The Day of Pentecost - 19 May 2013

Acts 2:1-21
Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:25-35
Romans 8:14-17
Acts 2:1-21
Saint John 14:8-17, 25-27


Background: Pentecost
The celebration of Pentecost was an established feast in Israel prior to the Christian adaptation of it.  The original feast celebrates the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai, and was celebrated over a series of days.  One can still see the celebration of this festival in the modern Jewish celebration of Shavout. Biblical citations about the festival can be seen in Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10.  It was in celebration of this feast that the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem, and it was at this time, according to Acts of the Apostles, that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples.  This association of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit has made the day popular for the celebration of Baptisms, or the Renewal of Baptismal Vows.

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples 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 nation 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, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-- in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

`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.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' "

Here Luke clues us into the significance of the day, as he did when announcing the birth of Jesus, by noting “when the day was fulfilled” or “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled.”  The RSV translation “had come” seems to miss the import of noting the day as a fulfillment of promise.  The festival itself, The Feast of Weeks (see above) was originally a harvest festival.  At this time, however, it was gaining more of an emphasis on the giving of the Law.  Luke does not tie these two notions (the giving of the Law and the giving of the Spirit) casually.  They inform one another.  If the giving of the Law defined the former age, this new age would be defined and guided by the giving of the Spirit.  Also, we should be aware that here Luke “compacts” history, so that the Resurrection, Ascension, and Outpouring all occur quickly, whereas John sees a longer term of development and discernment.

With the speaking in tongues, we need to discern what it is that Luke is actually attempting to tell us.  Was it a matter of the disciples being understood by the nations that are gathered at the feast, or is it a matter of the disciples speaking in glossolalia (“in tongues”), thus becoming like the ecstatic prophets, announcing a new age?  This latter understanding would make sense if we look at the gathering in Jerusalem as absent the Gentiles to whom the mission would soon turn.  Gathered here are those who understand the prophets, and understand their message. 

Here Peter stands up with the Eleven.  This is not an individual act on the part of Peter, but the beginning of the apostolic kerygma (proclamation).  All are involved.  It begins with setting the proper spiritual stage for the crowd to know the witness of the Eleven.  They are not drunk, at least not with wine.  Their ecstasies come from the Spirit – and so Peter quotes the prophet Joel (3:1-5).  Luke’s purpose here is to frame the actions that the Eleven will take under the prompting of the Spirit.  What he wishes us to see is Joel’s eschatological understanding of the Spirit; its links to “The Day of the Lord”, and the coming of salvation to all.  Here, however, the prophet and Luke part company, for the day is not the final Day of Judgment, but rather the initial day of an era of the Church.

Breaking open Acts:

1.     What does the Holy Spirit mean to you?
2.     What is the point of Peter’s opening remarks?
3.     How does the Spirit form your life of faith?


Genesis 11:1-9
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the LORD said, "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

At first glance we sense that these verses form an etiology, namely an understanding at explanation for all the languages of the Earth (and here is its connection to the Pentecost lectionary).  The meaning, however, is deeper than this surface understanding.  At one level the reading displays a background understanding of the world that flows from the Mesopotamian mindset.  It takes strong symbols of that world, which would be left behind by the patriarch Abraham, and uses them to understand the Hebrew perspective.  The ziggurat (the pyramidal temples built in Mesopotamian cities) the word “Babel” and indeed to whole vocabulary of puns used to tell this tale, come from a more ancient source and context. This story is not only a commentary on human language, but also on urbanization, and technology.  Some commentators have seen the story as an example of hybris (a self pride that challenges the gods), in which God maintains superiority over humankind.  The warnings here, however, are about how society should be formed.  Does the nomad move into the city, are the cultures of neighbors taken on and used, how much change is good and God-like in Hebrew culture.  This is an example of a text that can easily be dismissed due to our modernity, when in fact it challenges modernity itself. 

Breaking open Genesis:

1.     How do you read the story of the Tower of Babel?
2.     How does language either aid or impede religious thought?
3.     Is change good or bad?  Why?

Psalm 104:25-35, 37 Benedic, anima mea

O LORD, how manifold are your works! *
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

Yonder is the great and wide sea
with its living things too many to number, *
creatures both small and great.

There move the ships,
and there is that Leviathan, *
which you have made for the sport of it.

All of them look to you *
to give them their food in due season.

You give it to them; they gather it; *
you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.

You hide your face, and they are terrified; *
you take away their breath,
and they die and return to their dust.

You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; *
and so you renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the LORD endure for ever; *
may the LORD rejoice in all his works.

He looks at the earth and it trembles; *
he touches the mountains and they smoke.

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; *
I will praise my God while I have my being.

May these words of mine please him; *
I will rejoice in the LORD.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, *

It is unfortunate that we only get to rejoice in a snippet of this hymn of praise to the God of creation.  Its phrases and vocabulary celebrate the world as a product of God’s divine intent.  What we have this morning is the summary of the psalm, a bringing together of all that the psalmist has celebrated in the prior verses.  We are first met by the sea.  This is however not the sea of chaos, the scene of God’s power over confusion and disorder.  This is the sea of creation, its creatures manifesting God’s goodness and generosity.  It is as if we are standing on a high mountain, and the psalmist points out to us the various aspects of creation.  It is not a static scene, but interactive, with God responding to creation’s need.  In verse 31, the creation scene is repeated with God sending “forth your Spirit, and they are created.”  The psalm ends with an ecstatic “Hallelujah!” an emotional response to all that the psalmist has exhibited to us.

Breaking open Psalm 104
1.       Do you ever become emotional about the beauty of creation?
2.       How do you express those feelings to others?
3.       How do you give thanks for such beauty?

Romans 8:14-17

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Here Paul wrestles with what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  What he discovers is not a “mindset” as such, but rather a new mode of being.  One does not merely follow, but rather becomes “a son, a daughter, a child” of the living God.  Having touched on the notion of “belonging” (such as a son, daughter, or child would have) Paul wants to make certain that his reader understands that this “belonging” is not like that of a slave, but rather that of an heir.  The “belonging” brings into our life all the aspects of Jesus’ life, which we then share with him, from suffering to glory.

Breaking open Romans:

1.               In what ways are you a slave?
2.               What does it mean to be God’s heir?
3.               What do you expect as a child of God?


Acts 2:1-21
[See above]

St. John 14:8-17, 25-27

Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And 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."
["I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."]

Here Philip is in the rôle of Thomas, unclear on the nature of what Jesus is attempting to teach them.  His offered solution is unsatisfactory, and Jesus presses hard on the reality that he is attempting to explain.  Jesus and the Father are one.  When one receives Jesus, one receives to totality of the Godhead, for Jesus and the Father are one.  Although the explanation is lengthy, this is its core meaning.

It is odd that the next section, which ties so completely to the Pentecost idea and the outpouring of the Spirit, is an optional section.  Jesus proposes another solution to Philip’s dilemma.  There is a need for an educator, a teacher who remains constantly with those who would follow Jesus.  Thus Jesus introduces the Advocate, the Spirit.  That is the entity that will remain and continue to instruct the disciples and the followers to come.  It is then that Jesus can offer a sense of Peace or satisfaction.  Troubled hearts, and fear will be taken away by the gentle comforts of the Spirit.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. If you could ask Jesus for some explanations, what might they be?
  2. What do you do with the questions that arise from your faith?
  3. Who is your teacher? 

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

or this

O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller


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