Pentecost Sunday – 6-9–2019 – St. Paul’s
People have asked me what the purpose of a collar is for priests. I usually tell them I wear mine for two reasons only: to get into hospitals and out of speeding tickets.
It seems though when I wear the collar I along with other priests tend to be targets. Not just in persecution times because they were leaders—-think of Deitrich Bonhoffer in Nazi Germany or Oscar Romero, martyred in El Salvador—-but in benign times as well. Because the collar and black suit mark out the priest, kids stare at him and slightly tipsy women and men at wedding receptions, glass in hand, weave their way over to ask a priest to hear their confessions. Or people will remark with knowing looks that, now that Father’s here, they’ll have to watch their language and off-color jokes, and the host will see that a priest is seated with safe people.
Priests don’t mind. It’s a minor misery. I have grown to expect that. It goes with the territory. But priests also tend to brace themselves for the inevitable angry bore—not infrequently an ex-member of a church—who spots the collar from across the room and makes a bee-line for his/her target. Why are you wasting your time in that stupid church? I finally wised up and got out.
Then, obviously having read Dan Brown, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens, he/she goes on to spout the familiar litany of all that is wrong with religion in general and the church in particular: the inquisition, the Crusades, the bad popes and Bishops, clerical sex scandals, the degradation of women, dull Eucharists, lousy sermons, money grubbing clerics, hypocritical and judgmental members, and so on. I think the church was even blamed for Donald Trumps hairdo.
Of course, I am familiar with the litany of accusations. The church has had and does have many problems and too often is like a dysfunctional family. So why stay, why put up with such misery? Why? Because of Jesus’ words in today’s gospel, I will give you another nAdvocate to be with you always. ALWAYS, notice.
This always-abiding Presence, this Holy Spirit of Pentecost, makes the difference. That’s why we put up with it. Jesus promised to be with us no matter what we may be like on any given day, when we’re good and when we’re bad; when we’re heroic and when we’re cowardly; when we’re faithful and when we’re not.
Now you can choose to believe or not believe in this presence of the Holy Spirit. If you choose not to believe you can checklist the church’s problems and walk away in disgust: The church is nothing but a pack of barking dogs baying at a silly monkey atop a tree. You’ll see why I use this analogy in just a moment…..And if you choose to believe,…..you must look not only for signs of church failures as well as signs of the loving, liberating and life-giving Spirit.
Then you will begin to notice, with great regularity, in the worst of times and in the depths of misery, how God has a tendency, out of nowhere, to raise up holy ones who advertise the presence of the Holy Spirit: a Catherine of Genoa and Brother Lawrence in the kitchen, a Charles de Foucauld in the desert, a Damien in the leper colony, a Mother Teresa in the slums, a Thomas Merton in the Village, a Samuel Isaac Joseph Shereshevsky behind the typewriter, a reformed alcoholic priest in the debris of 9/11. Or locally…a Bob Crockett in our building and on our grounds….Dave Mainz on the trails, Dot Mainz behind the quilting machine, Shere and Kathie at our altar, Aurie on the phone, internet expressing care, Nick with his guitar, Allison in the halls of Dirk Anderson, Chip always coming out of his office at the bank, Lana at her easel, Lonn and Dedie our living treasures…to name just a few…..
Pentecost, friends, celebrates that. It celebrates the abiding presence of Jesus, the persistence and surprises of the Spirit that give us reasons to remain Christian.
This truth calls for reinforcement so I have a parable for you. It is one I heard when I took a group of students from St. Stephen’s Episcopal school to Haiti to work with our sister school..St. Etienne….located in the community of Salmadere in the Central Plateau region of Haiti. St. Etienne, is a primary school for 300+ Haitian children. It was in a sermon given on Pentecost by the priest who founded 19 Episcopal schools in Haiti….It is a Haitian folk tale…As you listen, I ask you to think Pentecost.
Once upon a time, in the middle of a great forest, there lived an old women who kept hives of bees. By the end of the summer she had more honey then she could use. Every jar, every bowl and barrel were filled to overflowing with the sweet golden honey. The old women kept some for herself. The rest she poured into a great pot, lifted the pot on top of her head, and set off to market. Off she went through the great forest for days with the pot balanced on her head.
Just as she heard the market place she accidentally caught her foot on a tree root and went flying. There was a great crash. The pot had fallen and smashed to the ground, oozing the sweet sticky honey all over the forest floor. The woman just sat there and began to cry. Oh misery!, she moaned. Papa God, you sent me too much misery! After a long while, she finally got up, trudged home with a heavy heart crying all the while. Misery! Oh, misery! Papa God, you sent me too much misery!
