Sermon by the Rev’d Jay C. James for May 31, 2020, the Feast of Pentecost

…I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.

“Just let me show you,” was the appeal the father made to his son as they worked away building the birdhouse.  The boy was attempting to use a real hammer for the first time and to drive a small nail into the edge of the board.  As simple a task as that should be, the boy could not balance the two pieces of wood, and drive the nail, and hold the hammer all at once.  “If you would just let me show you,” pleaded the father, “then you will know how to do it correctly.  If you let me show you, then you won’t hit your finger, the birdhouse will go together easily, and the work will be completed.”  The father was trying to show his son, from knowledge and experience, how things should be in the world of birdhouse construction.  The father has the big picture and is trying to reveal some of the specifics of woodworking to the son for the son’s benefit.  Things will be better, safer, and even more joyful for the boy if he accepts what his father is about to reveal to him. The revelation of the truth in the way of birdhouse building is the same in principle as in matters of religion and especially in the Christian religion. 

It is the principle of Christianity being a revealed religion that is boldly displayed for us on this Feast of Pentecost.   We have a rushing, mighty wind, tongues of fire, hundreds of people gathered from various nations, and the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son being fulfilled.  What clearer evidence do we need to prove that Christianity is revealed.  The apostles knew this and gathered where they were instructed to be and the Holy Spirit, for whom Jesus told them to wait, appeared and was imparted; a graphic event that reveals Christianity comes from God the Holy Trinity.  This is the way of Christianity and it does not hurt to be reminded of this regularly and often.  We should give thanksgiving to God that we have this Feast to remind us of the principle.  

If not reminded, then we can forget about Christianity’s revealed truths.  If we forget, then we will not rely on the truths that can help us in this world.  The father helping his son construct the birdhouse is the source of comfort, knowledge, and someone on whom the son can rely to have him complete the birdhouse.  In the course of the project, if the son allows the father to help him, then the son will actually be drawn closer to the father and love and trust between the father and son will deepen.  If we rely on the truths of the religion that Jesus revealed to us, then our lives will be drawn closer to the way God wants us to be.  We cannot forget that the healing grace of forgiveness is with us now, after the first great Pentecost.  We must remember that we are not in the world by ourselves. We are bound to all other baptized believers whether they have gone before us or are with us now.  We must always keep before us that we are intended to receive the gift of everlasting life.  We can depend on these truths and rely on them now.  

Since Christianity is revealed to us by God through the work and witness of His Son and the operation of the Holy Ghost then we have a religion on which we can depend.  We can depend on the grace of God through the power of the Holy Ghost to bring us back to Him.  What a precious gift we have been given to be part of the Church.  For our part, we have to accept the precious gift of the Holy Ghost and be led by Him.  We have to remember that it may be that God the Holy Ghost knows more about who we are and what is best for us then we know for ourselves.  We need to be alive with Spirit as Jesus instructs Philip, If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.   

It is the Holy Ghost that is alive in the members of the Church and that is another reason to celebrate this Feast of Pentecost.  We have the Holy Ghost to feed us by grace and that grace is available in the Scriptures, in prayer, in service, in the Sacraments, and fellowship with faithful Christians.  We are celebrating the beginning of the Church’s witness in the world after Christ had ascended into heaven.  In yet another way we are celebrating the work of the Holy Ghost all through time in the Church’s members.  Saint Augustine, in one of his sermons for The Feast of Pentecost, describes how the Church is alive in showing the parallel between the soul and Body with men and women and the Holy Ghost with the Church.  He gives the analogy, the soul is to the Body as the Holy Spirit is to the Church.  (In the body) The duties of each member are different, but one soul joins all together.  Many things are commanded, many done, but one commands, one is obeyed.  What our spirit, that is, our soul, is to our own members, this the Holy Spirit is to the members of Christ, to the Body of Christ, which is the Church.  The Church, of which we are a part, is alive by the Holy Ghost.   We depend on being fed by the Holy Ghost, not the other way around.  The Church is not alive because we are members.  We are alive by virtue of the Holy Ghost in us by our Baptism.   

Many in the Church are taught that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church.  In a certain way it is.  It is the beginning of the life of the Church in the world because Pentecost is the time Jesus delivered the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church ten days after He ascended back to the Father.  Other Christians would strongly argue for other points to be the birthday of the Church.  The more one tries to determine a point when the Church began, the more cases can be made for a number of times, other than Pentecost.  Did the Church begin at Pentecost, or did the Church begin at the Last Supper when Jesus said, “This is My Body and this is My Blood?”  Or did the Church begin when the Angel Gabriel said to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bear a Son and call His Name Jesus?”  Or did the Church begin when God made a covenant with the people of Israel and called them out to be His people?  Maybe the Church began when the Israelites escaped from slavery in Egypt and made it through the parted waters of the Red Sea?  Maybe the Church began when God made Adam and Eve and blessed them above all living creatures?   This leaves us to pick a point for the Church’s origin and thank God for it because the Church is the ark of our salvation.  

We are saved by the work of the Church, no matter when we celebrate her birthday, yet we have another principle of the Church for which to be thankful.  Our thanksgiving can equally be offered for the comfort given us by being part of a unified Body.  It is a great comfort of the Holy Ghost that we can be part of one Body and that is Christ’s Body.  Comfort comes from unity.  We know of the comfort of the fledgling Church in the Acts of the Apostles where Saint Luke is describing Saint Paul’s early preaching and teaching in Jerusalem, So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was multiplied.

Don’t we know of the comfort of being part of a family?  Whether it’s belonging to our immediate or extended family, our parish family, or the family of the Church.  There is comfort when these are unified.  When families worship together. When they look out for and support one another.  When they are moved by the Holy Ghost to believe and teach the same things.  Once again, it’s Saint Augustine in his sermon for The Feast of Pentecost who emphasizes the catholic unity of the Church at Pentecost, not the birthday or beginning of the Church.  Augustine preaches, How did He tell us of His Presence; reveal It to us?  By the fact that all spoke in the tongues of every nation…each man, singly, spoke in the tongue of every nation.  One and the same man spoke the tongue of every nation:  the unity of the Church amid the tongues of all the nations.  See here how the unity of the Catholic Church spread throughout all nations is set before us.  Augustine sees the unity only coming by the presence of the Holy Ghost.  The nations gathered in Jerusalem.  They hear one voice really, because as the apostles preached everyone heard the words in his own language.  This Holy Ghost comes from only one man, Jesus Christ, therefore all are united in Him.  

A summary of our purpose for celebration:  We have a religion revealed by God the Holy Ghost, and if we allow ourselves to be directed by it, it will save us.  Just as the boy trying to construct the birdhouse will complete his project in the best way if he follows his father’s lead.  The life of the Church generated and driven by the Holy Ghost, who lives in us while we’re in this world, means our lives are more fulfilled.  The birdhouse-building father and son will enjoy the fruit of love and trust together long after the birdhouse is complete.  Finally, the binding together of the Church by the Holy Ghost leads us to the complete comfort of union we will have with the Father in heaven.  

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.