Well, as many of you know, last Sunday was our grand opening – the open house of our new administrative office building here behind the church. And as I was bringing things over from my old office at the Retreat House across the street to my new office, I discovered as I was rummaging through my desk that I had accumulated a lot of junk in nine years. As I was getting rid of the junk, I discovered a jewel that I just had to save.
It's this old church bulletin, and it's dated from 2011 – 12 years ago now. Now, I've only been the pastor here for nine years. So this bulletin is from before I was the pastor, here. It is from the very first time I ever stepped foot in Douglas UCC. I wasn't a minister. But I was invited to speak that Sunday, because the pastor at the time was on vacation. And the church invited me because I was a local guy who wrote a book.
When I came here to speak that Sunday, 12 years ago, I was so nervous, I stood behind the podium as I gave my message. My knees were knocking. I was gripping the side of the podium. But when I began to speak, something really extraordinary happened. It was like another voice was coming out of me. This – this fire. This spark was ignited in me. And it was that experience, and the encouragement and affirmation of the congregation afterwards, that put me on the path to ministry.
That Sunday, fittingly enough, was Pentecost Sunday. You can't make this stuff up.
On Pentecost Sunday, we are celebrating what happened to those first disciples, how the Spirit came upon them. And that's how they began their ministry. That's why we call it the birthday of the church.
Now we, of course, are wearing red today. And we have this beautiful art installation, to remind us of that flame, that spark, that light of the Spirit that is with us and calls to us.
Now, about fire. Whenever you read the Bible, and you see fire, it always indicates the presence of the Divine. When we see fire, it's an indication of the Spirit of God. And in the Bible, I think when we think of the fire stories in the Bible, two come up – our readings today for Pentecost Sunday.
There's one from the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scripture, about Moses and the burning bush that Mike read for us. And then there's the story of the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples in those tongues of fire above their heads on that first Pentecost Sunday.
Both those stories are very similar, and that's no accident. You know, the people who were writing what we now call the New Testament, were writing for a mainly Jewish audience. And so what they wanted to do was write stories to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah who had been promised to them in their scripture, their holy book, which we now call the “Old Testament.”
So we see a lot of similarities in those stories. Moses was atop Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights. And then we see Jesus was out in the desert for 40 days and nights. We know that Jesus had a mountaintop experience where he was transfigured in the light. And we see Moses in today’s story also has this mountaintop experience of the light of God in this burning bush. Now, mountains in the Bible are also highly symbolic. Whenever you read a mountain in the Bible, it symbolizes a place of higher consciousness. So Moses, from this place of higher consciousness, is all alone. He hears the voice of God, and he experiences the presence of God in this Burning Bush. And the voice of God instructs him, ‘You can't stay up here with me, you must go down the mountain. And you must lead the people from exile, from separation, into the promised land, to the place of oneness.
Now, the Jewish people of Jesus's day, they love that story of Moses and the burning bush. They love it so much that they celebrate it every single year. Seven weeks after Passover, their high holy day. So seven weeks after Passover, 49 days, on the 50th day, they celebrate Moses and the burning bush.
And that's what Pentecost means – the 50th day.
So now fast forward to the New Testament story. The disciples are all gathered together in one place. And it's Pentecost, the Jewish Pentecost, 50 days after Passover. And what happens to them? The same thing that happens to Moses! Now they're not on a mountaintop, but we hear they're in the upper room, again, this place of higher consciousness, and they to hear the voice of God, and each of them understands it in their own language. And they also see the presence of God in fire, not in a burning bush, but in those tongues of fire above their heads. Right at that crown chakra that I told you about last Sunday, that place of enlightenment.
And the voice of God thats speaking to them says you can't stay here in this place. You must go out far and wide into the world, and teach and heal. And that's why we call it the birthday of the church. Because the disciples heard the voice of God, they were filled with the Spirit. And they went out to lead people from separation to oneness.
So the Jewish Pentecost is 50 days after Passover. And our Christian Pentecost, which we're celebrating today, is 50 days after Easter. Today is 50 days after Easter. So this story of the Pentecost, it isn't just about something that happened 2,000 years ago, it's to remind us that this flame, this fire, lives within us. It's there, we just have to ignite it, and fan its flames.
And we have to encourage that fire, that light in one another. Because our job, like Moses and Jesus, is to lead people from separation to oneness, to the promised land, to the kingdom of heaven here on Earth.
So… how do we do that?
How do you get in touch with that light that is within you? How do you hear the voice of God – that we say in the United Church of Christ is still speaking? How do we hear that voice? How do we experience the presence?
Well, we have been given a gift. And that gift is the gift of prayer and meditation. In the quiet, in the stillness, we go to a place of higher consciousness. You don't have to climb a mountain. That place of higher consciousness is within you. But you've got to go off alone, like Moses and Jesus did. You have to venture into the wilderness, get quiet and still. And when you do that, you will hear that inner voice that speaks in the stillness. I've shared with you before that beautiful quote of Meister Eckhart that says that God speaks in the silence. So we have to get still and know it.
And when we are in prayer, we close our eyes. We stop seeing things on a surface level, a worldly level, and instead we lift up our eyes, we go to that place of higher consciousness so we can feel and experience the presence of God.
Now those of you who have a daily prayer practice, those of you who have been meditating for many years, I know you have experienced what I've been blessed to experience when you go so deep in prayer that you are just so filled with the Spirit. It is just this incredible bliss, this peace that surpasses understanding, you can't even put it into words.
And that's why I think those who were sneering in the Pentecost story – they said those people look like they're drunk. Because when you experience that bliss, you're so intoxicated with that presence.
Now, I would love to be able to stay in the meditation chair all day. But I know that that is not what God is calling us to do. We are called to be people of contemplation. But we're also called to be people of action. So we connect with the presence of God in our quiet time. But then our calling as Christians is to go out into the world, and to share that light and love and power and presence of God with the world to shine our light for all of the world to see.
And so that is what this whole season of Pentecost is all about. When you come to church every Sunday. This season, even though you won't be wearing red, you're reminded that God's light is within you. And your purpose is to connect with that light, and to shine that light. And so my friends, I hope you will find time each day in this Pentecost season, to go to that place of higher consciousness, to find time to be quiet and still each day to lift up your eyes, to feel God's presence.
And then to go out into the world, and fan one another's flames so that together we can truly bring about this place of oneness. This kingdom of heaven here on earth, a just world for all.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
Rev. Ian Lawton
Something incredible happened to a group of first century Jews at the time that is known as Pentecost. The miracle was not a miracle of speaking in tongues. The miracle was that everyone present heard in a way that made sense to them. They “got it” simultaneously. They caught the vision that earlier Hebrew Prophets had spoken about. It was a vision of unity. The incredible thing is that people of many cultures heard and understood the vision in their own way. Children caught the vision. Adults caught the vision. The poor and oppressed caught the vision. They were all one. They were all together, by themselves. Today we gather in spiritual community. We are from a number of different backgrounds. We use different language to describe the mystery that sources our joy. Some of us take more of a left-brain approach -- linear and logical. Some of us take a more right-brain approach -- creative and open-ended. The miracle won’t be conformity. The miracle will be a shared vision that finds strength in diversity.
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