1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
This is the 13th Sunday in a row we haven't met on the church campus. Our last time physically together was the Eve of the LA Marathon when we gathered for Holden Evening Prayer with an interactive study of Psalm 121, a savory supper of sandwiches and salads—plus our Second Annual Bakeoff. Psalm 121 assures us "The Lord is your keeper" (verse 5a) and "The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore." (verse 8) What better words could there be to start our months apart from one another? …though we didn't realize it until later in the week.
God of creation, God of resurrection, God of pentecost, what a time this is! What a time for your Spirit; what a time for your Spirit-filled people! God of life, God of love, we grieve the murder of George Floyd. Pain and death and tired and violence and stereotypes and tokenism and seeing the law cover the perp again with the victims getting nothing again … will make people do things they never imagined they could do.
Spirit is a-movin' all over the land—this Spirit blows where it will; Spirit burns where it will. The wind of pentecost cleans, refreshes, clears, and renews. The fire of pentecost sears, refines, clarifies, and ignites. The Spirit of Pentecost is the Spirit of Freedom, but none of us is free unless all of us are free. The Spirit of Pentecost is the Spirit of Justice, yet not a single individual knows justice until everyone does.
Earth cannot bear the sorrows of too many deaths, too much loss from COVID-19. God, we know you lead the way into the world's future. You will go ahead of us, your Spirit will lead us to the places that are ready for us.
In Jesus' name,
The people who assemble the lectionary that provides our scripture readings don't always do everything in order:
• Two weeks ago we heard Jesus' promise in John's gospel to send an advocate, defender, helper, comforter.
• On the second Sunday of Easter, we heard the upper room narrative of Jesus' bestowing the Holy Spirit of life on the gathered assembly—and sending them out!
• Last week we heard Jesus tell his disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8
The church's year of grace features three major festivals that relate to each Person of the Trinity/Godhead:
• Christmas – Nativity –> Creation
• Resurrection – Easter –> Redemption
• Pentecost – Whitsunday [British Isles term, refers to white robes worn by people being baptized on Pentecost] –> Sanctification / Theosis / Holiness / Deification / Divinization
The Day of Pentecost
• Luke 4:18-19 begins Jesus' public ministry with the HS;
• Luke's book of Acts begins our public ministry with the HS.
Easter is 50 Days; today, the Day of Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter. Penta = 50. Similar words includes pentagram, pentagon, pentacle, pentatonic.
Scripture reveals countless ways the Holy Spirit always has been present on earth; the Day of Pentecost celebrates the more spectacular manifestations of the Spirit Jesus' followers experienced after Jesus' resurrection and ascension. In his Acts of the Apostles Luke brings us the only scriptural account of the Day of Pentecost; tradition says it began in the same upper room as Jesus' last supper we remember on Maundy Thursday. The Holy Spirit we sometimes refer to as the Third Person of the Trinity is prominent In Luke's gospel and in his Acts of the Apostles. As theologian Jürgen Moltmann explains so well, "…the Holy Spirit is …the creative and life-giving, redeeming and saving God … present in a special way."
• in all of these Day of Pentecost accounts, Spirit is Pneuma rather than the Paraclete Jesus promised in last week's (Easter 7) text from John 16:7. (But in John 16:13 Jesus speaks of the Pneuma=spirit of truth.)
• Luke'a gospel and his Acts of the Apostles use the word Spirit (pneuma in Greek), and not Paraclete/Advocate.
• Pneumatology is the technical word for the branch of theology that's about the person, presence, and activity of the HS.
• The Spirit came to individuals gathered in community, "all together in one place." In the pentecost of our baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit.
In this narrative, everyone from everywhere was in Jerusalem for the Jewish Pentecost. Shavuot, the feast of weeks (Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10) is "The day Heaven kissed Earth" as God bestowed the 10 Commandments from Mount Sinai. Like Pentecost, Shavuot refers to seven weeks – "a week of weeks" – after Passover.
• Acts 2:3, 4, 11 "tongues" is glossos – you may know the word glossalalia for speaking in tongues some charismatic churches practice; when we dissect scripture and find a phrase out of line with the rest of the content, we sometimes refer to the added words as a "gloss."
• Acts 2:6, 8 "tongues" is dialect, one of our English words for language.
Everyone heard in their own language. Last year on the Day of Pentecost we discussed the importance of learning other spoken languages, and maybe especially cultural languages. Those "other cultures" sometimes include other sections of the USA. The Spirit of God surrounds and fills all creation. In some senses, the fire and wind of the HS blows away and incinerates differences and barriers of culture, status and religion, gender, age, ethnicity; in a more biblically true sense, the HS rearranges expectations and demands to make room for differences that enrich the entire community.
The HS is constantly in action, but to us humans it seems as if sometimes the Spirit nudges us toward greater changes than at other times. The COVID-19 pandemic remains an opportunity for increased scientific research and knowledge. Despite deaths, job losses, and overall economic devastation, this has become a time of phenomenal caring and compassion, one of imaginatively figuring out how to move forward in retail, recreational, and educational venues. Did you notice sales of board games are up? We've learned physical distancing and social distancing are different concepts!
With the sudden(? probably not) eruption of rioting and violence in the wake of an officer sworn to protect peace and justice murdering a civilian …
• Can we learn to understand the language of looting, violence, anger, and torches that are not the fire of pentecost?
None of us approaches human perfection, yet as we claim the righteousness of Jesus Christ…
• How much leeway can we allow for bad behaviors? In what circumstances?
We won't hang red banners from the rafters this year!
• Are you doing anything to make Pentecost 2020 unforgettable?
Specifically related to our life together on Santa Monica Blvd:
• What changes do you imagine the HS nudging – or propelling – us toward between the first Sunday we gather again and (for example) Thanksgiving Day?
• What image(s) of the Holy Spirit particularly resonate(s) with you? Wind? Fire? Dove? Advocate? Peace? Attorney? Comforter? Quilt? Something different?
• Have you especially sensed the Spirit at work in your own life or in your surroundings during the past few months? Or not?
Next Week and Counting
Next Sunday we'll celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity / "tri-unity"; after that we'll spend 6 months in a growing, greening segment of Ordinary Time when we count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost. We can be confident our baptism (immersion and filling) with the Holy Spirit of Pentecost will enable us to live as Jesus's crucified and risen presence everywhere we go.