Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 23, 2021

YEAR B 2021 the feast of pentecost

Pentecost 2021
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Acts 2:1-21
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Psalm 104:25-35, 37

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

St. Timothy’s Church was founded in 1836.  If you read through our parish history—which I highly recommend doing—you will see that there is only one sermon mentioned in all those 186 years of history.  That’s around 10,000 sermons, and only one of them is noted.  That one sermon was preached 90 years ago today, by the Rev. Dr. John Stalker, on Pentecost.

In May of 1931, as most Massillonians know, the Greek gangster and bootlegger William Kirkilis was gunned down by a rival gang.  Since there was no Greek Orthodox church in Massillon at the time, several priests were brought over from Canton, and Dr. Stalker permitted them to use this building for the funeral . . . which by all accounts, was a spectacular event!

Some members of St. Timothy’s and nearby churches were outraged, feeling the church had been desecrated by being used for a gangster’s funeral.  The following Sunday, which was Pentecost--90 years ago today--Dr. Stalker preached this sermon, which I happened across last year in a filing cabinet in my office.  There were 168 people in church that day--in this same room--hearing these same words.


Today is Pentecost, the Birthday of the Christian Church. I think that we cannot do better this morning than to think about the Church and its purpose in the world. It is good for us to think sometimes about such subjects, because it clears our understanding and brings us back to definite conceptions of our Christian Faith.

You know that Our Lord spent forty days with His disciples after that first Easter.  In His Resurrection Body He talked with them and instructed them about many things. Perhaps as they listened to Him they were in a kind of daze because it was a unique and overwhelming experience through which they were going. They were listening to God--to God actually talking in words which they understood.  Then came Our Lord's second going away from them in His Ascension.  When He had gone, I am sure that the forty days experience must have seemed very like to a dream which could not possibly have been real. But they still continued to come together for prayer just as they had done when He was with them. And on Pentecost came an experience which made clear their experience the past forty days, and brought back to them the meaning of all the directions He had given to them.

The things which happened are graphically described in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. As they were together for prayer, there came the rushing of a mighty wind that made them bow down with fear of what was going to happen.  And there hovered over each of them something that resembled a flame of fire and immediately each seemed to be possessed of a new strength and a new vigor which made him eager to go on with work for his Lord and God.

I think that incident was the greatest event in history, after the birth and life events of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Immediately, things began to happen. Peter turned to the multitude and began to preach and to tell them of Jesus Christ and what they must do to become His followers. Hundreds, who had wondered about Jesus as they had listened to His preaching and teaching, now threw away their wonder and their hesitation as they came forward for baptism. The organization of the Church went forward at once; and the marvelous thing is that it was organized not as people would have done it, but according to a new plan, which could not possibly have been conceived in the minds of the Apostles. With their center and headquarters at Jerusalem they began a forward work which stretched in all directions, so quietly, and so surely that, before the rest of the world realized it, the effects of this new organization were felt even in the remote corners of the world.

Holy Baptism was the entrance into this Kingdom of God on earth; the rite of the laying on of hands was the strengthening and the making firm of the person who had entered into a spiritual relationship with fellow Christians and with God; the Lord's Supper was the regular means of bringing spiritual strength to those who sought to do the Lord's work; the setting apart in ordination and in consecration was the regular means of obtaining leaders for this organization of God. In the history of the early Christian Church, we find all these sacraments and rites which play so large a part in our Christian lives today.

And with all of these things there was the consciousness of a presence with them which was real but not seen by earthly and bodily means; a presence that led and directed and inspired; a presence that made itself felt particularly through these Christ ordained sacraments and rites. Read the Acts of the Apostles which is the story of the life of the Christian Church in its first years; read the early writings of learned leaders and you will feel much at home in their thoughts and in their plans and in the narrative of the events of their lives.  For there you will find difficulties very like to the one that we encounter in our Church now, and you will find those first Christians turning to the same ways of obtaining help to overcome those difficulties.

I think that you and I would feel much at home in the early Christian Church, for in our own Church there are those things which have been carried down through the centuries of Christian life, not only because they have proven themselves the best things for the purposes of mankind, but also because they were the things which Christ taught and ordered for the body that would carry on the work which He had begun.

From all this we must realize that the Christian Church is not a body formed and founded according to the desires and the plans of man. It is God given. As I read the history of the Christian Church; and as I realize the weaknesses and the failures of those who have been its leaders through the centuries, I am more and more convinced of the divine origin of the Church. No institution conceived in the mind of mortals could have weathered the stormy seas.  Strong nations have come and gone; new discoveries and new learning; new ways of doing all the details of life have come as new generations have lived. Everything else has changed, but that which was founded by the Son of God stands through it all. The Christian Church! The Kingdom of God upon Earth!

Let us examine the Church which Our Lord founded here upon earth to make sure that we have the proper conception of it. I find that as I talk with people today they do not at all understand what the Church is and what Christ intended it to be. IT IS NOT THE CLUB OF THOSE WHO HAVE ATTAINED TO RIGHTEOUSNESS AND SAINTLINESS!

Our Lord showed that plainly in all his attitudes toward men and women when He was here.

