Pentecost Sunday – May 23, 2021
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
The Mission of Gathering: The New Evangelization
Do we all know what a mission statement is? A mission statement is something a company or a business or a group has that tells everyone else their purpose, why they exist, what they do. McDonald’s mission is “to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink.” Starbucks, their mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Nike’s mission is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” That is why they exist.
When Jesus Christ walked into the synagogue in Nazareth—way back at the beginning of the story—he read from a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. And what he read was the mission of the one the Lord had promised would come, the mission of the “anointed one,” the Christ, the Messiah. Just before that story, the Spirit had come down upon Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan, he was “anointed” by the Spirit. So then he returns to Nazareth “in the power of the Spirit” and he tells the people—a people who were waiting for the Lord’s anointed to come—“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Today, today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing. The person who will accomplish the mission is here” (C.f., Luke 4:18-19).
So Jesus’ mission—what was Jesus’ mission? From the beginning, Jesus’ mission is to gather, to create and generate a people, to gather people into the People of God. Throughout the Old Testament—and this is that whole business of covenants, the expansion of covenants—the Lord was constantly trying to fulfill the mission of gathering His people, gathering the people divided and scattered by sin. In Jesus Christ, this mission of gathering reaches its culmination—a New Covenant is established. And that’s why we exist: to carry on the mission of gathering, of evangelizing. Pentecost isn’t only the day when fire came down and the Apostles spoke a bunch of languages, no. Pentecost is the day when we were anointed by that same Spirit, empowered by the Spirit to carry on this mission, the mission of gathering and uniting.
Why do we exist? Why does the Catholic Church exist? We do not exist, our job, why we are here—it isn’t to pray, or to receive the Eucharist, or to get to heaven, or to feel better (as good and important as those are!), no. We exist to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ. We exist to carry on this mission. The Church doesn’t exist and then Jesus tells it to do something, no. There is a mission, Jesus’ mission, and the Church exists to carry on this mission. The mission comes first!
The Way to Do It…Not!
It’s easy to forget this mission, or to confuse other important things with the mission. For many people, “the Church” is a place where you can go to satisfy your spiritual needs, or check off your “religion” box of things to do each week. I talked about that last Sunday: we have this split between our “real life” and the “Faith.” The “Faith” is meant to give us some interior peace and comfort, offer us a promise of heaven. But really, this just means people can go find whatever checks their “spiritual” box for the week.
For other people—and this is especially true now when there is so much social disintegration—for other people “the Church’s” mission is to be an ethical authority. Society is falling apart and being a Christian means to call people back to the ethical norms that stabilized society for so long. To be a Christian means to accept a bunch of ideas and values, to accept concepts and traditions.
Pentecost: A Unity Not of Their Making
The mission is to gather, to unite. We don’t need to figure out a new mission, we just need to carry on what Jesus already began. And we aren’t supposed to figure out how to coerce people into some superficial unity based on our own ideas, or based simply on accepting ideas and ethical norms, no. Our mission is to preach, to announce, to announce good news. This means we go and tell people that something has happened as a result of which everything is different. We announce an event, we announce what has happened.
Sounds pretty lame, huh? Sounds like a poorly thought out plan, “Just tell people what happened.” Well, it’s not. It does mean that something must have happened to you, though! And something has happened. We usually just skip over it, skip right to “these are the things we have to believe” and “this is how we’re supposed to behave.” But each one of us here—I’m sure, if you sat in silence, in prayer, and asked God to show you—each one of us here could share what has happened to us that we follow Christ.
At Pentecost, this great event we celebrate today—at Pentecost the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit that empowered him to carry on his mission—that Spirit is given to his followers. And It is given so that it is not only my presence, my person that is going around “preaching,” but it is the Spirit at work in and through me—in and through you, through us who believe. And the Spirit at work in and through you, “by that power at work within you [the Lord] is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
So yeah, it sounds like a lame plan—just announce what has happened—but it’s only lame if the Spirit isn’t real, the Spirit isn’t present. But when the Spirit is present, everything changes. When the Spirit is present, He does the hard work—work we can’t do. The unity, the gathering that happens, the communion created doesn’t happen because we made it happen, but because the Spirit was at work.
I’m sure a lot of us can share those stories. People changed, we changed, things changed—not necessarily because we did something, but because the Spirit was at work. It’s like when people come up to you a decade later and say, “You know, you really changed my life.” Me?? What?? Not me, but the Spirit at work in and through me.
The Eucharist: Sacrament of Unity
And so as Christians, as Catholics, every time we meet, we start with a big act of faith. Not just the faith we profess in the creed, not just saying that we believe something, no. “A more existential faith. The faith which consists in believing, in almost feeling, that the risen Lord is here among us. Alive! Here” (Cantalamessa). We begin Mass by gathering—and that’s important! But then right after the Sign of the Cross, what do we hear? “The Lord be with you.” From the very beginning, we recall that the Lord is present among us.
So often we can forget that this is at the center of everything we believe as Christians! The Lord is alive, he is here among us. “He was waiting for us.…The risen Lord is fully present.…And the risen Lord rejoices immensely being among us. So let us enter into this atmosphere of being with the Lord, not just listening to some words coming from him. But listen in this presence” (Cantalamessa). The Lord’s presence among us, his real presence among us is at the core of our faith.
The Eucharist we receive today, this bread changed by the outpouring of the Spirit into the Body of Christ—this Eucharist is what unites us, builds this unity. And it is from this Eucharist that we are sent out to proclaim what has happened to us, to continue the mission of gathering people into this unity created by the Spirit of Christ.