There is an ancient Jewish festival, the Festival of Weeks; or Shovuot. It was the day the first fruits of the wheat harvest were presented to God. God was honored as the source of rain and of the fruitfulness of the earth. The Festival of Weeks came to be known by a Greek name, Pentecost. It was a kind of Hebrew Earth Day. For Jews the festival of Shovuot also became connected to the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. For Christians the Jewish Festival of Pentecost became associated with the gift of the holy spirit to the church, and with a strange event that occurred in Jerusalem:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other ‘languages, as the Spirit gave them ability…… the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
The Christian Pentecost is about finding a universal language – a universal human connection. The Jewish Festival of the wheat harvest became for Christians the festival the Holy Spirit who enables people to communicate across the boundaries of nationality and language.
Wouldn’t it be great to bring these two traditions together – to put together the Jewish festival of the harvest and the Christian festival of the Spirit? To hold together the love for the earth and the visible world and reverence for the spirit – for all those things that we cannot see and touch that our lives also depend on?
Ponder this: on Pentecost the spirt came upon the church as a rush of wind. People say the universal language now is English or maybe Spanish – or some say it may one day be Chinese – in truth the universal language is the air we breath – these precious molecules we suck into our bodies and exhale every moment of our lives. Having bronchitis for a couple weeks as I have had makes you really appreciate breathing. The future of earth – the future of all that we love and hold dear – depends upon how we treat this precious invisible mix of gases that sustains our lives.
On Pentecost we honor the invisible spirit that gave birth to the church, the spirit that came as a rush of wind – a movement of air. If we are faithful to the Lord of Creation – the God of earth – we will also honor the air itself.This is now an urgent matter. The time for fine words and sermons about the state of our air and water is over. What we need now is concrete specific intelligent actions.
Last week at the invitation of our Board of Trustees we were visited by a specialist in energy usage. He was sent by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). NYSERDA was established in 1975 to encourage the efficient use of energy and to reduce the consumption of petroleum in the State of New York.
The auditor from NYSERDA did not interview the pastor. He did not ask me any theological questions. He did not ask to see any of my sermons about ecology. Instead he wanted to see electric and fuel bills, thermostats, light bulbs, boilers, windows, and air conditioners. I asked him, “Are you sure you don’t want to read some of my sermons?” No, no time for that. The trustees will be receiving a report from NYCERDA, and they will be investigating everything from insulation and lighting changes to solar energy and geothermal power.
We have come to a time in this world when we need concrete action to change the very relationship between the human species and the rest of the living systems Earth. We are creatures of habit. Habits are hard to change. But we are also creatures of enormous creativity, and we are capable of wisdom and foresight. It may seem that none of us can possibly do enough to make a difference. What can one person do? What can one church do? We must not buy into that kind of thinking. We have to do what we can, where we can, in the time we have. We need to have to have faith that a greater thing will come out of many small and humble efforts.
That is the spirit in which our Outreach Team is helping us to expand our ministries with people in need in our vicinity. We can do very little in relation to the scale of the need, but what we can do matters. Again, we have to have faith that a greater thing will come out of many small and humble efforts. Ours is just one part of a larger whole.
Last Sunday and today and next Sunday, the seventh of June and the following Sunday, the 14th of June – four Sundays in a row – we will celebrate the sacrament of baptism. Seven children in all will be baptized over this four-week period. When we baptize a child we experience in a fresh way the awesomeness of God. When we look into the infant’s face, we have a direct experience of the holy.
It is humbling as a preacher to realize that I could preach a thousand sermons, but never achieve with words the powerful immediate effect that is created by the face of a single child. Of all the things that we do as a church, it is the baptism of children that may be the most sacred of all.
In the act of baptism we make a sacred commitment to these children, to nurture and guide and protect them. That sacred commitment requires us to do the hard work of changing habits and thinking in new ways. To them we must pass the most sacred gifts: air and Spirit.
Shalom, salaam, grace and peace to you.