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Homily for Pentecost Sunday

June 9, 2014

Preach the Gospel Wherever You Go

Something is going on in the Church these days. Of course, that’s nothing new; something is always going on in the Church, every day.

But today is special. Today commemorates that day, almost 2,000 years ago, when the Church began. It commemorates that day when the Apostles, and Mary, and the whole company of disciples were gathered in the Upper Room, and the Holy Spirit came upon them and lit them on fire! Today commemorates the day the Holy Spirit pushed them out of the room they’d been hiding in, and sent them off to fulfill what Jesus commissioned them to do!

Here’s what I think, though: This story, for many of us, much of the time, is just that: a story. It’s one of those little vignettes we see through all of Lent and Easter; we’ve heard the story so many times we don’t really think about it. “Oh, yeah…wind. Tongues of fire. Hear them speaking in our language. Just doesn’t “pop” for us.

But I need to tell you: This ain’t just some old story.

I’ll confess that, in this modern Church of ours, we underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit. We know about the Holy Spirit; we have readings like today’s to give us information. In the second reading, Paul outlines the general way the Holy Spirit works. “…Different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; …different forms of service but the same LORD.” We get that.

But look more closely. Paul says that, at our Baptism,…”we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” All. Of us. In the Gospel, Jesus breathed on the Apostles and told them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He set them up to be able to do what He wanted them to do in the world, but even then, they were afraid.

Remember the sequence of events. Today’s Gospel is an account of the first time the Apostles see Jesus after the Resurrection.   Last week’s readings are an account of the last time they saw him. It took weeks for Jesus to get the disciples to understand what He wanted from them; even after the fifty days He spent with them, when they saw Jesus on the Mount of Ascension, what did they do? The Gospel says, “They worshiped, but they doubted [emphasis mine].

Do you think they doubted after the Holy Spirit got all over them in that Upper Room? I’d say…not.

That Great Commission Jesus issued in last Sunday’s Gospel wasn’t just for the people standing there that day. It’s for us, too. And as both our priests pointed out last Sunday, we cannot be afraid to “preach the Gospel wherever we go.” The stakes couldn’t be higher! If we really believe the things we profess (say, in the Creed, for example), we have to go tell someone about it!

And the Holy Spirit is just the change-agent we need!

The Apostles went out into Jerusalem and started preaching to the masses, people from all over the known world, who were in Jerusalem. And everyone understood them! AS Father Russ pointed out last weekend, the early Church grew by leaps and bounds, in spite of the vicious persecutions of Christians! Roman soldiers who were involved in executing Christians converted to the faith. Why? Because they saw the witness of those Christians’ lives; they saw the joy with which they approached even torture and death; They saw how they loved one another!

And we have that power! We have that same Spirit! We can draw people to Christ through the way we live!

Except…a funny thing happens to us on the way to the soapbox.

We unfortunately buy into the LIE the Evil One sells us: that all this Holy Spirit stuff is for the “weirdoes”. Or we buy into the LIE that we are somehow too smart, or too advanced, or too intellectual for all this mumbo-jumbo, speaking-in-tongues, snake-handling business.

We watch the caricatures of Christians in the media, and we buy them; we think about our separated brethren, like the Pentecostals, or the Amish; those of us who are old enough think about Jim Jones and Jonestown, and we figure that all that extreme religiousness is “dangerous”.

Or…maybe it’s simpler than that. The Church tells us that there are things we can’t do: contraception; sexual relationships outside of marriage; pornography. Or it tells us that we shouldn’t pursue money above everything else, or that we have to give to the poor. The Church tells us what to do and not do, and we are Americans, by God, and “they can’t tell me what to do!”

Brothers and sisters, we’ve been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! We have been told over and over that religion is for inside our churches, but that it has no place out there” in the world! We have been cowed, even bullied, into thinking that we need to just keep quiet, and not disturb other folks with our troublesome moralizing.

But y’all: I’m here to say that this is exactly what the Apostles were doing in the ancient world. They were different people, changed in important ways by the power of the Holy Spirit to do things they’d never done before! And they went out and changed the world, because they were empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit!

And you know what? So are we, if we will only embrace the gift!

Most of us here, if not all, are baptized. We received the Holy Spirit. We are, most of us, confirmed. In that Sacrament, we received the fullness of God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit arms us with all the tools we need, to take the same worldchanging, life-changing message of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, to a world that is desperately scrambling to find its way!

And I don’t care if you’re young or old, black or white, tall or short, fat or skinny, introverted or extroverted: Somebody needs to hear about Jesus Christ…from you! Somebody needs to see Jesus Christ…in you! Somebody needs to be saved from the clutches of hell…by you!

The New Evangelization that the last three Popes have called for is not just my job. It isn’t just our priests’ job. It isn’t just the job of the people who work for the institutional Church.

It’s your job too! Do you have to preach in the streets? Not necessarily; only if God calls you to that. But you do have to preach…with your life.

This story of Pentecost is not just some old story we read every year. It’s a story, sure enough. But it isn’t old: it tells us where we came from, and where we are sent.

Something new is going on in the Church these days. Almost 2,000 years ago, the Apostles were sitting in prayer in the Upper Room, and Christ kept His promise! Remember what He told them: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” He kept that promise.

Now it’s our turn, brothers and sisters. The same Jesus who stood on that hill with the disciples at Ascension, who breathed on the Apostles in the Upper Room after the Resurrection, that same Jesus is present to us now: He’s present in his Word; He’s present in his people and in his ministers; and He’s present most perfectly in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

At the end of the Mass, I will say, “Go!”, and send us all out into the world. What do you think you’re sent out to do?

The Holy Spirit knows what He wants from us. Ask Him!

Pray with me, please: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created. And You will renew the face of the earth.”

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