Weekly Seeds: Pentecost
Sunday, May 23, 2021
Day of Pentecost Year B
Creator Spirit and Giver of life, make the dry, bleached bones of our lives live and breathe and grow again as you did of old. Pour out your Spirit upon the whole creation. Come in rushing wind and flashing fire to turn the sin and sorrow within us into faith, power, and delight. Amen.
John 15:26–27, 16:4b–15
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: 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 him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
All readings for this Sunday:
Acts 2:1–21 or Ezekiel 37:1–14
Psalm 104:24–34, 35b
Romans 8:22–27 or Acts 2:1–21
John 15:26–27, 16:4b–15
1. How have endings led to new beginnings in your life?
2. What endings have you experienced in the last year?
3. Have those endings led to new beginnings?
4. How do you experience the Holy Spirit?
5. What new beginnings do you prayerfully seek?
By Cheryl Lindsay
Most endings launch something new. That’s why we call a graduation ceremony a commencement–the conclusion of one phase that has always intended a new one to begin. In the lectionary texts for the Day of Pentecost, we find an emphasis on the coming of a new thing or way of being. It’s interesting that the culminating events of Jesus’ earthly ministry coincided with already established days of gathering. The events of the passion occurred around the celebration of the Passover and the fulfillment of the coming Holy Spirit took place during the Feast of Weeks on the Day of Pentecost.
Jesus did not encourage large crowds forming in response to his work on earth and even took great lengths to avoid them, but there were pivotal moments when the crowds served a purpose. Those assembled who heard the Sermon on the Mount were introduced to a new vision of the realm of God. The 5000 and more who were fed from the humble offering of a boy who had a couple of fish and loaves of bread received a demonstration of God’s economy of abundance and provision. The exultant crowd in Jerusalem for the triumphal entry anticipated a new sovereign leader, and the raging crowd at the cross condemned the one who failed to meet particular expectations.
On the day of Pentecost, for those first followers of Jesus, the crowd came for a religious observance of gratitude and found themselves called to something beyond their expectations. The Holy Spirit showed up and performed the miraculous before their eyes and in their hearing and understanding. Some were skeptical and suspicious while others were amazed and in awe. No crowd, after all, ever responds in a monolithic manner even if there appears to be an overall consensus or movement. The interpretation and response to those events differ based on the receptivity and perspective of the individual in the crowd.
The disciples, led by Peter, flowed with the movement of the Spirit. It’s not possible to control the crowd or the Spirit, but you can choose to move with or against either. They decided to move with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps that choice was influenced by the account of the focus text in which Jesus speaks, not to the crowd, but to his close companions. His teaching was always more expansive and comprehensive with the ones he first called to follow him into the resurrected life and ministry. They received in-depth instruction and advance warning to prepare them for the stunning events ahead of them, including the Day of Pentecost and the coming Holy Spirit as provided in the passage from the Gospel according to John.
John’s writings centered on the divinity of Christ and the divine relationship. This passage continues to emphasize and reveal the continuing nature of the divine-human connection Jesus is establishing. Having just spent significant time assuring the disciples of his abiding presence, Jesus announces here that he must go. The good news is that his departure does not equate to his absence. The Holy Spirit will come, not as a substitute for Jesus, but as a continuation of God’s abiding presence among and alongside the covenant people.
In the context of the Farewell Discourse it would be cold comfort for those who love Jesus (14:15) and who are called his friends (15:15) to have Jesus replaced with someone who was merely quite like him, or did similar things. The intensely personal nature of the relationship between Jesus and his disciples means that the only hope to quieten their troubled hearts is the promise that their relationship will continue via the Spirit, not be severed by his arrival.31 Indeed, the disciples are not just promised an ongoing presence, but a delightful one; they will have joy (15:11, 16:20-24) and peace (14:27, 16:33), experience the Father’s love (14:21, 23, 16:27) and have confidence in prayerful access to him (esp. 16:23-27). (Nathan Weston)
Is it any wonder that the disciples wait in anticipation for the arrival of the Holy Spirit? In response to the crucifixion, the disciples fled to their communal isolation out of fear and uncertainty. The resurrection Now, after the Ascension, they wait in collective expectation and eager anticipation for the fulfillment of these promises. Andreas Hoeck explains the nature of this new companionship as defined by the word John uses to name the Spirit:
… meaning “one who consoles, one who intercedes on someone’s behalf, a comforter, an advocate,” Latin Consolator, there is no Aramaic or Hebrew equivalent to it. Its grammatical gender is masculine as opposed to the neuter of πνεύμα, “Spirit.” In the New Testament the verb for Paraclete (παρακαλέω) is often passive in form2 and signifies “called to one’s side, summon to one’s aid, call for, invite, call on for help, earnestly ask for, implore, beg, exhort, urge, encourage, comfort, cheer up.”3 This wide range of etymological signification is then mirrored in the spectrum of translations found in Bible Versions. And yet, the rudimentary meaning to be retained is “a strong person called in to help in time of trouble.” (Andreas Hoeck)
This is who shows up when the Holy Spirit comes, the companion they needed for the moment before them. On Pentecost, the disciples would launch their ministry with the Spirit “inside and alongside:”
