Remember Who You Are
The Rev. Dr. Douglass M. Bailey

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
-- John 20:19-23 NRSV

Gospel:John 20:19-23

On the Feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, the disciples, that first Christian parish, are gathered in one place, one space.... The word for wind in Hebrew is the same word as the one for the Hebrew words breath and Spirit. The word is ruach. So the ruach, the wind, the mighty breath, the Spirit of God, began to move among the people in that early parish church, and then -- then their souls caught on fire. It seemed as though there were tongues of fire that moved from the top of their head to their toes, and they had fire in their belly, fire in their soul. It was the fire of the Spirit of God -- that same Spirit which they knew to be so alive and so vibrant in Jesus. It was now passing into them. And, it passes again into us. That's what we celebrate on Pentecost.

One cannot explain that. You have to dance it. You have to become Pentecost; it is the experience of the power and the movement of God's Holy Spirit. It has shaped the church, from those very earliest days down through all the centuries. Down through times of persecution; down through times of expansion; down through times of growth around that massive Mediterranean Sea area, and moving into Europe and into Asia and into the Far East. The Spirit moved across the seas and across this nation of ours ...And on goes the Spirit of God, filling us and moving us and giving us fire and purpose.

This past Friday Calvary Church hosted an amazing conference, one that was both troubling and healing. It was a Regional Conference on Religion and Suicide. Every seventeen minutes a person sitting in the chancel would ring a bell symbolizing, in a chilling kind of way, that every seventeen minutes in our country somebody takes his or her life by suicide.

I thought to myself, "How can we take the ringing of a bell marking a suicide, and make it positive for us?" So I was thinking if there could be somebody who would ring a bell for me every fifteen minutes to remind me that, "Doug, you are a child of God's Spirit. Look like it. Act like it. Become it." Wouldn't that be positive? How about you? Do you need that kind of reminder in your daily life? I am not talking about just Sunday mornings. I am talking about Tuesday afternoon. I am talking about Wednesday evening. I am talking about around the dinner table with family. I am talking about at the office when you are making decisions. I am talking about on the golf course -- wherever you might be -- a bell rings, and we are reminded that we are children of the Holy Spirit.

Willard Scott is a kind of traveling ambassador for spirit and joy. For many years he was a legend on The Today Show. Before that, he was Ronald McDonald representing McDonald's Hamburgers in their early years. For The Today Show, he traveled across the United States as the weatherman. He came to Memphis regularly, and down by the river would talk about the great spirit of Memphis in May, the spirit of the City of Memphis. But did you know he is also a deeply religious man?

Some time back I was reading The Washington Post while in D.C. Buried deep in the paper was a story about Willard Scott speaking at the two-hundredth anniversary of his former Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. According to The Washington Post, he stood up and said, "People of First Baptist Church, on your anniversary, I've come to say two words to you and for you. The first is: Remember who you are."

I know that most of us have heard our mothers say something like that to us. It's a great line. I've heard my own mother say it. Even as I speak these words to you, I can hear her voice ringing inside of me. "Douglass, remember who you are."

That's what Willard Scott was saying, and that's what the Gospel is trying to say to us today. Remember your roots. It's not referring to what family you were born into. Remember your roots. You are a child of God. You are a place where the Spirit of God lives, so remember who you are. You are a vessel of God's Spirit. Remember who you are. Remember the Holy Spirit lives in you.

Excerpted from a sermon preached at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee, June 3, 2001
The Day of Pentecost.

Copyright 2001 Calvary Episcopal Church



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