challenging to be guided by the Holy Spirit when your faith – our faith - might actually cost something – our wealth, our reputation, our wellbeing, and, yes, maybe even our life.
            How challenging to be guided by the Holy Spirit in the days of decision.
            Funny thing about days of decision, though.
            Sometimes we know when they’re coming, you know, the date is circled on the calendar: the date when we’re enlisting in the military or leaving one job for another – the date when she says there’s either a proposal and a ring or she’s out of here – the date we get married or move or retire…
            But, much more often, we have no idea when a day will be a day of decision.
            So, we need to know who we are and whose we are. We need to know what we’re about. We need to be ready.
            For example, last Friday people were riding on a commuter train in Portland, Oregon – and we can imagine the scene, right?
            People listening to music streaming through their ear buds, staring intently at their phones, gazing out the windows, maybe dozing off a little, trying to avoid human contact in such close quarters, all of that and more going on when suddenly an enraged man began screaming anti-Muslim insults at two women, one of whom at least, wasn’t even a Muslim.
            The day of decision had arrived.
            Again, we can imagine the scene, right?
            I’m sure that some tried to ignore the ruckus, counting how many more stops until I can get out of here, while others looked on, concerned or frightened. Who knows, maybe one or two even approved of this harassment.
            But three men on the train made the decision to stand up, risk their safety and even their lives, and defend these two women, these complete strangers. And, as you know, two of the men sacrificed their lives in that day of decision and the third was seriously injured.
            One of the men killed, Rick Best, was a Roman Catholic who had served twenty-three years in the Army, including tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. After leaving the military, he had gotten involved in local politics saying, “I can’t stand by and do nothing.”
            The other man killed was Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, just 23 years old, a recent college graduate who, as he lay dying on the train, called out, “I want everyone on the train to know I love them.”
            No matter what these men believed or didn’t believe, they knew who they were and what they were about – they were ready – and it certainly looks to me that the Holy Spirit guided them to give away their lives in loving service to the most vulnerable – the Holy Sprit guided them on the day of decision.
            So, today is Pentecost.
            Now, we may not have whooshing wind from heaven or divided tongues like flame. We may not be able to preach the Gospel in all of the languages spoken on Bergen Avenue, but it’s still a pretty wonderful celebration here at St. Paul’s – and, I don’t know about you, but I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit – God’s Spirit of love, courage, and wisdom – right here and right now.
            So, right here and right now, together in this beautiful place, it’s kind of easy to believe. Here it doesn’t cost us much to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
            But, we know that later today, or maybe tomorrow, when we’re not here in church wearing red with our brothers and sisters, we’ll face the challenge of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us.
            We may not be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice like our brave military or like the men on the train in Portland.
            But, without a doubt, we’ll certainly face the challenge of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us - at home or at school or at work or in the store or on the bus or on the PATH train.
            It won’t be easy, but we know who we are and whose we are – we know what we’re about.
             With God’s help, we really can love, we really can sacrifice - we really can be guided by the Holy Spirit in the days of decision.