Pentecost Goodbye

The Rev. Leslie E. Chadwick

Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 104: 25-35,37, Acts 2:1-21, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

For my birthday this year, our parish administrator, Pastor Kevin Hamilton, gave me this card. It shows a man with a long beard opening a window and scaring the daylights out of a couple and their dog who had been sleeping peacefully.  The couple shouts, “AAAAAHHH!”  The inside says, “When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.”  I’ve had the card on my desk ever since—I love it.  It makes me laugh. It takes a gentle saying that I first heard in the Sound of Music and turns it on its head.  It shows what the reality of discernment and transition are like.  God’s opening a window is anything but calming!  It can be life-changing and disconcerting.

Our faith does not promise us smooth, orderly transitions.  What it does promise is that God brings beginnings out of endings.  In our burial office we claim that death is not The End: “For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended.” We pray for those who have died. Our growing in God is not over once this life is:  “Grant that, increasing in knowledge and love of you, [we] may go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in your heavenly kingdom.”  In the baptism service, a service of beginnings, of new life in Christ, endings and beginnings are inseparable: “We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.”

Our readings today confirm that God isn’t finished with us even when one way that we’ve known him comes to a close.  Ezekiel and his people have been carried from their homes in chains and taken to the far land of Babylon. They are very unhappy there. They feel cut off and dried up. Suddenly, God’s Spirit takes Ezekiel to a valley of dry bones.  When our Bishop came to visit us last December, he announced with delight at the luncheon, “I’ve seen dead and this ain’t it.  This church is alive and thriving.”  If Bishop Gulick had visited the valley of dry bones with Ezekiel he might have reversed his pronouncement there.  If you want to see dead, this is it.  Dry, bleached bones piled up in the desert.  Yet God created humankind out of the dust. He breathed life into Adam and Eve. And He commands Ezekiel to prophesy to these dry bones. God says, “I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live…I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the Lord.”  Even before Ezekiel finishes prophesying, suddenly there is a noise, a rattling. Bones come together, bone to its bone.  Flesh and sinew appear. Breath comes into the bones; the people stand on their feet and live.

The God who breathes new life into Israel after exile does the same for the disciples in Acts.  The disciples have literally shut themselves up in the house where they are staying.  Suddenly from heaven, there comes a sound like the rush of a violent wind.  It bangs open the shutters and blows the disciples out into the street. Pilgrims from all over the world are milling about getting ready for the Festival of Booths.  What happens next is the reversal of the Tower of Babel. Languages are not confused; suddenly the disciples can tell of God’s deeds in every language. They are understood by all. People wonder, “What does this mean?”   And Peter, who has probably never given a speech in his life, stands among the 11 apostles, puffs out his chest and addresses the crowd:

“Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  No! This is what was spoken through 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 your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”

In this passage, prophesying is not some cryptic message. It is not given by someone on the fringe to a select few.  God pours out his Spirit on all. People who had perhaps been apathetic or unsure come alive. Old and young.  Male and female. Slave and free.  Suddenly they can see visions and dream dreams. They are empowered to proclaim the good news.  Peter pairs endings and beginnings in his sermon:  “You crucified Jesus.  God raised him up.  Repent and be baptized—turn to the God who loves you; He breathes new life into you.  Receive the Holy Spirit.  This promise is for you, for your children, and for all, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And people come.  Three thousand are baptized. They grow into their new life, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

And that is what we continue to do two thousand years later.  We Episcopalians may not think of ourselves as a people on whom the Spirit has been poured out. A people called to prophesy the good news meant for all.  But we have eleven baptism schedule this season! The Spirit is alive and well among us!   In a few minutes, we will renew our baptismal covenant. We will promise to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers.  God renews us every day.   He wakes us up and sends us out into the world to live out our faith.  Our God is not stagnant.  He brings beginning out of endings.  Our life of faith neither dwells on nor minimizes the pain and reality of endings.  God’s people remember what God has done for them in the past to get the courage and strength they need to walk with him into the future.  So right now, I’d like to remember and give thanks for what God has given me in all of you.

Brad, you are a faithful priest, a person of impeccable character and incredible strength. In everything you do, you remind me that the people’s trust is the greatest gift we are given as priests.  You are fully present with everyone who comes to you:  young, old, rich, poor, You have emerged from the crucible of pain in your own life gifted with incredible compassion and love for others.  You embody the hope and love of the gospel.

People of St. Timothy’s, you have given me the gift of your love and trust for the past nine years.  I will take this gift with me; it will unfold in ways I cannot yet know for the rest of my life.  My family has been richly blessed by you.  I asked my children what they would miss the most about St. Timothy’s. My son Jay said, “My friends, the snacks, and the bread at communion.”  Eleanor said, “Choir and Godly Play.”  My husband will miss the people who have been consistently welcoming to him even though he’s (in his words) “liturgically challenged.”  He will miss getting to play music here. He will miss the stabilizing and important role this community has played in the life of our family since we moved here. I will miss getting up on Sunday mornings with the sun. Every week I get excited to see the miracle of God bringing us all together in worship: “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door, and here are the people!”  I will miss the privilege of being part of your lives both day to day and at key moments in baptisms, weddings, and funerals.  I will miss your reminding me to look outside of myself and my narrow life to see what is ours to do together in the world.  You are a gift to me that I treasure now and will always.

God brings beginnings out of endings, and I cannot wait to see what new thing the Holy Spirit will do in this remarkable community.  Come, Holy Spirit, come; May all of us see visions and dream dreams.  For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended.