Pentecost A – June 8, 2014 – Pentecost and Liberation
The first twenty minutes in the film ‘Saving Private Ryan” are acclaimed as the most accurate depictions of war shown in a movie. The casualties suffered in the invasion of Normandy (Operation Overlord) are enough to teach us that war is not the way to solve humanity’s problems.
Still one must pause with gratitude, seventy years later, for the thousands who courageously gave their lives to liberate people they did not know from the evils of Nazism. In declaring June 6th a national remembrance day President Barack Obama remarked, “the patriots who, through their courage and sacrifice changed the course of an entire century … gave new hope to the world.” 
On this Pentecost Sunday we remember and celebrate some of our Christian ancestors who, in a certain way, also changed history. It was not like a horrific war but what happened in that tiny room in Jerusalem signaled a new wave of hopes and promises that over two billion Christians around the world still cling to.
We know little about those followers of Jesus who gathered that day. The bible says they were all Jewish, about 120 of them. They were anticipating the arrival of a new spirit but did not know when or where. They were confused and terrified just like the young soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy. The Jews, most likely, were in Jerusalem either for business or the Festival of Shavu’ot. That holy day which was celebrated just this past week, occurs exactly fifty days after Passover. As you know the word Pentecost means fifty days.
The connection between Passover and Shavu’ot is important to Jews. For them the liberation experienced in the Exodus is complemented by the reception of the Torah, the word of God that announces the spiritual redemption of Jews. The Jews who were present that Pentecost day must have been wondering was the Mediterranean Jew from Nazareth the one who would bring salvation or not.
We often think of Pentecost in terms of the fiery tongues, the howling winds and diverse languages spoken. Fire in scripture refers to the presence of God. What we know about the wind is that it is a feminine Hebrew word. The multiple languages spoken symbolized the unity that could be experienced by people around the world when motivated by the same spirit. Could it be that Pope Francis will stir up that kind of peaceful Spirit when praying with Mahmoud Abbas and Simon Perez today?
The key word for Christians on Pentecost of course is Spirit – a holy Spirit that liberates us from the oppression of others. How do we experience this Spirit who can free us from whatever holds us back? Is it something given to us … or are we born with it? And, what do we do with her once we realize we have the Spirit.
You have heard us say that worship here in church is a rehearsal for the way we live out there, beyond these walls. Each of us has gifts and vocations that enable us to share the gifts we have. How we worship helps parents and guardians care for their children. It inspires spouses, partners and members of religious communities to strive for healthy relationships. It provides foundations for teachers and care givers as they offer hope and possibilities to those they serve. It encourages outreach in our food pantry, prison ministry, hospital visitations and our Sister parish in Panama. All of our liturgical ministries exercised during this liturgy are practice sessions for what to do when we leave here.
The early church survived for close to three hundred years as a persecuted group held in suspicion by society. Those pioneer Christians persevered with little power and property. They survived because they kept together and watched out for one another. They used whatever resources they had to grow and eventually flourish into a church, a people of God, that continues to grow worldwide today.
The success of the invasion of Normandy did not depend on any one soldier, troop, General or ally. It was a team effort that made it possible in the face of all obstacles. The success of our church does not depend on any one minister or ministry. It is not reliant on any one ordained or lay person. The church is a union of baptized persons working together in the vineyard.
The actions of the Jews present for Pentecost and the soldiers who stormed Normandy were turning points in history of religion and world events respectively. As we commemorate and think about these events this week what is our role in helping to turn things around? How are we using our gifts of a holy Spirit to renew the face of the earth?
1 Greg Keller and Lori Hinnant “Veterans, world leaders honour D-Day’s fallen, 70 years after pivotal invasion of Normandy” in The Globe and Mail June 6, 2014