15 May 2015
I suppose if I were a fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Pentecost would be my matching religious feast. As a former Cyclone it will work for me as well. Red us the color de jour. We certainly make a big deal over Pentecost. However, of the four Gospel writers only Luke made a really big deal over it but even the big deal was only four sentences long. Think about it. If I got up here and gave you a four sentence homily you would likely think you were not getting your money’s worth unless I was as great a wordsmith as Hemingway.
Pentecost is, despite only four sentences, a really big deal. It is big deal because of the gift of the Holy Spirit and because of our interpretation today of what happened almost 2000 years ago. It is a big deal in the history of the church because of the struggle over the interpretation of the Trinity. Church history, however, is not what I want to delve in to today.
Pentecost roughly translates as fifty days and for us refers to Easter as the antecedent. For Jews in Jesus’ day it referred to fifty days after Passover. In reality we borrowed the festival name from Greek speaking Jews.
Luke, the author of Acts, sets the stage for a real drama. The disciples, even though they have seen the risen Jesus several times and watched him ascend only ten days and about two paragraphs ago, are still a disheartened lot. They gather together, perhaps to pray and to talk, while Jews from all over come to Jerusalem for The Festival of Weeks, which is one of celebration and joy, in contrast to the more solemn Passover.
Here is how the King James version goes:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
This is the stuff that inspires churches centered on the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that fills us and sends us out. Peter says, quoting the prophet Joel, that 17'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. All who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
I think it is crucial to note Luke writes that Jews from all over and speaking many different languages, even some that were dead at the very time of Pentecost, heard what Peter said. The Spirit was there to fill anyone who opened their heart. God is faithful to Israel and the gift of the spirit is a sign of God’s goodness. It is a sign for the whole community more than for a single individual. The Spirt did not come to each, one at a time, it came to the church gathered. This may be hard for us as Episcopalians, not being a particularly Pentecostal lot. We do not tend to see the working of the Holy Spirit in us and on us as a community gathered, but rather as a quiet interior voice that guides us. Perhaps that is more like John’s version, where Jesus breathed on the disciples and gave them the Comforter, the one whom Paul said intercedes for us with “sighs too deep for words.” However, the Spirit arrived with fanfare, noise, and great commotion. Ultimately I think it is both/and rather than either/or. As Episcopalians we need not only to live in the quiet peace that the Spirit brings, the “interior life” but we must also embrace that noisy spirit that drives us to mission and proclamation. You cannot sit on the Spirit; it won’t let you. Remember that while the arrival of the Holy Spirit could not be ignored, people were not afraid of it and many flocked to see what the commotion was all about.
I think for us “moving in the spirit” does not mean standing on a street corner and shouting out, “Repent and be saved.” That is, however, the right way for the spirit to act in some people. For us, as members of the Way, the Jesus movement, it may be more our calling by the Spirit to proclaim in deeds what the power of the Spirit is calling us to do. We all speak in other languages, whether you think so or not. It may mean you literally learn another language, but more likely the language you speak that someone will understand is the language telling of the love of God for all of God’s creation. Speak that language to your family and friends. Speak it at work; speak it to challenge power that oppresses and marginalizes.
But do not be afraid to speak it to yourselves. One of the reasons I like to sing Veni Creator Spiritus is that I can feel the spirit moving in me and with me. We introverts are very much like that (and Episcopalians tend to score higher on the introversion scale!!) We need nourishment from the Spirit, but sometimes we lean a bit towards a dinner in Downton Abbey than a hog roast with homemade beer. Both are wonderful ways to enjoy a meal with family.
This Holy Ghost, the term used in the King James Bible, is elusive and hard to describe. It has always been much easier for the Church to talk about the Creator and the Redeemer, using terms that are more consistent with the role of those parts of the Trinity, and not the Sustainer. But the Sustainer, the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, is an equal member of the Trinity and is the one that indeed sustains us. It is the indwelling spirit, however it chooses to indwell. Be it John’s comforter or Luke’s whirlwind and tongues LIKE fire, we need to name and claim it as our own. Pentecost is crucial in the life of the church, for without it there would indeed be no church. Worse, there would be no indwelling of the Godhead for you and for me.
While I don’t like to dwell on Pentecost as a birthday celebration, it is truly a momentous occasion. In the end it does not matter whether the Spirit came in a whirlwind or in the quiet, warm breath of Jesus. The important thing is that it came and brought to us both our mission and our comfort, our tongues like fire and our advocate.
The reading from Psalm 104 is only a small piece of the whole psalmbut it does further justice to the role of the spirit.
What is given to all who were present at Pentecost is the same breath of God that gave creation its life and its meaning. It is the same breath of God that the psalmist claims.
“When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.”
All of creation receives, in its own way, the Spirit of the Godhead. We are part of the creation; we are in some ways like the Leviathan and all of the animals God created. This is a good Sunday to think of our oneness with all of creation and of our need to be stewards of all that God has given us with God’s blessing.
I hear the Holy Spirit in the winds that blow, in the birds that sing and call to one another, in the coyotes that howl in the night. I truly believe God gives spirit to all of God’s creatures.
It is as crucial that we heed the spirit in how we are stewards of the richness that God has given to us in the world as it is to think of how we interact with one another.
Creation is good; we are good. Today we should celebrate with harp and lyre and tambourine that God gave to us a living piece of the Godhead that dwells within us.
How cool is that??
Let us then honor all of creation and open our hearts and minds to include everyone in the call to life and salvation.
Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire and lighten with celestial fire.
I am ready for a little celestial fire. How about you??