Acts 2: 1-21
Susan: Acts 2: 1-21 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, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Choir: wind sounds
Susan: Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
(congregation calls out in other languages)
Susan: Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked,
All in unison: ’Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
Elizabeth: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’
Susan: All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another,
Women: ’What does this mean?’
Susan: But others sneered and said,
Men: ’They are filled with new wine.’
Susan: But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them:
Robert: ’Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
This morning I invite you to close your eyes for just a few moments, if you are comfortable doing so, and concentrate on your breath, breathing in the Spirit of God. Unlike that first Pentecost, it will not be the rush of a violent wind, but a gentle, quiet breath. Just breathe.
Know that with each breath the light of God surrounds you, a golden light like the tongues of fire that rested on those first disciples. Feel the love of God enfolding you. With each breath the peace of God flows through you - a peace the disciples must have felt when the Spirit filled them after 50 days of waiting in fear and apprehension for, well, they weren’t sure what.
But in that moment, in this moment, in this sanctuary, we know that wherever we are, God is, and all is well. The Spirit is here to lead us.
You may open your eyes, and speak in different languages. (just kidding about that last part). For us UCC folks, I would interpret that passage as our speaking about God and Jesus and our faith in a language that others, especially the unchurched, can understand - a language that will fill their spirits, perk their curiosity, and entice them into our doors to learn and experience more - a Pentecost moment.
Months ago, when I looked at the lectionary for today and saw that it was Pentecost, I thought “How fitting!” Pentecost was a Jewish feast that celebrated new life and new crops, by offering a gift of the first fruits in gratitude to God. We’re told that 120 of Jesus’ followers were gathered in that upper room in Jerusalem. It must have been a large room!
Today Pentecost is celebrated as the Birthday of the Church. Eliot was birthed 174 years ago, in 1845 when the Spirit came to the Eliot Religious Society when they decided Newton needed a new church. It came to their first pastor Rev. William Solomon Levitt, and to the 14 pastors who followed him. I credit the Spirit with leading me 3,000 miles across the country to Eliot six years ago.
With each new pastor, Eliot experiences a rebirth. With each new pastor comes new ideas and creativity. Peter is speaking, not only to the crowds in front of him, but to us today, when he quotes the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” I would add women.
That is all of you, men and women, young and old alike. What are your visions, your dreams for Eliot in the future? Despite climate change, we’re not in the end times yet! You have lots of dreams to work on and fulfill.
I chose Robert to read Peter’s words today because he is, not only your moderator, he is a visionary and a dreamer, and the best and most dedicated moderator I have ever worked with. No offense to any of the others. Listen to him.
I know after three years he doesn’t want to be the moderator forever. I hope I haven’t intimidated any of you who might be considering being his replacement in a year. Be brave!
Big life changes, be they ones in our personal lives or in the life of a church, frequently illicit a certain amount of fear and apprehension, doubt and questioning. There can also be sadness and a grieving process involved whenever you let go of a part of your life to make room for something new. I imagine those disciples in that upper room were going through many of those emotions, as some of you have, once you learned that Reebee and I were leaving.
Those BIG life changes, ones where I feel I’m being “called” to change course, aren’t made in a split second, or even overnight. They come after a period of careful discernment, of prayer and meditation.
Good-byes are never easy. I find it particularly true for pastors. Today I’m not just saying good-bye to all of you, but to a calling that has transformed my life in so many ways. I will still find ways to do ministry, but not as the pastor of a church.
In the movie “Life of Pi” (it was out a few years back) Pi was talking to a man who wants to write his life story. He’s telling about losing his parents and brother in a ship wreck. The thing he most regretted was not being able to say good-bye - not being able to tell them how much he loved them and how much they meant to him.”
So I am here today to tell you how much I have loved you and loved being your pastor. You are each, in your own way, an angel in our midst, a blessing to our beloved church. I thank God for you all, and will continue hold you each day in my prayers.
I’ve spent a lot of time these past weeks revisiting the past six years and what they’ve meant to me - the many ways you have changed my life, and how I hope I’ve changed yours - the ways you have helped me to grow as a pastor. I hope I’ve helped you to grow in your faith. Since I’m going into retirement, I’ve been thinking back over the times from seminary on. They have been rich and transformative, and hold many precious memories.
My dear friend Anne Cohen doled out some good advice when she preached at my ordination - advice I’ve tried to remember and follow; “Remember who you are,” she said, “You are not God. Therefore you cannot do it all yourself. That is what the congregation is for.”
We’ve done a lot together these past six years. We have much to be proud of. You saw some of it in the photos I shared this morning. But there are those special moments that will remain in my memory:
Blessing the animals outside - adults and children introducing their four legged friends and telling how they show them the love of God. None of your dogs lifted their legs on the altar like one did in my last church - much better behaved here in New England. Aaron with a tiny bear on his finger and a big growl playing the bear in our skit.