The role of the Paraclete as an inner testifier is another aspect of the indwelling presence of the Spirit. Without the Paraclete’s testimony, they are left to their own epistemological limitations when they encounter persecution or theological controversies that challenge and pose doubt to their under- standing of Jesus’ life and words. As the disciples encounter doubt or strug- gle to understand and remember the significance of Jesus’ words, they are being encouraged by 15.26 that the Paraclete will serve as one who will be within them. The Spirit’s testimony is not only related to the articulation of the Fourth Gospel, it continues to be a vital aspect in any material theological interpretations. When we read scripture, hear sermons, or reflect upon our present circumstances that pose a challenge to our understanding of the Gospel, whose voice do we hear that confirms our understanding of Jesus’ identity? Who speaks to the soul of believers that Jesus is the Son of God who was sent by the Father? Although the absence of God’s intervention during an experience of persecution may lead one to doubt the truth of the gospel and fall away from the faith, it is within these moments that the Paraclete will testify of Jesus’ identity. (Rodolfo Galvan Estrada, III)
The Day of Pentecost launched a new era of ministry in which the followers of Jesus would become followed. Their path would need to point toward Jesus. The Spirit kept them correctly directed. The good news would spread exponentially and transcend religious, cultural, and language barriers. The Spirit would facilitate communication of truth. The disciples would present a continued threat to the powerful and privileged as they testified–in word and deed– to the teachings, miracles, and reign of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit strengthened and sustained them.
The disciples would transition to their role as apostles, establishing communities of believers throughout Asia Minor, northern Africa, and southern Europe over the remaining years of their lives. They would face persecution and prosecution, largely at the hands of the state. Most would be martyred. When he first encountered them from their former lives, Jesus called them into community with him and one another, and he called them into ministry on behalf of him. The Holy Spirit came to equip them for the work–the live–ahead.
The calling of God is accompanied by the equipping of God. As the psalmist reminds us, “When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.” The Spirit of God breathes life, creates, and renews, and the disciples wait for the movement of the Spirit before stepping forward into their commissioned role. Others may begin to seek their leadership, but they will continue to follow the abiding presence of God, in whatever form God gives.
The Spirit met them as they gathered together in unity waiting for the breath to fuel their ministry and give them the words to proclaim and testify. Yet, while unity was instrumental in this moment, uniformity was not required. The Spirit affirms the unique character, life experience, gifts, and even language of each individual and makes these disparate people a community united around the person of Jesus Christ and the purpose of spreading the good news of God’s love manifested in the world.
The Resurrection people are now called to become Pentecost people. The community will expand beyond that original circle to birth new communities and the life of the Spirit will breathe through all of them. Resurrection people have discovered that life has transformed death; Pentecost people live in the authority of that new life to partner with God, through the power of the Holy Spirit to realize the vision of God’s beloved community. Resurrection people see the glory; Pentecost people engage in the work. God’s people are called to both.
The Christian calendar begins with the birthing of Christ into the world. Near the midpoint of that year, we celebrate the birth of the church by the Spirit. The church has been called to complete the work, to continue to Creator-creation relationship, and to spread the good news by proclaiming it, living it, and manifesting it. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us as our partner in hope, our encouragement in despair, and our guide in the wilderness.
Let us bring new life into our observance of the Day of Pentecost this year. Let us consider it a new season of being the church. Let us look around and see the dry places and hear where the Spirit would have us bring new life. Let us find ways to be more inclusive and diverse in our communities while being united by the love of Christ and the abiding of the Spirit. Let us be the church for a new age, in a new way, embracing the next normal and creating space for the Spirit to do what the Spirit does–comfortant and encourage, challenge and convict, move and guide.
Come Holy Spirit, come. Renew your church. Ignite our hearts. Open us to new understanding. Propel us to greater ministry. Breathe on us.
Come, Holy Spirit. Come!
For further reflection:
“Without Pentecost the Christ-event – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – remains imprisoned in history as something to remember, think about and reflect on. The Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell within us, so that we can become living Christs here and now.” –Henri Nouwen
“Too many churches have become mausoleums for the dead rather than coliseums of praise for a living God. They have lost the spirit of Pentecost! They have lost their enthusiasm. They have lost their joy for Jesus and find themselves suffering from what William Willimon calls “Institutional and spiritual Dry Rot.” If the Church is to survive the next millennium it must recapture some of the praise and enthusiasm it had two millennia ago.” — Carlyle Fielding
“It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance – for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. This is what I said in the Pentecost sermon. I have reflected on that sermon, and there is some truth in it. But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?” — Marilynne Robinson
A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel.
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (email@example.com), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.
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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Prayer: Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers © 2002 Consultation of Common Texts. Used by permission.