Alleluia Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!
Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost—the giving of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. We do this every year exactly 50 days after Easter and recall the story of when the Holy Spirit came in the sound of a violent wind and rested upon the disciples in a way that looked like tongues of fire. From this the disciples were emboldened to go forth and proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ, the sure sign of God’s love for all people and the redemption of the world.
That’s why we wear red for fire and in some places treat it like a birthday party for the Church—hence the balloons. It was the beginning of the Church in which the most amazing gift was given to us but that’s where the birthday parallel starts to unravel.
Last summer I turned 50 and had an unforgettable party up at our home on the lake. Friends and family travelled from near and far to be there. There were meaningful gifts, an abundance of food, and goofy moments galore. I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun. That was a very special moment in time and I’m glad to have many many pictures to remind me of it. But it’s over and done, never to be repeated—although it might be fun to try!
The birthday of the Church was also a moment in time and certainly very memorable for all the dramatic effects—the sound of violent winds and the visual of flames alighting on peoples’ heads without their hair catching on fire, and the miracle of a crowd who all spoke different languages hearing the same message in their native tongues. That exact scenario will probably never be duplicated but there are elements of this party that never ended.
The amazing gift of the Holy Spirit is truly the gift that keeps on giving. She is the fire of God’s love come upon us; She is the bringer of Christ’s peace and the abiding presence of God within us, who teaches us, empowers us, transforms us for the good of the world, and will never leave us. Alleluia!
I usually preach on the Gospel of the day but it seems like all the readings for today had something wondrous to tell us about this Promised Gift, the Third Person of the Trinity.
We’ve already covered the dramatic effects so let’s take another look at the miracle of speaking in different languages. The Holy Spirit gave the disciples an ability that they did not possess before, and as far as we know did not use or need again, but in that moment, at the Festival of Weeks when Jews from all over the known world were gathered to honor and commemorate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, the Spirit brought them together by allowing them to understand the same message in their own tongues.
It was the complete reversal of the Tower of Babel in the Hebrew Scriptures when God confused the peoples’ language so that they could not understand each other, thus scattering them all over the face of the earth. In this case, God brought people from all over and united them together by allowing them to all understand the same message of hope and love.
I love that God let’s nothing inhibit his communication. We can be from many different places, from different cultures and backgrounds. We can think we have absolutely nothing in common and yet God’s Spirit can bridge any barrier. The Holy Spirit is the one true and vital unifier.
I love that He speaks to each in a language that he or she will understand. We have in the example at Pentecost people hearing God’s message in their own language, but I tend to think that the Scriptures are not merely talking about words. God speaks in a language that each individual will be able to hear. It might be the spoken word, or it might be through interior silence or through intuition. It might be through body language. It might be through the synchronicity of events. I heard marvelous stories just this week of circumstances in which people heard what they needed when they needed it simply but paying attention to the things happening around them. It was amazing and I couldn’t help but think, “There goes our God again!”
I also love how God pours out his Spirit upon ALL flesh—the sons and daughters, the young and old, the enslaved and free, the women and men. The passage Luke quotes from Joel also says that God speaks to us through the heavens and earth, the sun and moon, through blood, fire, and smoky mist. God is always speaking. Are we listening?
God’s Spirit has been given and is still being given; God is still speaking and sending forth his message. Pentecost is not over. The Feast we celebrate today was the launching of a pattern; the pattern of an active God at work in creation, as well as in and through His people. Here. Now. We celebrate this day because it is the means by which we anticipate and make sense of God’s activity in the world.
Hear again what God’s Spirit is saying to God’s people:
The Spirit of truth has been given to you all.
The Spirit bears witness to your status as God’s child and heir through the grace of adoption.
The Spirit will remind you of all that God and Jesus have said to you.
The Spirit abides with you and in you so that you need not fall back into being a slave to fear.
The Spirit is your Advocate, the one who defends you and is for you.
The Spirit is the one who empowers you to continue the story,
To share your faith,
To live in confidence,
To reach out in love and mercy to those around you.
Pentecost is not over. Our Catechism in the Prayer Book says that our mission as the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. That was the point of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is the means by which we are given abilities we may not have had before, the One who gives us the words, the timing, and the language to carry out this mission. Pentecost is not over. It began this day almost two thousand years ago but it continues on in us, for the purpose of accomplishing God’s mission.
Let us remember the wondrous Gift we have been given, that God is still speaking to us and let us pray together in unity:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in us the fire of your love.