Year C — Day of Pentecost

Commentary for May 19, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with the Rev. Katie Treadway

Acts 2:1-21
This is, of course, the classic and leading text for the celebration of Pentecost. If you preach from this text each year, you have a number of choices as to how best to approach it, realizing that you don’t have to say everything in any one sermon — you’ll get another shot next year!

(If Pentecost is not an annual observance for your congregation, you also have lots to choose from here — and will most likely have to pick ONE main emphasis and carry that throughout the sermon.)

Options:

  • The “togetherness” of the disciples as they waited for the coming of the Spirit (v.1)
  • The “suddenness” of God’s work in our midst (it’s not really “sudden” at all, is it? — v.2)
  • The Spirit always brings the abilities that we need for the tasks that God gives (v.4)
  • The Spirit works in astonishing and amazing ways (v.7)
  • The universality of the gospel message (vv. 8-11)
  • “We’re Not Drunk, We Promise!” (v. 13ff)

By the way, the beautiful new song, “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God” by Keith and Kristyn Getty referenced on the Lectionary Lab Live podcast is available here — highly recommended.

Genesis 11:1-9
I sometimes think of this as the Counter-Pentecost account here in Genesis 11.

For God’s own purposes, the languages of the world are differentiated and scattered. It is next to impossible for each to understand the other after this day.

The coming of the Spirit reverses this act; each person now hears and understands the other, with particular regard to the message of the gospel.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Psalm 104 reminds us that the Spirit of God has been at work since before the beginning — the Genesis creation account is reflected here in the phrase, “when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.” It is, of course, the breath/spirit (ruach) of God that gives life.

The psalms evokes something of God’s joy in creation, as well; this is a joy we do well to emulate and celebrate on this day.

Romans 8:14-17
Especially notable is the Spirit’s connection of God with God’s children. It could be a fruitful exercise to consider all of the ways that God is Heavenly Parent to us. What does it mean to be made a child of God by the working of the Spirit?

John 14:8-17, (25-27)
The disciples always wanted a little bit more from Jesus, didn’t they? Hmmm…I guess that makes them a lot like us (or vice versa!)

Jesus teaches them (and us) that the more we need will come in the form of the Advocate — the “one who stands beside and speaks.” The Spirit of God is teacher, reminder, and giver of peace. With the Spirit present, we do not have to be afraid.

That’s worth a lot!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

One of my college friends is an industrial scientist. One day, quite a few years ago, his then six year old son was sitting in the back seat eating an apple. Suddenly, he poked his father in the shoulder and said, “Dad, why does my apple turn brown.”

His father absent-mindedly replied. “When the skin is removed from the apple, air reaches the flesh of the apple and causes oxidation. This changes the apple’s molecular structure and results in a brownish color.”

The boy thought about this for a few minutes and then said, “Dad; are you talking to me?”

Often times, the meaning of the universe seems shrouded in mystery. And all too often, those of us who are reputed to know something of the the truth speak in the unknown tongues of impenetrable scientific complexity or, conversely, serenely spiritual bull.

Among the many things we can celebrate and learn on Pentecost is the fact that it was God’s apparent desire that all people should have the opportunity to understand the truth about Jesus Christ, that all should hear the truth in their own language; that all truth should be revealed to all people, in as plain and simple a language as possible.


 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 

I have been reading Henry Chadwick’s “History of the Early Church”. It is a good antidote for two modern forms of “spiritual exclusivity.” As the saying goes, there’s nothing new under the Sun.


Those who claim that the world will end with an apocalyptic bang and say they are able to decipher the predictions of these things in Revelation and other like scriptures (think Left Behind and some TV preachers) are basically Montanists (early Second Century) The Montanists were devoted to the “Holy Spirit inspired” prophecies of three Charismatic leaderss, one of whom was named Montanus. Besides believing they had a direct line to God, they decided Jesus was coming to Phyrgia and it was going to be bloody and it was going to be next week. They were wrong.

At the other end of the spectrum, “Gnostics” (first through Fourth Century) is a loose label for all sorts of folks who could, with many moderns, say they were “more spiritual than religious.” The central defining characteristic of the Gnostics was the idea that “secret knowledge” existed that only the elite and the initiated could have access to. The various groups did not agree on what that “secret knowledge” was, just that it existed and that their group was, of course, those elite folks who knew so many things the great mass of the ignorant and the unwashed did not.

The early church countered these notions by pointing out some important “Pentecostal” facts; God’s Spirit came to send the church out into the world to preach the gospel to everyone. Rather than falling on a select few, it was made manifest to everyone. And instead of being hidden, the Christian story was shouted from the mountaintops for all to hear, in a language they could understand. The first Pentecost was designed to make sure nothing was hidden from anyone, that everyone got a chance to hear the good news of God’s love for God’s people.


It is said that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, lived in a boarding house for many years and that after writing a sermon he would get the teen-age maid to sit on the hall steps while he read it to her. He would rewrite anything she didn’t understand. (I’ve read quite a few of Wesley’s sermons. That was one smart teen-ager!) In the same manner, Martin Luther is often cited as saying something like, “Though there are many professors and other learned men in the front of the church, I preach to the milk maids in the back. If they understand me, everyone understands.”

The church is called to talk to anyone who is seeking to know and understand God’s love. That call is to all of us, not just to those of us who stand in the pulpit and proclaim. We pray that the Spirit will come upon us and help us make plain to the world the wonderful Good News that God is love and God loves all.

Amen and amen.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s