Rev. Anne Smith

a

June 8, 2014: Day of Pentecost, Year A

Text: Acts 2:1-21, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 20:19-23


 

Among the lesser-known Jewish holidays is Shavuot. The day of Shavuot marks seven weeks since Passover each year; Shavuot means “weeks”, and the English translation of the name for this Holy Day is the Feast of Weeks.

 

In the ancient Jewish tradition Shavuot was a feast of obligation—it was the time to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple to be a thanksgiving offering to God.

 

But in Jesus’s day a shift was taking place, and Shavuot gained significance as a memorial of the covenant God had made with humankind, ultimately symbolized by the giving of the law, or Torah, to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

 

Even as the meaning of the day has shifted, it has always represented a significant occasion for acknowledging and giving thanks for what God has provided.

 

The most common name for this day is actually from the Greek. Seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot makes the celebration fall on the 50th day, and so the Greek word for “fiftieth” became its name: Pentecost.

 

Pentecost, a holy day for Jews from every nation to gather in Jerusalem and offer thanks to God, remembering God’s goodness and love toward them and their commitment to serve God in return.

 

And one year long ago, there amid the Jews renewing their commitment to the divine covenant, a gathering of the disciples of Jesus issued an invitation for people to turn to God in a brand new way. A sound like rushing wind rose up, and tongues of fire came to rest on the disciples, and they spoke. Into a crowd of Jews from every corner of the empire, the disciples spoke languages they could scarcely have named before, and foreigners caught the familiar cadences of home in speech plainly sensible to them though it came from the mouths of a few yokels from that provincial backwater, Galilee.

 

There on that day the Holy Spirit was poured out and people’s hearts were set ablaze. They heard a message of God’s saving power, a power made real in the person of Jesus.

 

Here amid a cacophony of different languages this morning we too hear this message, emerging in clear, sensible speech. The Spirit comes and we hear the message of God’s power at work from the beginning of time and even now.

 

We hear the song of the Psalmist recall the movement of the Holy Spirit in creation, the wisdom with which God made all things, the variety present everywhere we look! Creation is God’s delight, and the Holy Spirit is the very breath of life.

 

We hear the words of the prophet Joel, as he speaks of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh, bringing forth new life in the midst of death, saving not just the chosen ones of Israel but people of all nations, to God’s greater glory.

 

We hear Jesus himself offering shalom, a word of peace and well-being, as he sends his followers into the world as he himself had been sent by God. He breathes on his friends and the Spirit comes and fills them with power, the surprising power of offering forgiveness and accountability.

 

Those who receive the Holy Spirit as Jesus offers it here are given the power to release the sins of any or retain the sins of any. Friends, this is the power to break the world open, to give freedom to captives and to bring justice to the oppressed.

 

Do you remember how Jesus practiced forgiveness? Jesus went into places where sin cast people’s lives into darkness and shadow, and he brought them healing and release. Those who suffered from blindness, paralysis, fever, bleeding, leprosy, and disease received the healing of their bodies; those who suffered analogous ailments of heart, mind, and soul received blessed release. Jesus offered forgiveness that restored suffering people to wholeness and connection with God.

 

But Jesus retained the sins of some. Everywhere Jesus went, he challenged the lies that held power over people’s lives. When Jesus found the tellers of lies, he confronted them with the truth. Jesus held them accountable for their sin, the sin of leading people away from God. When the Pharisees burdened the Jewish people with lies about what God required of them, Jesus held them accountable. When anyone in power dismissed another person as less than worthy for any reason—gender, status, age, ethnicity—Jesus exposed the lie. He affirmed the dignity and value of all people, but he held anyone accountable who propagated the lie that some are less-than, the lie that some are unbeloved.

 

Jesus gave his friends the Spirit and the power to forgive, and we have received these gifts too. In baptism, we invite the Holy Spirit to reside in us, and what potential is ours because of it! The Spirit comes and expectations break apart, and the immovable breaks free. Forgiveness, release, and new life become possible. The Spirit is poured into every believer, every servant of God, and we have such gifts to offer because of it. This body of God-loving, sin-forgiving, healing-bringing, lie-exposing faithful people, still learning ourselves to walk by grace, gets to spread the love of God and the forgiveness that frees us into every corner of the world.

 

Like the Jews gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost the year of that first Easter we come to this day to give thanks to God and acknowledge all that God has provided, and to be reminded of the covenant we have made with God. We renew our baptismal vows, the promises we make about how we will live our life in Christ. And I pray that we also see the continuous outpouring of the Holy Spirit and that we will receive anew our commission to bring light and love and forgiveness and justice into the world.

 

Amen.

 

 

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