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Pentecost and Community


St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Acts 2.1-21; Psalm 104.25-35, 37; 1 Corinthians 12.3b-13; John 20.19-23

Today’s readings are rich! Did you notice we have two accounts of the gift of the Holy Spirit? One in John and one in Acts? In John, Jesus has risen from the dead. The disciples were fearfully gathered behind locked doors – if the religious leaders had crucified Jesus, their leader, were they next? They had all deserted Jesus, but Jesus did not desert them; Jesus did not berate them, nor did he set about finding a new group of disciples. Jesus appeared in their midst, said, “Peace be with you,” then showed the disciples the wounds in his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced. Then Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus then breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Instead of forgiving and retaining, the language of loosing and binding is sometimes used in other translations. Our ministry is meant to be a ministry of forgiveness, of loosing, as opposed to retaining or binding, for we are called to love and forgiveness. True community can exist only when both are present. The gift of the Holy Spirit is what empowers us to engage in this ministry of love and forgiveness.

Luke very different account opens with “When the day of Pentecost had come…” Pentecost was already an established religious festival – the Festival of Weeks -- which occurred seven weeks after Passover; it was a harvest festival during which the first fruits of the harvest were presented to God ( ). Luke tells us the Holy Spirit came with the sound of a violent wind and tongues of flame appeared on the heads of the believers. Although devout Jews from many nations were present, they heard people speaking in their own language, for being filled with the Holy Spirit, people began speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave them ability. In Acts 2.41, we read that 3,000 people were added to the Church on that day. We generally look upon this event as the birthday of the Church.

The apostles apparently received the Holy Spirit when Jesus appeared to them following his resurrection. After Jesus’ ascension, the Holy Spirit was more broadly manifest on the day of Pentecost.

The speaking of many languages may call to mind another biblical account of multiple languages – the story of the Tower of Babel found in Genesis 11. This account tells us all people spoke one language; the people set about building a city and a tower which reached heaven that they might make a name for themselves. When God saw what was taking place, how they were acting out their own worldly impulses, God confused their language and scattered them abroad.

Last Sunday, while speaking of the meaning of eternal life, I noted the world’s principalities and powers as characteristic of the Present Age. In contrast, God’s kingdom ushers in the New Age – the Age to Come. God’s kingdom came, and continues to come, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Thus, those who believe in Jesus Christ and live a life of love are living in both the Present Age and the Age to Come – they already possess eternal life. The Tower of Babel tells the story of the peoples’ use of language for the purposes of the Present Age. Pentecost reverses the effects of confusion at Babel; it tells the story of the Holy Spirit’s gift of languages for the purpose of building God’s New Age, the kingdom community. Eleanor Stump comments on the significance of this develo0pment as follows:

Now, in the new age, Christ offers all people salvation from their sin, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In this age of the Spirit-filled church, all human beings are invited into communion with the Lord and with each other. Human beings can be trusted with unity when they are incorporated into the one body of the Lord (emphasis mine).

And maybe that is why God marks the beginning of the reign of his Spirit in the Church by overturning the Babel of human language. Human beings filled with the Holy Spirit can be given again what they lost at the Tower of Babel, not for storming heaven, but for proclaiming the kingdom of heaven on earth. ( ).

In the New Age, in God’s kingdom, language is used to honor and praise God and to build God’s community!

How does all of this relate to the reading from 1 Corinthians? The Church of Corinth, although a Christian community, was beset with conflict. In that respect, it is not unlike many Christian communities. Some felt that the gift of tongues was the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit. Our reading from 1 Corinthians omits a few verses which are worth noting. St. Paul writes, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were gentiles you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak (i.e., idols of the present age). Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12.1-3; NRSVUE). Of course, one can utter “Jesus is Lord” if the words mean nothing, or hold no significance for the person making the utterance., But if uttered with meaning, with conviction, they can be uttered only by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit grants gifts which are to be used in building Christian community, the community of the New Age. As Paul tells us, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (1 Corinthians 12.4-6; NRSVUE). Yes, there are different gifts, but let us remember they all come from the same Spirit – they do not derive from ourselves, they are not something we can boast about or glory in. If we do so, we are standing on shaky ground! All of these gifts (wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, the working of powerful deeds, prophecy, the discernment of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues) are activated by the same Spirit and are given to each for the common good as the Spirit chooses!

Although Paul encourages us to strive for “the greater gifts,” he adds, ”I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 12.31-13.1; NRSVUE).

If you have committed your life to Jesus Christ, if you are living in God’s New Age, what gifts have you been given and how are you using those gifts for the common good of the Christian community? Indeed, how can you use, or how are you using, your gifts for the common good of all humankind? As witnesses in the world, Jesus reminds us, we are to let our light shine. We are to tell the story!

If we are walking in the Spirit, as opposed to the ways of the world, the flesh, we should also display the fruits of the Spirit. Paul, writing to the Church of Galatia, contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruits of the Spirit: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (i.e., they are not and will not be part of God’s New Age)” (Galatians 5.19-21; NRSVUE). Paul continues, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another” (5.22-26).

What gifts have you been given? What fruits do you display? Sometimes, we fail to recognize a gift we have or a fruit we display. I encourage you to discuss this question with some Christian friends. In the next few days, we will conduct lay reader and lay Eucharistic minister training. Do you have a gift in these areas which you are not currently using, and which could be used to promote the common good? If so, I encourage you to attend. Let’s get more involved in building God’s Kingdom!


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