Now it so happened that a little monkey, sitting high among the branches, saw the whole thing. As soon as the woman was out of sight, he swung down to the ground. He looked and looked at the strange sticky stuff. He had never seen anything like it before. Cautiously he dipped one of his fingers into it and touched his lips. Oh, my, he exclaimed to himself, this misery is good! I’ve never tried misery before. He scooped up a whole handful and swallowed it. He ate and ate until he got down to licking the pot until there simply wasn’t anymore. Oh, but there had to be more. I want more, he cried.
And then he remembered hearing the old woman saying, Papa God, why’d you send me so much misery? He scratched his head. So that’s where misery comes from!
Maybe, he thought to himself, maybe if I paid Papa God a visit he’d give me some misery. And the more he thought about it the better the idea seemed.
So off he went. Back to the trees and then to the mountains and he climbed and climbed until at last he came to Papa God’s house. And there was Papa God himself, sitting in the garden just watching the world.
Beg your pardon, Papa god, he shouted.
Papa God turned and saw him and smiled, Ah, little monkey, what do you want?
Begging your pardon, Papa God, said the little monkey, more than anything else, I want misery.
Papa god looked puzzled. You want misery, little one?
Oh yes, sweet sticky misery. I want as much as you can give me, Papa God.
Papa God got up, thought for a minute, and said, Well, it just so happens that I have got some special misery made just for monkeys. Are you sure you want it? The monkey nodded his head. So Papa God went inside his house and, after a spell, returned carrying a leather bag. He said to the monkey, Little monkey, this bag is full of misery. Now you must pay attention and do exactly what I tell you. First of all, you must carry this bag to the middle of a great sandy desert where there are no trees and where, in fact, they can’t grow. Then, once you’re there, you will slowly open the bag and inside you’ll find more misery than you ever dreamed of.
The monkey was delighted and wasted no time. He took the leather bag and climbed back down to the world and he ran and ran until he came to the edge of a great desert and then he ran and ran some more until he came to its very center. Exhausted, he sat down. His hands were trembling in anticipation of all that misery. So he opened the drawstrings of the bag just as Papa god had told him and out came real monkey misery….dogs! One, two, three, up to seven huge, hungry black dogs!
The monkey screamed, dropped the bag and ran literally for his life. The seven black dogs were snapping at his tail. They were getting closer and closer. And just when he thought he could go no farther and the dogs were sure to get him…a tree appeared!
Out of nowhere a huge, great tree appeared, right in the middle of the desert where trees, of course do not grow at all. The monkey scrambled up the tree as fast as he could, leaving the seven snarling dogs leaping up and down the trunk.
And for the rest of the day he sat in the tree branches, quaking with fear until the sun went down, and the dogs, frustrated, eventually slunk away. As soon as they were gone and the monkey thought it was safe, he climbed down and ran for the forest as fast as he could and never looked back.
Now, the question – the Pentecostal question – is this: Where did that tree come from? Who put that great tree where trees don’t grow, right there in the middle of a hot, dry desert?
I’ll tell you. Papa God put it there. Why? Because Papa God knows that too much misery is not a good thing, even for a monkey.
Message: We rejoice in the mercies and put up with the miseries of our church because we believe with all our hearts that, true to Jesus’ promise, the always-present Spirit continues to grow trees where they don’t grow.
Let us pray:
Come, Spirit of God, Sweep through our world bringing great change. May the bounty of your goodness be shared more justly, So all may share in the rich blessings of your creation. And, for us, bring transformation in our praying and living, So that we may act justly, love mercy,And walk humbly with you all the days of our lives. Amen.
OPENING PRAYER Holy Spirit,
Move, swirl, and dance among us.
Remind us that you you are always present:
encouraging, luring, and inspiring us
to be the loving people you created us to be.
Stir us during this hour to walk humbly, embrace love,
and do justice in our unjust and fragmented world. Amen.
CALL FOR THE OFFERING
We have been adopted into God’s family,
and we are called to help
our brothers and sisters and all of creation.
Let us now bring forth this money that seems so little;
this worship that seems so small;
these words that never quite get it right
and by the power of your Spirit
transform it into enough money,
for proclaiming and enacting
your peace, justice, and love in the world.
Walk in love….
INVITATION TO THE TABLE
On Pentecost the world became a bit bigger.
The languages around the Lord’s table became more diverse.
New brothers and sisters were to be seen,
and the safety of being believers with only those just like us was gone.
Thanks be to God
that we also are welcome to this table in our own strangeness.
This is the Lord’s table spread for you.
Come, and hear your own language spoken.
The Spirit of God inspires…
The Spirit of God transforms…
The Spirit of God empowers…
go…and be…and do!
And may you…
those you encounter…
and those who are touched beyond that encounter…
Be blessed by God Almighty,
Our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life
As we and those we love and pray for
discover and know the grace, love, and peace of God
each and every day.