Pentecost • 15 May 2016

Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8: 14-17
John 14: 8-17, 25-27

Rev. John Candy

The Promised Gift

In Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour, much is made of thank-you notes, especially thank-you notes for wedding presents. One of her sample letters reads as follows:

Dear Aunt Patience,
Rhino and I are thrilled with the magnificent silver sugar shaker you sent us. It adds not only beauty and dignity to our table, but amusement, too, as some of our friends who are both ignorant and daring have not waited for the berries to be served, but have shaken it over their meat. "This could only have come from your Aunt Patience," said one, and we were proud to say that it had. Rhino joins me in thanking you for your kindness. We look forward to having you in our new home.

Most of us have gotten gifts that we weren't quite sure how to use. We smile politely, say "thank you very much," but think to ourselves, "What on earth am I supposed to do with this?" With any luck, the giver will notice a look of perplexity on our faces, and give us some clue as to the intended purpose of the item. But, just as often, we are left to figure it out for ourselves. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don't, and there are times that we just never find out how this beautiful but strange gift is supposed to be used.

I would almost take a bet that it wasn't too different for Jesus' disciples in this morning's gospel. They receive the gift of the Holy Spirit -- and the question is asked. "What on earth am I supposed to do with this?" Even if they don't say it out loud, the question is implied. Nobody had ever received that gift before. There was no helpful lady at the registry at Myers or David Jones to tell them just why they should have this particular item and how to use it. And so, when Jesus breathes on his followers and gives them this amazing and perplexing gift, he tells them right away how to use it -- to forgive sins and to be bearers of peace.

When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, it is not ours to keep tucked away for our private use. The Holy Spirit is a gift that is to be shared generously and lavishly. Like the fine china and beautiful linens, we give and receive as wedding presents, the Holy Spirit is given as a token of the day on which we take vows to live in unity with Christ. And, like those beautiful dishes and tablecloths, the Holy Spirit is a sign that our lives with the Lord will be lived not in isolation, but in gracious and loving service to other people.

Can you see them inside the room waiting, can you bring that image into your mind? Can you hear them? What are they talking about? What are they eating? Are there children running around? Maybe they are talking politics— the merits of paying taxes to Caesar and the need for financial reform. Maybe they are contemplating religious pluralism— their precious temple as one of many in the Roman world. Maybe they are working on language for Jesus as part of their understanding within their Jewish heritage.

They’ve experienced so many new things in their faith since Jesus . . . how does all of this fit together? And so they sit inside, waiting for what they think will be the answer. A gust of wind comes through the windows. A powerful Spirit blows through the room. A moving breath stirs around them. And then fire rests on each of them. Fire is used symbolically all through the Jewish scriptures as revelation that God is present and acting. A great Spirit blows through the place and the very presence of God is with them.

Then the story continues . . . The wind must’ve made a quite an upheaval and a disruption because the people outside come running over to see what is going on, and that’s when it gets really interesting. Those people on the outside can hear and understand those on the inside. The people on the inside are, all of a sudden, able to interact with those on the outside. Pentecost lures the followers of Jesus outside: outside their room, outside their comfort zones, outside their traditions, outside of themselves. What if Pentecost is about luring us outside? What if Pentecost lures us outside of our comfort zones, or our traditions, or our agendas?

In the Church today we begin the season of Pentecost. This is a day when we give thanks for God’s many gifts and blessings, for the Church in which we are nurtured and through baptism are made members. We make promises or have promises made for us when we join this family of God through baptism. And in baptism there are promises to be faithful in our vows, not only to God but to each other.

And then at another rite of passage in human life marriage, there are not only gifts at the time of marriage but marriage also forms earthly and visible families, groups of people who promise to be together in good times and bad, to balance each other's talents and abilities, so that in sharing and giving of what they have and who they are, they will live a life that is fuller and more satisfying than any life they could possible imagine having alone.

Graciously with the very best of what we have and the various talents of each person we are called to make the whole thing work. This doesn't happen in isolation, but in consciously living in the wider community of God's family. Baptism, in some ways, is no different. "We receive you into the household of God," we will say after the new Christian has had water poured and oil placed on his or her head. They receive the best that the One whom they have promised to love even to the end has to give. And, like the fine china and silver of the wedding, that expensive gift of the Spirit is used in service, nourishment and love for others.

That gift of the Holy Spirit, for forgiveness and peace, is not just for use within the Christian community, but also to the wider world -- to show the gracious hospitality and welcoming love of God for all of humankind.

All baptised people have received this gift. It takes on as many different appearances but the difference is that it is not us, but God, who chooses our pattern for us, who gives us the gift that will best suit the table in the household of the Church which we open in loving service to others. All baptised people promise to seek and serve Christ by serving their brothers and sisters in the human family. We aren't baptised just for ourselves; we are baptised for the whole world.

We bring the beautiful and precious gifts of our baptism to the banquet table of God's family. Each of us has something different and distinctive to bring to this table. Each of us has something to give thanks for and today we are able to renew our Covenant with our God to share those blessings that we have received. At God's table, every colour, shape and texture of dinnerware -- from the finest gold-banded china to hand-thrown pottery, and even paper plates -- is needed, wanted and welcome. Until everyone has a place setting at the table, a place specially designed for that person, there is something missing at the feast.

In the church, our visible household of God on earth, we need to welcome all the ways that God has given us in this wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit to share with each other. Whatever form the gift of the Holy Spirit takes in each and every one of us, we are to offer the gifts that we have as a welcome addition to the life of the family of God, and to rejoice that it makes our life together fuller and richer than any we could possibly imagine if it were absent.

Pentecost seems to be the season in which we celebrate such things. We welcome all to our celebration and to share the gifts they have and let us all give thanks and again renew our Covenant with God. We pray that for us all that our lives will be richer and fuller than it was before and that we are also enriched by each one’s presence and gifts among us.