- Parish House
Sermon for the Day of Pentecost – Acts 2:1-21
The Rev. Dr. Kate Alexander
Today is the Day of Pentecost, with that iconic story from the Acts of the Apostles. But yesterday was Episcopal Pentecost. I’m speaking, of course, of the royal wedding. By all counts, a royal wedding at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor is supposed to be stuffy, staid, and as British as possible. Yesterday’s service started out that way. There was a sea of impeccable morning coats, fascinators, and nothing but tradition as far as the eye could see. I will admit that I got up at 4:00 am in order to watch the arrival of the properly attired guests before the excitement of the wedding dress. I tuned in along with the rest of the world for the reveal of the dress’s top-secret designer, and for a bit of pageantry. But most of all, for a real life fairy tale. When William and Kate got married a few years ago, there were terrible headlines in the news then, too. One reporter said it well back then with the words: “Thank God, a wedding.” The world watched for a much-needed love story yesterday. And then the most extraordinary thing happened. Our presiding bishop Michael Curry got up to preach. It was nothing short of Pentecost for the Episcopal Church.
It was a moment several centuries in the making. I’m still wrapping my mind around an American bishop preaching right near the tomb of George III, the king at the time of the American Revolution. And an African American bishop preaching to the Queen of England, a post-colonial moment if ever there was one. I really wonder what she thought, but she’s far too unflappable to let on. Whatever the Queen’s opinion, the sermon was spectacular. Curry preached with passion and joy on the power of love. He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. and African-American spirituals. He mentioned Jesus a lot more than we’re used to at royal weddings. Most importantly, he offered the bride and groom, and the world as it watched, a vision – that when love is the way, we can end poverty and hunger, and repair this broken world.
It seemed to me that at one point the wedding guests started to look at each other with that look that says, “Is this really happening?” And it wasn’t just what he said, but how he said it. In typical Curry style, he got revved up a few times. The quote of the day has to go to a British broadcaster who said, “Bishop Michael Curry went 50 mph in a 30 mph zone.” It was delightful to watch the reactions of the congregation, ranging from polite smiles to shock. If you’ve heard him preach before, including here at Christ Church a couple of years ago, you know that maybe the most extraordinary thing was that he kept it to just 13 minutes and even managed to stay behind the podium.
Theologically speaking, I would say that the wedding sermon was a Pentecost moment for the Episcopal Church, and for the Anglican Communion. It’s not unusual at all for Bishop Curry to preach on love and justice. But yesterday, he happened to do it on the world stage. That’s a Pentecost moment. By definition, a Pentecost moment is when the Spirit arrives and animates the gospel to go farther than it’s current reach.
On the first Pentecost in the church, the Spirit arrived as a violent wind and tongues of fire descended on the disciples, animating them to launch the church. They preached in languages they didn’t know, and people heard the news in their own language. We’re told later in the story that three thousand were baptized that day. The Spirit arrived and the good news of God in Christ spread further, like wildfire.
Yesterday was a second Pentecost. The Spirit arrived, as it does, and the gospel spread once again like wildfire, with a little help from the global media. Curry delivered a solidly Anglican message on the love of God – a love that is broad and inclusive. A love whose circle we keep widening because the gospel calls us to do so. A love that is not only hopeful about this world, but profoundly ambitious. Curry reminded us that humanity once harnessed the power of fire and it changed everything. Quoting Teilhard de Chardin, if we could do that a second time, only this time harnessing the power of love, it would change everything. It strikes me that a second Pentecost is a good moment to just go for it.
The prophet Joel once said that when the Spirit arrives, sons and daughters shall prophesy, young men will see visions, and old men shall dream dreams. The Spirit has come, so what shall we prophesy? Prophesy calls out that which is broken, which is a good place to start. And what visions do we see? Visions are gifts that come to us about how the world could be, ranging from our own lives, to our communities, to the world stage. And what are the dreams we dream? Dreams, well, those are what we long for, like a fairy tale wedding to help us connect to love again. Prophesy, visions, and dreams, said Joel. Whenever the Spirit arrives, that is the holy task at hand.
One of the joys of being the new rector here is the opportunity to dream. I think of it as a kind of ongoing daydream about what could be. Clearly, Christ Church is a pretty special place. A quick look at all this scaffolding is a physical reminder of the generous care of this community, not only for beautiful stained glass windows, but for one another. And so we dream. How might the grace and beauty that are here radiate further out so that more people find the consolation they need? Joel reminds us that it’s also a time for vision and prophesy. So we cultivate a vision. How might the love that is here become more and more broad and inclusive? And we prophesy. How might our presence in this city, in the name of Christ, help to repair what’s broken in our world? Pentecost reminds us, just like the first disciples, to think bigger. To be not only hopeful, but ambitious.
Praise has been pouring in for Bishop Curry’s sermon yesterday. I mean, not from the Queen yet, but from most everybody else. If the worldwide attention to that sermon teaches us anything in the Episcopal Church, it’s that we have a message that the world needs. As division and violence increase, we offer the alternative – a broad and inclusive love whose circle is widening. The redemptive love of Christ that we receive and proclaim has the power to bring people together. It has the power to reach old and young, rich and poor, royal and commoner alike. And if Pentecost has anything to teach us, it’s that God’s love is more ambitious than we previously thought. Yesterday was a Pentecost moment for the church, and now we’ve got some holy work to do.