Based on Act 2: 1-21, Psalm 104

Pentecost Sunday, the end of the Easter Season for the Christian church, the beginning of a new liturgical season.  Today we celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit suddenly appears as a cacophony of languages, a strong wind and tongues of fire that rested on the crowd of devout Jews assembled with Peter and the other ten disciples gathered in celebration. So it was during this great assembly of Christian believers and non-believers that the Holy Spirit comes upon them all.  Known in Greek as the Paraclete, this was the Spirit, the advocate, the helper, the comforter that Jesus promised his disciples would come, after he ascended to heaven.   Jesus, knowing he would be leaving, assured his followers that he would not leave them without his presence.  “ … I tell you that I am going to do what is best for you. That is why I am going away. The Holy Spirit cannot come to help you until I leave. But after I am gone, I will send the Spirit to you.” (John 16. 7 cev)

Now, Pentecost was one of the three great festivals when the Jewish law required the attendance of all Israel at the temple, and Jerusalem would be thronged with pilgrims. Pentecost was also called the Feast of Weeks, because it fell seven weeks or a week of weeks after the Passover. Pentecost means ‘fiftieth’ in Greek, and this was the fiftieth day after the offering of the first-fruits of the grain harvest during the feast of unleavened bread.

This was also the day tradition held that the Law of Moses had been given to the people of God so, a doubly auspicious and holy day for Jewish people.    What a significant day for the coming of the Holy Spirit; the day of celebration of the Law of Moses.   On the anniversary of the day when the Jews covenanted with God to uphold the Law, the Holy Spirit comes upon them anew, and this people gathered becomes empowered to bring to the world the new covenant, a new way of being God’s people, the way of Jesus.  Coincidence?  No, I don’t think so…

Fire, wind and a babble of voices, an interesting trio, caused me to reflect some of the significances of those 3 manifestations of the Spirit.

Fire.   I’m sure you’ve heard references in the bible to refining fire.  This refers to times of serious challenges in our lives that can test us in various ways, and how God can strengthen us with God’s presence in these times.  It is akin to the purifying of gold or silver using fire, when the dross, the impure elements in the metal are burned off.   Fire is cleansing, it burns off nasty bugs or dead wood and grasses so new growth can start after fire.  When we were in Australia, we learned about the banksia tree that has seed pods which only open after there has been a forest fire and the ash becomes one of the nutrients that helps the seeds to grow.  Fire can bring an opportunity for new growth and renewal.

Wind.  The breath of Holy Spirit blew through the meeting place.  Makes me think of when you open up all the windows in your house on the first really warm day of spring.  The wind blows through the house, blowing out the stale air of winter, blowing the dust and cobwebs right out of the house.  A freshening up, getting rid of the staleness.

Multiple languages.  Jews from surrounding lands convened together for this special festival day of Pentecost, each speaking in the language of the place from where they came.  A veritable United Nations of Jews. Yet each understood the other, regardless of what language they were speaking.  When I was at the United Nations in New York for the Church a few years back, at each seat is a special type of ear phone, which can be set to whatever language you need to hear the speak in, for me it was English of course.  The person on my left was hearing it in Arabic, on my right in French.  So no matter what language the presenter spoke, it is instantaneously translated.  On this Pentecost day, it was like Holy Spirit had infused everyone with their own personal translators.  Christ’s Holy Spirit is available to every person, from every nation under heaven.

Now, Peter and the other followers of Christ cued into what was happening, they recognized the Spirit of Jesus at work.  This was what they had been waiting for—Jesus’ promised paraclete, the advocate, the comforter, Jesus’ helping Spirit that we read about today from John’s gospel. They had to wait 50 days for her to come, and when she did, she came with aplomb.  Tongues of fire, a great wind, babbling voices and multiple languages.  It must have been bedlam in there! This was no quiet prayer meeting.  The Holy Spirit was rockin’ the boat big time!  We sometimes call the Holy Spirit “the Comforter”, but I doubt that this Pentecost would have been a particularly a comfortable place to be.

