Sunday, May 27, 2012

Day of Pentecost -- Gifting Sunday

The Sunday during Memorial Day weekend is sometimes referred to as Memorial Day Sunday. Some churches would include in their Sunday worship service specific tokens of honoring and remembering those who died in the service of our country.

I could have similarly promoted such tokens had it not been for this other important celebration that not only involves the citizenry of a particular country but also that of a "greater number of people" throughout the world.

We celebrate today Pentecost Sunday; the fiftieth day after the great event we call Easter Sunday. Today’s celebration, however, happens to fall on the same day as Memorial Day Sunday; thus, for obvious reasons, the emphasis is more on Pentecost.

There is, however, another way to remember both. These two celebrations, Memorial Day Sunday and Pentecost Sunday, both involve an act of gifting something precious to others. Memorial Day Sunday, on the one hand, calls to remembrance the “gifting of life” unselfishly offered by those who chose to fight in the service of their country and for what their country called them to do. Pentecost Sunday, on the other hand, alludes to the “gifting of the Holy Spirit” offered by the God who chose to continue the love that the Godhead has for humankind.

In line with my fondness of coining words or phrases, I’d like to call this Sunday “Gifting Sunday”; a special day of calling in remembrance the noble gifts once offered and continually being offered.

I’m sure you have your own reasons why Memorial Day could be quite appealing. And I don’t mean the fellowship around the grill accompanied by some libation as a tribute to the ensuing summer season. Memorial Day weekend could be that but I mean the real reason why people get emotional about it.

So for example, you may have members of your family who perished in the wars that America had been involved or continues to be involved in, while not being waged in our soil. I could trace my own interest in this special celebration through the loss of my uncle’s life at  the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army while fighting for the American Forces in the Philippines during World War II.

Those who have similar reasons for the fondness of this celebration are proud to claim that the lives of their loved ones and for that matter, those of the entire war heroes, were the greatest gifts that had been offered for their country. It was their “gifting of life” that continues to be called to remembrance each time this last weekend of May comes around.

That being said, a different kind of gifting is the reason why Pentecost Sunday is celebrated by a “greater number of people” called Christians. Pentecost Sunday is when Christians celebrate God’s “gifting of the Holy Spirit” to the disciples who were once gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost, a Jewish agricultural feast that has taken on a new meaning for Christians. Today we call to remembrance the Holy Spirit, God’s gift that is at work in Creation; both in a personal sense in individual followers of His Son, and in a collective way, in His Body, the Church.

Great gifts, indeed! Both are worth remembering but with a big difference.

For the obvious reason that the gifting of human life, once done, could never be repeated unless another human life is offered, this gifting, at its best, gets “memorialized” and worse, gets relegated to a country’s collective memory and only resurfaces on the last Monday in May of the following year.

And while acts of gifting lives or better yet, "sacrificing" lives are truly noble, it would be unwise for anyone to use it as justification for more offering of the same, even if done in the name of one’s country or in the name of their God.

This kind of gifting often gets imbedded in tragic turn of events and quite oddly, amidst somber moods, begins to form the birthing of hatred – thrown in revenge and disgust to the very country and people for which that very life was given. This is why, for others, Memorial Day has become a time of sadness.

On the other hand, God’s “gifting of the Holy Spirit” is a time of joy and gladness. It promises life even if it was once closely tied up to someone’s gruesome death on the cross. Today, as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, we rejoice in that we all have become the benefactors of God’s continued “gifting of the Holy Spirit”.

And what a beautiful gift it is. The Holy Spirit – God’s Spirit is pure gift to us; although quite often we are less deserving of such gracious gift. God, however, pours it out for us and in us simply because He loves us and wants to be with us always. God’s Holy Spirit is the Advocate that today's gospel talks about. The Holy Spirit, the Holy Breath, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity is our Strength and our Guide. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are reborn, made new and transformed. 

And yet, as with all gifts of Divine Providence, the Holy Spirit is not forced upon us. The Holy Spirit comes to us freely and lovingly, as a gift beyond measure. And so part of what we could do today is to recommit ourselves to being open to this Gift, to welcome and receive it, not just once but every day of our lives. That takes faith and requires an open heart. That takes true hope in what is possible. God unfolds this gift for us to behold, and we are invited to receive it with a deep sense of gratitude.

