Sermon Pentecost 2015
Something marvelous happened on Pentecost. There is wonder and awe in the imagery of the “a sound like the rush of a violent wind”; “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared . . . and a tongue rested on each of them”; and “they began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” “The crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”
What was it that happened to those assembled disciples? Our scriptures today describe something miraculous. It is as hard for me to say what exactly the physical phenomenon was as it was for those who saw it at the time. At the time, the bystanders thought that the apostles were drunk. But Peter tells them that the apostles were not drunk, this is the fulfillment of the prophesy of the prophet Joel.
The prophesy of Joel predicts two things—First, the Spirit is being poured out and your sons and your daughters, they will have visions, and dreams and they will prophesy. And second, now everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Up until this point in the story of salvation, God has spoken through a few chosen messengers—through the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) and all of the oral prophets. And then God spoke through his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, God is still working among the people, but instead of speaking in the person of Jesus, God is speaking in the native tongues of all people. The people will now have dreams and visions directly, and everyone will hear the word of God in the voices of the people all around them.
In this moment, the Spirit comes over the people, and collectively they become the Body of Christ. The people become the hands and feet of God, as they become the mouthpiece of God, proclaiming the Good News, God’s truth in the world.
Many churches celebrate Pentecost as the “birthday of the Church”. A few years ago, I was in London on Pentecost and five small parish churches got together in a park and had an outdoor worship that involved red balloons and birthday cake with candles. But to suggest that what we are doing today is having a birthday party might trivialize this event. What has happened is that the people of God, God’s Church, have now become God’s voice in the world.
And this explains why we baptize new members on this day and renew our own baptismal promises today. On Pentecost, we, like Peter and the first century apostles, are filled up with the Spirit. In a few minutes, the Spirit will descend on Marlie. She will be baptized with water, sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.
We, collectively become the Body of Christ. We are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. We are forgiven, risen to new life and we are prepared for service.
In our baptismal promises, we commit ourselves to continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers. We take on the work of the apostles, building up the Body of Christ in the world. We promise to persevere in resisting evil, and promise to repent and return to the Lord when we fail. We promise to continue proclaiming the Good News—in every language, everywhere we go, we are to spread the Gospel by our words and our actions. We are to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. And we are to strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being.
Today we celebrate our collective experience of God moving in us, and through us into the world. Jesus explained what was going to happen to his disciples. He promised them, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."
I notice that in Jesus’ promise to his disciples he names the Spirit, the Spirit of truth. This is what the community will hear, they will hear what is right and true and of God. And they won’t just hear the Spirit speaking, they will be guided by the Spirit.
So this is what we receive on Pentecost, the Spirit of truth. But it is up to us, to follow htat guiding Spirit and to proclaim that truth in the world. And I want to make special note that this experience of the Spirit is a collective experience—it is something that happens to all the apostles with Peter at the same moment. And Jesus promises this experience to all of his disciples.
I think that in our individualistic culture, there might be a temptation to think of the experience of being filled up by the Holy Spirit as an individual experience. Especially in baptism, we might think that this is something that is just happeneing to Marlie, or that it happened to all of us who were baptized once, awhile ago when we baptized. But the Scripture is clear that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth descends on the community and calls all of them to prophesy in their native languages. So when Marlie is baptized, she is being baptized into the collective Body of Christ, into the Church. Her promises, as they are made by her Godparents, Teresa and Chris, are our promises. We are all participating in this experience and we are all being called to act in the world. This is not a one-way action, the Spirit coming upon us. It is a two-way action, the Spirit is leading us in the way of truth.
But before I conclude and pray that we might follow where the Spirit leads us, I want to comment on the second part of the prophesy, and the second theme in the Gospel of John. The Spirit comes as an Advocate. The word is Paraclete which is generally translated Advocate, but could also be translated as Comforter. With the descent of the Spirit we have direct access to God. Now all our prayers will be heard by God directly. In this passage in the Gospel of John, Jesus promises that he and the Father will send the Spirit of truth.
This idea that the Spirit was sent by the Father and Son was one of the things that split the Eastern and Western church. I’m not going to talk about that debate today, because here in this s the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, the part of God that moves in us, and know us.
The Holy Spirit knows what we need. When we call upon the name of the Lord, we will be saved. Again we have this sense of a two way relationship, the Advocate who will speak through us and be heard by us as we listen to the voices of the people around us speaking the Truth. And the sense of the Comforter who is listening to us, who is with us in the most intimate way, knowing our innermost prayers and needs, advocating for us so that we will have new life.
As we repeat our Bapismal covenant today, we wait with hope, with patience we are comforted by the Spirit as we hope for God’s will to be made known on earth. But we don’t wait idly. We are called by Spirit and we promise to continue God’s work here. In this liturgical, ordinary time, we promise that we will be the Church that God wants us to be. We will listen to the Spirit of the truth and we will be guided as we go forward serving God, praying to God, sharing in the breaking of the bread, and welcoming new members, like Marlie who will join us in this work.