It is good to be here on the Feast of Pentecost, a great day in the church, and in order to try to understand what led up to that outpouring of spirit that day in Jerusalem, how it came to be, and why we are called to share in the spirit of Jesus; I want to share something called Spiritual Directions; which started out as three ideas, moved into a design and curriculum for quiet days and retreats as well as parish-based classes on building and remodeling your own spirituality, and is in the works as a diocesan resource in the coming year.
The first idea or image: picture a round table in the middle of your head; 12 people, more or less, sit there and try to run your life. They are probably not always the same people, and maybe you don’t even know who they all are. Speaking of my own table, my mother and father are often there, good friends, heroes and teachers and characters from books and stories I’ve heard, occasionally advertising slogans and songs and sometimes people show up who don’t like me very much. Everyone thinks it is a board of directors meetings and they are the ones in charge, so it gets noisy at times
I started inviting people to this table when I was a little boy: other people’s ideas of good or bad or right or wrong, popularity or principles, what was worth working for, who I could trust. They can be a very mixed bag.Where do they come from?
Let’s go back to the myth of the Garden of Eden, God takes Adam for a walk in the garden and Adam names things: cow, sheep, light, dark, good, bad, and all the rest of it. My table is my participation in walking with God, my attempt to make the world makes sense, to hold together, safe for me; but it isn’t a lively enough, it falls into idolatry, because it is only a child’s exercise. We participate in the process that God goes through, turning nothing into something, chaos into order and cosmos. We arrange the world like God does, naming it like Adam does, and we make mistakes along the way.
So the table is one idea and here’s the second. In my early 30s I realized that the most essential gesture of being human is walking along and coming to place on the path with a corner, where the road takes a curve and you can’t see the way ahead, and you have to go on by faith. This pattern happens all the time: a child starting the first day of school, beginning a new job, falling in love, getting married or getting divorced, dealing with illness, the death of a loved one, facing our own death, any failure or success or surprise; life turns corners and we must travel blindly with whatever faith we can lay hold of in that minute.
That is where Jesus meets us on the Way, the most faithful pilgrim walking the curving road, sharing his life, his teaching, his hope, his questions, his death, and an understanding of God that is open hearted and open ended, with an invitation to come together on that long journey, so that we don’t get lost on the way.
We are reading John’s Gospel this season, where Jesus is speaks as a teacher and a master, that’s John’s focus. But in Matthew, Mark and Luke there is another subtler picture of a human being, full of the glory of God, walking along a path with everyone else and being surprised by chaos and community and gift and grace and life and death and all the rest: There God in Christ is on the human way, walking our unfinished journey, where the open-ended quandaries and questions take us in new directions, makes us new people in a new world. Jesus meets us on that incomplete journey, knows the contours of the road, as God’s good news and Lord and Savior and friend on that unfinished frontier brings us home at the last.
So that’s one and two: Table and Journey, and there’s always tension between them: the table argues from history and tradition, goes on what worked before, doesn’t want to upset things, then the journey calls to give up your life as a committee meeting and take it up as communion, as pilgrimage, over moment by moment, day by day, here and now. Just like Jesus; dying to those old laws so that we may rise up into this new love. And that’s why we need the spirit, that is why we come to Pentecost..
Between the table and the journey there is nothing except a breath of fresh air and that’s number three: the same spirit-breathing the words, “Let there be light!” at the start; the same breath calling “Repent” by the Prophets when Israel starts worshiping money or power, or religion for that matter; moving away from the God of the journey, who taught them to walk by faith, leading them to the promised land by the long way home; the same breath as the angel speaking to Mary and and the same breath in Mary’s, “Let it be to me according to your word:” the same breath in Jesus saying “Blessed are the poor”, the same breath saying, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
Israel usually doesn’t know what to do with God’s breath and God’s word in the middle of daily life, and neither do we. We have to be saved by letting God’s breath breathe us day by day, here and now, with all our living and our dying, with all the gall and glory that Jesus found on the way, so that we all share in his resurrection. And the fact is that we can’t get there from here on our own.
So at Pentecost the gift that Jesus calls for in the Gospel of John comes forth, to the middle of the city, the middle of the table, to inspire us on an amazing journey, in the middle of all our curving ways, to turn our wandering into pilgrimage and our pilgrimage into homecoming by the gift of God’s Spirit in our lives.
This does not save us from uncertainty, but it assures us that God breathes us, God’s spirit inspires us, now and always, and there is no place where we can be separate from the love of God, the creativity of the father, the compassion of Christ, the indwelling of the spirit, whether we know it or not.
So three things: as God creates the world, we create a world at our table and usually get it wrong. Then Jesus joins us in our journey though the middle of the life to help us to see the crucial difference between being incomplete and unfinished, call us to take the pilgrim path, leaving the table to follow the way where nothing is certain and everything can be a gift from God, and where the spirit is willing to breathe new life into our old bodies at every instant on the way.
This may not make life simpler, likely won’t lead to easy certainties, but (according to the tradition and our biggest hope) it can enable us to find God’s glory and Christ’s call and compassion in every moment on the way. And finally, that spirit, that breath will send us back to feed the hungry table where we started with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. It will let that board meeting become a community called out of love, called into community, called to take the pilgrim way. It will lead us to make Eucharist in the middle of the world. And that is why we come to Pentecost.
In the name of Christ. Amen.