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Day of Pentecost Year A June 4, 2017

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

Today is the Day of Pentecost, a very special day in the Church calendar. This day is sometimes called the Birthday of the Church because, on that day, two two thousand years ago, the gifts of the Holy Spirit energized and transformed the first followers of Jesus into an effective mission team spreading the Good News all over the known world at that time.

Our readings for today are among the most important and inspiring lessons in our entire lectionary. Chronologically, they are in a rather unusual order. The gospel reading comes first in time; the reading from Acts is the second; and the amazing text from the First Letter to the Corinthians is the third reading in chronological order.

Let’s take them in order so that we can re-trace our spiritual history. Our gospel for today is the same gospel which we read every year on the Second Sunday of Easter. It is the evening of the first Easter. The followers of Jesus know that he is risen. Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb and found it empty. She has called Peter and John, and they, too, have examined the empty tomb. Then the risen Jesus has appeared to Mary and has told her to let the disciples know that he is going to the Father.

Jesus’ closest followers are gathered in the home where they had been staying. They are terrified. They have locked the doors because they are afraid of the authorities, both religious and secular. Jesus walks right through the walls of their fear and says those words we will never forget: “Peace be with you.” God’s shalom be with all of us. God’s vision of peace at every level— total absence of hostility.  God’s harmony filling the whole creation. Everyone has enough to eat, clothes to wear, a place to live, good work to do, medical care, the basic things needed for life. God’s shalom. We are all one. The creation is one. All is moving toward wholeness and fullness of life. The followers of Jesus all know of God’s vision of shalom. They have read about it in Isaiah and  the other prophets.

But now Jesus does something else. He breathes the Holy Spirit into them. He is giving them the ability to forgive sins, to exercise the ministry of reconciliation. After this,  the risen Lord begins appearing to people so that they can see that he is alive.  He appears to Thomas, to the two disciples walking to Emmaus, to Peter and the others on the beach where they share a meal of bread and fish, and to others. And he tells them to stay together and pray.

That is what they have been doing when we meet them again in our first reading today. They have been gathered at the house in Jerusalem praying and preparing for the coming of the Spirit. Devout Jews from all over the known world are also in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover. This is a harvest festival something like our Thanksgiving.

A violent wind hits the house, the ruach, the wind that molds and shapes the desert sands, the wind of the Spirit. And flames dance over the apostles’ heads. Then they begin to speak in all the languages of the known world, and the writer of Acts takes the time to mention all these many countries. These simple Galileans, who have never taken a course in foreign languages, are somehow able to speak all of these languages so that all of these worldwide visitors can understand them.

Some people think the apostles are drunk, but Peter reassures them that this is not the case. The vision of the prophet Joel is happening. God is pouring out God’s Spirit on everyone. All people, old and young, will dream dreams and have visions of God’s shalom, God’s kingdom of peace and harmony.

Our epistle for today, from chapter 12 of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, is the latest of our readings in chronological time. Scholars tell us that Paul wrote this inspiring passage in 53 or 54 A.D., approximately twenty years after the resurrection of our Lord. Chapter 12 of this letter is one of the most important and essential statements of the theology of the Body of Christ. Paul says, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” We each do different ministries, but God activates all of these ministries. Paul mentions some of the gifts, “the utterance of wisdom”, “the utterance of knowledge,” “faith,” “gifts of healing,” and we could add, playing the organ, paying the bills, keeping the building in shape, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, helping young people, visiting elders, caring for animals, helping people recover from addiction, working for sustainability and accessibility, mentoring, gardening, and on and on the list goes. All of these are gifts of the Spirit.

No gift is superior to another. No person is superior to another. We are all one in Christ. As St. Paul says, “We are all baptized into one Body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” In other words, the Body of Christ is inclusive. People of all races and nations, male and female, gay and straight, tall and short, old and young, “and in-between”, as Al Smith used to say, people of all colors, all classes, all levels of education, all kinds of jobs, from CEOs to janitors, we are all included. We are one, as Jesus and the Father are one.

Like the apostles, so many years ago at that first Pentecost, we are called to spread the Good News of God’s love and healing and forgiveness. To carry out that mission, we receive the gifts of the Spirit just as they did.

Following in the footsteps of those first faithful followers of Jesus so many centuries ago, may we, here in the Vermont branch of the Jesus Movement, go forth in the power of the Spirit, and may we share God’s love, healing, and forgiveness with everyone we meet. Amen.

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