No media available


Acts 21, John 15
Pentecost Sunday

Today we celebrate the festival of Pentecost.  Some say that Pentecost can be considered the birthday of the Christian Church, the day when the power of the Spirit infused the disciples of Jesus, empowering them to preach the good news of Christ to the group of Jews who had gathered to celebrate Pentecost.  It caused the conversion and baptism of 3,000 people who then ‘devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’ And, as they say, the rest is history, the Christian Church is born. 

Now, Pentecost is an ancient Jewish festival, traditionally held 50 days, seven weeks plus a day, after Passover.  The word is derived from the Greek ‘pentekostos’ which means fifty.  It is also known as the Feast of Weeks.  It was a celebration of the spring barley festival and Jewish tradition also held that the Law of Moses had been given on this day.                  What a very meaningful day for the Spirit of the Lord to come down upon the assembly of devout Jews from every nation who had gathered together. It was like God was saying—ok folks, that was how you did things then -- the Laws of Moses guided you, and this is now, the way of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ will guide you from now on.  This is a new way of following the Lord God Almighty.  Most definitely a disturbance of the status quo!  Jesus started this whole change in the way of looking at the Laws of Moses, and although he is now longer with you in body, the Holy Spirit is alive and well and will be with you and will be your guide. 

Each year on Pentecost Sunday we read the story of that first Pentecost gathering after Jesus’ ascension, when tongues of fire came upon the gathered believers, there was a rush of wind and even though everyone present was speaking in their own dialects, they all understood each other!  So it was during this great assembly of Christian believers and non-believers that the Holy Spirit comes upon them all. 

One commentator I read this week explains it like this:

The wind of Pentecost connects to the accounts of the wind (the spirit) of God moving over the abyss before                 creation (Genesis 1:1-2), driving back the flood in the time of Noah (Genesis 8:1), separating the waters of the sea to let Israel pass through from slavery to freedom (Exodus 14:21-22), and signaling to Elijah that God’s   fearsome power is, sometimes, best heard through a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:11-18). The fire of Pentecost                           connects to the smoking fire pot and flaming torch that sealed the covenant with Abram (Genesis 15:1-17), the                 burning bush at the call of Moses (Exodus 3:2), the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites through the wilderness      (Exodus 13:21), the cleansing fires of Psalms (46:9, 50:6, etc.). [1]

I have read in a number of sources which explain that the ability for all present to understand each other even though they were all speaking in their own language was done as a reversal of the Tower of Babel incident—where all those gathered around the Tower were so fragmented and separated from each other that they were unable to understand each other.  And here, on that special Pentecost day, regardless of language, regardless of words used, they all understood each other, they were one. 

So it was during this great assembly of Christian believers and non-believers on that first Pentecost after the Ascension that the Holy Spirit comes upon them all.  It was a gift given to believers and non-believers alike.  All were given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  And responses to this event were varied.  We read in the book of Acts that some were amazed, others perplexed, wondering what it all might mean!  Others sneered, figuring they were drunk.  Isn’t that just typical of the way people react, when something new, or unknown, contoversial or unexpected comes upon them.  And there always will be the detractors and ‘negative nancy’s and  negative nathans’ who refuse to consider a new way, a new revelation of God’s Holy Spirit in the world! 

 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.  John 16, verse 7:  “ ... 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.”                                                                                                                                                                                     Biblical scholar Karoline Lewis, one of my favourite biblical commentators notes that:  

Only in John is the Holy Spirit called the Paraclete—literally, the one called to be alongside you, just as Jesus has                 been (14:16)...  As the Paraclete narratively “accompanies” the disciples throughout the Farewell Discourse,                 what the “alongsideness” of the Paraclete entails depends on what Jesus has just said. That is, the Holy Spirit is a                 first responder—coming alongside acute senses of need, particularly the anxiety, fear, and even grief of the                 disciples as they begin to realize the immediacy of Jesus’ departure.[2]

I love that idea, the Holy Spirit as the first responder!  This first person we should call when life gets overwhelming—the third person of the Trinity—but more about that next Sunday!

The Holy Spirit can come upon people kind of like a gale force wind, like in the Pentecost story. Or She can be much more subtle, more like a gentle breeze. How have you experienced the touch of the Holy Spirit?  Is it like a comforter:  a feeling of warmth, or reassurance, deep in the core of your being, like a comfy prayer shall or a reassuring hand on your shoulder?  Or do you feel it more energetically, like the advocate Jesus promised us:  a shot of electricity, or a trembling in your body, or a sudden inexplicable feeling of spiritual strength, or like a huge sense of relief, like weight lifted off your shoulders?  Or just a sense of the rightness of what you’re doing, knowing that this idea, concept, thought or action really is of God, is God’s will.  Other people experience the Spirit in visions or dreams.   Sometimes we hear or feel the Spirit in music, or we see the Spirit in action when God’s work is being done.  She can also come upon us as a nudge, a strong feeling, or a persistent nagging in your soul, egging you on towards a path, or calling you to come to faith, belief or action. 

A good way to think of the Holy Spirit is as the active energy of Christ, which can empower, comfort or console us, a grace, a gift given us by God, so we are never alone, never without the everlasting, presence of God—there’s that first responder concept!  The Holy Spirit is still, today, alive and well, and continues to be an empowering force, drawing us forward, pulling us on to bringing about of God’s kingdom.

                The very first hymn we sang today speaks to the movement of the Holy Spirit throughout the history of the world.  It was written by The Rt. Rev. Gordon Light, who was an Anglican bishop in British Columbia.  He was in a group called the Common Cup. We have some other of his songs in our hymn book too.  For a few years he lived in Meaford, and I feel quite privileged that I became acquainted with him and his wife while I served in the Deanery of the Saugeens.  In this hymn, Gord speaks of the Spirit as a she.  Why she?  Well, some of you may have heard this explanation before, but it doesn’t hurt to hear it again!   First we go back the ancient Hebrew word for Spirit.  In ancient Hebrew the word for spirit, breath and wind is the same word ruach. It is the ruach, the wind of God that swept across the waters at creation, the ruach, the breath of God that breathed life into Adam, that breathed life into the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision, and the ruach, the wind from heaven that filled the house where the believers gathered that first fateful Pentecost after Jesus ascended to heaven.   And if you took French classes at school, you may remember that many words, particularly nouns in French and in many other languages as well, are denoted as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ words.  Ruach is a feminine noun.  The creating animating wind, the Spirit, the breath of God, even in very ancient times was seen as a feminine aspect of God.   Indeed, in some theological circles, it is well accepted that the Holy Spirit is the feminine nature of God.   

 And She is alive and well, and continues to be an empowering force, drawing us forward, pulling us on to bring about God’s kingdom, even in this little corner of the world. 

Through the Holy Spirit, God keeps calling us. We need to listen, to hear what we’re being called to.  And then prayerfully discern the direction we are being called to go, test the waters and step out in faith, knowing that when we do God’s work, God is with us, Christ is with us and Holy Spirit will empower us.   Amen.


[1] Frank L. Crouch. Accessed May 15.24

[2]Karoline Lewis, accessed May 15.24