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May, 20 2018

Pentecost Sunday (B)

Deacon Dave Shea, DMin

 

She had spent months preparing for her mission trip. Jill had studied the history of Cambodia; she had grappled with the frightening reality of the genocide that had systematically destroyed more than two million people—a whole generation wiped away. As prepared as she thought she was, it wasn’t enough. On the two-day trip to the other side of the world, it occurred to her that she was going into the unknown to do something she had never done. It was just plain frightening to think about her own safety and health. She began to question her motives—“Why am I doing this?” She wondered about how she was going to relate to those orphans afflicted with AIDS; if she was going to be able to make a difference.

It is a country that still bears the wounds of one of the worst human tragedies of the twentieth century. And yet, this is the place where Jill would spend two weeks doing mission work. That day she walked through the Killing Fields that had become a cemetery and memorial for an entire generation of Cambodians, she found pieces of clothing once worn by those who were massacred. And she spent the longest time looking at human bones that had been recovered from that now sacred ground and placed atop display cases for all to see and remember. She worked every day painting walls of village homes and her nights were spent with the children. She found that her presence alone had a great impact and she discovered that will and faith can beat worry, fear and doubt every time.

And it occurred to her that if she had really thought about all the obstacles; that if she had given in to her worry, her fear, and her doubts, she would never imagine doing what she did.

I have often wondered what I’d do if one of my grandchildren was in peril, as horrible as it is to think about—trapped in a burning home, drowning in the lake where they spend summer vacations. I’m not especially heroic and I’m not a good swimmer and I’d feel overwhelmed and scared to death, but I don’t think I’d hesitate for a moment. I’d run into that burning building and jump into the water and do what I have never done. And so would every parent and grandparent here today; doing the impossible, doing what we could not possibly do on our own.

Something amazing happened to those disciples on that first Pentecost. They were an unremarkable bunch—most were fishermen, one was a tax collector, another a militant who drew his sword on that night in the garden. An odd bunch but Jesus had hand-picked each of them. They were huddle behind locked doors, still caught up in the horror of what had happened to Jesus. “The violence that had marked the last few days of Jesus’ life still hung in the air.” Jesus’ teaching and his words had come to an end—he had left them and they worried about how in the world they were they going to do what he had asked them to do. And in an instant, they were all swept up in a “holy hurricane” that sent sparks flying around the room that burst into tongues of flame over their heads. And they were radically changed as the Holy Spirit filled them. They were given “courage, insight, and eloquence.” The Spirit, the next best thing to Jesus himself, clarified everything they had ever heard from Jesus. The Spirit restored their memory; things they had all but forgotten. All of the head-scratching and struggling to understand was over. And that odd bunch became the Church—writing Scriptures, serving others, emptying their pockets for those in need, and bringing others everything they had learned from Jesus. They were doing remarkable, heroic and incredible things they could never have done on their own.

What about us? What does this mean for us as we gather so many years later? We want; we need that Pentecost experience, that same infusion of the Spirit in our lives; the tongues of heavenly fire bursting above our heads; that same fire that God turned loose on the disciples, just like the flames from our great fire on that Easter’s Eve.  For most, that’s not what happens—it seems we come in a distant second behind those who were there on that first Pentecost. And for some, it’s like the Spirit never came. Or so we think.

 The truth is the gifts of the Spirit, the gifts they received, those same gifts are given to us. Oh it’s not nearly as spectacular as that first Pentecost, but it still happens. Those gifts—the wisdom that helps us to embrace our faith and the teachings of our Church; the strength to speak out on our love for Christ; the insight to hear the very words that God wants us to hear when our scriptures are proclaimed; the zeal to seek out the sacraments and the passion to take what we have been given and share it with others. Yeah, those gifts driven by wind and fire, they make it possible to do what we could never do on our own . . . if we only try, if we only take a risk like Jill did on her mission trip to Cambodia, like every parent and grandparent would do to save the lives of their children and grandchildren, like those first disciples speaking and acting just like Christ. Being “filled with the Spirit is not just a one-time historical event—the Spirit is our life-breath too.” That same force can transform us . . . if we let it.

  

Note:

Thanks to Jill Wahlbrink, for not only sharing her mission story, but all of her thoughts and feelings as she did what she could never have done on her own. Jill graduated from Villanova just days ago and will be beginning her career working for Habitat for Humanity.

References:

Craddock, Fred B. The Cherry Log Sermons. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Gomes, Peter J. Sermons, Biblical Wisdom For Daily Living. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1998.

Moloney, Francis J. and Daniel J. Harrington, editor. The Gospel of John. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1998.

Siciliano, Jude, OP. First Impressions. www.preacherexchange.org  

Taylor, Barbara Brown. Home By Another Way. Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1999.

The Center for Liturgy. Solidarity and Courage, John Kavanaugh, S.J.  http://www.liturgy.slu.edu/

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