Pentecost 2022 – Just in time – the Holy Spirit arrives

Today the Church enters the season of Pentecost which will last until Advent. The word comes from the Greek pentekoste, ‘fiftieth’, with the roots of this central Christian feast going back to the Jewish  Feast of Weeks, which was completed 50 days after Passover. The Feast marked the end of the grain harvest and the Wheat Harvest in particular.  The first fruits of the wheat harvest were presented, and the covenant with God was remembered and renewed.

In the early church, this feast was the culmination of the 50 days of Easter celebrations, but later became a festival in its own right in the medieval Western Church. In the early church, Pentecost was the preferred time for admitting new Christians into the Church through baptism which is the case today 

Pentecost is a dual celebration, of both the coming of the Holy Spirit, the ‘advocate’, and of what this means for the Christian Church, which marks the beginning of its post- resurrection existence and mission. For on this day, God sends the Holy Spirit to empower the Church to continue the work begun by Jesus; the missio Dei. Following the Ascension of the resurrected Christ, the Church no longer had the risen body, the actual presence of God, but instead we are gifted the Holy Spirit and so the Church and all believers have the potential to be filled with the Life of God. 

Pentecost power and possibility pulsate through today’s readings on the Holy Spirit. In Acts, all the believers are filled with the Spirit, who enables them to proclaim God’s work. The alternate reading from Genesis tells the story of God’s confusing the languages and scattering those building the tower of Babel. The second reading describes how the Spirit works uniquely in each of us as children of God in the Body of Christ. The gospel reveals the intimate connection between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. 

If we associate Easter with spring, then Pentecost is associated with summer. Today it was June 5 just 2 weeks before the beginning of summer. The smell of summer lawns is in the air.

Pentecost demands a response. What does it mean today for the Church to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Creation is not a one-time event, but an ongoing activity. God’s energizing power is evident here: vivifying, knitting together, upholding and transforming all life.

The sermon in 2019 listed three key points – Working together discerning the gifts we have and to foster a greater sense of love and through prayer for the Holy Spirit to teach us, to guide us the right directions.

“The power of the Holy Spirit in them took away the disciples’ fear and gave them the power to work together and to go out and spread the Good News even in the face of danger and death. Nothing would ever be the same for them again.

“AND, the power of the Holy Spirit did not disappear or die when the disciples’ lives ended. The Holy Spirit is eternally active

“Let’s help each other discern the gifts of the Spirit that each of us has received, and then to honor those gifts in one another, and to cheer each other on.

“Which leads me to the next thing we can do for one another to become even stronger and give the Spirit room to grow, and that is to love one another as Jesus has loved each one of us. Before Jesus promised the disciples that he would ask the Father to send the Advocate to be with them forever, he said to them, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

“Here’s a third thing we can do to become an even stronger and more Spirit filled church. Jesus said to the disciples that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything, and remind me of all that I have said to you.” We can actively pray for the Holy Spirit to teach us. We can intentionally ask the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth. When we ask, we remember that Jesus has told us, the disciples, that the Holy Spirit will guide us.

“So how do we know that we are on the right path? At the end of today’s gospel, after he says that the Holy Spirit will teach them everything, Jesus says to the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

“Peace is a sure sign that the Holy Spirit at work in our own hearts and in our church. This is the peace that comes from rejoicing in and honoring the unique and wonderful gifts that God has given our brothers and sisters; this is the peace that comes from loving one another as Jesus has loved each one of us, and this is the peace of knowing that the Holy Spirit is guiding us as we journey through this life, and that we have the privilege to follow faithfully. ”

Lectionary summary follows:

 Acts 2:1-21

This passage from Acts stands at the beginning of the mission of the disciples, following the Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Christ, and the Ascension recorded in the first chapter of the book. The disciples had very slowly begun to organise themselves, deciding how they were going to fulfill the mission and go out into the world to tell people about Christ.. And then the Spirit arrives – it is a scene of chaos and confusion with a rush of violent wind; divided tongues resting upon them; strange languages being spoken.  The Spirit’s gift of speaking in other tongues is not babbling but proclamation And it was the outsiders who were able to understand the strange languages: whatever was happening, it is clear that the Spirit of God was forcing the disciples caught in the chaos to turn their minds outwards to the onlookers who were able to understand the strange words coming out of their mouths. Luke sees it as a reversal of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) and the fulfillment of the promise of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:33).  

The disciples were ‘All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”’ (2:12).  Peter offered an explanation from the prophet Joel – “Everyone who calls upon the Lord shall be saved”.  Peter calls the events supernatural generosity and the marvelous fulfillment of an ancient promise found in Joel 2:28-32. The chapter continues with Peter giving a passionate account of the life of Jesus Christ, how what He did and what is happening now fits into the salvation history of God’s people. Awe came upon everyone (2:43), people came forward for baptism, ‘and that day three thousand persons were added’ (2:42). 

