... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Day of Pentecost Year B, Message May 27th, 2012

Pentecost Newness in Our Time

Text: Acts 2:1-21; John 16

Arguably Pentecost is the third most important and celebrated festival of the Church’s year. The birthday of the Christian Church while not as secularized and commercialized as Christmas or as flamboyant and jubilant as Easter, is none-the-less just as important. The work of salvation begun at the incarnation accomplished through the resurrection is continued in human history by the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was with this coming that Christ’s work and ministry was, is, and will be, maintained and promoted. While the focus of Pentecost seems to be aimed directly at humanity and the formation of Church , the real focus is the presence of God with us after the resurrection and ascension events.

Last week our Gospel reading was from John’s report of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer in which Jesus prays to the Father to protect the small band of disciples, to give them strength, to provide them complete peace, to encourage them to unity of purpose and, to open their eyes to their mission. As we heard in this week’s reading this prayer was actually preceded by Jesus’ promise to his followers to provide them with an Advocate after he had departed from them. That promise and the prayer’s request were fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. Notwithstanding John’s report of Jesus’ breathing on his disciples the gift of the Spirit on the day of resurrection, Luke’s report of the events at the 1st Pentecost was the first openly public display of the gifts of the Spirit and the new life of the Church.

And indeed Pentecost is about new life. Rushing wind; tongues of fire; transformed speech; all point to a life changing event which altered its participants and on-lookers alike. We read the accounts and our imaginations are sparked with visions of unprecedented hype and wonderment. Old Testament stories; of the Tower of Babel being reversed in the presence of the disciples; of Joel’s prophecy concerning the last days being lived out; all kindle a kind of euphoric picture in our hearts and minds. Then we look around us and see a Church in decline, congregations withering and struggling for life, schisms and divisions threatening the very fabric of Christianity. And we must ask ourselves, “How can this be?”

Fortunately the story of Pentecost is not meant to be the benchmark of what Church should look like on any given Sunday or for that matter in any given year or decade. Instead Pentecost is a reminder of the importance of Church in completing Christ’s ministry and that the Holy Spirit is now present to assist in that great undertaking. As such, Pentecost is not about us per se, but about the persona of the Holy Spirit and about God’s work in Christ being carried on in the world year after year, generation after generation.

As John informed us last week about Jesus’ prayer for protection, unity, peace and mission, the presence of the Holy Spirit accomplishes these functions for us, spanning the space time continuum. Jesus knew that upon his final departure the disciples would be lost, would be paralyzed by grief and, could not, in and of themselves, be able to forge ahead. They needed his presence, his unique relationship with and in the Father and the unlocking of their own particular strengths. It was for this reason that he had promised one who would come alongside them and guide them. Various translations give various names to this presence – Counselor, Comforter, Advocate or Paraclete. All really mean and point to the one presence – the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Spirit within the disciples was first and foremost to testify on Jesus’ behalf. In other words the Spirit was to be Jesus’ own presence to his followers. The voice of the Spirit was, and is, the voice of Christ. And as Christ and the Father are one, the voice of the Spirit is the voice of God. The voice of the Spirit gives testimony to the church and through the church to the world. It is part and parcel of the call to mission, testifying to the glory of God and acting as a counter to the world turned away from God.

In fact in John’s Gospel we learn that one of the Spirit’s functions is to prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness and judgement. The world (humanity) has always had its own definitions of sin, judgement, justice and, righteousness, depending on culture, societal norms and community pressures. Institutions, establishments and, powers have set up norms by which its members are corralled to observe. Unfortunately, many of these norms are sinful, unjust or, downright obscene – and we don’t have far to look either here or the recent past – bodily mutilations, apartheid, shunning , all have been or are seen as acceptable depending on culture but over against which the Advocate calls us to account. It is only through the work of the Spirit that our human tendencies became questioned, our practices challenged and God’s righteous ways evolved into our living.

The third function of the Spirit allows this very thing to occur. Change is not one of the great blessings in human history. Fortunately, time is! Change and newness take ages to happen and become common practice. It is only through the work of the Spirit, over time, that each generation is able to capitalize on the gains of previous generations and not slip back into arcane practices. Someone once said that humanity is never more than one or two generations away from barbarism and the experiences of every war and conflict certainly bear this out. It is only the ongoing work of the Spirit which keeps us close to Christ and Christ’s ongoing mission. It is only the ongoing presence of the Spirit which keeps us unified as Church.

Yes! It’s true that in the denominations we have differences of doctrines and rituals but the Church universal is ONE and is only kept that way by the presence of the Spirit. We have but to look at the creeds especially the Apostles’ Creed which all believers are able to recite with heart-felt sincerity and comprehension. Thus, we remember and celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit among us and contemplate how that presence calls us to be church whether in a 5,000 member congregation in New York, a 50,000 present celebration mass by the Pope, a 30 member celebration of baptism or a 2 or 3 person service in a hospital sick room.

Pentecost is the celebration of perpetual newness, of perpetual witnessing to God’s work in the world and, of Christ’s perpetual ministry of salvation. Pentecost allows us to be the witnesses who share and participate in Christ’s eternal work and who are and will be the voice of conscience against the evil one.

As such Pentecost is an appropriate time to reaffirm our participation as disciples in the body of Christ, to challenge one another to grow into its promise and to celebrate the global witness of the Church.

And I can’t think of a more fitting way to affirm our participation than the celebration of receiving a new member into Christ’s family through Baptism. It is truly the newness which is Pentecost, it is the affirmation of the presence of the Holy Spirit and it is the witnessing to God and Christ Jesus. As we welcome our newest member, James Henry Cassan we acknowledge the newness of Pentecost, the presence of Christ and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.