Monday, May 14, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for Pentecost Sunday (May 20th, 2018)

This coming Sunday, the Church celebrates the festival of Pentecost.  It is a festival with Jewish roots, but has taken on a different meaning within the Church.  The Church celebrates Pentecost as the moment when the Holy Spirit descended among the disciples in a form that looked like tongues of fire.  This appearance of fire is why the color of the day for Pentecost (and for any day on the liturgical calendar that celebrates the work of the Holy Spirit) is red.

In this congregation, we also use this occasion for the Rite of Confirmation.  Four of our younger members will affirm their baptisms, declare that they are taking responsibility for the promises made by their parents at their respective baptisms, and become full-fledged members of the congregation.  Preaching on this day must take both of these occasions into consideration.

As always, if you have a question, comment, or response to either the Bible readings or my initial responses to the readings, leave a comment below and share your thoughts with me!

Acts 2:1 - 21

1When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
  5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 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?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
  14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
 that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
  and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
 and your young men shall see visions,
  and your old men shall dream dreams.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
  in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
   and they shall prophesy.
19And I will show portents in the heaven above
  and signs on the earth below,
   blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20The sun shall be turned to darkness
  and the moon to blood,
   before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”

During yesterday’s Bible study, one participant asked about the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues (i.e. non-native languages).  Some Christian traditions do not focus on this gift; other Christian traditions believe that one does not have the Holy Spirit unless one has experienced a moment of speaking in tongues.  Which leads to this question: how do we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives?

If we placed all of these nations/regions on a map, how large of an area would it cover?  Just how far had the Jewish diaspora spread since the time of exile?

Last week, a colleague pointed out (through Facebook) that the prophecy of both male and female slaves prophesying opens the door for the Church to include and welcome pastors and prophets who are female or who come from other nations.

Psalm 104:24 - 34, 35b

24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
 25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.
 26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
 27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;
 28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
 29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
 30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
 31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works--
 32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
 33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
 34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.
 35b Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!

The key verse in Psalm 104 for this day is verse 30: “You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.”  The Spirit was present at the first moment of creation; some translations suggest that a “wind” blows over the waters prior to the moment of creation, but the Hebrew word for wind, ‘ruah,’ is also the word for “spirit.”  The psalm affirms that the Spirit is present at the creation of all things.  We can also bring in the prologue of the Gospel of John to claim that Jesus is present at the creation of all things, and thus the Trinity works together to create all things…but Holy Trinity Sunday is next Sunday.

Romans 8:22 - 27

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
  26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

The Romans reading is edited so that we focus on the work of the Holy Spirit.  If we started the reading at verse 18, we would focus on the end of the age and the image of Creation giving birth to a new age.

When we are not able to pray, the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf.  We could argue that this happened in Exodus 1, when the Israelites cried out to no one in particular.  This also happens when we are so deep in our grief and depression that we find ourselves unable to pray.

John 15:26 - 27; 16:4b - 15

[Jesus said,] 26“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
16:4b“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
  12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Note that no one is condemned in John 16 other than “the ruler of this world.”

John 16:12 speaks to our confirmands this week: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  There is still much to learn about the faith we share, but we must grow into some of it.  When the time is right, the Holy Spirit will teach you through others and lead you to new understandings and insights.  Your faith will continue to grow and change because of the Holy Spirit’s work within you.

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