Sermon Preached by the Rev. Thomas P. O’Dell
Rector, Christ Episcopal Church, Charlevoix, Michigan
June 4, 2017 – Day of Pentecost, Year A
It is downright dangerous to come to church on Pentecost.
The Feast of Pentecost is one of the most challenging moments in the Christian year. It's a challenge for every Christian. It always has been, and it always will be.
Pentecost is a challenge to us because Pentecost points us to pilgrimage — and to proclamation.
Pentecost, pilgrimage and proclamation have always gone together.
The people of Ancient Israel had long been a pilgrim people. Abraham and Sarah left the comfort and security of their homeland to follow God's call to a land that God would show them — a land that came to be called Israel.
Joseph and his father Jacob led the people on a lengthy and ultimately painful pilgrimage into Egypt. And Moses later led them out — on a liberating pilgrimage in the wilderness that was 40 years long. When they became paralyzed with fear, Moses made a proclamation to the people: "Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.”
As we learned in today’s reading from the book of Numbers, Moses needed help in moving the people along — in helping them to be what being the people of God really means. He wanted them to quit complaining about their pilgrimage to freedom, and he wanted them to join him in proclaiming gratitude, freedom and hope.
Moses needed for everyone to do their part. He refused to exclude anyone from the people’s call to pilgrimage and spirit-filled proclamation. He knew that all God’s people have spiritual gifts for ministry.
Even old Eldad and Medad, who had hung out in camp and skipped Moses’ big meeting got the message, and they commenced prophesying. Moses’ chief lieutenant Joshua wanted to shut the pair up, since they had played hooky, but Moses would have none of it.
He said to Joshua, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”
To make a long story short, the Ancient Israelites were a pilgrim people and each and everyone of them shared the responsibility to participate in the community’s proclamation of faith, liberation and hope.
When they finally reached the Promised Land and made their life there, they took pains to remind themselves that they were called to remain forever a pilgrim people.
That's what their religious feast of Pentecost was all about. Pentecost — Shavuot in Hebrew — was a feast of pilgrimage. People were expected to come to Jerusalem from throughout Israel — and from outside Israel — to join together to give thanks to God for the gift of the Torah (the Law) on Mount Sinai.
That's why — at the feast of Pentecost in 33 A.D. — there were all those Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Cappadocians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Cretans and many, many others gathered in Jerusalem.
They were there because they were pilgrims. And because they were pilgrims, they found their lives turned upside down.
There was violent wind. There were tongues of fire. And there were words — a proclamation — from some country bumpkins from Galilee that they somehow understood.
That wind, those tongues of fire, and those words posed a real problem for those pilgrims!
They thought they had reached their destination. They had made a pilgrimage to their beloved Jerusalem. They were home.
But God had other plans for the pilgrims. They had made a pilgrimage to a holy place, and they were shocked to learn that they had a job to do — more was expected of them. They had places to go and people to see, and people to speak to!
Peter told them that they were going to be changed. They were going to see visions. They were going to dream dreams, and they were going to prophesy — proclaim the Good News. They were going to be sent forth on a lifelong pilgrimage to proclaim the Good News that they had seen and felt and heard on Pentecost.
Sure enough, 3,000 of those pilgrims were baptized on Pentecost, and their Christian journey began.
That's the kind of thing that has been happening to pilgrims on Pentecost for over 2,000 years.
We shouldn't be surprised. That's what pilgrims have come to expect. Or at least they should have!
A modern observer recently made this provocative proclamation about pilgrimages: Pilgrimages aren't vacations! Expect them to pull you up by everything that attaches you to your beliefs and demands of you an answer to the question, "What is at the core of your life?"
This is fair warning to the four members of Christ Church who will soon embark on a mission — a spiritual pilgrimage — to the Dominican Republic.
What visions will these people see? What dreams will be implanted in their heads, and in their hearts? How will they be changed? What will they be called on to proclaim to us and to the world when they return?
And what about the rest of the Christian pilgrims who have paused here at Christ Church this Sunday morning — poised on Pentecost between pilgrimage and proclamation? One of those pilgrims is presently poised for baptism — right after this sermon ends.
So what do we think? Do we think we have arrived? Is this our final destination?
Well, the wind is picking up, and tongues of flame may just be licking at our heals.
After all, it's Pentecost!
So it is that I send you out to continue your Christian pilgrimage with these final words — these final facts — this final challenge:
A recent national study identified the primary factors that led new members to the church which they attend:
A special personal pastoral need, 2%
Just happened to walk in, 3%
Qualities of the Pastor, 5%
Church School or other Programs, 8%
Personal Invitation by a Friend or Relative, 82%
Eighty-two percent of the people who venture into a new church do so simply because someone took the trouble — and screwed up the courage — to invite them!
Consider the enormous, eternal importance of a Christian pilgrim's simple invitation to an unchurched person to join them on the way!
Remember, my fellow pilgrims, I warned you! A pilgrimage is not a vacation — and it's dangerous to come to church on Pentecost. We find ourselves placed at the point in our pilgrimage that calls us to proclamation.
I invite you this week to ponder your personal response to the call that every Christian pilgrim shares — to proclaim by word and example the Good News of Jesus Christ.
As you do so, it just might help to recall what Moses proclaimed to the pilgrims with whom he travelled:
Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”