A Homily for the Feast of Pentecost
Texts: Acts 2:1-21; St. John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Grace to you and Peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who sends us the Holy Spirit, another advocate, to lead the Church. Amen.
Last Sunday, we read Saint Luke’s twin accounts of the Ascension, those scenes in which Christ led his disciples out away from the city and was taken up from the face of the earth. “Well now what?” they must have asked.
What comes next for the Church, now that Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand?
Starting all the way back in December, when the Church began the new liturgical year, there’s been a common thread in our readings, a sort of thematic refrain in my preaching: that history has been leading up to Christ. In Advent, as we prepared for the Nativity, everything built up to Christ’s birth. On Christmas Eve, we heard the Nativity Proclamation, placing Jesus’ birth within the narrative arc of Scripture but also within history:
…in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome, in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus….
And then, beginning with our Lord’s Baptism at Epiphany, Christ’s ministry erupted forth into the world with its end ever in sight, replete with references to how the Son of Man must suffer and be lifted up. At the Transfiguration, the took a concrete turn towards Jerusalem. During Lent, everything built up towards the Triumphal Entry of Palm Sunday, and through Holy Week, we built and built and built towards the Crucifixion and, finally, our Lord’s glorious triumph over Sin, the Devil, and Death on Easter. After these Great Fifty Days, though, now what?
Next Sunday is the theological mindbender of the Trinity, and then we enter into a sort of holding pattern. If you look at the calendar moving forward, we’re entering the longest season of the Church year, the season after Pentecost, sometimes called “Ordinary Time.” After rotating through all the colors of the Church calendar from December through today, we’re going to be wearing a lot of green for the next six months.
The joys of Easter behind us, it all sort of tapered out at the Ascension. It can feel almost anticlimactic to arrive at Pentecost Sunday, almost as if the story has ended.
But kindred, God’s not done moving in the world. Yes, all of history has been building up to the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord, the Son of God. But history doesn’t stop at Easter or the Ascension.
On his final night, as he sat with his disciples around the Last Supper and handed over his final teachings – that they love one another – our Lord also told them of what comes next:
It is to your advantage that I go away for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send her to you.
And later in the same discourse:
When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth.
And fifty days after the Resurrection, the Spirit descended upon the disciples. On the Feast of Pentecost, as Jews from around the world once again gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate God’s saving work in the world through the reception of the Torah, God’s saving work was poured out upon those gathered. Just as the Spirit descended upon Christ in the form of a dove in his baptism by John in the River Jordan, and just as John the Baptist said that Christ would baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire, so it came to pass that the Spirit descended as tongues of flame.
The Spirit drove the disciples to proclaim the Good News of Christ, our Risen Lord. Standing before the crowd of confused onlookers, Peter spoke:
God raised Christ up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for Christ to be held in death’s power.
This Jesus God raised up, and of that [Resurrection] all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this [Spirit] that you both see and hear.
On that day, people from Rome, the very heart of imperial power, and people from Iran and Arabia, beyond the furthest margins of the empire, heard the Gospel proclaimed. The curse of Babel was undone that the Gospel might reach further into the world, that God’s might and expansive work of reconciliation may continue.
Christ may have ascended, but the Spirit descended. Christ may no longer physically walk upon the earth, but God is still at work. That same Spirit, poured out on Christ in the Jordan and poured out on the disciples in Jerusalem, was poured out upon us in Baptism. That same Spirit blesses us and the gifts of bread and wine during the Eucharist. That same Holy Spirit still calls to us today. To quote Bishop Munib Younan, Bishop-Emeritus of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land:
If the Holy Spirit is really leading us, guiding us…then we will always experience the power of Christ in the Church. We will experience love and forgiveness. We will be then together invited to be witnesses of Christ.
Kindred, we who have not seen but come to believe, are blessed by the Holy Spirit’s work. The Spirit is still moving among us, sending us out to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News of salvation through the Death and Resurrection of Christ our Lord to the entire world.
Across the entire Church on earth, the Spirit is moving. She’s moving in Rome, where Francis has ushered in a new era of emphasis on the margins of society. She’s moving in the Middle East, where Christians from across the theological spectrum have stepped in to feed and shelter refugees fleeing from violence in Syria, and to find safe havens for them across the globe. The Holy Spirit, poured out at Pentecost, is still moving today.
And in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Spirit is continuing to move, continuing to push the Church ever forward. Just two weeks ago, our siblings gathered in synod assemblies across this country, electing six bishops to serve and lead the Church. Our denomination, which only half a century ago refused to ordain women, elected five women as bishops – two of whom are the first women of color to hold that position in the ELCA. The Spirit is blowing, opening the Church to draw the circle wide, continuing the work of reconciliation in the Gospel, and continuing to make all things new. Thanks be to God.
But she’s not done yet! Even here, even in Macon, the Spirit is continuing to move, pushing us ever forward. In just a few minutes, we will gather downstairs to elect new church council members who will serve and lead this congregation. May the Spirit continue her work, guiding our discernment as we vote.
The Spirit is calling us, dear ones. She’s calling us to renewal. She’s calling us to proclaim the Gospel as boldly as Saint Peter did all those years ago. She’s calling us to cross the boundaries of nationality, language, gender, and skin color. She’s calling us to be the Church, uniting us as the Body of Christ, and sanctifying us, making us holy, as participants in God’s Kingdom.
Listen, dear ones.
Listen, and hear the Spirit blowing.
Listen, and hear God calling.
Be still. Listen. And get ready, because the Spirit is on the move.
Throughout this homily, I refer to the Holy Spirit using feminine pronouns. I did the same during the Gospel reading, replacing the masculine pronouns for feminine. For my explanation of this decision, consult my article on the matter.