Bishop HIrschfeld's Baccalaureate Address at Holderness School for Pentecost Sunday, May 24, 2015, Text: Acts 2:1-21
Today is both an end and a beginning.
In the readings we just heard, we learn that today is the day when the earliest disciples no longer could claim a special status as having known Jesus personally. Suddenly, everyone had access to the power of God through the communication of the Spirit. If the small band of apostles thought they were special, or privileged, or were truly religious, then after Pentecost, the day of the spreading of the Spirit, anyone who had ears to hear, or whose heart was open to it, had within them the power of God to heal, to forgive, to bring justice and hope to a world that was broken and full of despair.
As Peter quoted from the Hebrew Bible:
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young shall see visions,
and your old shall dream dreams. (Joel 2:28-29)
The disciples had been thinking that they had true religion, they had a unique relationship with the Resurrected Jesus because they knew the Jesus personally. But after Pentecost, all who heard and received the message that God’s love and justice and peace was stronger than anything that humanity could accomplish in this world, anyone could claim to be a child of God. All people who accepted the Spirit could be drawn into the Presence of God. All those strangers, (and congratulations, by the way to the young man who read so well all those strange names) all those foreigners, all those people from outside Judea now could say that they may not be religious in the old sense, but they were spiritual. Because the Spirit does not care were you come from, or what family you were born into, or who wealthy you are, or even what faith you practice, the Spirit just wants you to know that you are made in the image of God, and God will never leave you alone.
How many continents do we have represented here. We know we have students from North America, of course. How many here are from Central America? South America? How many are from the Pacific Rim? From China? Korea? Vietnam? India? How many from one of the many countries in Africa? How about the Middle East? Central Europe? Western Europe?
Would it be safe to say that there are maybe a dozen languages represented in this room? At least! And yet, over the past few years you have all learned to speak the special language of Holderness. There is something about your being here with each other that has shaped how you will meet and greet the experiences ahead of you. To speak Holderness you learn the grammar of the outdoors through your Outback, you learn the vocabulary of snow, of activity, of art, of mutual support and care, of striving and accomplishment, of laughter, of sorrow, of concern for those who are less fortunate than you. All these make up a language, and it’s a language of the Spirit of this place. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindi, Buddhist, questioning, atheist, agnostic, whether you relished your times in this Chapel or you suffered through them with while grinding your teeth, this school helped teach you how to communicate love, curiosity, care, a hunger for truth and a thirst of justice. We all can understand that language. That’s Pentecost.
When the fiery Spirit came down with the power to communicate in language that had not been spoken or understood before, God shows that true religion is not about all being of the same mind, or looking the same, or praying the same, or having the same talents or viewpoints. Rather, God’s power is made known in difference, in conflict, in confusion, in surprise, in reconciliation, in making spectacular mistakes. That’s what it means to be truly spiritual but not religious. And any religion that does not make room for difference, or failure, or questioning, is not at all spiritual. I urge you to run away from that as fast as you can. It may be that that kind of religion may be the most urgent crisis that you will face in your time: religion that is devoid of the Spirit of love always leads to violence, and brutality of the soul and of the body.
So here you are, many languages, many nations, about to spread out into the world with the language of Holderness in your hearts and in your minds. The grammar of Pro deo et pro genero humano. For God and for humankind. Go look for God’s deeds of power. You will see them. Come back and tell us of them. We will be listening.
As I said, today is an ending. The Holderness you have known will cease to be the moment you step off this campus. Sure there will be things you will recognize, but it won’t be the same because this particular assembly of friends, faculty, classmates, staff, won’t be here. That may be sad. But that’s what happens when brings forth a new birth. Something comes to completion. Ends. Even dies in a sense
And as many people refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, so it is also your birthday in a sense, as you celebrate a commencement, a fresh beginning, and your readiness to learn and create worlds of meaning and purpose. Seek the Spirit. It brought you here. The Spirit guided you and protected you while you were here. And in an hour or so you will be expelled from Holderness. The Spirit is now expelling you out from here so that you will serve God and humankind in ways that only you can.