The process of letting go is never easy, especially if you love the person you are letting go. Kindergarten, high school, college, marriage, each stage is a sucker punch to the parent’s soul All of life is really a cycle of birthing, creating, forming, and then letting go. Think of the seasons, from the spring that birth of flowers and new baby animals to the summer and the bounty of crops to the season of autumn and harvest, to winter and a time of dormancy and hibernation. We give birth to children, watch them grow and then let them go. We start jobs, work hard, and then retire and let somebody else take over. We age and we let go of our capabilities, our driver license’s even our homes. But in each letting go, is new life.
The season of Easter – these past 50 days is another season that is about letting go. It’s a season in which the disciples continually see signs of the resurrection. Signs of life after death. Jesus keeps coming back for moments of witness to the resurrection. He eats a meal, he mends his relationship with Peter, he walks on a road, he breaks bread, he shows the disciples his hands. He reminds them that he is still with them, even in his death. And then one day, he’s gone. He ascends to heaven. He’s reappearances are no longer going to happen. And the disciples have no choice to let him go. The season of Easter is the gradual process of letting go.
Until eventually there is a new normal. And so the more things change the more they stay the same. They return to their traditions.
It’s the festival of Pentecost – A Jewish festival in which Jews from every land come together to celebrate the beginning of the spring. Jesus is no longer among them and they are not certain what to do next, so they go back to their traditions – and at that traditional gathering something new and unexpected happens: Something unexplainable and intangible.
I imagine it’s like that moment around the campfire when you feel you are closest to God and you try to explain it, but it’s not something you can explain – it just is – and it stirs your soul and makes you cry and laugh at the same time because you know you are not alone and you feel that something or someone is upon you and has been all along it’s just that you were too caught up in stuff to pay attention to the fact that the Holy Spirit has been with you and is with you now – and it sort of scares you and makes you feel like you better straighten up and stop swearing and judging other people, because if the Holy Spirit is upon you then it knows what you have been thinking about other people, yourself, that you have been cutting yourself down, or mean to your sibling, or kicked the dog, or lost your temper and if the Holy Spirit is upon you, you realize that you are loved unconditionally and that is an overwhelming thing.
That is what I imagine the moment of Pentecost was like – It is a bubbling up of the soul.
So the disciples are in this upper room and they have accepted that Jesus is gone for good and they come together to worship, they come back to their roots, their tradition and they sing and pray and read scripture and then suddenly the earth beneath them shakes and the wind blows and they start speaking in different languages and they all look at each other and say, “are you experiencing what I’m experiencing?” And they are afraid and inspired at the same time. And then they hear the commandment to go out of the room, down the stairs, out the door, into the street and out the world and teach the world about Jesus Christ. And they do. And they were killed for it. And they keep teaching. And they went to war over it. And they keep preaching. And they are kicked out of their home towns for it and they keep teaching. And then they started fighting each other over things like whether Jesus was fully human or fully divine, and why he died on the cross and how to interpret scripture, and how to explain the virgin birth, and whether or not the resurrection really happened, and they started fighting among themselves, and they split up and became little churches based on their individual beliefs, but the spirit remained over it all. The Spirit kept on them, pushing them on and they kept teaching. They met in houses, in caves, in store fronts. They built churches, meeting houses and cathedrals. They kept teaching. Two thousand years, the Holy Spirit kept moving through the people. Some tried to stomp it out. Others tried to tame it. Others tried to make it their own. The Holy Spirit willed itself and kept pushing, loving and moving.
And one day, you were born. And the Holy Spirit came to you and whispered in your ear, “Hello child of mine. I know every eyelash, every hair on your head. I know your heart and your mind. Some day you will know me. But for now, I will be a quiet presence. Like the sea shell you picked up on the beach and you put in your pocket, I will remain with you and you will forget I am here, until way day you reach down and realize I have been with you this whole time. And you will remember me, and you will remember who are.
When you were born, you were a helpless baby. Soft and warm. You were closer to me than to the world, and then you grew. And you became more close to the world than to me.
And one day your parents and grandparents came to church and brought you up to the font and water was poured on your fuzzy little head, and the community gathered around and said, ‘we will look over this baby, we will support these parents, we will teach like those before us taught us. We see that Holy Spirit is with this baby. We promise to love this baby and raise this baby to know the love of Christ and then one day that baby will grow up and they will affirm what happened on this baptism day.'” And so they did.
The Holy Spirit was there on the day of your baptism and whispered in your ear, “You are a blessing and you will be a blessing to others.” And then you grew. You grew and you grew. Many voices started telling you who you were. Some of the voices told you, you were amazing and you believed them. Other voices were shaming and told you were no good, and you believed them. You grew. You grew and you grew. And then you became a teenager and it was time for you to decide for yourself if you believe in the Holy Spirit or not.
And so on your confirmation day, you stood before the church with some measure of faith and some measure of doubt and you put your hand deep in your pocket, and you found the shell that you had forgotten was there, and you held on. The Holy Spirit came into your heart, it bubbled up from your soul and suddenly you knew, it was there all along.
And the spirit filled the room and said, “Be my disciple. I know you have many things you think are supposed to be. You are supposed to be a child, a student, an athlete, a musician, a friend. And I know those things are important. But more than anything be my disciple. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Spread kindness. Show compassion. Love the person who is the most difficult to love. Give back. Share your gifts. Be genuine. Pray. Listen. Learn. Pray some more. Go out of the room, down the stairs and out the door and be a light to this world.”
Today we celebrate that our children have grown into full membership of this congregation. They are not half members or adjunct members, they are members with all of the rights and responsibilities. Today they respond the claim that was set forth at their baptism that they are beloved children of God. Today, they affirm that belief for themselves.
And with that belief comes the responsibility to live every day trying to follow the Holy Spirit where it leads us. On that Pentecost day, thousands of years ago, a group of young people, no more capable than you, were told to be the church in the world. Today the Holy Spirit says the same to you.
There is a story once told by Desmond Tutu, that went like this:
“You know the story of the farmer who in his back yard had a chicken, and then he had a chicken that was a little odd looking, but he was a chicken. It behaved like a chicken. It was pecking away like other chickens. It didn’t know that there was a blue sky overhead and a glorious sunshine until someone who was knowledgeable in these things came along and said to the farmer, “Hey, that’s no chicken. That’s an eagle. “Then the farmer said, “Um, um, no, no, no, no man. That’s a chicken; it behaves like a chicken.
“And the man said no; give it to me please. And he gave it to this knowledgeable man. And this man took this strange looking chicken and climbed the mountain and waited until sunrise. And then he turned this strange looking chicken towards the sun and said, “Eagle, fly, eagle. “And the strange looking chicken shook itself, spread out its pinions, and lifted off and soared and soared and soared and flew away, away into the distance. And God says to all of us, you are no chicken; you are an eagle. Fly, eagle, fly. And so confirmands, listen up, God wants you to shake ourselves, spread our pinions, and then lift off and soar and rise, and rise toward the confident and the good and the beautiful. Rise towards the compassionate and the gentle and the caring. Rise to become what God intends us to be….
Today we set you off, to become the disciple you are called to be.
God bless you.