Whitsunday: The Day of Pentecost
23 May 2010
A sermon by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
O God, who on this day didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
1 Corinthians 12:4-13
Last week I took up the theme of Christian unity. I talked about how in and through the Paschal Mystery—the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ—we are given the power to be one with God and with each other. Ascended into heaven so that he might share himself with the whole Cosmos, Christ Jesus invites us to accept this gift. He invites us to accept the gift of atonement with God by calling us to the waters of Baptism. He invites us to accept the gift of atonement with God by living lives in community with each other nourished by the Eucharistic meal where we make our bodies one with his. He invites us to accept the gift of atonement with God and grow into the full stature of Christ in which we are given the power to love and be loved.
To help us accept that extraordinary gift of atonement—the gift to be at one with God and with each other—God sent us his Holy Spirit to quicken our hearts, to breathe life into our bodies, and to show us that while Jesus may have ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, God is never further from us than a hair’s breadth. This is the feast we celebrate today on Whitsunday. This is the occasion on which, as a community, we respond to the invitation given to us in the Paschal Mystery. This is the occasion on which we gather together as one body and say “yes,” say “Amen,” to God’s call to us to be one with him. For on this day we enact, we live-out atonement with God as we celebrate the baptism of Katherine, Jim, and Oliver and welcome into our midst these our new brothers and sister in Christ. We will pray that as they grow into the full stature of Christ they will grow to embrace and embody our call to live lives as receivers and givers of divine love. We will be reminded of our own call to grow and live in this way and we all will reaffirm our unity with each other and with God, a unity at the centre of which is love.
I wish, therefore, to take a little closer look at the nature of this unity that is ours as a gift from God, that is something that can not be taken away. I believe with all my heart that at the heart of unity is not agreement, but rather relationship, connexion.
We are one with God and with each other in the humanity we all share with Jesus. We are one with God and with each other in Baptism. We are one with God and with each other in the Sacrament of the Altar. We are one with God and with each other in proclaiming the ancient faith of the Church, the faith of the Creeds. This is where our unity lies. Each of these signs of our unity has God’s volition and not our own at its heart. Each of these signs is a connexion with God and with each other because of what we do when we gather together—not just together in this place, but together as Christians around the world united in the waters of Baptism, the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and in the formulae of the Creeds.
Unity is not agreeing about churchmanship. It is not agreeing about church polity. It is not agreeing about politics. It is not agreeing about social issues. Unity is not about being the same. Unity is not being of one mind with each other, it is having the mind of Christ.
There are, therefore, many ways of being Christian, many ways of being at one with others, while still showing forth the other unique gifts that God has given each of us. In today’s Epistle from Corinthians, Paul speaks of the “varieties of gifts” given by the “same Spirit.” He says that “there are varieties of service, but the same Lord, varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires every one.” “To one is given ... the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge ..., to another gifts by healing ..., to another the working of miracles, to another prophesy” and so forth. Each of us is called to exercise different gifts and skills in the service of that same love, and yet we are “all the members of the body.”
Even more wonderful than each of us being given different skills and talents to bring to bear on our work as God’s one people, we are called to have our own opinions and thoughts, to exercise the gift that we all have been given to think for ourselves. Indeed, after baptising Katherine, Jim, and Oliver each in turn, I will pray on all our behalf to God that he will, “Sustain them ... in thy Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love thee, and the gift of joy and wonder in all thy works.” The waters of Baptism are not the waters of forgetfulness, they are not waters that relieve us of our free will or of free choice. Passing through the waters of Baptism, becoming one with God and with us in and through the Paschal Mystery, we are called to exercise even more powerfully our gifts of memory, reason, and skill. We are called to have “inquiring and discerning hearts,” so that we may search out the meaning of our relationship with God and probe its mysteries in order to live more fully in love with God and one another. We are called to have “the courage to will and persevere” because life in relationship with God is not easy, because God does not relieve us of the complexities of life and relationships, because although it is hard live in love is worth the struggle. We are called to have “a spirit to know and to love thee,” to keep desiring relationship with God. Finally, we are called to have “the gift of joy and wonder in all thy works.” “The gift of joy and wonder in all thy works:” to me the most beautiful hope of all, to see and enjoy the beauty of creation, the fruits of deep and abiding relationships with all whom we love, to have a child-like sense of wonder at the majesty of God and at the power of God’s love to make all things new.
These are the hopes we have for Katherine and Oliver who are just starting out on their journey. It is the hope we have for Jim who, like Dante in the Divine Comedy “is at the midway point in the journey of his life.” It is the hope we have for each and every one of us where ever we are on our life’s journey. It is never to early or too late to start.
With these hopes, the newly baptised, like each of us has the possibility to be an unique expression of atonement with God, an unique expression into creation of God’s love. In this way, the One Body of Christ can be, should be, and (in reality) is truly diverse and expressive of the fullness, the encompassing nature of God. I want to leave you on this day of the gift of the Holy Ghost, with my prayer that there is hope for unity, real Christian unity that lies at the heart of the Gospel in the person of Christ Jesus. For unity, real unity is nothing more, nothing less than about being at one with Christ in Baptism, taking into ourselves the Body of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar, and going forth into the world to be receivers and bearers of the love of God.
Andrew C. Blume+
New York City
Easter/Ascension Feria, 18 May 2010
© 2010 Andrew Charles Blume