As with all who had been gifted with all sorts of presents and gifts, recipients often get overwhelmed with such lavish tokens of love. And so do we on this Pentecost Sunday. But that’s just part of what today is all about. Today is not only about being thankful and being grateful for receiving the gift of God’s Spirit, but it is also about the giving away of this very same gift, passing it along, “unleashing” it on the world, and “re-gifting” it to others.

Each of us, today, is offered a personal invitation to become a participant in the “re-gifting of the Holy Spirit” for others. In fact, it is for this reason that I chose the name “Gifting Sunday”; so we can see our part in this whole process of gifting tokens of love and care. I would like to propose that the re-gifting part should be highlighted even more, seeing and knowing that it is the more important piece – the true evidence that God’s Spirit is alive and well in each of us and in His Body, the Church.

The reason for its importance lies in the fact that if the transforming love of the Holy Spirit were to have no effect on our daily living, then we cannot really say that this great gift has made a difference in us,  nor can we claim that we’ve truly received the grace offered, in spite of our claim that we are truly committed to being Jesus’ disciples.

And that becomes the challenge for us, to not regard today as simply a day of remembrance; remembering something that happened long ago. Rather, we are to see it as a re-commitment to someone of something that we ourselves believe is happening day-in and day-out, in this time and place and in this faith community. It is a gifting that can be re-done; that can be offered to others, so the original Gift-Giver is truly memorialized in ages past and those yet to come.

The Holy Spirit who dwells in each of us the same Spirit that hovered over Chaos at Creation. It was the same Spirit who brought life to Adam and Eve. The same Spirit who guided Noah during the Great Flood. The same spirit that led Moses in their great exodus from Egypt. It is the same Holy Spirit that was with Jesus and the same Spirit who came to those first disciples on that first Day of Pentecost, transforming them into a community of believers full of wisdom, courage, and understanding.

As I was trying to wrap up writing my sermon yesterday and aware that I’d be talking about “gifting” and gifts, I remembered a gifting practice that my son Andrew and his work mates would do at Christmas. They’d do what they refer to as “White Elephant Gift Exchange”. I know what “white elephant” usually refers to and I wanted to find out if it’s the same reason behind his group’s gifting practice. Apparently, it is not.

And so I told him what the usual meaning of it is and that, first of all, its should not to be confused with the phrase “white elephant in the room” because it should only be “elephant” and not “white elephant” and second that it is used to refer when you “re-gift” something which you were given before but somehow found it useless and could give better justice to it if it gets “re-gifted”.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I have used the “gifting and re-gifting” phrase in allusion to how the Holy Spirit has been “gifted” to us and that we should “re-gift” it to others. The Holy Spirit who dwells within us is no “white elephant”, for by definition, as I told Andrew, “white elephant” is something that we have no use for, that has little or no value, and that we wish we never would have received in the first place.  A true white elephant is basically of no use to anyone. In this regard, the Holy Spirit is the complete opposite. This gift has the power to do nothing less than change the world.

It sounds incredible, and it really is. God wants to change the world and wants that to turn to reality through us – through our willingness to change, through our actions, through our openness to His grace, and through our trust and courage to carry out this mission.

Unlike the “gifting of life” that Memorial Day reminds us of, in which the gifting is done and gone as soon as that precious life is given away, the “gifting of the Holy Spirit” doesn’t stop or disappear.

Unlike Memorial Day’s “gifting of life” that easily withers away in the nation’s history, today’s “gifting of the Holy Spirit” not only allows us to remember the past but also moves us towards the future; ours and the church we belong to. The more we give it away, the more we shower others with the Spirit of God that dwells within us, the more that same Spirit grows and strengthens and comes even more alive within us. The Holy Spirit will never be spent out. We can always depend on God’s Spirit to provide us with all that we need to faithfully carry out whatever it is that God is asking of us.

And so, maybe this year we should pray more than simply, “Veni Sancte Spiritus”. “Come. Holy Spirit!  Come!”  Instead, let’s proclaim and gladly shout, “Go Holy Spirit! Go!” and bid it go from within us and through us into the hearts, minds, and lives of all those we meet in days to come. It is, indeed, time to re-gift.

Pentecost Sunday is “Gifting Sunday”.

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