Text of Pentecost 2020 Sermon
Today is the Feast of Pentecost,
a red letter day on the church calendar
that we enter into with thanksgiving.
There is a thing
I have no idea how to describe –
a thing so vital and life-giving
I cannot imagine how to live without it
though people do.
Surely you have something like that, right?
Something so dear to you
that life without it would be grievous
and yet, you don’t know how to describe it.
If you are an artist –
musician, painter, sculptor,
weaver or quilter –
then you may have tried to capture it somehow
in your art.
But I am betting you fell short.
Beauty is like that, I mean true beauty.
Beauty can take your breath away, right?
When you see something material
emanating a kind of “presence” from it,
that triggers a rapid heart beat
or a widening of the eyes
and expansion of the mind,
then it may be something we call beauty.
Like so many things,
we domesticate beauty for daily use
and it kind of dulls our senses.
Flower arrangements on the dining room table
for example, are very nice
but they are not a hillside of trillium
appearing overnight in spring.
Commercial pop music can be a lot of fun
but even the best of it is nothing
alongside Yo Yo Ma playing solo in the dark
in the high altitude Atacama Desert of Chile.
But even Yo Yo Ma is nothing
alongside the song sparrow in spring
or a chorus of purple martins
bedding down for the night.
These are sounds we can put in the background
and enjoy while doing other things,
but on occasion we hear them,
really, truly hear them
and we have a physiological response.
Beauty, the spiritual dimension of beauty,
stimulates a physiological response in us.
It is powerful, magical almost,
in that it is nothing different than normal
and yet suddenly, we are different
in response to it.
How am I doing?
Do you know the experience of “beauty”
I am talking about?
If so, then you probably know
this thing I want to share
but that I do not know how share.
It has a very dull name,
a domesticated, tasteless term: community.
Community – what does that communicate?
Oh, look at that beautiful community over there.
Plus, we use it to mean so many different things:
our town, a group of professionals, interest groups…
But those are not what I am pointing to.
Break it down:
com – together, jointly
unus – Latin meaning one, oneness.
Among all those domesticated, ordinary
experiences of what we call community
we stumble into something that triggers a physiological response in us –
something akin to love,
something like apprehending beauty,
but also something both exquisitely sweet
and poignantly troubling
because it requires wading through a pool
of shared woundedness.
It is a oneness that happens,
blooms all of a sudden.
That is what I mean by community:
It does not just happen because we want it.
It does not just happen because we plan it.
It does not just happen because we’re good at it.
It does not just happen because we say it should.
It does not just happen because we prescribe it.
It does not just happen because we gather.
It happens like beauty does,
when we are open to it
and looking and listening for it,
and a fortunate rendering of events
brings us together
and the presence of the sacred
blooms among us.
In other words,
we cannot make it happen
but we can do stuff to invite it.
We can also do stuff
to hinder it.
No doubt we have done both –
together and separately.
Now here is a word to those of you
out there in Internet Land
who I do not know,
or who I know but do not get to see often.
Finding community –
encountering com-unus –
is not done easily.
It requires all the yucky, aggravating,
stupid, ridiculous, onerous, and messy parts
of hanging out with people.
Take the hard work of any one-on-one relationship
we have held onto over time,
and then throw it into the chaotic spinner
of a group of relationships.
It’s just hard work.
There are people in there
you do not even like all that much.
It’s like having to eat eggplant –
or whatever it is you don’t like to eat.
That is the price of sacred community,
of encountering God in oneness with others.
I know a whole bunch of people
who have given up on it –
especially when it comes to church.
I am not about to tell you
that church is the only place you can encounter
And there is no way I am going to promise you
you can find it in every church.
But I will tell you, promise you even –
a promise rooted in my own experience –
that it can be created wherever people gather
over time and with the tenacious will
to be in relationship with one another for love –
specifically, for the love of God.
I know a lot of people who have given up though.
I understand the resignation.
Family is tough enough,
and then you add to the normal difficulty
of being intimately inter-connected
with a bunch of folks you didn’t pick
for your team,
and who aren’t attached to you
through blood or law,
and it is just hard, sweaty work.
But everything else
that looks like sacred community
is just pop music
compared to a song sparrow.
There are all kinds of wonderful worship experiences out there,
concert-style events with cool technology
or elegant liturgies
surrounded by gorgeous architecture.
That is not sacred community.
A sacred community may do those things,
but encountering God in oneness with others
is a wholly different kind of experience.
Encountering God in oneness
with others is deep –
it travels through your veins
and gets into the marrow of your bones,
and rattles the insides of your brain,
and actually makes your heart grow bigger.
That is what the Feast of Pentecost symbolizes.
What happened or didn’t happen
way back when
means nothing for us today.
Sacred community does not live or die
on the laurels of ancient experience
nor the sins of institutions.
It lives in the hard work of inter-connectedness
among a people who have chosen
to act in love with one another –
encountering beauty within our shared wounds,
and struggling toward openness
to the holy in our midst.
Well, you see,
I can’t really describe it, can I?
But you know it or not.
You know the difference
between a domesticated version of community
and a truly sacred com-unus.
I just wanted to hold it up for thanksgiving
for those who are in close proximity to it –
and intimately involved in its hard work.
But also to commend it
to those who have backed away
after deciding it wasn’t worth the risks.
The Feast of Pentecost is a moment to celebrate
sacred community and give thanks for it.
And like all celebrations, also a time to step back
and open ourselves for more of it.