It is interesting to note that Pentecost is a celebration for people both inside and outside the Church – it is the endorsing of the disciples’ mission, and an overflow of God into and beyond the boundaries of the disciples. It was not just the disciples being sent out to convert others, but was also God pulling the world, the mission field, towards the disciples and communicating directly with those God wants to call. Those who heard could understand the babble of the disciples, and understood that they were witnesses to the power of God. 

Genesis 11:1-9

This passage from Genesis is the culmination of the author’s description of the constant growth of human sinfulness from Cain and Abel through those around Noah until this time. In their relation to God, humans have been proud, independent and disloyal to God. Now their sinful attitude culminates in their desire to “make a name for themselves” by building their own city and tower. They will no longer wait for God to come down to them when God wants to.

Their arrogant sinfulness provokes God’s judgment, which is unleashed on them through the confusion of their languages. This will make it impossible for them to be one people and result in their scattering throughout the world. This scattering of the nations signals God’s shift in attention from the nations in general to Abraham and his descendants as the covenant people who will create the kind of community that God desired for all persons form the time of creation.

Psalm 104:25-35,37 

This hymn to God as Creator shares the imagery of many near-Eastern nature poems and myths but changes their emphasis. Leviathan, the primeval water monster of chaos, is God’s plaything. The created world is under God’s sway and owes God praise. Sin disrupts the harmony of creation, and the psalmist prays for a restoration of the original wholeness.

This is one of the great praise psalms, adoring God the creator with its strong echoes and theme from the Genesis creation narrative. The section for today emphasizes two themes. The first is the emphasis on God’s providential care for all creation, and that symbiotically, all life on earth relies on God for the continuation of life. The second theme is in response to the first; that the proper human response to this economy of creation is that we praise God, on whom all life depends.  

An intriguing verse to pull out might be verse 30: ‘When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground’. This refers to the dependency of all life on God, but within the theme of Pentecost celebrated today (the giving of the Spirit to creation and the interconnection with Trinitarian life), we see a new aspect to the psalm: being born anew through faith in the risen Christ; that we can begin again; that we are chosen and loved; that whatever place we are in (dirt and ground), we can begin again – recalling our baptism.

 Roman 8:14-17

This is a great trumpeting of the meaning of Pentecost, that it is through individual tongues that God’s glory is expressed, and that the Church is empowered with the Spirit to fulfil the mission of Christ.

In this chapter, Paul presents a new life in the Spirit as opposed to the life under the law, which he described earlier as having no rescue. Under the law, connection to and reconciliation with God was only available via adherence to the law. But life in the Spirit means that we are freed from the penalty under the law and in this new system we have freedom with the Spirit. The Spirit has ushered in a new phase, a new age, the ‘dominion of Grace’ (5:21), shown in the spiritual gifts given to the Church expressed later in Acts. And Paul also picks up the Pentecost theme of mission and growth because of the new life in the Spirit, calling on his readers to witness to the faith. 

Above all else, the passage offers assurance. No longer must believers be like slaves to the law, following instructions in fear of disconnection from salvation.  While Jesus is the Son by natural relationship, Christians are children of God by adoption. Legal adoption created full membership in the family and bestowed on the adopted child all the honor, privilege and inheritance rights of a natural child.

The word adoption should be understood in this positive light – not add-ons to the family, but ‘full heirs’ with Christ and therefore participating in everything that Christ has won. In chapter eight, the culmination of life in the Spirit means: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Christians are “joint heirs with Christ,” sharing in Christ’s passion and resurrection and looking forward to sharing in his glorification. As God’s children we are encouraged to call upon God as “Abba! Father!” as did Jesus (Mark 14:36).

John 14:8-17,(25-27) 

This section follows the moving scene of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, and His commandment to love one another.  But in our passage, the focus swings back to the disciples who demand, as they so often do, some kind of proof: “Show us the Father…”

Philip’s request to see the Father expresses the human longing and hope for a real and intimate experience of God. This desire is answered because Jesus himself, together with his words and works, is the revelation of the hidden mystery of God. 

The dynamic relationship between Father and Son is reproduced in the relationship between the Son and the community. Jesus promises an indwelling presence to those who keep his commands. The absence-of-the-Son/coming-of-the-Spirit echoes the Old Testament expectation and the Pentecost fulfillment of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit for the final transformation of our world.  Here the Father sends the Spirit in Jesus’ name, thus sent by Jesus by implication.  The Holy Spirit is to be the ongoing broker of both the relationship, the acts as proof of the growing church, and the communication strategy of the Church. The Spirit is an advocate, one to replace Jesus and console the disciples.