St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • Let’s See What Happens – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    May 23, 2021

    (Sorry!  No audio today!)

    This is a poem about Pentecost:

    On the day
    you are wearing
    your certainty
    like a cloak
    and your sureness
    goes before you
    like a shield
    or like a sword,

    may the sound
    of God’s name
    spill from your lips
    as you have never
    heard it before.

    May your knowing
    be undone.
    May mystery
    confound your
    understanding.

    May the Divine
    rain down
    in strange syllables
    yet with
    an ancient familiarity,
    a knowing borne
    in the blood,
    the ear,
    the tongue,
    bringing the clarity
    that comes
    not in stone
    or in steel
    but in fire,
    in flame.

    May there come
    one searing word –
    enough to bare you
    to the bone,
    enough to set
    your heart ablaze,
    enough to make you
    whole again.

    This poem is called “Blessing That Undoes Us” from Jan Richardson’s book, Circle of Grace, a collection of poetic blessings for different seasons of our church year.

    What Richardson explains to us in her poem is that the Day of Pentecost, this day on which we celebrate the coming of God’s Holy Spirit is a bit of a dangerous day, a day that undoes us. And in that undoing, we are blessed.

    But if you’re like me, you’re probably tired of being undone.  Because it’s felt like these past 14 months have been nothing but an undoing.

    An undoing of community. An undoing of safety.
    An undoing of normalcy. An undoing of family traditions. An undoing of relationships.
    An undoing of plans.
    An undoing of public health.
    An undoing of life for too many.

    And here we are today.  Together. No longer being undone by the pandemic, but being re-membered… knit together as a community as we celebrate in our sanctuary and participate in our Eucharistic practice. It feels wonderful to be together.  To see each other’s faces, to share the same space, the same air.  It feels holy and precious and sweet. It is indeed a blessing to re-member, to come together again.

    So this blessing, this blessing of being undone that Richardson speaks about, is of another kind.

    In the texts we are given for today – from the prophet Ezekiel and the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John – there is a theme.  Renewal.  Because they are baptismal texts, really. So many people talk about Pentecost as the birth of the church but, as the woman who ordained me, Bishop Nedi Rivera says, “The church was born when Jesus called the disciples.  Pentecost is the baptism of the church.”

    The baptism of the church.  The renewal of the church. The blessing and renewal of us.

    The Day of Pentecost, this bizarre story from the Acts of the Apostles reads like a fantasy story to our modern and post-modern sensibilities.  Something not to be trusted in these days when it’s hard to trust what we read or see on the news or even trust what the news is anymore. So how do we read this story?  What’s here for us?

    It says, “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

    It’s hard to imagine that “suddenly” we are given the ability to say things that we could never have said before.
    Or is it?  It could very well be that God’s Holy Spirit inspires people to speak in other languages.  I’m not disputing that.  But in my own life, it was a little different.

    I may have told you all this story before but when I first started going to church in my 30’s, I wasn’t looking for a church. I wasn’t looking for a community.  I really didn’t know what I was looking for, I just knew that it felt good to go. I had been baptized before in a perfunctory service but never really went to church.  Yet, there I was… nearly every Sunday morning… in a church.

    The music wasn’t great, so it wasn’t that.  I didn’t see too many people my age, so it wasn’t that.
    I liked the priest and thought his sermons were worth listening to. But that wouldn’t have compelled me to get up on a Sunday morning and drive 20 miles to church every week.
    To this day, I’m not sure exactly why I kept going back. I left the building most Sundays without talking to anyone, except the priest, Bill Ellis, who stood by the door at the end of worship to greet everyone and he genuinely seemed happy to see me.

    And, after about 6-8 months, I remember I asked Bill if I could speak with him.  I had some questions about the words we were saying. I couldn’t bring myself to say some of them because I didn’t agree with them.  They didn’t make sense to me. And instead of preaching to or at me, Bill invited me to continue listening to these words and, he said, “let’s see what happens if you try not to take them so literally.”  So I did.

    My perspective shifted – things I was certain about before, suddenly, I wasn’t so certain about them.  Instead, I became curious about things I would have never known how to open my heart to by myself.  This is, I think, how the Holy Spirit works – it is an invitation to see what happens if…

    Maybe you have a story like this – a story in which you laid down your certainty long enough to begin asking what might happen if you just tried something new, a new way of speaking God’s name, or just said yes to something you may have never said yes to before.  A story in which you heard yourself saying things you never thought you could have said before, trying something new and wondering, “let’s see what happens.”

    This pandemic that we have been through, that we are still going through, that is still claiming lives… we have experienced an undoing because our lives, our worldly, incarnate lives have been interrupted.  Our plans have been upended and the ground has felt shaky, untrustworthy. And whenever the ground feels shaky, that’s when we typically go into a “batten-down-the-hatches” kind of mode.  We naturally start to get protective and fearful and we have a desperate need for certainty.

    This has been heightened in our society by the way news sources have become nothing more than platforms for ideological and political pundits.  The news is not really the news anymore.  And this new form of communication, social media, has only recently started helping us to determine if what we’re reading is true or if it’s an unvalidated source like internet hackers from other countries invading our newsfeeds with misleading information in order to drive ideological wedges in our society.

    No wonder we desire a sense of certainty.  No wonder we need to believe that we can trust only those people who agree with us. The last thing we want right now is to be undone.  We want to nail things down and know where things are and where things will be.

    And what we learn from these scriptures, the lesson we get from the Feast of Pentecost is that this need for certainty can keep us imprisoned, put us in a grave of fear.  This fear of looking foolish can prevent us from becoming renewed because we don’t want to see what happens if…  We don’t want to say yes to something if we don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like.

    Yet, as the prophet Ezekiel reports, “Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from your graves, O my people… And you shall know that I am God when I open your graves and bring you up from your graves, O my people… I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”

    And when it’s certainty we’re after, when that’s what matters most to us, it really does sound foolish and unwise when God comes along and wants us to take a chance.  According to Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, the whole thing seemed so utterly preposterous that the people standing around watching thought that the people who opened themselves to God’s Holy Spirit were drunk.

    And Peter says, “You people of Jerusalem, indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only 9 in the morning!  No… this is what the prophet Joel was talking about… that God said: I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.  And the young shall see visions and the old shall dream dreams and they all shall prophesy.”

    God’s spirit comes, not to coddle us and help us to feel certain again.  God’s spirit comes to renew us, like the rush of violent wind that fills a house. God’s spirit comes like the thunderous noise of thousands and thousands of bones clanging against each other as they are knit back together with sinews and flesh.  God’s spirit comes like fire, like a blessing that undoes us so that…
    “On the day you are wearing your certainty like a cloak
    and your sureness goes before you like a shield or like a sword,
    … the sound of God’s [may] name spill from your lips as you have never heard it before.”

    The sound of God’s name may spill from your lips as you have never heard it before.  Saying something you could have never imagined yourself saying before.  Opening yourself in a way that feels risky and uncomfortable to something for which you may not have a plan but, instead you say, “Let’s see what happens.”

    How might we utter God’s name in a way that we have never heard before? How do we need to loose our need to be certain and be open to speaking God’s name anew? How are we being called to be undone, to be renewed?

    So, my dear ones, as we continue our celebration of being knit back together, being re-membered as the community of St. John’s, I ask you to use this renewal of your baptismal vows as a time of examine for yourself.

    Listen deeply to the questions in your heart. And let’s see what happens.