Date: June 4, 2017
Title: “Grace at the Table”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:4-13
Today is a BIG day in the life of the church. It is the day of Pentecost, when we celebrate the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. It is our day of Confirmation, when five young people will say “Yes!” to God, and receive the Holy Spirit in a new way. It is also a day when we share Communion, and find once again, God’s grace at the Table. It is no ordinary table, you know. It is a table set by the Holy Spirit, for a meal provided by God’s love. It is a table which holds within it the memory and the hope of Pentecost.
Beginning in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago, God surprises us with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, writing to the people of this annual conference suggests:
This Sunday Christians celebrate Pentecost, when people from many cultures and languages gathered and were blessed by the Holy Spirit, giving them ability to hear and understand each other. It is a familiar story. We take it for granted. But it is not reality in our world.
We are vividly reminded of that fact every time we pick up a newspaper, check the newsfeed on our phones or turn on the TV. Listening seems to be in short supply and understanding is even more rare. This is one reason that Pentecost drives us again and again, to find God’s grace at the table. Jill Oglesby Evans puts it this way:
On that first Pentecost, Jesus’ followers are transformed from a clutch of scared, like-minded folks hiding out from a baffling world, to an absurd collection of human candles set on fire to share what they know with the disbelieving and baffled world.
The Holy Spirit shows up and God is made understandable – or at least embraceable – by everyone. The Holy Spirit comes in so that we can go out, knowing there is no need for any of us to hide out any more. Again, in Bishop Stanovsky’s words:
We know the capacity of the human spirit to wander off and lose itself. It happens all the time, resulting in self-destructive, and other-destructive behavior. Last week we saw what happens when societal norms seem to give permission for people who have wandered away from basic civil behavior, to speak and act on their hatred.
Young women on a train are harassed, and three men who stand to protect them are stabbed, two to death. This unthinkable event is a jarring reminder that the values and norms of society are not a certainty. It’s far easier to tear them down than it was to build them in the first place. It makes me angry. I hope it makes you angry.
People of faith know that we are given life as a gift to share, to protect, to nurture. If you don’t intervene when you hear someone say something hateful, disrespectful, harmful, then you’re letting hate become normal. You are giving it a place to fester. Followers of Jesus should always be ready to step in when someone spews hate toward another. And the good news is that God’s Holy Spirit makes it possible for people to understand each other and to live together in peace.
e are all empowered to speak up – and to speak out – for love. But we will have to decide to do that, moment by moment and day by day. Dietrich Bonhoffer, a German pastor & theologian who tried to stop the Nazis during WWII, told the youth he once confirmed:
You do not have your faith once and for all. The faith you confess today with all your hearts needs to be regained tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, indeed, every day anew.
Because faith is a decision.
It is a decision which sometimes comes easily, and at other times is fraught with anxiety, fear and doubt. To our Confirmands today – and indeed, to all of us – I would say: be generous with yourself when you feel close to God, and equally generous when you feel far away. Remember that God is big enough to handle the greatest distance, and the most intimate connection between you. So if you need to shake your fist at God from time to time, that is okay, especially if you remember you can also always throw yourself back into God’s arms.
Because faith is a decision, don’t presume to limit God’s action in your life, or overlook the moments when God’s grace flows in you and through you for the sake of the world. Be open to this grace – that freely given love and power of God within you – and remember you are not in this life or in our faith alone. The apostle Paul puts a fine point on that when he tells us unapologetically that no single person or type of person can claim exclusive insight into the Spirit’s presence. The fullness of the Spirit’s work surely takes a community and it is given for us all.
Because faith is a decision, we know there is much work for us to do together. Yet, as hard as we work, we are also called to play – to rejoice in God’s presence and revel in the beauty of life. So don’t underestimate yourself, but don’t take yourself so seriously that you miss out on wonder or let go of awe.
As Marianne Williamson once wrote in her oft-quoted benediction:
We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?”
Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were all meant to shine. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
And so we shall… on this BIG day, and every one yet to come. With grace at the table and in each of our lives. Thanks be to God! Amen.