Day of Pentecost, Year A
12 June 2011
Numbers 11:24-30; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-12; John 7:37-39a
How many of you expected to hear a different reading today? What did you think you would hear? (The story of tongues of fire on the disciples and the different languages) Can it still be Pentecost without that reading from Acts 2?
Certainly it can. Pentecost means 50 days. It was already a Jewish festival, the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot), where people celebrated fifty days from the original Passover event in Egypt and the gift of the Torah- bringing the Hebrew people together as a nation to serve God. For us, it is still 50 days since Easter, since Jesus passed over from death into life and brought the reality of new life with him. We celebrate those fifty Easter days and come together for this festival and celebrate a new understanding of the Holy Spirit, drawing people together and inspiring them in God’s service.
I have some problems with that reading from Acts. The first is we sometimes forget that the Spirit existed before that day in Jerusalem. The shy member of the Trinity was present at the formation of creation with the Word and the Creator. The Holy Spirit came in a new way on that Pentecost Day, though, bringing the comfort and the challenge of the risen and ascended Christ.
My second issue is that when we hear the traditional Pentecost text, it is easy to think of the gift of the Spirit as one of power and triumph and a gift that comes to God’s chosen few. The Spirit is a gift that comes to God’s chosen, but not to a few. The Spirit blows when and where it will, on whom God chooses. We don’t control it. We can’t control it.
What the Spirit brings to each of us is an awareness of God in our lives. Sometimes, God’s peace. Sometimes, God’s challenge. The Holy Spirit alongside us and sets us on fire… for what?
It’s my birthday today. We tend to treat the years that end in 5s and 0s as big deals. And they are. They are milestones of achievement for our lives. But does our age define us- the actual numbers? We are defined by how we use our days and our years. What we do with the moments and the gifts we have.
In thirty years, I have some accomplishments and some failures, some wasted time and some well-used moments, some dark valleys and some glorious peaks. What’s going to happen to me from this point forward? I have no idea. I have some plans and hopes. I also know that God may well have some plans and ours might not line up in quite the same direction. But on this day, I celebrate the life I have and what I have known.
And that’s not a story that’s totally about me. It’s about my family and this church, about my son and my husband, where I grew up and where I am now.
In the same way, the Pentecost story, the coming of the Spirit, is a story that’s not about us. It’s not about you or me, specifically. On the birthday of the church, we celebrate God. God’s gifts, God’s plans, God’s wind and fire. We celebrate the life we have in God and the life to which we are called. We celebrate the gifts that are among us and we anticipate, with joy, the time that is to come.
When I say the “time that is to come”, I don’t mean whatever happens after this life, I mean the time that is to come this afternoon, tomorrow and next week. The time for which God is preparing us right now, feeding us right now, calling us to… right now.
The danger of our Pentecost celebration is that we can make a big deal about the Spirit coming and forget that the Spirit has been with us all along. We don’t skip from Pentecost to Pentecost anymore than we do from birthday to birthday. The road to 31 started on the same day that the road to 30 did for me. Just so with the church, the road to our future with God began at the cross and goes out, with the help of the Spirit, to where God leads.
And we don’t simply receive our gifts for ministry on this day of the year. We receiving gifts for faithful living, through the Spirit, every day of our lives. Each of us has much less in common with Moses and the seventy elders than we do with Eldad and Medad. We weren’t in the tent of seeing Jesus in person, we weren’t in the tent of hearing Peter or Paul preach, we are outside the original camp. And yet the Spirit has been promised and delivered to us as well. Each of us has gifts from God to use for the sake of the world and God’s kin-dom.
On our own birthdays, we tend to make assessment of our lives and make promises about the year to come, God willing that we see it to completion. So we should be on this birthday of the church. We have received the gift of the Spirit, who helps us to believe and go out with the risen Christ- on this day and all days.
We should look at one another, at the feast that is before us, at the possibilities of learning through both failure and success. We should look at those things and we should feel on fire, not just the disciples or the elders or the priests, but each and every one of us should feel renewed and reborn and ready.
Happy birth day to you!