It’s 9 o’clock Somewhere
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon at The Church of the Holy Comforter in Martinez, Georgia on May 15, 2016, being Pentecost Sunday and a celebration of the Rev. Cynthia Taylor’s 30th ordination anniversary.
It’s 9 o’clock Somewhere
Words fail. No matter how eloquent the person writing or speaking, words fail to convey human experience. From the emotions of a mother’s first sight of a newborn healthy child to the feeling of being in a small boat during a storm at sea, we can sometimes capture something of an experience, without being able to capture the thing itself. Like the look of love in a Corgi’s eyes, not everything can be put into words.
The Evangelist Luke finds himself at the limits of language as he writes of the Pentecost experience. He writes that, “When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
The sound was like the rush of a violent wind. The tongues were as of fire. This is like when Luke wrote of Jesus’ baptism, “As he was praying, the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him.” Not wind. Not fire. Not even a dove. But something like wind, fire, and a dove.
A television news reporter covering a tornado will often record someone describing the sound as the family huddled for safety as something like a freight train roaring by. Not a freight train. But something like that.
In fact, the Pentecost experience was also something like a bomb going off, a creative rather than destructive force sending shock waves through space and time. Before that morning, the Jesus Movement was relatively small. The greatest preacher in the world sometimes had thousands on a hillside, but mostly walked and talked with a smaller travelling band of men and women so that they could all be in one place on that 50th day after Easter. By the end of the day the sum total of Christ followers would never fit in a single room again. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, calls Pentecost something like the Big Bang as all Christianity radiates outward from this moment of creation.
The impact can be seen in the person of Peter. 50 days earlier, he denied he even knew Jesus. In the time since, he first huddled out of fear, but then after Jesus’ appearance and his ascension, he worshiped with others in the Temple in Jerusalem. The evidence is that he kept mum about Jesus. But after something like wind and fire, the timid disciples became bold evangelists and as they proclaimed the Good News of Jesus, people from around the world heard the Gospel in their own mother tongue. The Holy Spirit reversed the confusion of the Tower of Babel through the miracle of a group of largely unschooled Galileans preaching in perfect Egyptian, Parthian, and so on. The Holy Spirit serving as a unifying force to bring separate people together so each heard the same Good News in a way she or he could best understand.
Peter boldly shares the story of Jesus and tells the crowd “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Luke concludes, “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Now that is a church planting story!
There can be a temptation to dismiss any unique experience. People do not usually speak in languages they do not understand, so the story must be a legend or pure fiction. We can do this with miracles. And while dismissing the miraculous is tempting, miracles persist.
We are celebrating a miracle today. When Cynthia Taylor was a little girl, being a priest and church planter were not on the approved list of vocations for a woman. Even when the Diocese of South Carolina ordained her 30 years ago, this was a unique event. Could a woman be a priest? Some dismissively referred to a female priest as a “priestess” and flatly stated this was not of God. While I beg to differ, I could be biased or deluded. But the church began ordaining women not to be with it and to keep up with the culture, but because the Holy Spirit called women to ministry and gave them the gifts needed to serve as a priest. I blame the Holy Spirit. Actually, I give the Holy Spirit the credit.
Need proof that the Holy Spirit calls and gifts women for the priesthood? We have 30 years of the fruit of faithful ministry to show how God has mightily blessed Cindy’s faithfulness. A few weeks ago, I was in Arizona for a church retreat and a priest asked if I knew Cindy. He told me how influential she had been in his life when he attended the cathedral in Paris. I know that 17 years ago, Bishop Louttit connected me and Cindy as I wanted to be a church planter and that summer of 1999, Cindy toiled here in Columbia County laying the groundwork for Holy Comforter.
I remember so clearly her email sharing the Bible passage from Ephesians: “For you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). She wrote passionately about a desire to draw alongside people, to welcome them into the household of God and into fellowship and service with others, inside and outside the church.
Months before that first Christmas Eve Eucharist in 1999, I found myself like others before and others after drawn in by how the Holy Spirit spoke through Cindy. I see the church I planted from 2000-2010, which thrives today, as part of the fruit of Cindy’s ministry. There is no place short of heaven and no one but the Holy Spirit who can even begin to tally all that God has done through her faithfulness. The waves of lives touched in ever expanding circles are not like a rock thrown into a pond, but maybe something more a stick of dynamite tossed into the waters of a placid lake.
These ongoing ripples outward are not because Cindy is a charismatic leader. As the danger there is that everything depends on the charisms of that leader. Certainly Cindy has charisma, but I am pointing to the fact that her ministry is not about being the church, but equipping you, the saints, for ministry, so that you can be the church.
A favorite example I use in talking with other congregations is a method Cindy did not invent, but she had enough of a heart for those outside the church and a confidence of you who are Holy Comforter that she challenged you who are blessed to be a blessing to others. Such a simple method. Just ask someone in the service industry, whether wait staff at the restaurant or a maid in a hotel, “How can I ask God to bless you today?” Beautiful in its simplicity and powerful in the lives changed. Blessed to be a blessing is one small example of the many ways in which her ministry has remained focused on those who do not know Jesus, or only know him as a righteous judge, not as a loving savior.
That morning of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came with such power that words could not fully convey the experience, the first thought of those seeing and hearing the disciples was that they had been hitting cheap wine pretty hard. New wine is the cheap stuff and these men and women were, after all, from Galilee. The crowd looked at the messengers and figured with Galileans the saying probably wasn’t “It’s Five o’clock somewhere” as an excuse to start drinking. Instead the saying must be, “It’s 9 o’clock somewhere.” Perhaps coming out more as, “Lord knows with those guys it’s always 9 o’clock somewhere. Bless their hearts.”
The crowd was on to something, however, in that the Holy Spirit is always ready to show up in a mighty way. When a friend calls you late one evening crying because her husband has left. Or when you go with you Mom to that early morning appointment to get the biopsy results. Or when a co-worker learns his son has been in a car accident. Or when a child calls late at night from jail. In all the times and places when you need God to be present, recall, “It’s 9 o’clock somewhere” and just as the Holy Spirit showed up one Pentecost when it was time to clock in to work, so God will not leave you comfortless. The Holy Spirit will come to you in all these times and places and so many more.
There are so many people who need the holy comfort found in being not strangers or sojourners, but finding themselves surprised and delighted to be fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. The untamed Holy Spirit of God is always working out in the deep darkness where people find themselves feeling lost and alone. The power and presence of God so well known within this church is so desperately needed just beyond your drive. There are many kinds of pain and suffering and anguish in our world, but there is but one source of healing. And we who know the Great Physician Jesus Christ can offer that comfort and healing to others. How? Well, I promise you this. Before the week is out and for many of you, before this day is over, you will run across someone fighting a great battle. Treat everyone you meet as a fellow citizen with the saints. And when you bump up against someone in need, remember this sermon and don’t hold back.
However the spirit nudges you, whether you ask “How can I ask God to bless you?” or you just ask “Are you okay?” and then listen, pray as we worship today for God to use you somehow, then respond when you see an opening this week. You don’t have to get it right. Just trust the Holy Spirit to honor your good intentions. God will handle the rest.
One more thing. Tell your pastor. There will be no better or more appropriate gift for this 30th anniversary of her ordination to the priesthood than to hear how God uses you this week. Be the church. Share Jesus love in ways small or big. Then let Cindy know.
When and how might this happen? I have no idea. But I do know this, God came in a mighty way at 9 o’clock in the morning on that Pentecost when the Christian Church was born and it is always 9 o’clock somewhere. God is always showing up in ways that defy description.
And how much will this matter to your pastor? Words fail to convey the emotion.