Coffee and the Spirit (and other gifts of God): A Homily for Pentecost

If you’ve been around me for any length of time, chances are you’ve seen me with a cup of coffee, or I’ve invited you out for coffee, or you’ve heard me express a need for coffee. Coffee occupies a pretty central place in my life. 

The first time I was ever asked to chaplain a youth event at the diocesan level, in fact, my first question wasn’t about the theme, the date, or even the number of attendees. Rather, it was about the coffee situation. The same goes for every retreat and every vacation. At clergy conferences at Lake Logan and especially Valle Crucis, I’m the person who packs not just an overnight bag but a coffee bag, complete with a quick-boil kettle, hand-crank coffee grinder, and my current favorite brew method.

Because of my deep devotion to coffee, I frequently find something coffee related wrapped up as a gift on holidays—Christmases, birthdays, Father’s Days. I collect different ways of brewing coffee because there’s so much more to life than automatic drip or single-serve Keurig. There’s French press. There’s Chemex pour-over. There’s Moka pots. There’s Aeropress. There’s the vacuum-siphon method. Turkish coffee. There’s espresso. 

Now, whenever I receive a new coffee-brewing method as a gift, all the other brewing methods don’t just go away. I don’t toss them out with the wrapping paper. Rather, in a way, each new gift helps me appreciate, savor, and enjoy all the old gifts even more. Few things bring me as much joy as a coffee-brewing abundance. It means that there can be coffee for all occasions and all situations. 

I love them all. They help me to live each and every day as God intended. 

Good gifts are like that. Gifts don’t erase or cancel out the other good gifts we’ve received. In the same way, if I give my wife one really good gift one year for our anniversary it doesn’t mean I’ll never give her another gift again. 

We keep giving gifts to the ones we love to remind them of our love, to show our love, to celebrate our love, to deepen our love. 

Something like this is what I think is happening at Pentecost. The Spirit, the Advocate, is a gift that helps us to guide us and comfort us so we can live the way God intends. 

Now, it’s easy to get lost in the bombastic story, the tongues of fire, the cacophony of language, the rushing wind knocking our socks off. But frequently, we overlook the backdrop of the story and what the writer of Acts is trying to tell us about this incredible moment in the life of God and of God’s people. 

No, I don’t actually think of this day as the birthday of the Chrisitan church, though it’s typical to think of it that way. It’s actually a deeply Jewish story and rooted in Jewish history.

No, it’s not the reversal and undoing of the Tower of Babel, even though the lectionary offers that story as a companion reading. That’s a complete misinterpretation of what the writer of Acts was trying to communicate. 

In fact, the Biblical story the text in Acts actually references explicitly is rarely mentioned. It’s the story all these Jewish pilgrims and Jesus’ own disciples would have been celebrating on Pentecost! Or, as those gathered in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost would have called it, the Festival of Weeks or Shavuot. 

Shavuot was one of three pilgrimage festivals for Jewish people. It was a huge, celebratory harvest festival, celebrating the reaping of grain. But it was also a celebration commemorating the Jewish people receiving the Torah from God on Mt Sinai.

To them, Shavuot was a celebration of this incredible gift from God—the Torah—a gift in which God comes down from heaven to us to offer us a guide, a way to help us live as God intended, at one with God, with each other, and with our neighbors. In fact, that’s what the word “Torah” actually means—a guide. Rather than the scary 10 Commandments that we must follow or else, they are more like what one children’s curriculum calls God’s 10 Best Ways to Live. 

And so this festival, celebrating God’s gift that helped people live the way God intended, was the perfect time for God to give us another gift, much in the same vein, another gift that would be a guide—the gift of God own self coming down among us in the Holy Spirit to show us and to guide us continually as a companion in how best to live. 

Now, to be clear, this isn’t a replacement gift. Remember every single person who receives the gift of the Spirit in this story is Jewish. And each of the apostles continue to be Jewish. When they read the Scriptures in Acts, they’re reading the Torah, Jewish sacred texts. So the gift of the Spirit isn’t God saying that the other gift of the Torah no longer counts or the old covenant is somehow canceled. 

