Saturday, May 30, 2009

Receive the Holy Spirit

SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, May 31, 2009

One bright Sunday morning like today, Benson's mother hurried into her son's bedroom to wake him up. “Benson, it's Sunday. Time to get up and go to church!” Benson mumbled from under the covers, “I don't want to go.” “What do you mean you don't want to go?” said the mother. “That's silly. Now get up and get dressed and go to church!” Benson said, “No, I don't want to go and I'll give you two reasons why I don't want to go - First, I don't like them and second, they don't like me.” His mother replied, “Now, that's just plain nonsense. You've got to go to church and I'll give you two reasons why you must. First, you're 40 years old and, second, you're the pastor!”

Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We celebrate today the great feast of Pentecost. This was originally a Jewish festival 50 days after Passover celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses and the foundation of the covenant making Israel God’s chosen people. Today, as Christians we celebrate 50 days after Easter, the New Passover, the giving of the Holy Spirit and the new covenant established in the Church.

The story of the first Christian Pentecost began in fear in the upper room and ended in joy. Pastor Benson could as well be any of the apostles whom Jesus had commissioned to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth. But as soon as Jesus leaves them, what do they do? They retire to their upper rooms and hide themselves. They were afraid of the Jews. Like Benson they knew that the people did not like them, they knew that their message was different from the popular message of the time, and they just felt like wrapping themselves up in bed and not having to get up and face the hostile society.

We too are often like that, going to church quietly, receiving Jesus in our hearts quietly, and going home again quietly to say our morning and evening prayers quietly. But what about the charge that Jesus left for you and me to be his witnesses and to share the Good News of God's love with all people? Sometimes we think that people do not like to be reminded of God. We’re afraid they’re going to tell us to “go away” if we speak to them about God. We’re afraid they won’t listen to us. We’re afraid they’ll say we’re too religious and out of touch with reality. We’re afraid that our faith isn’t strong enough to stand up. Or more simply, sometimes it’s just, they don't like us and we don't like them. And so, like Benson, we give up on our God-given duty and go on enjoying our comfortable silences, our comfortable sleep.

But, Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Fortunately, Pastor Benson has a guide, his mother, who wakes him and persuades him to go out and preach. There is a wonderful prayer that we always pray at the beginning of daily meditation, “Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.” This is the kind of work that the Holy Spirit does in the hearts of believers. When fear of trouble tends to freeze our faith into silent submission, the Holy Spirit warms us up – enkindles the fire - and empowers us to go out and make a difference.

The Holy Spirit reminds us, as Benson's mother reminded him, that we have a mission. Our mission is to tell everybody the Good News that God is their Father, that God is the Father of us all, that in spite of all the visible difference of language and culture and social status, we are all one family and should live as brothers and sisters. Our mission is to break the barriers between “us” and “them,” between male and female, between Jew and Gentile, between rich and poor, between conservative and liberal, between Black and White, between whatever it is that divides us and to bring all people to speak the one universal language of brotherly and sisterly love. This is possible only through the working of the Holy Spirit. And so, Jesus says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

One reason his mother gave Benson why he should wake up from his sleep is that he is 40 years old, in other words, he is of age. Christianity is now 2000 years old in the world. Yet even in the so-called Christian civilizations, the universal brotherhood of all humankind in God through Christ has not been understood. “What can I do?” you may say, “I am only a single individual. What difference can I make?”

A black squirrel once asked a wise old owl what was the weight of a single snowflake. “Why, nothing more than nothing,” the owl answered. Well, the squirrel went on to tell the owl about a time when he was resting on a branch in a maple tree, counting each snowflake that came to rest on the branch until he reached the number 3,471,952. Then with the settling of the very next flake -- crack. The branch suddenly snapped, tumbling the squirrel and the snow to the ground. “That was surely a whole lot of nothing,” said the squirrel.

Our daily personal efforts to spread the God’s Kingdom of love and justice may be as light weight as snowflakes. But by heaping our snowflakes together we shall eventually be able to break the heavy branch of sin, evil and injustice growing in our world today. And we can only do that if we are open to the Holy Spirit who wants to enter our lives and give us the strength we need.

So, on this day celebrating Pentecost, let this be our prayer, “Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of us, your faithful people, and enkindle in us the fire of your love.”

May God give you peace!

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