The Day of Pentecost, 15 May 2016

Acts 2:1-21, or Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Romans 8:14-17
Saint John 14:8-17, (25-27)

Background: Whitsunday
In many parishes people will wear red on the Day of Pentecost in order to match the color of the vestments for that day. Some churches even place multiple pots of geraniums in order to accentuate the color of the day. In the English church, however, that color has not always been the case. The name “Whitsunday” or “Whitsun” not only comes from the color white, but also from a confusion about the meaning of the word “white” or “whit”. For some the meaning of the day was “Wisdom (wit) Sunday”, an understanding of the gift of wisdom given by the Holy Spirit on this day. The name “Whitsunday” does not appear until after the Norman Conquest.  Prior to that it was called Pentecoste. There are also secular connections as well. The day was seen as first of the summer festivals and was associated with games, dancing and fairs.

The First Lesson: 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.' "

Luke, at the beginning of his continuation of the Gospel, sees this event as another culmination of what has been planned from the beginning of time. There was a similar marker in the Gospel proper when Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem, “When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled.” (9:51). Pentecost as a harvest celebration meant that Jerusalem would have been filled with a large number of pilgrims, maximizing the possibility of any potential message. Thus it is propitious that Peter and the others are placed to receive the Holy Spirit, and then to immediately dispense it to others. The festival not only celebrated seedtime and harvest, but also the giving of the Law – therefore the initial giving of wisdom on Sinai is mirrored in the latter day outpouring of the Spirit. The relationship of former promises and latter days is accentuated by Luke’s quote from the Prophet Joel (3:1-5) in which the prophet shows the extent of God’s promise and the ubiquity of God’s grace.

Breaking open Acts:
1.     Are any excluded from the gifts of the Spirit?
2.     Who are included in Joel?
3.     What does Pentecost say to you?


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.

Most likely an etiology, this pericope explains the presence of the ziggurat in Mesopotamia and links it to a moralistic tale that also explains the many languages of the earth. The ziggurat itself represents so many things that the author would have found problematic: the city, the ancient near eastern pantheon, and perhaps the technology that was being developed in these cities. Most of all the author objects to human hubris. Each of the human actions, the making of bricks, the building of the tower, and communication itself is thwarted by God, “let us go down and confuse their language.” It’s choice here as a reading for Pentecost is strange in that it is an oblique reference to the “speaking in tongues” in the reading from Acts, and the story itself does nothing to underscore the language that the Spirit brings along with its subsequent understanding and wisdom.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.     Why do you think this reading was included here?
2.     What does it say about Pentecost?
3.     What does it say abouthe human community?

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

25    Lord, how manifold are your works! *
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
26    Yonder is the great and wide sea
with its living things too many to number, *
creatures both small and great.
27    There move the ships,
and there is that Leviathan, *
which you have made for the sport of it.
28    All of them look to you *
to give them their food in due season.
29    You give it to them; they gather it; *
you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.
30    You hide your face, and they are terrified; *
you take away their breath,
and they die and return to their dust.
31    You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; *
and so you renew the face of the earth.
32    May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; *
may the Lord rejoice in all his works.
33    He looks at the earth and it trembles; *
he touches the mountains and they smoke.
34    I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; *
I will praise my God while I have my being.
35    May these words of mine please him; *
I will rejoice in the Lord.
37    Bless the Lord, O my soul. *

The key to this psalm, at least in the context of Pentecost Sunday, is verse 31, “you send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.” It is the center of the creative activity of God, and as the psalm rejoices generally about all the works of creation, it is clearly centered in this understanding of the Spirit’s on-going work of creation. God’s activity spans the whole creative spectrum, “he touches the mountains and they smoke,” Creation is made and renewed by the same loving God, and the Spirit is the center of that recreation. What follows is a response of praise and song.

Breaking open Psalm 104
1.     What is the Spirit’s role in creation?
2.     How does the Spirit intervene in your life?
3.     What gifts do you expect from the Spirit?

The Second Lesson: 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.

Paul alludes to the Sinai wandering in the Sinai, a journey of some forty years that took Israel from slavery freedom. The question is asked, “Do you want to give all of this up?” The signs of relationship are underscored throughout the reading: God as parent, we as children and heirs. Once again Paul intimates that the very language of intimacy – of relationship with God – is the product of the Spirit’s work, who “bear(s) witness with our witness” when we cry “Abba! Father!”

Breaking open Revelation:
1.     How is a city paradise?
2.     How is it not?
3.     What does the community of saints mean to you?


Acts 2:1-21
[See above]

The Gospel: Saint 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."]

Once again we are in the midst of the upper room, the foot washing is over, and the paranesis has begun. Jesus expounds on relationships – the Father, himself, and those that believe. The proof of the relationship is seen in a community of love, and in the actions of the addition to the community, the Advocate, or as John says, ‘another advocate.’ In a “not yet, but still” understanding, Jesus sees the world as not ready for this new Spirit, and also sees that same Spirit abiding in the lives of the disciples. This entity is not one for maintenance, but rather one of re-creation, a ‘reminding’ of the faithful of what Jesus had done and said. It is into this relationship and community that Jesus speaks a word and blessing of peace and courage, ‘do not let them be afraid.’

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What does it mean to be an advocate?
2.     Who is the Advocate?
3.     What has the Advocate done for you?

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2016, Michael T. Hiller


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