Sermon for May 28, 2023 | The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23
As a young boy, I was taught that all material things – from my body to the candles burning on our dining table at home to the soaring redwoods not far from our school – were solid, physical realities – some more perishable than others. After all, redwood trees on the Pacific Coast can live for more than 2,000 years: a lot longer than a candle or any one of us. I was also taught that each of these material things is clearly distinct from the other: my body is not a burning candle and a burning candle is not a redwood. Thus, physicians and nurses attend to the human body, chandlers to candles, and arborists to redwoods and they rarely if ever collaborate in their care. I mean: what does your body have in common with a candle?
All this began to change during a college physics course – what we called a Physics for Dummies course. For in this course, we were introduced to quantum physics, a departure from the classical physics with which we had been raised. Due to a number of advances in scientific experimentation, physicists could now examine material things at a subatomic level and what they discovered began to revolutionize our perception of reality. For what they found at this micro-microscopic level – at a level we cannot see with the naked eye – are atoms made out of flows of constantly vibrating energy: not solid matter but turbulent energy. And what came as a surprise to all of us in the course was the conclusion reached by physicists that everything – everything – is constituted of this vibrating energy, thus – and here’s the point – linking together my body, your body, this burning candle, that small body of water in the font, the bread and wine resting on the credenza by the entryway, and the trees in the courtyard. In other words, each of us is a unique energy event but we all participate in the Energy Event of Life.
What surprised me was this suggestion made by our physics professor, a devout Lutheran: that there is a Universal Energy – with a capital U and E – that possesses consciousness and creative powers. “Energy with consciousness and creativity,” I thought to myself. “How can energy, something immaterial, have consciousness?” “Well, if you identify with the Christian tradition,” he said, “this should not surprise you, for Christians hold that there is a universal energy with consciousness and creativity. And this energy is called the Holy Spirit. And furthermore,” he continued in a rather deadpan manner, “quantum physics suggests that the whole creation participates in this universal energy. And so Christians, who participate in this Energy called Spirit, ought to be the ones who generously point it out to everyone else.” While each of us is a unique and distinctive energy event, we are united through energy with the whole creation: with each other and the stranger on the street; with the burning candle and the soaring evergreens of our beloved land; with the orcas and salmon of the Sound; and with our beloved dead: for – guess what? – energy is never lost. That is, the essence of your energy, my energy, the energy of our beloved dead, will continue to participate in the Universal Energy that we call the Spirit until the end of time.
The psalmist sings, “You send forth your Spirit, and all creatures are created.” The apostle writes that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” And the evangelist pairs the gift of peace with these words of the risen Jesus: Receive the Holy Spirit.