SERMON: Pentecost C 6 9 19
Acts2:1-21; Ps 104:25-35,37; Rom 8:14-17; Jn14:8-17,25-27
People share with me their concept of God all the time. Sometimes without even a hello. They just blurt out their sense of the Almighty. I would say more than half the time they are delighted with and awed by God. The rest? Well, there are those who doubt.
We have met some of those who doubt in our readings since Easter. After Jesus was crucified and he died and his body was placed in a tomb there were those who came up with alternate explanations that differ significantly, let us say, from our creed. Be that as it may, Jesus' return was well recorded and attended and his Ascension is still celebrated every year.
Perhaps one of the more striking validations or affirmations of the claims made by and for Jesus about his ministry is Pentecost. Jesus told his followers that he would be sending the Holy Spirit to help us in his absence, since Jesus was returning to his Father in heaven.
He had given notice before that he would be sending the Spirit, but his strong assertion at the Ascension shone a very bright light on this prospect. Sure enough, 10 days after the Ascension, 50 days after Easter, we have Pentecost.
Pentecost means 50 days. It is 50 days after Easter. The energy and enthusiasm and celebration that accompanies Pentecost is a true phenomenon reflective of the excitement we perceive in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
Let's put ourselves in the shoes of the followers of Jesus on that first Pentecost 50 days after Easter. If we were especially closely connected to Jesus then we may have observed his Ascension into heaven. If we saw that then we likely heard his assuring words that he would be sending the Holy Spirit. Even so, it's been ten long days and we are feeling...a little adrift.
Even if we weren't that close to Jesus as his post-resurrection ministry on earth ended, we've probably heard about it and we are even more eager for that Holy Spirit. We need it. We know it. We can hardly wait.
Those who were around but not connected with Jesus are probably enjoying a few "Yeah, sure" thoughts, maybe even making comments. They think the probability of a Spirit being sent by someone who's not on the scene is highly improbable.
And then it happened.
As the usual crowd was gathered together, probably talking about Jesus and what it's been like since he went away, "...there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting..."
To be clear, the entire house was occupied by this...sound. True, is was a sound like a violent wind, so it was loud, but to have it fill the entire house...and we infer, to not be diminished. That would indeed be eerie.
Then, as we know, "...Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them."
These tongues of fire that landed on the people's heads did not set their hair on fire. It immediately must have raised in their minds images of the power of God, God's appearance in the burning bush, the pillar of fire that led Moses and his followers out of Egypt. This was clear evidence of the power of this newly arrived Holy Spirit.
The reading continues, "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit." It is particularly significant that the reading says they were filled by the Holy Spirit then it says they "... began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability."
They had the spirit, it was clear, before they found themselves speaking in other languages. What was that like? What did it mean? How did they know, other than the flame sitting on top of their head (which, obviously, is not "being filled.")
This is the point in the story when we bring our own experience to bear. Ordinarily we don't have tongues of flame and we don't usually start speaking in other languages, but often we find ourselves filled with the spirit. What is this?
I'm going to refer back to the opening of my sermon. When people speak to me about their experience or sense of God it usually has to do with Godly attributes, like joy and love and peace. When we are at peace within ourselves we often find ourselves surprised at the peace we feel with others, even strangers, even in situations we are surprised to experience peacefully. When we are open to one another, when we listen and feel for what the other person is saying, we get a sensation of connection, of shared energy, of special --there's no other word for it -- power to deal with whatever is going on. We might be hearing some happy news and share in another's joy. We might be hearing of a struggle, a medical problem, maybe, and we have the energy and, again, the power to support the other person in a most heartfelt way.
The thing that is easy to miss in this type of situation is also painfully obvious: whatever happened to "What about me?" How is it that we can put aside our own interests, our selfishness, our own desire for attention and support, and be present, fully with another person? How did this happen?
On the first Pentecost the answer was that the people were surprised and given a sign--the tongues of flame--that God, that Jesus, had told them the truth. When they knew that he was actually able to extend to them the power of the Holy Spirit, that that spirit could inhabit their own meager human frames, and that it could help them forget themselves and be present for others, well, they were shocked, then ecstatic.
Just as we are when it happens to us in this day and age.
There are now and there were then the skeptics. The people who suggested the followers of Jesus had been drinking. In a funny retort Peter says, "Oh, no, it's still morning." In other words, "we'll be drinking soon enough, but not yet."
In our Gospel reading, from one of Jesus' earlier promises to send the Spirit, he says, "... I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you."
With the Holy Spirit God has come to be with us. In Jesus' statement he reminds us that God is in us, not just with us. But our relationship with the Holy Spirit frees us from our earthly limitations and empowers us to operate as spiritual beings.
This is freedom for those who seek a spiritual way of life, who desire to live into their Baptismal Covenant, who truly want to love God and love their neighbor.
Come Holy Spirit, come!
A sermon preached on Pentecost, June 9, 2019, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector