The Day of Pentecost - Whitsunday, 9 June 2019

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

Background: The Dove

Perhaps it was the presence of the dove in the Noah story that inspired both Matthew and Luke to have a dove present at the baptism of Jesus – sign and symbol of the Holy Spirit. Doves were symbols in the ancient world of Inanna-Ishtar the goddess of love, sexuality, and war. It is also present in the Gilgamesh epic when Utnapishtim releases both a dove and a raven to find land. This symbolism was also seen in the Canaanite pantheon, where the mother goddess Asherah occupies a similar position. Thus a powerful symbol is taken into Christian understanding and semiology. 

First Reading: 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.' "

The “strong driving wind”brings to mind the wind that swept over the primordial sea in Genesis. Indeed for Luke this is a new creation with the same Spirit blowing over those gathered in Jerusalem, and indeed those living throughout all of creation. There is fire, there is wind, there is noise – something is going to happen. It is Peter who explains it all by calling people back to their own prophets – here Joel. The ubiquity of the Spirit is testified to in Joel: young and old, men and women, sons and daughters, slaves and free. This would have appealed to Luke that slaves and other people of low esteem should be candidates for the reception of the Holy Spirit. There is also a reversal of the Babel story (perhaps both of the first reading options should be read), with the tongues of the prophet being understood by all. It is a catholic story – the Gospel being understood in every place, by all.

Breaking open Acts:
1.    What insights does the quotation from Joel give you?
2.    Are your ancestors included in the listing of peoples gathered in Jerusalem?
3.    Where is the Spirit operative in your life?


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.

This is a reading for our time in that it is a reading about hubris and the need for understanding. In the Acts reading we have many people gathered, all seeking an understanding of the truth. The question that Genesis asks is “What does the community do and seek when it gathers together?” So looking beyond the etiological nature of the story we read a morality tale about the need for understanding the other when they are separated from us. The “understanding” should be a gift of the Spirit is a good realization. That community amongst many different peoples is the gift of the same Spirit, is a necessary realization for us. Isn’t it interesting that many were scattered by God only to be gathered again by God?

Breaking open Genesis:
1.    Where in your life do you challenge God?
2.    Where in your life do you challenge creation?
3.    What about life in our time do you find difficult to understand?

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 framers of the Lectionary reach back again to creation on this Day of Pentecost to hear the psalmist’s enthusiastic praise of God’s rule over creation. Wisdom is present along with all the creatures that God has made. They are enumerated: the sea and its creatures, human beings on the ships, and then “there is that Leviathan which you have made for the sport of it.” Perhaps even humor is celebrated here. Above it all, however, still hovers the Spirit – the on-going breath of God. God provides, God rules and the earth trembles. What is our response – nothing but praise. However, look at the elided verse. It will give you pause. 

Breaking open Psalm 104:
1.    What is your favorite part of creation?
2.    What does it tell you about God?
3.    What is your relationship to it?

Second Reading: 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 seeks to understand the Spirit as it informs those who seek life in Christ Jesus. The first is a realization that we are, all of us, children of God. This should not be viewed with the eye of subordination, but rather the understanding of relationship with God. Paul wants us to realize that we are formed with a different spirit (creation again), not of slavery but one of adoption. He pushes the understanding. Adoption was common in the classic world and would have made sense to Paul’s readers. Families often adopted into their own sons and daughters who would be a genuine heir of the family fortune. Augustus Caesar is a prominent example. So in our spiritual life we become heirs – “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” We fall into the pattern of Christ life.

Breaking open Romans:
1.    Who is family to you?
2.    What makes them family?
3.    To what are whom are you an heir?


Acts 2:1-21
[See above]

The Gospel: 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."]

Now John wrestles with what it is when we see and look upon Jesus. What it is that we behold? Philip asks the question, but about the Father. Jesus brings him back to the relationship of things. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Thus he witnesses to the unity, the relationship of the Father and Jesus. Knowing that, the question then becomes “What is it that we must do?” The answer is simple – keep the commandments, wait for the Spirit who recreate us in the knowledge of God. The final verses (optional) describe the work of the Spirit, and thus the heart of our expectations.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What do you see in Jesus?
2.     What does the Spirit lead you to see?
3.     What does your vision lead you to do?

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 © 2019, Michael T. Hiller


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