The Rev’d Ann Broomell
Christ Church, New Haven
May 15, 2016
“A Feast that Beckons”
Come Holy Spirit, come: come as the wind and cleanse; come as the fire and burn; convict, convert, consecrate our lives, to our great good and your great glory. Amen.
On Pentecost Sunday I have often preached of an experience I had at a relatively young age sailing with my family on Long Island Sound. My parents loved to sail. My father, a Quaker, no doubt found the hours he spent in silence at the tiller guiding our boat over the waves a time of peace and refreshment. When I was about 10 I began taking the tiller. Some days the wind would be stiff and we would heel over and cut through the waves. Other days were calm—meaning little or no wind. On those days we were hot and often bored.
One rather calm day when I had the tiller my father said, ‘look over there.’ He pointed to a place in the flat water where there was a good sized patch of tiny ripples. He suggested we go in that direction. Sure enough as soon as we reached the ripples, the boat surged sped right along carried by freshening wind.
For many years this was my explanation of the Holy Spirit—something you couldn’t see—there was no way to see where the wind was—but you could see and feel its impact. While I certainly continue to understand the Spirit as invisible yet having a visible impact, we know that the Spirit is both that simple and extraordinarily complex. ‘The Last Gospel’, read from the altar at the end of the mass in the Christmas and Epiphany seasons, is the introductory material, the prologue, to the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, the Word was God…” The “Word”, Christ, is one with God, present in creation, created and ongoing. The Word spoke through the prophets, was made human in Jesus, and is among us as the Holy Spirit.
Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is more than anyone might explain, yet it is a being, an energizing force. A universal language, a universal experience. The Spirit is within each of us, one with each of us, and also among people, joining them together. We can make efforts to describe the Spirit. However, using the abstract denies us its most salient attribute. The Spirit offers us relationship with God.
Relationship like those we have among each other. Interaction that is calm and vibrant, strengthening and passionate. In relationship with God, through the Spirit, we move from our intellects to our hearts, from our descriptors to our feelings, to our essential being. At that feeling, interacting level, God is real. God is being with whom we interact.
Gerald May, in his book The Awakened Heart, writes “Whether we are distracted or not, whether we know it or not, whether we even want it or not, a communication between the world and God keeps going on beneath the surface of our self-awareness. It is given, everywhere and at all times. There is no need to attain it; there is nothing we have to do to make it happen. Neither can we escape from it. In the psalmist’s words, ‘Where can I flee from your presence? If I take the wings of the morning and dwell beyond the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me.(1)” (2)
As human beings we are in relationship with God. Who is God to us? How do we imagine God? How do we experience the relationship? There is no universal answer. There is only your answer, my answer—as different as each of us is different from the other—as unique as we are unique, and as different as the individual ways God can touch and move and lead each of us.
In the simplest sense God is a loving companion. Someone we follow, a friend. This is the experience of some, perhaps many. Yet other questions and thoughts arise—where are you leading me? Where are you? I’m not sure I’m liking where I’m going. Can I get too close? Who am I? Where is the border between me and you, God? There is joy and delight, and wondering and questioning as well. We are moved, and nudged, and even driven along. It’s very difficult to ignore, to disengage. It is who we are.
Some will say they have never had a sense of God’s presence and that comments about relationship with God don’t reflect their experience. May suggests some questions: What have been the peak experiences of your life? In what moments have you felt most touched, awestruck, moved, connected, fulfilled, living, loved, or whole? Also look for experiences you wouldn’t call spiritual. We can’t put God into a specific compartment. Have you had a sense of God while watching television, at your computer, folding laundry, when you’re angry or bored? (3) Ask God to show you the answers and then see what comes to mind. Our awareness of God will be growing and becoming more complex throughout our lives—a banquet of truly unending riches spread before us.
Many describe the Spirit as love and God as the ground of love. Listen to the words of George Herbert, Welsh poet, political figure, orator and eventually priest who lived in the early 1600s:
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
“my dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat. (4)
Inexplicable, glorious and in turn perplexing: God’s presence, God’s love, is one with you, one with me. The images in Holy Scripture speak of Jesus blowing on the Disciples with breath that filled them. Far from a gentle puff on a lazy afternoon—the breath, the Spirit, propelled them into the world with new ability to teach, to preach, and to heal. In Acts we hear that the Spirit was a blazing fire alighting on the disciples, transforming them from people of a specific culture and language to beings who shared a common language with all of humanity. A powerful exciting time.
This is a powerful time here at Christ Church. An exciting time. The transition that has been part of the backdrop for two years is bearing fruit. You, the people of Christ Church, emerge with a strong sense of your historic ground, and the gifts that are yours to bring into the future. The Spirit has been and is a powerful, inviting force.
All transitions provoke anxiety. Even joyfully anticipated highlights of our lives create stress. Herbert’s poem is about a man who sensed the spirit and put up all kinds of excuses to disengage. I love those final words. Open, humbled, filled with the Spirit—love bids you welcome to a banquet, the future, spread before you. May you, also, sit and eat.
(1) May, Gerald The Awakened Heart: Opening Yourself to the Love you Need. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991, p. 169.
(2) Psalm 139: 7, 9.
(3) May, Gerald. Ibid., p. 184.
(4) Quiller-Couch, Arthur, Editor. The Oxford Book of English Verse. 1250-1900. Oxford: Clarendon, 1919, [c1901]; On-Line Edition Bartleby.com, 1999. No. 286 George Herbert, Love.