Pentecost Sunday, May 31 2020
The Miracle of Pentecost
We’ve talked a lot about the Holy Spirit in the last couple of weeks. Last week, we heard Jesus promise that God’s holy Spirit would come. Today, we celebrate the gift of God’s holy Spirit in the church. The promise of Jesus is fulfilled. That’s what Pentecost Sunday is for. We wear red on this day, which is the colour of holy Spirit.
Which raises the question, “Who or what is the Holy Spirit?”
To quote one of the wise preachers of the last generation, Fred Craddock, “I cannot describe the Holy Spirit. I cannot explain the Spirit of God. Jesus said it is like a mystery, like the wind. You don’t see the wind, and yet you know when it comes and when it goes.” That kind of modesty is appropriate when trying to talk about God or Jesus or holy Spirit. We are dealing with mystery which is greater than we can fully understand.
But even if we can’t explain holy Spirit, we can describe her and discern her effects in the lives of people.
The Bible describes God’s holy Spirit in different ways. Acts 2 pictures a dramatic scene which describes holy Spirit as “a sound like the rush of a violent wind … and something like tongues of fire.” The gospel reading from John 20 doesn’t describe holy Spirit but compares it with breath—the disciples receive holy Spirit as Jesus breathes on the them.
This points to an important connection. In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for “spirit” is the same as the word for “wind” or “breath”. Both Acts and John use the language of wind and breath in trying to describe holy Spirit.
Indeed, Genesis begins with holy Spirit. “In the beginning … a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The King James version makes the connection obvious by translating it, “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”. God’s Spirit. A wind from God, hovering over the chaos in the beginning.
And what does holy Spirit do? In every instance, God’s holy Spirit brings life. She empowers God’s people. Like breath, she infuses us with life. Like wind, she blows us into action. Like fire, she sets us alight with God’s purposes. God’s holy Spirit gives God’s people life and energy, movement and passion.
In Acts, holy Spirit blows into that upper room where those early followers of Jesus were gathered together (and wouldn’t we all love to be doing that these days?) and sends them into the street to tell the good news of all that God has done. They speak in the languages of all the people who are in Jerusalem for the festival so that all can understand. This powerfully inclusive Spirit seeks to welcome all the world into the good news of God’s love. Holy Spirit fills us with life to proclaim good news.
In the second reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul points to the work of holy Spirit in empowering and unifying the church in God’s mission in the world. Through God’s Spirit, we are able to say, “Jesus is Lord”. That same spirit gives varieties of gifts and leads to varieties of service, but always pointing to the one God who is the source of our life.
The critical element is that God’s Spirit is given “for the common good”. I cannot overstate the importance of that phrase. Paul wrote this to a church in Corinth which was badly divided. Paul reminds them over and over again that the church is not a collection of isolated individuals but is primarily a body which is united in Christ through God’s holy Spirit.
But let’s broaden Paul’s understanding of the Spirit’s movement. We’ve learned some things since Paul’s time. We’ve done some things wrong and we’ve done some things right. 20
centuries later, we live in a different time, with a different understanding, and a different view of what we need to do to make the world a place of greater inclusion and greater love.
For me, God’s holy Spirit infuses not just the church with life. God’s spirit infuses the whole world with life. God’s holy Spirit inspires all people of good will. God is wildly inclusive and draws the world into a common work of seeking peace and justice and wholeness.
Our world grows more and more tribal each day. Nations, cities, and even faith communities are turning against each other out of suspicion and selfishness. This pandemic is showing some of the racism in our world more clearly, and we need to oppose it wherever we see it. We are seeing this tribalism at work as cities erupt in pain and anger at another killing of an unarmed black man by the police.
So let me ask some questions as we seek to broaden our understanding.
Even as we need to physically separate from people around us, might it be that God is pouring out holy Spirit on us all so that we might learn new and life–giving ways of being love incarnate in this frightened and imperiled world?
Might it be that God is pouring holy Spirit on us so that we might reach across racial and religious divides to welcome one another as people seeking to live with justice and hope and peace in this world?
Might it be that we are being called to speak the different languages in this world? Not just physical languages like English and Dutch and Swahili, but all the different ways in which groups speak about themselves? Might it be that we are being called to turn away from the tribalism which says that our way is right, and another is wrong? That we are being called to reach out to those who practice other ways and speak other languages and come out of other cultures? That we are being called to reach across racial divides and political divides and cultural divides and religious divides?
Is this where God’s holy Spirit might be leading us in these days of pandemic? In which we do not look just at the outer aspect of others, but in which we look deeper and see the God inside each of us?
Paul lists some of the gifts which God’s spirit gives for the common good—gifts of speaking wisdom and preaching, gifts of faith and healing. In Galatians 5, Paul adds to the list and reminds us all that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Just as God began to create through holy Spirit “in the beginning”, God is also at work recreating life in the 21st century through holy Spirit. These gifts of God’s Spirit are urgently needed in a world which has grown ever more hostile and afraid. These gifts of the Spirit are nothing less than God acting in our world.
Whenever we love … God shines through us, and the miracle of Pentecost is being recreated.
Whenever we show joy, God shines through us, and the miracle of Pentecost is being recreated.
Whenever we live in peace, God shines through us, and the miracle of Pentecost is being recreated.
Whenever we are patient or kind or gentle, God shines through us, and the miracle of Pentecost is being recreated.
We see God’s holy Spirit at work in us and in the world as we live in gentle, faithful, life–giving, and loving ways. God’s holy Spirit is at work in us—leading, urging, luring us with bountiful gifts and powerful challenges to be more than we can be when we are left to our own limited devices.
One final word. We talk so often about the mission of the church.
But it’s not the church which has a mission. The One who has a mission is God—and God invites the church to be part of that mission. God invites us to live God’s mission. God invites us to love and protect our neighbours in the same way as we would love and protect our families and ourselves. Our calling has never been more urgently needed than it is in this time of distancing and fear and fragmentation.
We are the mission of God, and whenever we live through the faithfulness of God at work in us, God shines through us, and the miracle of Pentecost is recreated.
It may not be the kind of dramatic scene pictured in Acts where we spill out into the streets. We can’t do that these days. But we can certainly, as those early disciples did when Jesus breathed on them, “receive the Holy Spirit” and live as the people of God’s own heart.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
May 31, 2020 (Pentecost Sunday)
1 Corinthians 12: 3b–13
Acts 2: 1–21
John 20: 19–23