This is God looking at the people and loving them so much that God, having already given them an incredible, beautiful gift in the Torah, and loving them so much that God gives them yet another good and perfect gift. 

It’s like God coming down and giving you an amazing Nespresso machine when you already have a beloved French press. 

Both help you live exactly how God intended. It’s just now instead of one, you have two!

In the divine poetry of salvation history, these gifts—the gifts of the Torah and of the Spirit—rhyme rather than replace each other..

Pentecost is a day in which we can celebrate the abundance of gifts God has given us to help us live as God intends. And yes, while the day is a little bit over the top, and this gift is one of those that kinda slaps us in the face in the text making it impossible to ignore, this abundance of gifts should orient our souls on this day to the abundance God has already given us. 

Much like the ancients would on a harvest festival of Shauvot itself, this day should heighten our souls to see the good gifts all around us, in sheaves of wheat and the many hands involved in growing them, the good earth from which all our sustenance comes and for which we are to care, our communities that can gather and celebrate. Friends, family. Normal, every day things. We give thanks for all those gifts that help us to live in God’s love, to live as God intended, you know, like coffee.

Today, we get to celebrate another gift, though, as a community. The gift of Baptism. I know official definition of sacraments are outward signs of an inward grace, but I think of the Sacraments more as gifts, both from God and from the Church, gifts that remind us of who we are and guide us and shape us in how to live. 

As we baptize Harper, she will receive the gift with an absolutely unbreakable relationship with God and nothing she can ever do, say, or be will change the bond made on this day. She will always be God’s beloved, no matter what, no matter when, no matter where. Whether she messes up or wins the Nobel prize or somewhere in between, her belovedness will never change—cannot change. Baptism is something God does, a covenant God makes, and there is nothing we can do either to earn it or to unmake that covenant. It is a gift and we can only receive it with thanksgiving. 

So when we asperge you all today with baptismal water, it’s not just because it’s fun to splash you with water. It’s so we, too, can remember the gift of our own baptisms and be thankful, as we are reminded that what is true for Harper in her baptism is also true for us, even if you don’t exactly remember your baptism and even if it’s been decades since those blessed waters touched your head. 

When we asperge you with the waters of baptism, and I see the faces of young and old alike, I’m reminded of a poem from Mary Oliver called the Gift that seems to perfectly capture the experience. It’s not really about baptism, or the Holy Spirit, or the love of God, but it might as well be.

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.

So, be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful.
That the gift has been given

What was true in the gift of baptism years ago is still true for each of us, even after the years of joy and sorrow, disappointment and surprise, of trying and failing to live up to expectations—whether our own or our parents, of finding success and dusting our egos off after failing, after all the years of long work hours and long roads of grief, after finding love and losing it, faith, too, maybe even hope, after being disenchanted with the world and discovering its quiet magic again, the quiet graces of faith, hope, and love reborn, after wondering by what wind we managed to find ourselves brought to this particular place, after illness, after loss, after all that life can throw at you, after all that is blessed and complicated in life, even to your waning years. 

Even after all of that, all that change, your belovedness remains unchanged.

God still loves you immeasurably, and eternally, and more than you can ever imagine. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism as marked as Christ’s own forever. 

So Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful
That the gift has been given

God has poured out that same Spirit onto you, so that whether you are young or old, rich or poor, son or daughter, healthy and vibrant with years ahead of you or close to death with only months left, you can speak the truth of God’s love in the world and to those around you, you can dream dreams, you can see visions of a world made new by the Spirit of the Living God. 

—Sermon by the Rev. David Henson, preached on the Day of Pentecost 2024

Thanks to Dr. Tyler Mayfield, professor of Old Testament at Louisville Seminary for his insights regarding the multiple gift’s of God’s self-revelation on this day.

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