28 May 2023: Day of Pentecost

Faithful Conversations #15

Note to readers: As is the case this week, the Revised Common Lectionary often offers choices in the readings. Pastor Jen and I are in ongoing discussion regarding the Lectionary and we will match up most of the time, but perhaps not always, particularly as other “preaching series” may arise. I bolded those that will be emphasized at ELC on Sunday (remember, one service at Hatfield). This week’s reflections will focus on Acts and 1 Corinthians and inform your reading of the Gospel.

Readings for the Day of Pentecost:
Acts 2: 1-21
(or Numbers 11: 24-30)
Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b
1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13
 John 7: 37-39 (or John 20: 19-23)

The First Reading: Acts 2: 1-21: The Coming of the Holy Spirit
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every people under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Fellow Jews and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit,
        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

The Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13
Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of powerful deeds, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

This Week’s Reflection:

“Without Pentecost, the Christ-event –- the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus –- remains imprisoned in history as something to remember, think about and reflect on. The Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell within us, so that we can become living Christs here and now.”
(Henri Nouwen, 1932-1996)

Dutch Catholic priest and theologian Henri Nouwen, wrote prolifically during his lifetime. His statement regarding Pentecost caught my eye, especially the idea of Christ becoming “imprisoned in history” (chilling). That said, do we give this celebration of Pentecost enough attention in our church calendar? This question is on my mind as I grapple with the lectionary readings.

In Jewish tradition, the celebration of Pentecost derives from the “Festival of Weeks” coming 50 days after the Passover (“penta” is Greek for 50). Celebrating the spring wheat harvest, among other things, Jews made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem offering thanks to God. This is the setting for this week’s reading from Acts 2. The disciples and 120 other followers of Christ are in Jerusalem and are hiding, in part, due to their fear of the religious authorities. Suddenly, they experience a “violent wind” and “tongues of fire” (verses 2-3) signaling the Holy Spirit’s presence — let’s imagine how astonishing this must have been! In turn, the Spirit moves them to speak of God’s power in multiple languages (verses 6-13), a dazzling moment. Amazed, perplexed, and in some cases even skeptical about what they are experiencing, Peter offers a powerful explanation of the events to his Jewish brothers and sisters, citing beautiful and prophetic language from Joel (verse 17-21) affirming God’s promise and gift of the Holy Spirit. Recounting Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, the Apostle calls for repentance and baptism, leading to the conversion of three thousand souls, the first in the Church’s history (see verses 37-42).

St. Peter Preaching at Pentecost by Benjamin West (1738-1820)

So, back to the Nouwen quote and my initial question. Why is Pentecost so significant, so central to our journey through this life? First, Jesus promised the gift of his Spirit as noted in this week’s Gospel reading, and  Pentecost marked the fulfillment of that promise. We affirm our reliance on the Holy Spirit every time we say the third article of the Apostle’s Creed: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. AmenIt is hard to overstate this central core of our belief system. Remember Luther’s explanation of the Third Article? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith (Note 1 Corinthians 12: 3).

Second, Pentecost is a compelling reminder that the Holy Spirit breaks down barriers in our world — differences due to race, gender, cultural background, religion, and politics, to name a few. The diversity of languages depicted in Acts 2 enforces that truth. Peter’s citing of Joel (“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh . . . “) further affirms this. As Christians, we are not members of an exclusive club, even though we often may be tempted to act in that way. God equips us through his Spirit to face the challenges we face day to day, and to bring healing and hope into a world often filled with despair.    

Finally, as voiced in Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians, the Holy Spirit is manifested in a multitude of ways and is all around us everyday. We often may not recognize it! That suggests to me that we need to remain open to the work of the Spirit, we need to look for it, and especially when it leads us out of our “comfort zones.” God’s love for us is everlasting, and stronger than anything life may send our way. In the words of Henri Nouwen, we are called to be “living Christs” here and now. Happy Pentecost, fellow travelers! 

Soli Deo Gloria.

This Week’s Prayer:
I have long been a fan of  Sister Joan Chittister, Benedictine Nun and theologian. I offer her poetic prayer here, “Come Holy Spirit.” I suggest praying it aloud — she offers beautiful language. She also offers the opportunity to personalize the prayer at the very end.

“Come, Holy Spirit” – Sister Joan Chittister

Sister Joan Chittister

May the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
bring fire to the earth
so that the presence of God
may be seen
in a new light,
in new places,
in new ways.

May our own hearts
burst into flame
so that no obstacle,
no matter how great,
ever obstructs the message
of the God within each of us.

May we come to trust
the Word of God in our heart,
to speak it with courage,
to follow it faithfully
and to fan it to flame in others.

May the Jesus
who filled women
with his Holy Spirit
fill the world and the church
with new respect
for women’s power and presence.

Give me, Great God,
a sense of the Breath of Spirit
within me as I…
(State the intention
in your own life at this time
for which you are praying.)


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