The Day of Pentecost: May 20, 2018
They were gathered, much as we are gathered. After Jesus’ resurrection the faithful had come together to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, or in the Greek, Pentecost, for it was celebrated fifty days after Passover, as an agricultural festival, to give God thanks for the first fruits of the winter grain. They also were commemorating the giving of the Torah, the Jewish law, to the nation.
“And suddenly, from heaven there came a sound like a mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting.” A rush of wind. Can you feel it? The breath, the wind, the Spirit, all the same word in Hebrew. The effect for them 2000 years ago was apparently overwhelming and they would never again be the same.
There is often a lot in the news about wind, particularly tornadoes moving across the heartland and as we soon embark on a new hurricane season. There is a professor of atmospheric science named Richard Peterson who visits and teaches about his specialty – wind. Most of us I would guess are not wind sophisticates. I mean really, how many intelligent things can one say about wind? We can watch the Weather Channel and follow local meteorologists. We step outside and feel warm breezes or cold fronts approaching. And yes, we know wind can be powerful and we better be aware when going out on the local rivers. We trust too that airplane pilots are paying attention. But what else is there? The wind scientist knows something of the intricacies of wind and indeed it is wonderfully complex, but perhaps all we need for now is the definition offered by a sixth grader: “Wind is like air, only pushier!”
Consider that the pushiness of wind is one of the central points of the Feast of Pentecost. We do not need to know the subtleties of wind to appreciate this stirring moment in the life of God’s people. We need only recognize the power of such a force. The strength of the wind explains something of the way the Holy Spirit works. If God is going to deal in any substantive way with the wreckage of the world that human beings have created, that is, rescuing God’s people from all the ways in which we continue to destroy one another and the planet with which we have been gifted, all the ways in which we live contrary to God’s vision of love and justice, God is going to have to offer the extraordinary power of the Spirit. God breathes new life into us now just as Jesus promised to give us another Advocate or Helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with us forever. The description in Acts is like a violent or mighty wind because nothing less will work!
The great miracle of Pentecost is found when the small tight-knit and secluded group of the followers of Jesus move out beyond the walls of the upper room into the public square. The surge of the Spirit pushes the fledgling Church then out into Jerusalem, and we of the Church now out from this building of St. Stephen’s, into the board room, the courtroom, the surgical waiting room, the grocery store line, the high school cafeteria, wherever it is our day may take us. As one of our post-communion prayers says – “Send us out to do the work you have given us to do.” Every Eucharist is a sending rite. This same Holy Spirit is a gift of our baptism, indeed Sarah Hannah’s baptism, and stirred up for re-kindling in Confirmation. It is the Holy Spirit, the relationship of love between God the Father and Jesus – who is given to us! It is the same Spirit we are asking today to strengthen, empower and sustain those coming forward for the laying on of hands.
When the wind blows, things happen. Branches sway, sometimes trees are uprooted, windows rattle. We don’t always like that part especially if it is things uprooted in our life and the windows of our complacency that get rattled. Yet even in that first Pentecost, as the wind blew, a new world was coming into being. The people of God began to discover that the old ways of relating to one another and thinking about God had been blown out the window! Why do you think Jesus was always being accused of eating with the wrong crowd? It was a breath of hope and life the likes of which had not been known – that things really could be different.
Our call today is to join a conspiracy, a conspiracy of the Holy Spirit. Think about it. The word “conspiracy” literally means, “breathing together.” Pentecost was and is a conspiracy of breathing together for the good. The rush of the wind broke down barriers to reconfigure lives and embrace whole new relationships across all dividing walls. The Spirit was poured out, the account in Acts tells us, on “all flesh,” referring to God’s dream from the book of Joel for the unity of all people.
Perhaps there is no better definition of the Church than the people of God, called out to breathe together, to break down the walls that divide us, offer radical forgiveness and acceptance to anyone and everyone and have our own lives forever changed in the process. Pentecost says we live in the promise that Cretans, Arabians, Parthians and Galileans, examples of people in any time who are radically different in origin, history, language and even ideology, can come together as unified in the Spirit of God. It was true then and it can be true in our day.
We are, one more time, being invited to become God’s hope for all flesh, the entire Creation. It is the only reason St. Stephen’s exists, so that this may be a place where the hope of God is lived and can take root in us. Holy Spirit, push us out, reveling in the wonder of God among us, to be God’s new presence for the sake of the world.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.