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This Is Not a Graduation Sermon
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on May 19, 2013

Christ Church Andover
Year C, Pentecost
May 19, 2013

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be always acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.

I don’t watch the television channel CSPAN all that often, but I do love watching it in the early summer when they broadcast all sorts of graduation and commencement speeches from colleges and universities all over the country. I don’t clearly remember my own graduations speakers, there was too much adrenaline and chaos for me to properly acknowledge some of the wisdom offered from any podium, but when the cap and gown came off and were returned, then I found that I was interested in what these folks were offering as pearls of wisdom to all these newly released young adults.

Some of the most memorable ones I heard were not based in accolades for a good job finished, nor in cultivating the notion that these are the glory days, found in youth and exuberance, but the speeches which offer, in the words of the famed preacher Peter Gomes, ‘strength for the journey’. Our culture is particularly and peculiarly goal-oriented. We do much that can be evaluated, codified, examined for accuracy and measured, so that we can compare our own experience to those around us. This season of graduation can make much of finishing, or completion, of the ‘education’ part of life—that perhaps our learning has ended and now our true worth to the world begins now that we can attempt to join the work force.

The feast of Pentecost is one of our five major feast days, and you can tell a feast day in the Episcopal Church by whether or not we offer the sacrament of baptism on that day. The Baptism of Our Lord in January; Easter, in the mid-spring; Pentecost in early summer; All Saints’ Day at the very end of our liturgical year. All of these feasts offer a glance into the life of the faithful, into the milestones that we ourselves might see as ‘graduation’ of sorts. The story we hear every year in Acts 2 is the final chapter in the motley crew of disciples in Jerusalem being that small, rag tag, mediocre operation. They have witnessed Jesus’ life and signs throughout his ministry in Galilee and his entrance into Jerusalem; his death on the cross; the emptiness of the tomb on Easter morning. And then, after his resurrection, they had the ongoing gift of Jesus’ presence for forty days, what we refer to in the church as Eastertide. Jesus wasn’t there with them per se, but he would appear to them at crucial moment- within the locked upper room after the crucifixion, when the disciples were paralyzed with fear; on the road to Emmaus when he was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread; at the Sea of Tiberias when he forgave Peter. For forty days, Jesus acted as divine version of ‘training wheels’ for us new bicycle riders. When the disciples wobbled, when they were too afraid to pedal for fear of falling over, Jesus gave them a push, reminding them (to paraphrase, this is NOT scriptural) that if they pedaled fast, they could keep their own selves upright.

On the fortieth day, according to scripture, Jesus ascended into heaven to be with the father. He always told us he was going to do that, and even this morning’s gospel echoes that message, even though in our timeline, Jesus says this even before he leaves for Jerusalem. For ten days, between Ascension and Pentecost (which means fifty days), the disciples remained alone—Jesus was with God and the Spirit had not yet descended upon God’s people. But at Pentecost—this strange, often ignored spring feast day—we celebrate that descent of the Holy Spirit on all of the disciples, manifested as tongues of fire touching each one present on the head, transforming them into bearers of the Word, harbingers of hope, messengers of God’s transforming, ever-living love. Jesus refers to this Spirit as the Advocate, telling his disciples in those beautiful last sentences of the Gospel of John this morning, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

It is on this day that the disciples—in the Greek meaning generally ‘followers, students of Christ’—turned into apostles—which means the bearers, the messengers of Christ. It is on this day that that rag tag team of fishermen began to understand that their role had changed—not ended, but changed. It wasn’t about being told what to do, or staying together in a huddled group of ‘in-crowders’, but about living into the promise that Jesus had always held out for them—that there was something larger to be experienced. The Good News of God was not to be held in, either in one’s mind or heart or for one’s own personal edification, or even within one particular group, but it was to be shared among all. The Word, the Good News, the story of God’s redeeming love was, with the power of the Holy Spirit, meant to set the world on fire, to set the church on fire, knowing that God did not leave or abandon God’s people, but instead empowered them to be present enough to transformation that they could share it with the world.

We baptize today because these new members in the community of Christ are ultimately not our own to keep and hold as members just of this church, or participants just in this community. We baptize on Pentecost to remind ourselves that we are not just members of this community or parishioners just of Christ Church, but delegates of the Holy Spirit and empowered as such to be known beyond the walls of this building. The church, as it was in the first centuries, had no building to occupy or claim. Their ‘church’ was their community, the people, the gathered faithful. Our church is not just this place, nor this particular and peculiar people; because of the experience of Pentecost when all those people in Acts 2, who should have been divided by language and ethnicity and nationality and economic status, were brought together and each could understand one another—because of that day, we were bound as one. We are Christians. We are the church. We are the bearers of the Word for the world, not depending on someone else to do it for us. We look to Jesus as our savior, our teacher, our incarnate image of God. But Jesus did his work, and I might add, did it well- and now it is up to us to continue that, accompanied b the Spirit, who breathes into us, should we be open to it, reminders of what God’s grace and love can and will do should we trust them, and each other, enough.

Pentecost is the feast when our question is not ‘what can faith do for me’, but rather ‘what can I do in the world, transformed by the love of God, and not bound by fear’. How do we live into our roles as apostles? What good news do we bring to the world around us, which in many ways is shackled to the concrete brokenness that we can sometimes feel? There is a Kenyan proverb that our young adult intern program, Life Together, uses to describe its mission: if you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. We don’t ‘finish’ our course as Christians, or get ‘graduated’ in any way--- in fact, we conscientiously avoid that, by celebrating the same feast days in our liturgical cycle again and again each year—exactly because our ‘accomplishment’ in Christ is never fully realized. We, empowered by the Spirit, are transformed again and again throughout our lives. We don’t get diplomas for ‘achieving’ faith, but find that every time something changes in our lives, whether it is a joy or a challenge or a loss, our faith is modified and reformed offering us something different to be present to. The Holy Spirit allows us to be adaptable, melding and morphing to make us messengers at different times in different places, and using different language throughout our lives to make sense of that grace and presence of God. There is no one right answer. There is no ‘A’ or ‘A+’, or even a grade in faith-filled life. There is no comparing oneself to one’s peers, because we were all made in gloriously unique images of God, given the gift of finding our own relationship with the Spirit, and understanding that the same Spirit that brings our my gifts enables you to bring out your gifts and grace. There is such a thing as ignoring the presence of the Spirit, but in my experience, those tongues of fire will come in an even more deliberate way to gain one’s attention.

So for our four baptismal candidates and their families today: God has started something in you, and is far from finished with you. For our congregants: God has started something in you, and is far from finished with you. For those visiting with us today: God has started something in you, and is far from finished with you. We are never finished, only growing in new ways. May we trust the Spirit to lead us to new places, new heights, new relationships, new ways of giving of ourselves that graduation means only transformation, and that the best of our glory days are never ‘back then’, but always ahead and waiting for us.


Last Published: June 6, 2013 9:31 PM