Acts 2: 1-11 I Cor 12: 3b-7,12-13 (or Rom 8: 8-1)

John 14:15-16, 23b-26 (or John 20: 19-23)

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

There is a lot of imagery in the Acts’ Pentecost account that stirs up biblical memory and connects us to other moments in the biblical narrative—and other moments in our own narrative as well. Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, was originally a Jewish agricultural feast. It was celebrated fifty days, or seven weeks after Passover. It started as a feast of thanksgiving for the harvest. As it developed it also became a reminder and celebration of God’s mighty deeds in the history of salvation. We too celebrate the harvest of our faith and how it has been a nourishment during times when we would have withered under the burden of difficult days. So, the Eucharist we celebrate today gives us a chance to remember what God has done for us in the mystery of Jesus Christ. We celebrate the church that surrounds us in this congregation, for the Spirit’s signs and wonders we have experienced in our midst. We have been strengthened by the committed members who serve in ministry, both the full time and the many volunteers. No one of us has all the gifts needed to minister to this community, or to address the needs of the world around us. But as a community we have seen the Spirit’s gifts still being poured out on those gathered in "one place together," as the disciples were on Pentecost and we are this day.

Jesus’ disciples were probably together on Pentecost because it was the next big pilgrimage feast to Jerusalem after his death and resurrection. We are still at the beginning of Acts and we have this powerful manifestation of the Spirit. If this were a drama, we could title it "The Acts of the Spirit"; this is early in act one and already the main character in the drama has made a strong entrance. We will remember this spectacular entrance as we hear the subsequent tales of the early church. No matter how stellar the other characters in this drama become, we will always remember how it all started: the Holy Spirit came to them first.

The biblical reader is reminded of God’s manifestations on Sinai; remember the thunder and smoke that dramatized God’s appearance on the mountain? Pentecost represents God’s renewing the covenant with us. At Sinai people accepted God as their God; they became a people of God. Now, through the Pentecost event and the subsequent preaching of the disciples to the nationalities gathered that day in Jerusalem ("Parthians, Medes and Elamites,..." representing the peoples of the world), the invitation to become covenanted to God will be proclaimed to all the world. It’s an invitation to all, including the Gentiles – to be God’s people.

Wait a second. Are these the same disciples who fled when Jesus was taken captive and killed? Are they the same frightened group that huddled behind locked doors for fear of the authorities? Now look at them – breaking out of confines and fear to boldly proclaim the news about Jesus Christ. What has changed them? It’s the new life God’s Spirit has given them. They used to be scattered – no community. Now they are drawn together, made a church by the same God who took the initiative and appeared on Sinai to a frightened and fleeing group of former slaves.

This past year there have been some large, devastating forest fires. There is a huge one burning right now in New Mexico. They can’t seem to contain it. Usually there’s a strong wind driving the flames of those large fires making those fires uncontrollable. In the southwestern states, there’s usually a cattle herd stampeding in front of the fire and lots of excited cowboys trying to get things under control. That’s the sense I get as I read this account of the Spirit, though I don’t image the early church members as a herd of cattle! Those first disciples are more like the grass. First, they catch fire and, driven by the wind, they start to spread the fire to those nearest them; those attracted by all the excitement; those right outside the room where the disciples have gathered. As Acts proceeds, the narrative will recount how the fire spread; how more and more joined this fired community; and now more and more will witness to Jesus Christ, thanks to the Spirit – the fire starter and the fire.

In both I Corinthians and in various places in Acts, the gift of tongues is associated with the Holy Spirit. Several times in Acts the gift comes as a sign of authenticity, a sign of approbation. As, for example, when Peter preaches at Cornelius’ house and the Gentiles there begin to speak in tongues (Acts 10). This moment is for Peter, a sign that the Gentiles too are receiving the Spirit and that they should be baptized. As a result, the church began to accept those outside its Jewish roots. The floodgates were released and the church was about to be watered with the peoples of the world.

The disciples are described as speaking in languages understood by the different nationalities who heard them. Each heard in his or her respective language. This speaking in tongues was different from the phenomenon Paul was addressing in I Corinthians (13-14). On Pentecost the preached message needed no interpreters, those present understood them in their native languages. People weren’t asked to learn a specific religious language. The gospel they preached from Pentecost onwards, wasn’t a gospel limited to one culture, one manner of expression. To be spoken to in one’s own language means the Speaker is one with us; comes from our nationality; has wanted to communicate with us enough to come more than half way towards us. God has removed barriers; has shown appreciation for the uniqueness of each of us—speaks our language, not as a foreigner, but as one of us.

Let’s look again at the signs of the Spirit’s action—fire and the strong driving wind. As has been said, we are dealing with divine manifestations here. These are not easily controllable forces, not conveniently channeled into manageable streams. Those touched by the Spirit show the same unmanageable qualities. They too are not easily channeled into what society or church consider polite behavior. They cannot be easily silenced either. They can be very inconvenient to the rest of us, unsettling us from our fixed positions and views. They, like the disciples in the story, are not cowered easily or afraid to stand up in front of a group of strangers, or familiars for that matter, to speak and do what God wants spoken and done.

Now we know, from biblical stories right up to this one in Acts, that God speaks and acts wherever God chooses. No one has proprietary rights on God. No one church or religious body has copyrighted God. Yet, judging from today’s account, in this instance, the Spirit comes to where "they were all in one place together." The chance of catching the Spirit seems good if we gather, as we do today. We are disciples of Jesus wanting to serve him, aware that we have fallen short, that our own spirits waver, compromise, lose enthusiasm, are distracted, wear down, and get bloated and dazzled by the world’s temporary delights.

Each Sunday, we return to this gathering with some faith guarantees. When we assemble to hear God’s word and celebrate Eucharist, God stirs up the Spirit once again. The signs may not be as spectacular as wind, flames and charismatic speech, but they are, nevertheless, part of the drama of the Acts of the Spirit. The lead player in this drama enters the scene again today. For here among us are people who have been nourished by God’s Spirit over a lifetime. We are still believing, still yearning for God and still trying to be faithful to our commitments. In a fickle world, where people all too easily move away from commitments they have made, we have struggled to proclaim in word and deed Christ’s ongoing life among us. What could be a more telling sign of the Spirit’s dramatic but often quiet presence? Once again in this assembly today, the Spirit is lighting the fire that will fuel our faith and is stirring up the wind that will urge us to share it with those right outside our doors?

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