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The Day of Pentecost  Year B RCL May 24, 2015

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Today is the end of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. This is the Feast of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, giving them the gift to share the good news about Jesus in a way that could be understood by people from all over the known world. The power of this event is almost overwhelming. So, let us take a look backward and approach it with prayer and thought.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is talking with the apostles. He is trying to tell them everything they will ever need to know in order to carry on his mission. He has told them that he is the Vine and they are the branches,  and that his commandment is that they love one another. He has also talked about how he and they will be persecuted. Now he is telling them that he is going to the Father, and that he will send the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that the Spirit “will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” Charles Cousar writes of this passage,”The world has its own judgments of sin, justice, and judgment. It constantly rewards those who measure up to its standards and norms and punishes those who transgress them. Jesus defied the reigning structures and ended up as one of those punished. The Spirit will expose the world’s ways of doing things.”

Jesus tells us that the Spirit will lead us into all truth. This is not a black-and-white truth, but a truth deeply rooted in God’s compassion and justice. As Christians, we seek to know God’s truth in the context of community, prayer, and responsible scholarship.

Jesus tells the disciples and us that he has to go away in order that the Spirit may come to us. When he ascends to be with the Father, the disciples feel abandoned and confused. He has told them to stay together and to pray, and they faithfully follow his direction. But that time was a crisis for the Church. If they had not kept the faith and remained together in prayer in the face of Jesus’ departure, we would not be here.

This is something that is important for us to remember in this post-Christendom era. Christianity is not the center of people’s lives at this point in history. Attendance is dwindling in all the major denominations. In the past, we would look for programs to bring people in. Now we are called to be missional, to go out into the world to do mission, to meet people where they are. Like the original disciples, we are called to be faithful in our time.

In our brief passage from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells us that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains up to this point and that everyone who is trying to follow Christ has also been struggling to give birth to something new. We and the creation are struggling toward the time when we will reach our full identity in Christ and the time when our Lord’s shalom will be complete.

Meanwhile, we gather as the disciples did so many years ago, and we try to “Pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We try to live as our Lord wants us to live. This takes a great deal of prayer, and it requires grace from God. And here, St. Paul gives us one of the greatest gifts in the Bible.

Have you ever gotten to the point where you could not find the words to pray? The point where you did not know what to pray for? I certainly have.  St. Paul tells us that, when we get to that point, the Spirit prays for us. He says, “The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”  So, when we reach those points when we just can’t find words to pray, we can let the Spirit take over and pray for us.

Now we arrive at Pentecost. All the people are gathered in Jerusalem because this is fifty days after Passover. It is the feast of weeks, the end of the celebration of the spring harvest. The followers of Jesus are all together in one place. They have hung together. They are praying. They have no idea what will happen. Jesus said that he would send the Spirit, but the disciples are not at all sure what that means. Some of them are still in profound grief because Jesus has left them. I think that some of them had their doubts about what would happen next. The important thing is that they were doing what he had asked them to do, no matter how they felt, no matter how grief-stricken they were, no matter how much fear they were feeling about the future. They were together, and they were praying.

What happens is far beyond anything they could have imagined.  There is a violent wind. Tongues of fire dance over their heads. They are filled with the Spirit and they speak in all the known languages of the world. Something new is coming to birth in the world. They had been gathered in that house, probably with quite a bit of fear and apprehension. Now, they are empowered by the Spirit and sent out into the world to tell everyone about Jesus.

Some people think the disciples are drunk. But Peter tells them, No, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is a new dawn. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

We call this the birthday of the Church because the Spirit has come to give the followers of Jesus the power to speak of Jesus’ love and healing in a way that can be deeply understood, heart to heart, by every person on earth.

Jesus is not physically present in the way that he was when he was walking the face of the earth with his followers. Because he has sent the Holy Spirit, he can now be everywhere in the creation. All around the world, faithful people are his hands reaching out to heal, his lips speaking forgiveness, his eyes seeing into the depths of people’s needs. We are his Body, and we are empowered by the Spirit just as his disciples were two thousand years ago.

May we go forth in the power of the Spirit to share Christ’s love, healing, and forgiveness with the people we meet every day, and to build the shalom of Christ.  Amen.

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