Singing the hallelujah chorus with the choir and Eliot Phil on Easter morning. Aaron both scarring and delighting the children in his big white bunny suit after the service.
The smiles on your faces wearing those halos and sheep ears as you took your gifts up to the baby Jesus, while he inspected the straw.
Surrounding the sanctuary with our candles at the end of the Christmas Eve service singing those beloved carols as the lights dimmed.
Watching the joy on the faces of the residents at the care centers as they called out their favorite Christmas carols and sang along with us. Reya and her friends entertaining them with a dance to Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer.
Our Interfaith Service each year, those heartbreaking prayer requests from our Syrian and Turkish neighbors for their friends and families back home. Our Iftar Dinners during Ramadan each year where we got to meet and make friends with our Muslim neighbors.
Our Thanksgiving Dinners, especially the joy and gratitude expressed by the Turkish Cultural Center and the families from Home Suites Inn when they were invited to join us.
The laughter and joy we brought to the families at the Home Suites Inn with our summer cookouts and parties on special holidays.
Standing in a sea of pink pussy hats on the Boston Commons.
It has been a privilege to share with you times of great joy and sadness:
baptisms, weddings, an ordination, sitting and praying with you at the bedsides of those who were about to leave this world, and celebrating their lives once they were gone. Listening to your struggles in a grief support group remembering your loss. These are some of the cherished memories.
At my ordination Anne also reminded me that “We are to proclaim the Gospel of Peace. Preach the Gospel, and, when necessary, use words. We are to participate in the Cosmic Plan of God to Repair the Universe.”
I’ve stopped counting the number of sermons I’ve preached. It’s a lot of words and a lot of thinking. Writing these sermons has probably taught me more than they’ve taught you. There are times that I’ve probably ruffled feathers. I know I have, and that’s alright. In fact, it’s good. Chuck Arnold, an early mentor, told me, “If they leave every Sunday feeling all warm and fuzzy, you haven’t done your job Susan. I took that to heart.
I have loved and appreciated the freedom I’ve had to create different ways to explore the messages in the scriptures. The quality and diversity of music we have, is truly amazing for a church our size. Not many larger churches have a Philharmonic. I’ve loved creating altars, and visuals up on the screen, exploring the message through drama, and exchanging ideas in our emergent services in the chapel.
Worship conjures up so many special memories. It’s at the heart of what we do together as a community, which leads me to Anne’s most important piece of advice, which applies to all of you too. “You must remember to look for the holy, the Christ, in every person. This is hard ... “Read lots of Ann Lamotte” (which I have) exercise regularly (which I do) and get enough sleep each night.” (Meds have helped). “This will help you to remember to look for Christ when Christ seems almost absent.”
As in any family, there were those times, but what I will remember most are those sacred times when Christ was oh so present - those times of radiant joy and deep sorrow, those times that give meaning to ministry - and being the church.
As you embark on this next part of your journey together, you will need to invite God along with you. You will need to do a lot of praying and listening. You will need sometimes to listen in silence to that still speaking God. You will need to listen to each other. You will need to listen to others outside our church, mentors who will guide and give you advice. You will need to listen to Pastor Rick and Dr. Elizabeth. I know, we are Congregationalists, bottom up, but they are here to guide you. Listen to them too.
There will be times of fear and apprehension and uncertainty. But there will also be times of excitement as you open your eyes to all the new possibilities and opportunities that lie on the road ahead. And then, a calmness will come over you as you realize that God has been with you through it all, and you have made the right decisions and the future is there waiting with infinite possibilities. Change is a part of life. Embrace it all.
And remember, you are all ministers.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul instructs them: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care -- then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.”
I’m ending my message with a prayer that was sent to me a while back from Cyndi Brown, a former member of Eliot who moved to the Midwest last year. It’s a Spirit prayer she wrote in 1990. When I read it I thought, “This is a message for me, and for Eliot too. One to be shared.” So be with me in prayer.
Spirit of All, touch us deeply.
Spirit of Strength, challenge us to question the rules and assumptions that separate us from each other. Challenge us to grow closer to each other and to you.
Spirit of Wisdom, show us how to learn in an open, gentle way from our past actions or inaction.
Spirit of Love, hold us tenderly in your arms.
Spirit of Joy, open us to the wonder and beauty inherent in our own lives.
Spirit of Compassion, be with us and help us to be with you in moments of anger, sorrow, fear and gladness.
Spirit of Vision, take away our fear and worries; help us to place our trust in you.
Spirit of Courage, help us to speak our deepest truths and listen to each other with our hearts.
Spirit of Faith, cleanse us and restore us to wholeness.
Spirit of Peace, let us feel your loving kindness within us as we walk through the complexities of life.
Spirit of Knowledge, make your will known to us through meditation and prayer.
Spirit of Reflection, give clarity to our lives through the sometimes difficult, sometimes joyful gift of memory.
Spirit of All, touch us deeply.