He knew the weakness of Judas Iscariot; but He did not say to him, "Now Judas, run along and show that you can live without dishonesty for six months and without such great desire for money. Then if you succeed, come and be one of my disciples." Rather I think that Jesus said to Himself, "Here is Judas, weak in his desire for money and power. He has strengths and possibilities. I will see if I can help him." And Our Lord failed in the case of Judas. At the end Judas was a traitor and a betrayer, even though Jesus had worked with him over a period of three years.

Jesus did not say to Mary, “Go to your home and live in purity for a year. Then come back and I will forgive you." He took Mary as one of His friends and helped her. He tried and she tried. And they succeeded.

In just that way you may examine the whole life of Our Lord and you will find that same attitude toward sinful and weak men and women. An attitude of sympathy and helpfulness, as He sought to lead them on toward better life. I think that He intended to have HIS CHURCH do that same thing; to minister and to help and to be kind and sympathetic.

The treatment of sin and impurity is very like to the treatment of disease in the body. When a man is brought to a physician with a sad condition of disease in his body, the physician does not repel him. Rather he treats the diseased condition with healing and purifying agencies. The disease battles against the purifying process; sometimes the disease wins.  But the man of healing still goes on trying in his efforts to make the body pure and healthy.

The Christian Church, as it tries to do the work of God in the world, is not a place of judgment. Jesus said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." The Christian Church is a place of sympathy for those in sorrow; a place of helpfulness for those who are weak; a place of ministration for those who are in need. And it is the place where the Christ works through the ministrations of His Holy Spirit. The Church suffers through the sins of those whom it seeks to help, and through the condemnations of those who misunderstand the work that Christ gave it to do. But the Church is never so weak as when it permits itself to be a cold-storage warehouse for uncorrupted truth, or a gymnasium for the calisthenics of individual souls, or a Sunday Club for the edification of righteous souls, or an entertainment bureau which seeks to amuse, or a party which seeks to propagate political opinions. 

When we have misunderstood the plans of our Lord, we have made the Church into that sometimes; and when we have, the Church is weak, for in losing the plans and the ideals of the Christ, it loses also the presence of the Holy Spirit, which seeks to work and not to glorify any condition or plan of mortals. Just as soon as the Church becomes an educational institution and self-righteous body of self-satisfied people, it loses its divinity, and it ceases to be the Church of Christ.

The Church is the Body of Christ in the world today, for it is the place where Christ's spirit dwells. The Body of Jesus Christ who was called the prophet of Nazareth was never spared when the Son of God lived an earthly life. Do you remember what they said of Jesus? "Behold a man gluttonous and a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners." And He gave them reason for saying that, for "as Jesus sat at meal in the house, many publicans and sinners came and sat with Him." So if the Church is to be the Body of Christ in which the Spirit of God dwells, it must not hesitate to touch the impure and sinful world, whenever opportunity comes. That is what Jesus did then, and it is what He wants His Church to do now. Jesus was misunderstood and was condemned by those who governed their lives by the standards of respectability. If His Body, the Church, acts according to His example in the world now, it must often fail to live up to the standards of the world's respectability.

As I read of Our Lord's plans for His Church it seems to me that He intended it to be a great power house.  But it was not to be power like that of a thunder cloud.  Picture such a cloud as it rises on the horizon black and menacing. One cannot tell how much power it has within it. The thunder rolls and the lightning flashes as the cloud approaches borne upon the winds of the heavens. And the whole life of a community is disturbed by it; little children run to their mothers in distress; nervous people avert their faces; all are relieved when that powerful thing has passed. But all go back to their play and their work and forget it when it has gone. That is not the kind of a power house that the Body of Christ should be. It is what they tried to make Jesus’ Body when He was here, the leader of a revolution, the commander of a great army, the leader to overturn the existing nations of the world. He refused to be that kind of a power house.

But the power house that Christ was--and planned that His Church should be--is like to a great electrical power plant built beside one of nature’s tremendous water falls. The rushing water turns the turbine wheels and they make the dynamos whirl and through innumerable wires the power goes forth to bring light to thousands of men and women and to turn the great wheels of industry; it goes forth to do its work not for a great roar and flash of a moment but through every minute of day and night, year in and year out, bringing constant blessings to people’s lives.

In just that way is the Church, the Body of Christ, a power house. Here do men and women receive the inexhaustible power of Christ's Holy Spirit through Sacrament and Prayer, and then like wires they conduct that power out into the world, to make the world a different place; the power of sympathy to one in sorrow; the power of companionship to one in need of a friend; the power of example to one in need of an ideal; the power of counsel to one in need of direction; the power of ministration to one in need of help. Not once or twice does the power of Christ go forth from the Church, but constantly as Christian people come to worship and then go out to work, not for themselves but for their Christ and His world. 

We hear much these days about the failure of the Church to solve modern problems. The failure is not with the Church as the Christ planned it and founded it, a Divine Institution. The failure comes when we leave out the divine and make it a human institution, restricted by human limitations and bounded by human ideals.  [and then it says, in all caps . . .]


We don’t know what Dr. Stalker said by way of making that appeal, but apparently it worked, because St. Timothy’s Church is still here, just as the Church of God on earth is still here.  Still empowering us to go out into the world, proclaiming the good news of what God has done, is doing, and will do in the future.

So, happy 90th birthday to this sermon, and happy birthday to the Church that God birthed on that first Pentecost by sending the Holy Spirit.  May we never forget that this is God’s Church, and this Church is for everybody.

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