Smoke Upon the Mountains | Pentecost Sermon

When you send your spirit they are created and you renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; may the Lord rejoice in all his works.
He who looks at the earth and it trembles.
Who touches the mountains and they smoke.
Psalm 104:30-32

There is smoke upon the mountains.

God sends forth his spirit and the face of the earth is renewed , the earth trembles and there is smoke upon the mountains. Christ has ascended, the Holy Spirit has come down with tongues of flame bringing the peace of Christ. Sweet holy spirit, eternal fire and wellspring of love. And there is smoke upon the mountains.

God in Christ has become God in us. God in one man has become God for every man. God in the man has become God for each man. The Holy Spirit comes upon every woman, child and man that yearns for the peace of Christ. Tongues of flame descend, the earth trembles, there is smoke upon the mountains. The Gospel is proclaimed in every tongue, 3000 are baptized, the Church is born, and 10 frightened men in an upper room receive the peace of Christ.

Is this the Pentecostal gift? The end I seek in my repentance? The promise of my baptism? Is this what I long for and is this what I have been promised? That the Holy Spirit shall descend upon me with the peace of Christ?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pouring out his soul to a friend as they lived out their discipleship under the deepening shadow of monomaniacal rule of Adolf Hitler, he wrote:

“One feels such a longing for real peace, in which all the misery and injustice, the lying and the cowardice will come to an end.”

It had happened for ten men behind locked doors.

Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” (John 20:19-23)

The earth trembles and there is smoke upon the mountains and in every frightened heart – the peace of Christ. But as grace is not cheap, so the peace of Christ is neither easily achieved nor to be thoughtlessly received.

Peace to you. But When he had said this, He showed them his hands and his side. The peace of Christ, is the peace of the crucified. The way of peace is the way of the cross. And so we pray this morning for the coming of the Holy Spirit bringing with him the gift of the peace of Christ.

Unlock, O Lord, the doors of this upper room – of this monastery of fear. Unbar the gates of my frightened heart. Unchain my trembling arms and shaking legs that I may come and follow you.

Give me, O Lord, the gift of resurrection hope for this hour of suffering and distress. Send me the precious gift of your Holy Spirit. Trouble the water that I may die with Christ. Send smoke upon the holy mountain and give me the peace of Christ. Take, O Lord, the sordid tale of human violence, the sordid tale of my complicity, my fear, and my failure and let every story be taken into the story of the peace of Christ.

Set me, O Lord, and set these children to be Baptized, upon the path that is prescribed, the path of the one whom God will not let go, who will never be rid of God. Set me, O Lord, upon the path where I shall encounter the Holy Spirit and be haunted as one who hungers for the peace of Christ. Bind us to yourself, O Lord, with the vows of our baptism. Make us prisoners of your Holy Spirit. Take us captive so that where you go we must follow.

“Jesus said to them again: Peace to you. As the Father has sent me, even so, I send you.”

In 1996 in the mountains of the Algerian Maghreb 8 Cistercian monks decided not to return to France despite the spreading violence and the terror against foreigners. The Muslim village below the monastery that they had come to love was safer if the foreign monks should stay in their midst. The villagers asked the monks whom they loved if they would stay but the monks were filled with fear. They wanted to be, they said, a sign in the mountain. They wanted to be a sign in the mountain of Christ’s peace but they were afraid.

In the film version of the story the monk, perhaps the most attractive monk among the eight, the monk who is the most terribly afraid says to his superior father Christian: “I sleep badly. The slightest noise wakes me. Dying for my faith shouldn’t keep me up at night.” And father Christian replies: “It’s true that staying here is as mad as becoming a monk. Remember – you’ve already given your life. You gave it by following Christ. We’re martyrs out of love. our mission here is to be brothers to all.” And slowly, one by one, the monks decide that they will stay.

And so they celebrate a last supper together. With two bottles of what I take to have been very expensive bottles of wine (for these were French monks). And the wine symbolizes the blood that they will shed for their Muslim brothers and sisters. The wine, the blood of their sacrifice. They have discovered in the midst of their fear they have prayed for and been given the peace of Christ, every last one of them.

In his last testament written a few months before his death, Father Christian, able to see what was going to happen, had written for his family, saying that he knew that he would be accused of being naïve or idealistic for staying in the monastery in the face of almost certain martyrdom. But nonetheless he gives thanks for his life. He gives thanks, he says, for my life “from this day forward” and for his friends and family he gives thanks. And then he says “And I give thanks to you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing,” his assassin. “Yes, for you also I wish this ‘thank you’ – and this adieu – to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours. And may we find each other, happy ‘good thieves’, in Paradise, if it pleases the God and Father of us both. Amen.” The last testament of a Cistercian monk, certain of his approaching martyrdom. And as the peace of Christ had come to these eight monks so, so many centuries before, it had come to ten frightened disciples. As it came to eight frightened monks trembling behind the doors in their monastery of fear so it came to ten disciples in an upper room.

In an ecstasy of love these disciples and those monks became a sign in the mountain. The peace of Christ was theirs. They became the smoke of sacrifice upon the mountains of the Lord for there is smoke upon the holy mountain. When the Holy Spirit descends amoung us there is smoke upon the holy mountain and the peace of Christ is made available to every child, to every man, and to every woman who longs to be released from the monastery of fear.

In a much quoted sermon given to an ecumenical conference off the coast of Denmark in August 1934, Bonhoeffer wrote:

“There is no peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security … Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security… Battles are won … when the way leads to the cross”.

Jesus stood in their midst. Showed them his hands and his side, and said “as the father has sent me, even so send I you” and there is the peace of Christ.

God is about to trouble the water and there will be smoke upon the mountains. We will be a sign and the Holy Spirit will come down.

And every frightened heart that seeks will find the peace of Christ.

“For the promise,” said St. Peter at the end of his great Pentecost sermon, “is to you and to your children and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:39)

“Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them – Peace to you. When he had said this he showed them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad.” John 20:19-20)