Sermon: Pentecost RCL B – Receive the Holy Spirit

The Western Wall or Wailing Wall is a part of the wall that surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem. It is the holiest site in Judaism and this portion of the wall is of particular significance because it was nearest the Temple itself. You can even go on the Internet and get a live video feed of what is going on there. (http://english.thekotel.org/cameras.asp)

A young woman journalist assigned to the Jerusalem bureau has an apartment overlooking the Wailing Wall. At certain times every day when she looks out her window she sees an old bearded Jewish man praying solemnly, his lips moving and his eyes closed. Certainly, he would be a good interview subject, so the journalist walks down to the Wall and introduces herself to the old man after his prayers.

She asks, “You come every day to the Wall; how long have you done that, and what are you praying for?”

The old man replies, “I have come here to pray every day for 25 years. In the morning I pray for world peace and for the brotherhood of man. I go home have lunch, and in the afternoon I come back and pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the earth, that children will someday not go hungry, and I pray for wisdom for our leaders as they guide us in this fearful world. And, very important, I pray for peace and understanding between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

The journalist is moved to silence, so humbled is she by the sincerity of this old man. Then she remembers her training and asks her second question.

“So,” she asks, “how does it feel to come here every day for 25 years and pray for these wonderful things? What’s it like?”

The old man shrugs his shoulders and replies, “Like talking to a wall.”

Have you ever said your prayers day after day and come away thinking the same thing? God’s not listening. God doesn’t care what I think. God doesn’t love me. I’m talking to a wall! Of course you have. We all have. But, did you ever stop to consider that maybe God looks down on us and thinks the same thing? They’re not listening. They don’t care what I think. They do not love me. “Oy vey! It’s like talking to a wall with these people!” I don’t believe that God is whiny like we can be, but he has said these things in the past and he eventually gets fed up.

During the reign of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, the Israelites rebelled against God. They worshipped the false gods, they intermarried with the other tribes, they did not honor the Sabbath, and through this disobedience, they desecrated the Temple of God. He called to them time and time again, but they failed to listen and paid the price for their disobedience. The Prophet Ezekiel, one who had warned them, writes:

The word of the Lord came to me:  You, O mortal, thus says the Lord God to the land of Israel:
An end! The end has come
upon the four corners of the land.

Now the end is upon you,
I will let loose my anger upon you;
I will judge you according to your ways,
I will punish you for all your abominations.

My eye will not spare you, I will have no pity.
I will punish you for your ways,
while your abominations are among you.

The Lord said, “It’s like talking to a wall with these people.” So, the Lord allowed Nebuchadnezzar to attack and destroy the city of Jerusalem and the Temple – this was in the year 586 B.C. In the process 10,000 Israelites were sent into exile in Babylon, hence the name Babylonian Captivity. Among those 10,000 was Ezekiel.

Ezekiel prophesied against the people, but toward the end he began to offer hope. We read a part of it today: “The Lord set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones… Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: ‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.’ … and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude…. ‘I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,’ says the Lord.”

And He did. Seventy years after the fall of Jerusalem, the people were allowed to return. He breathed life into a people who were dead and returned them to the Promised Land. Did it last? No. The cycle repeated itself and again the Lord moved against his people. He is, after all, a jealous God.

The Lord made a covenant with his people, but they were unable to keep it. They tried, but they always failed. Yet this cycle of beginnings and failures served a greater purpose. It allowed the people to understand that they were not able to accomplish God’s commanded holiness on their own and that a permanent solution was needed.

The Eucharistic Prayer we’ve been using during this Season of Easter so beautifully sums it up: “When our disobedience took us far from you, you did not abandon us to the power of death. In your mercy you came to our help, so that in seeking you we might find you. Again and again you called us into covenant with you, and through the prophets you taught us to hope for salvation. Father, you loved the world so much that in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Savior.… To fulfill your purpose he gave himself up to death; and, rising from the grave, destroyed death, and made the whole creation new.”

And, once again, God gives His Holy Spirit “his own first gift to those who believe, to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.”

“To bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.” To finally bring about the holiness that we could never accomplish on our own. To breath life into these dead dry bones of ours. “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” You have been made holy.

“Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.”

Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and it is through Jesus and the giving of God’s Holy Spirit that you are indeed made perfect.

The Holy Spirit has many names: The Spirit of Christ, Advocate, Paraclete, Counselor. The Spirit is the Wind, the very Breath of God. The opening verses of Genesis declare, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” It is the same Spirit of God that hovered over the waters that is breathed into us. That same Spirit allows us to become one with God – He in us and we in Him.

When we speak to God, it is not speaking to a wall. When God speaks to us, he is not speaking to a wall. As Paul said to us, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Today, Pentecost, we celebrate the giving of God’s Holy Spirit. In sending the Spirit, Jesus fulfilled his promise. He did not leave us alone, but is with us always. Therefore, as Jesus said to his disciples, I say to you, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  Receive the Breath of God and live.

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Pentecost is also considered the birthday of the Church, so on this day it is appropriate that we receive new members into Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church through the sacrament of Baptism. Therefore, continuing on page 301 of the BCP, “The Candidates for Holy Baptism will now be presented.”

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