This was the Spirit of Truth directly from the Lord, speaking to them the words of Jesus, coming to help the disciples, strengthening them as they testified about Jesus.  Being strengthened by the knowledge of truth and the presence of Christ within does bring comfort—kind of like going into a tough open book exam with well prepared notes, or going into surgery knowing the surgeon you have is the best surgeon around, or having to go to court with a top notch lawyer—I think you get the picture!

For those who were there that day and hadn’t known Jesus, they didn’t get it, they couldn’t comprehend what was happening; they couldn’t understand the effects of the Holy Spirit on the believers because they had no knowledge of the promise of the risen Jesus and that the Spirit would come upon the disciples.  Peter had to explain to them what it was all about, and that no, they weren’t full of new wine, they were instead full of the Spirit of Christ.

Let’s consider the impact that the Spirit of the risen Christ had on Peter.  Here he was telling the Jews that had gathered about Jesus, how Jesus was the Messiah, who was raised from the dead, because even the evil of the world could not kill him.  Then he invited the entire assembly of Jews to repent of their sins and be baptized!  Really?  Was this is the same Peter who 3 times denied knowing Jesus on the day of his crucifixion?  Were not these the same disciples who locked themselves behind closed doors in fear after Jesus was crucified!  What prompted this complete turnaround?  Where did they get the bravery, the strength of spirit to overcome their fear and preach the Lord’s message?  The Advocate, this encourager from Christ gave Peter the comfort, the inner fortitude and strength to speak boldly and fearlessly about Jesus.  How empowering this Spirit was!  Yes, the strength of Holy Spirit had infused Peter and the disciples; they had the strength of the Lord guiding them, leading them, prompting them right out of their comfort zones!

The fire of the Spirit had burned away their fears, the breath of the Spirit of Christ inspired them, filled them, invigorated them with strength to proclaim the good news of Christ, and all who were present had their ears opened to hear the fresh message of the Messiah.  It is “(t)hrough the power of the Holy Spirit, (that) the church receives the authority to proclaim the gospel of the risen Lord. … Jesus Christ offers salvation to all, and the church exists to proclaim it.”[1]

And you know what?  This Holy Spirit — the Helper, the Advocate, the Counsellor remains with us today, ready to be called upon to help us to renew our lives and renew our church.

Pentecost Sunday reminds us every year what the church is really for and what being a Christian is all about.  Pentecost reminds us that we don’t have to go it alone, that the Spirit of Christ will guide us, will empower us, will bring us the comfort and strength to do what God calls us to do, in ways we never thought possible.

Holy Spirit can and does fall upon everyone, sons and daughters, young and old, men and women.  The fire of renewal, the fresh wind of change, ears opened to hear many different ways God calls for new ways of being and doing church — these are all manifestations of Holy Spirit’s presence with us.  This is the call of the Christian church, the call of all who proclaim themselves to be Christians.

There is opportunity coming upon us in the new post-covid world.  Will we let Holy Spirit’s fire burn in us, and burn away the old and help us plant the seeds of growth?  Will we open the windows and let in the fresh winds of change?   Will we listen to the voice of God calling us to new ways?  Or will we remain behind closed doors, because it’s safer and more comfortable there?  The choice is ours; God gives us all the freedom to choose.  To be the church in our new normal will require us to adjust, to make changes, to find new ways of being the church.

Will these new ways take us out of our comfort zones?  Probably.  But we don’t go it alone, Holy Spirit is with us!  And this is the way of the Church has been empowered since its beginnings, actually since even before that fateful Pentecost Sunday.  That is the message that our Psalm for today brings us.  “O Lord, how manifold are your works, in your wisdom you have made everything! … You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.”

” (Psalm 104: 21, 30)

The Christian Church began with Jesus challenging his people to re-look at their covenant, their agreement with God, to open their eyes and see how the ways they were living were no longer the ways of God.  Jesus showed them a new way.   And when Jesus returned to God, he gave his Holy Spirit to continue to enliven, renew and fill the Church with all the strength we need to continue our calling to bring God’s Kingdom to our world.    The question for each of us is will we accept the call? Amen.

Rev. JoAnn Todd, Rector.  The Regional Ministry of Hope

[1] Kristin Emery Saldine, in Pastoral Perspective for Acts 2: 1-21, Day of Pentecost in Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol 3 p. 6.