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The Day of Pentecost

Sisters and Brothers,

 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

 The passage above is from Paul’s letter to the churches of Rome (8:22-27). It is the Epistle we will read this Sunday. It is part of a larger segment of Paul’s argument about the work of the Holy Spirit in the world, the church, the believer, and the individual. It’s graphic in ways that make us feel uncomfortable and vulnerable and seen. It’s graphic about our yearning for the fullness of relationship with God that seems to elude us. It’s graphic about our longing for something just beyond our seeing and knowing. AND THEN, Paul basically hollers, “Isn’t that the point?” “Who hopes for what is seen?”

 Our lives are incomplete without God, and even our awareness of our desire for God cannot fulfill that need. As St. Augustine prays, “I drew you in and now I pant for you.” The essence of our hope is an impossible-to-fill longing. Paul makes it clear that we, who have known the little of God that we do, understand what this desire is, but it is the whole creation that is going through this together as a woman in labor pains. There are those who simply do not know the source of and reason for their restless yearning. (Maybe we who do could show a little more empathy?)

All of this sounds wonderful and abstract and obscure and spiritual. And, isn’t this the way we expect the clergy to talk to us about things we aren’t terribly interested in because we aren’t sure why they matter? I’m here to say these Holy Spirit longing “things” do matter. They are grounded and real and tangible. St. Bart’s has wanted some things for a long time. We still have things we want, long for, desire, and tell ourselves we need. For a LONG time, the word most often heard when expressing those wants and needs, though I don’t know whose voice you remember saying it, has been “No.” That “No” has been followed by long lists of “whys” and shortcuts that could (should?) be taken instead, but in the end, the answer has been “No.” I have to ask you why that has been the case, and what has changed. I have to ask because, seemingly all of a sudden, we can fix the roof, replace the doors, and now build an ADA accessible bathroom without asking any of you for an extra penny and only minimally drawing from reserve funds. Something has changed. Why, all of a sudden, is the answer to these long identified wants, “Yes?” And, then “What’s next?”

 We talk about the Vestry and the Stewardship and Development Committee working together to discern Capital and Operational Priorities. We talk about them researching the extent, organization, and leveraging of our assets. We talk about them researching funding streams and pursuing a year-round funding appeal. All of that vocabulary comes from the non-profit corporate world, which is very un-St. Bart’s and may well be very unfamiliar and seem unholy. At its core though, this work is about following the Holy Spirit’s guiding to best care for one another and the assets entrusted to our stewardship. Further, this work is about following the Holy Spirit’s guiding to best prepare to serve our community as a witness to God’s love. Frankly, we have much to learn from that set of corporate disciplines and practices for the sake of St. Bart’s institutional integrity and effectiveness. But never forget, this work that we are trying to learn to do more efficiently and effectively is about listening for the Holy Spirit saying, “Yes.” Because we are the church, because we have the first fruits, we also know that our yearning will never be satisfied. We will always be led into a longed-for future that remains just beyond our knowing and grasp. Such is the exciting nature of our hope.