A Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, Year B
I don’t know if y’all will believe this, but I was a really shy child growing up. It was painful at times. And it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the company of others, or didn’t like conversing with friends and family, but new situations, new individuals, new thresholds were uncomfortable. I remember not having enough nerve to ask the attendant at Disney World where the bathroom was. I remember not possessing enough gumption to sit down at a lunch table with some girls at my new school. I remember almost always deferring to my younger sister as the extroverted, exuberant, vivacious one. Yet at age fourteen, the summer before I entered high school, something shifted.
Some of you know this story already: at the last night of my week long diocesan summer camp, all I can say is that the fire of the Holy Spirit came over me, was poured out on me, consumed me entirely. And suddenly there were words written on my heart: “You are called to preach my love to my people.” From that moment on I knew my calling in life: to preach God’s love to God’s people; to become an Episcopal priest; to do exactly what I am doing right here and right now. That last night at summer camp was an amazing, awe-inspiring moment.
Yet I’ll be honest with you, although it was an awesome moment, it was also an uneasy one at that. This new outpouring of the Spirit was both comforting and kind of terrifying all at the same time. I remember the next day hopping in the back of the car to head home with my mother and sister in the front two seats, and I’ll I could do was sob. I was scared of what this new identity would mean. How would I change? How would others perceive me? How could God be using a fourteen year old girl in the Deep South in the middle of seven years of Catholic schooling?
For the first few months, every time I admitted my calling out loud it sounded intimidating; it sounded frightening; it sounded chaotic even. My stomach was all knots. My eyes filled with tears. My voice was hoarse and mumbled. Yet as the days and the weeks and the months went on, every time I admitted my calling my voice grew louder, stronger, more confident in this crazy notion planted deep with my soul. Yes, it was nerve-racking, but thank God fifteen years ago the Holy Spirit created a holy discomfort in me.
And the Holy Spirit has a habit of doing just that—time and time again. She has a habit of creating beautiful moments of holy discomfort in our lives. Like in our Pentecost scene for today, Acts 2. The disciples are all gathered together to celebrate a holiday, the Jewish festival of Shavuot, when they give thanks for the wheat harvest as well as remember the imparting of God’s holy law in the form of the Ten Commandments. The disciples are chilling, just hanging out, minding their own business. I imagine the table is set. The food is prepared. The wine is probably flowing. When all of a sudden the celebration is interrupted and the narrative is turned upside down. A violent rushing wind blows open the door, stirring up papers, blowing out candles, whipping up the table cloth. Then crackling erupts directly over the disciples heads, and flames burst forth—seeminly ready to ignite their hair on fire. A scene of sheer chaos ensues. The Holy Spirit has created a holy commotion. The disciples are stirred up, filled with the Spirit, set on fire for the Gospel, and they can’t help but share the good news—that all-consuming love of God—with all of those pilgrims and peoples gathered in Jerusalem—from every tongue, tribe, and nation.
It’s an awesome moment, but an uneasy moment as well—full of violent wind, and tongues of flame, and a dangerous mission to the ends of the earth.
These disciples are not alone in their holy discomfort. For they follow in the footsteps of so many shaken up by God’s Spirit. Like the prophet Moses, a man who was slow of speech and slow of tongue but then he encounters God in the midst of the mountain desert, in the form of a burning bush. His life as a shepherd is disrupted, and he is thrown into a place of holy discomfort, demanding the liberation of his people from slavery in Egypt.
Or like the prophet Samuel, who was just a child at the time, yet he kept hearing the voice of God calling to him in the night. At first he was so confronted, so disrupted, so discombobulated by this strange voice that he thought it was his mentor, Eli. And yet he finally gets the message and exclaims to our Lord, “Here I am!” Samuel then went on to become a prophet who anointed king and called them on out on their “stuff” too.
Or like the Samaritan woman at the well—from the Gospel of John 4—, a woman who was just heading out for the afternoon to draw a bucket of water. When she was disturbed by a Jewish man who knew her entire life’s history; disrupting her routine; displaying her vulnerabilities. Yet in the midst of meeting Jesus, she was forever changed and became the first evangelist—encouraging her town, her friends and family to come and see this Jesus of Nazareth!
Our God shook up the lives of all of these individuals—shaken from a place despair to a place of hope; shaken from a place trepidation to one of purpose; shaken from a place of passivity to one of possibilities. This is the path we too have chosen. This is the path of following Jesus—this path that’s full of holy discomfort.
My friends, on this path we have chosen, by being a part of this thing called church, the Holy Spirit is working on us, in us, and through us. She is disrupting our lives, stirring our souls, shaking us up, unsettling us, creating holy discomfort in us—, so that true transformation is the only option. So that we can’t help but want to take action and be a part of God’s divine vision for this broken world.
Those moments when our souls are stirred, when tears well up in our eyes, when are stomachs are balled up in knots, maybe the Holy Spirit is purposefully creating a holy discomfort in us. When we cannot stand to hear words of bigotry and hate spewed at our human brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is creating holy discomfort in us. When we become queasy as we consider the multitude of women who can claim “me too,” the Holy Spirit is creating holy discomfort in us. When we weep for all of the children killed in so school shootings across our country, the Holy Spirit is creating holy discomfort in us.
For when God enters our lives, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, when she is poured out upon us, we cannot remain passive. We cannot keep quiet. We cannot stay the same. But we instead are unsettled, are shaken up, are discomforted. Like our reading from Romans reminds us: when we see the hurt in the world around us, we groan as if in labor pains. Yet that same spirit that stirs up something in us, empowers us to go out into that hurting world and preach and practice God’s peace and love.
So my friends, my prayer on this Pentecost Sunday is that the Holy Spirit fills the people of St. Patrick’s and creates some holy discomfort in all of us.