Day of Pentecost–Year B
May 24, 2015
The Day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, is the day we celebrate the power of God manifest in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and how, with faith, not in ourselves, but in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, this same power is to be manifested in our lives. When the Risen Christ left the disciples he said don’t leave Jerusalem but wait for the “promise of the Father.”
On the Day of Pentecost the promise of the Father showed up in a public and profound way. The Holy Spirit, who is God, just as the Father and the Son is God as we will see next week on Trinity Sunday, erupts through the disciples.
There is a loud rushing noise and then there are visions of fire falling on all 120 of the men and women, and this causes each of them to proclaim the mighty acts of God to Jewish visitors to Jerusalem from all over the empire—from Rome, Egypt, Africa, and Asia.
Luke doesn’t make it clear whether this communication is a miracle of speaking or a miracle of hearing: but either way he is clear that what has been up to now a mostly private experience of the Risen Jesus goes public in a big way.
That’s what Luke wants us to focus on: the fact that now the good news of Jesus and the resurrection is for everyone.
Peter reminds us this was God’s purpose from the beginning by quoting the ancient prophecy from the Prophet Joel:
`In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
[on] your sons and your daughters…
and [on] your young men…and your old men…and
Even upon all slaves, both men and women…
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”
On Pentecost it is Jews who receive the good news that they are included in the New Creation of God. But in short order this thing goes viral and Paul and Barnabas are taking it to non-Jews, to pagans, all across the empire. This is the power of Christ healing the broken pieces of humanity.
In his letter to the followers of Jesus living in Ephesus, which was a Greek city in western Turkey, Paul writes:
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For Jesus is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups, [Jewish and Gentile] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us….that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[a] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[b] Ephesians 2
The only reason you and I are sitting here today is because the Spirit that is God continues to dissolve the barriers that separate people into tribes that find their social cohesion by the fearing and hating of others who are different.
The good news of Jesus Christ is not “an evacuation plan to get to heaven” (Brian McLaren). The good news is that in Jesus Christ God’s New Creation is happening on earth.
The Holy Spirit is God’s power of love that is greater than the power of all bombs and guns; greater than the power of all money and wealth: it is the power of the unconditional love of God made visible and real in Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit is just as active today as on the Day of Pentecost…and She keeps prodding the church to awake from a tiny vision of living with like-minded people seeking their own comfort into a universal vision of living with all those who are different from us, seeking their comfort.
The greatest power in the universe continues to be poured out on us—and so the question is do we believe this power is still being poured out on the church, into our lives today?
When we are at home and turn on the TV and it doesn’t come on, is the first thing we say, “Well, I guess there is no such thing as electricity”? No, the first thing we do is make sure that it is plugged into the power.
So why should our default setting be to doubt the Holy Spirit’s presence and power after one prayer fails or we become afraid? Maybe all that’s needed is faith the size of a mustard seed to trust that we are plugged into the power of the Spirit.
And we can start small: Do you remember as a kid wrapping a small nail with wire and hooking it up to a battery to see if you could turn it into a magnet that could pick up iron filings?
Or we can go big: in his book called On Writing Stephen King relates a story about his brother Dave, who was a junior high and 5 years older.
“My big brother wasn’t the sort of boy to content himself drawing frog-diagrams on construction paper or making The House of the Future out of plastic Tyco bricks and painted toilet-tissue rolls; Dave aimed for the stars. His project that year was Dave’s Super Duper Electromagnet…. Dave didn’t just want to pick up a stupid pile of metal ﬂakes, though; Dave wanted to pick up Buicks, railroad box- cars, possibly Army transport planes. Dave wanted to turn on the juice and move the world in its orbit. Pow! Super! We each had our part to play in creating the Super Duper Electromagnet. Dave’s part was to build it. My part would be to test it. Little Stevie King, Stratford’s answer to Chuck Yeager. Dave’s new version of the experiment bypassed the pokey old dry cell…in favor of actual wall- current. Dave cut the electrical cord off an old lamp someone had put out on the curb with the trash, stripped the coating all the way down to the plug, then wrapped his…spike in spirals of bare wire. Then, sitting on the ﬂoor in the kitchen of our West Broad Street apartment, he offered me the Super Duper Electromagnet and bade me do my part and plug it in. I hesitated—give me at least that much credit—but in the end, Dave’s manic enthusiasm was too much to withstand. I plugged it in. There was no noticeable magnetism, but the gadget did blow out every light and electrical appliance in our apartment, every light and electrical appliance in the building, and every light and electrical appliance in the building next door….Something popped in the electrical transformer out front, and some cops came. Dave and I spent a horrible hour watching from our mother’s bedroom window,… When the cops left, a power truck arrived…. That day we could only wonder if our mother would come and see us in reform school. Stephen King On Writing
Disciples of Jesus Christ, then and now, are men and women who are called to love into existence a world without the barriers of race, class, education, religion, sexuality, nationality, and any other prejudice that keeps alive the fear of the other and the illusion that violence is a winning strategy.
But clearly this is a calling that is way beyond our natural gifts and ability—we must be plugged into the power—into the power of the Spirit, the same Spirit that fills Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit of the Living God that is at this very moment interceding for us and working through us—and not just us in the church but as we see in Ireland working through people of good will who have caught a glimpse of God’s beloved community.
So wanting to have a purpose in life higher than building our own comfort and protection, we open, like that original 120, to the Holy Spirit, and pray that ancient prayer from the Greek Orthodox Liturgy:
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.”