Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-21
John 16:12-15
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Pentecost Sunday marks not only the gift of the Spirit for followers of Jesus; in the liturgical year, it closes the Easter season and pivots us toward our actual place in the time of God as churches – ordinary time.

Ordinary time: that long stretch of green before we get back to the highest holy days like Christmas and Easter, which we just celebrated.

For Advent, we approach the nativity with more focused and concrete piety. We replace buying gifts with charitable donations, or dogged planning with spend quality time with family. For the resurrection, we make sacrifice primary. We give up coffee, chocolate, bacon, alcohol, and carnal pleasures. We also release fear, doubt, anger, bitterness, and preoccupation with seizing the day, wellness, mindfulness, and all that so that we can instead allow our lives to pulse with the rhythm of God’s unmerited forgiveness, mercy, and redemption. Or, maybe we take up disciplines like writing letters, studying scripture, more frequent prayer and volunteering, exercise to honor embodied faith, or rededication to friendships, family ties, and the life of the church.

And it is holy and right to practice again and again the formation encouraged by Advent, Christmastide, Lent, and Eastertide. And don’t worry if what I’ve mentioned seems unfamiliar. Keep coming back to church, and these things will become a joy to your lives. Right now, it doesn’t require a lot of church know-how to recognize the wonder of ordinary time.

Ordinary time, I want to suggest, comes nearer to us because Jesus was actually only born and resurrected once. Yet the gift of his Spirit continues forever. Today, we celebrate the gift of the Spirit. It radiates within us and reminds us that even as we shine the light of God, we cannot possibly save ourselves. And in that knowledge, we continue to love all people, places, and things until they are fully redeemed in Christ.

Our passage today from the gospel of John foreshadows this new reality.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth; for she will not speak on her own, but will speak whatever she hears, and she will declare to you the things that are to come.  She will glorify me, because she will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine.  For this reason I said that she will take what is mine and declare it to you.[1]

Yes, John nods to Pentecost. The Spirit of truth will guide disciples of Jesus. She will speak whatever she hears and declare what is to come. And John also foreshadows our current place in God’s time. The Spirit will pronounce the future redemption of God, a future we are living into right now. She will take what is Christ’s and declare it not only to the followers of Jesus in New Testament times, but also to and within us, on Pentecost Sunday and in ordinary time.

Though, more accurately a sequel to the gospel of Luke – because Acts and Luke share the same author – Acts nevertheless magnifies the wonderful mystery we heard from John, and the writing does so scandalously.

Jesus is gone this time, for real. Back from the grave for just over a month, his body floats away in the opening chapter of Acts. We, as churches, become his presence on earth, but only for a period, and imperfectly. His departure is disturbing, but in a magnificent way, because it inaugurates the gift of the Holy Spirit. It commences a new time for people of faith; ordinary time in God.

Jews from every nation are in Jerusalem, and the scene is violent: “beios” is the Greek word used to describe the force of the Spirit’s entry into the house of Iranians (the Parthians, Medes, Elamites), Iraqis (the residents of Mesopotamia), Israelis (of Judea), Turkish persons (from Cappadocia, Pontus, Phrygia and Pamphylia), Asians, Egyptians, Libyans (belonging to Cyrene), Romans, both Jews and proselytes, Greeks (who are Cretans) and Arabs. Pentecost is a geopolitical summit from 2,000 years ago that would stun us even now. And the adjective used to describe the meeting, beios (rendered violent in the NRSV) only appears once in the entire Bible, here in Acts 2.2. Yet the violence of the spirit here envisions a gathering completely opposite to what we see on the current world’s stage. The Holy Spirit in Acts strikes with amazement and seeming intoxication. It ruins prejudice and xenophobia. Its aftermath is understanding what our neighbors have to say, across historical, political, geographical, theological, religious, economic, ethnic, racial, sexual, and generational lines, to name a few.

In the gospel of John, the first miracle from Jesus was turning water into wine. In Acts, the Holy Spirit turns ordinary people at the closure of Easter and who must reluctantly go back to ordinary time into translators of the desires of God. These characters aren’t speaking in unintelligible tongues. They are roused into a sneak attack of the Holy Spirit that results in a polyphonic pronunciation of God’s redemption.

And at the end of today’s passage from Acts, Peter assures those who hear him (that includes us today) that we need only call out to God to participate in the same salvation and become radicalized people of ingenious and eloquent Holy Spirit love, like them.

Folks, there will always be people who rant about restaurant servers speaking Spanish instead of English. And inversely, at a church in Manhattan, a parishioner whispered to my visiting mother, “My, your son speaks such good English!” Those remarks are ordinary. Yet the violent wind of the Spirit can empower us to level that kind of bigotry in others and ourselves. The Spirit breathes into us dreams of God and the ability to approximate those dreams in ordinary time if we dare to address each other as if we came from the same place, the same house; what the writers of the New Testament called the basilea or realm of God.

Granted, the world is also full of nightmares like the East Brook Middle School bus crash, the Aerolineas Damojh plane crash, mother Stephanie Adams plunging to her death with her 7-year-old son, and 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis assaulting his school and killing his peers. And these are just a few things that have happened in the Americas. Four gunmen stormed Archangel Michael Church in Grozny, Chechnya and killed 3 yesterday.

These events shake Christian faith. They remind us that we need a savior and there’s only so much we can do.

As we celebrate Pentecost, maybe we want to ask how it is that we can become extremists of love and produce brazen acts of mercy and forgiveness? There is power and fire in love, as the Most Rev. Michael Curry preached yesterday. As we return to ordinary time, we may want to cry out for the return of Christ, and in our waiting and wailing, let us depend upon the Holy Spirit to guide us into truly loving speech and embrace with everyone that we encounter. May we think, imagine, and act as if love were the way.

[1] John 16:12-15