11 May 2008
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1)
In the name …
This is a tough day to preach. The major feast day of Pentecost and the ignore-at-your-own-risk national holiday of Mother’s Day fall on the same day this year. When the Holy Spirit descends upon those few believers gathered together in Jerusalem on that Pentecost Sunday two thousand years ago, the Christian church is born. That’s huge. It ranks Pentecost right up there with Easter and Christmas. But on the other hand, all of us have been born by mothers, and on top of that this is the 100th anniversary of the very first Mother’s Day. The feast day of the birth of the Christian church, and the holiday honouring the mothers who gave us birth, if you don’t hit the perfect balance between the two of them somebody’s going to get upset, either one Holy Spirit or a whole slew of mothers. So maybe I can hopefully find a happy median by talking first about Pentecost, but doing so in a story that our mothers may be able to appreciate a bit more than the rest of us.
I think most everyone heard about the story of Christopher Rudder, the father who thought he was buying a lemonade for his seven-year-old son Leo at a Detroit Tigers baseball game a couple of weeks back. He goes to the concession stand and orders a lemonade, but he’s in the adult beverage line. He’s given a Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which has printed on the label in small, little type that it contains 5% alcohol. Mr. Rudder is an archaeology professor, and sometimes the very bright can be a bit absent-minded when it comes to real world matters. He said he’d never heard of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and he said he wasn’t surprised by the $7 cost because everything in a ballpark is ridiculously expensive. So he gives the kid a drink.
And lo and behold a security guard sees little Leo drinking the booze. He hauls the family out of the stands and sends the kid to Children’s Hospital to see if there’s any alcohol poisoning, of which there was none. The doctors clear Leo to go home understanding that a mistake had been made, but the police instead took the child to the Wayne County Child Protective Service Foster Home. The police also understanding that this was most likely a mistake said they hated to do it, but they had to follow procedures. Little Leo stayed in foster care for three days. The whole time the social workers said they hated to do it, but they had to follow procedures. The case was brought before a Juvenile Court judge who released the boy to his home and his mother under the condition that the father stay away and live in a hotel. Again, he said he hated to do it, but he had to follow procedures. 11 days later the case was finally dismissed, but not until after two weeks of anxiety, separation and humiliation were forced upon this family because of a father’s absent-minded mistake. And every step of the way during those two weeks, everyone involved who had a chance to use common sense to bring this family together said instead that they hated to do it but they had to follow procedures.
Now before I start talking about that story and how it ties in with Pentecost, I just want to say that none of this would have ever happened if little Leo’s mother was at that baseball game with her son and her husband. There is no way that a Mike’s Hard Lemonade would get anywhere near her son’s lips if she were there. I would not want to be Christopher Rudder, the father, when he made the call from Children’s Hospital that he and Leo were there and that the police were putting the child in foster care because he gave his son a hard lemonade. Can you imagine what that mother must have been saying to him, and how delicately with a feminine panache she must have said it to him? Even if the judge hadn’t ordered the father to go to a hotel, I’ll bet that was the safest place for the poor guy to be for a few days. A mother just knows things. I don’t know how, maybe it’s intuition, maybe it’s a special grace that God shares with mothers because they care for His children, but somehow they know things that the rest of us don’t. I’ve been playing chess against my computer. And almost every time I lose. That machine just knows things. It can anticipate; it can know of problems and opportunities before I even get a hint of them. As a guy watching what mothers do, I get the same feeling about them as I do about the computer playing chess. A mother can say, “How could you allow them to do that, how could you allow that to happen?” And most of the time the answer is, “I don’t know. It just happened.” Motherhood is a gift and a mystery that I can appreciate more and more the longer I share in fatherhood. I don’t know how they do it, but thank God they do.
But now back to the story and Pentecost. Today we celebrate the sharing of God’s Holy Spirit with us. Pentecost means that as the community of the church we are all directly inspired by the presence and wisdom of God. Pentecost means that each one of us has a wisdom that the Bible equates with being “taught by God,” (1 Thess. 4:9) and evidence of that wisdom is to be a part of the people of God. The inspiration of the Spirit draws us together, and that union does not require uniformity, it requires respect. It allows us to see Christ in all Christians, not just the ones exactly like us. Pentecost never draws people into separation. When the Holy Spirit first descended upon the church, those inspired went out as community in order to build the community, and it’s been that way ever since.
And Pentecost, maybe most importantly, is the living presence of God still among us. The Spirit is what gives life to the church. The Spirit inspires the church and guides her through every single today. This means that the living church is the exact opposite of that bureaucratic refrain told in the story by cops, social workers and a judge: “I hated to do it, but I had to follow procedures.” Our faith is not based upon the letter of the law written and belonging to the past, but upon the continuous presence of the Spirit of God always among us, or as St. Paul writes: “Our competence is from God, who has made us … ministers of a new covenant, not of letter, but of Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) This living presence of God among His people is Pentecost, and it is the gift we celebrate today on the birthday of the church. It is what keeps the church ever current and able to be relevant in people’s lives. Pentecost is what allows the church to change and adapt because we are always inspired by the Spirit of God. And we pray that the Spirit always dwell among us and inspire us, and we also offer special prayers this day in honour and gratitude of our mothers, living and dead, for the special wisdom and loving care which they share with us, for these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo