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Readings for the Feast of Pentecost

1. Acts 2, 1-11
  • There were several traditions in the early church about the coming of the Spirit. The most well known tradition comes from Luke, with the loud manifestation in the upper room and the astonishment of the people in Jerusalem.
  • It all begins with God, while they were all in one place together, just as we are today!  I will remind our assembly, by the way I look out and pause meaning-fully, that the Holy Spirit enters our lives at times like these, and that it is God’s gift to the entire church.
  • God acts with power here, and so the images we hear are powerful: strong, driving wind, tongues as of fire, proclamation.  I do not intend a shock effect as I drive home the words today.  Instead, I want to convey a sense of wonder at what God has done with simple men and women.
  • Indeed the reading is full of wonder.  The onlookers were confused, astounded, amazed.  Something unexpected has happened and caught people’s attention.  This is the way the Spirit often acts in the church.  That is what I am after.
  • Finally, the entire known world is embraced by the Spirit.  We begin in the East with the Parthians, passing on to the north with Cappadocia, to the south with Egypt and finally the west with Rome.  Devout Jews from every nation under heaven.  And each of us hears them in his native language.  As I utter the roll call of nations, I will be struck by the reach of the Spirit’s action, outgoing, farther and farther, to Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs too.  And at that point I think of the many nations that make up this congregation, the many nations that have heard and accepted the Gospel of Jesus.
  • Climax: They were filled with the Holy Spirit.  That is the wonderful work of God that they are celebrating, that we celebrate in these days in our lives and the lives of those newly confirmed.
  • I will challenge myself: to remember all those confirmations as I look on the faces of my listeners.

2. I Corinthians 12, 3-7 and 12-13

  • The first sentence today is as intense as they get: No one can say: Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.  I know in advance how I will deliver it: affirming the faith and enthusiasm of our assembly.
  • The apostle reminds us: There are many gifts and ministries but the same Lord whom we serve.  We celebrate the church’s unity in God, in Christ, in the Spirit.  Count how many times we say the words same and one.  I will repeat them like an insistent drumbeat in the background, but not accentuate them.
  • Paul then begins his description of the human body.  The body has many parts, but the parts are one body.  Twice he says one Spirit to make it clear that our life in community is directed to a single end.  I love all these appeals to unity and I will underline them in a way that doesn’t tire the assembly.  If we celebrate our unity in diversity, if we have struggled to keep our body one, then we will enjoy these reminders that our search for communion repeats the hard work of the apostles at the beginning.
  • Central point:  The source of all these gifts is God, and we treasure our communion above all else.
  • The message for our assembly: The manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.  Other persons’ gifts come from the same Spirit as mine do!  As I declare the passage today, my aim is not to take pride in my own gifts but to recognize the gifts of everyone in the assembly.
  • I will challenge myself: To turn this reading into the celebration of our unity that it was meant to be. 

2. (optional) Galatians 5, 16-25

  • Live by the Spirit.  These beginning words have to set the tone for the reading.  I will speak the word “Spirit” six more times. 
  • For me, the word refers to our life in Christ, the mind of Christ.  There is a popular phrase today: “What would Jesus do?”  The apostle means that Jesus is acting in us, and is not transplanted with his beard and robes into our world.
  • The flesh has desires.  He contrasts “Spirit” with “flesh,” and he means far more than lust and its consequences.  He refers to earthly standards, in which everyone sets personal goals at the expense of others. 
  • The works of the flesh reveal this limited, me-first attitude that tears apart not just church but all of society, not just in Rome but throughout the empire.  We have seen how the pedophile scandal has shaken our church, but the more mundane acts of rivalry, jealousy, factions, drinking bouts have also undermined our unity in Christ.  As I pronounce them I embody each one with an ominous tone, so that we are all reminded of the destruction we have caused by our actions.  The climactic I warn you becomes more ominous still.
  • In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love...  After I emphasize “Spirit” I read the virtues in an approving and warm way.  All of them build up the church.  Patience reminds me of the apostle’s hymn in I Corinthians, generosity the servant hymn in Philippians.  As I inject these meanings and allusions into the virtues, I pause an equal split second after each one.
  • Against such there is no law.  Galatians was written to combat forcefully the messengers who required circumcision and acceptance of the Torah.  The apostle meant that life in the Spirit (life in the risen Lord) lifts us to a higher plane of living that the law in its goodness does not reach.  I convey a little of that polemic in my voice.
  • Message for the assembly: Do we earnestly seek after the fruit of the Spirit in our church and in our neighborhood?
  • I will challenge myself: To read as if our church wants to display these fruits. 

Gospel. John 20, 19-23

  • Here is another tradition of the coming of the Holy Spirit: in the upper room on the very evening of the first day, given by the risen Christ himself in a less public and more intimate way.  That is John’s style.  In his words, the Spirit was not known to the world.
  • How do I know this?  The evangelist says that Jesus came without further ado, said Peace be with you twice and breathed on them. 
  • One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy, and this reading is loaded with it.  The disciples rejoiced.  They were lacking in hope and now their cup was filled to the brim.  Think of the times I was admitted to this or that school with a full scholarship.  Think of my favorite teams that pulled off the upset of the year.  The impossible came true: Jesus came and stood in their midst. 
  • What kind of Spirit has come to them?  This is the spirit foretold by Third Isaiah and by Jesus in his first homily, announcing good news, consolation, liberation.  Listen to the Gospel: Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.  It is not a Spirit of condemnation but a Spirit of truth, and it acts surely through the disciples and through us.
  • Climax: Because this is Pentecost, I put special attention on the act of breathing and the words Receive the Holy Spirit.  Doesn’t it sound like a primitive rite of ordination?
  • Message for our assembly: We have to rejoice as well, and that is what I expect from everyone as I read about the disciples and look out on the people.
  • I will challenge myself: To show in my voice the sudden change in the disciples from fear of the persecutors to joy at the sight of the risen Christ.  I can identify with that feeling on a human level.  I have seen batters hit two-run singles or point guards hit the last shot with time run out, turning the outcome from defeat to victory. 

Gospel (optional) John 15, 26-27 and 16, 12-15

  • When the Advocate comes.  I have to begin immediately with a strong and affirming voice. 
  • I hear the Spirit of truth twice.  The evangelist enlarges upon this phrase with many examples.  He will testify to me and you will testify.  He will speak what he hears, and will declare the things that are coming.  He will glorify me.  In other words: he will uncover Jesus and his divine nature for us, so that we will in our turn disclose it to others.  Many denied the divinity of Jesus in the time of the evangelist, just as many deny the relevance of Jesus in our time.
  • Message for the assembly: We sing “Come Holy Spirit” in our gatherings.  For the evangelist, the Spirit does more than come and hover over us.  I hear actions such as testify, guide, speak, declare, glorify.  The Spirit is working among us and within us to achieve Christ alive in us.
  • Common theme: The Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth. 
  • I will challenge myself: To read with the same confident tone the evangelist uses, and with the knowledge that the Spirit has found a generous welcome in the churches through all times and places.  Let it find that welcome in ours, too.

Word to Eucharist: Of course we are all reverent as we approach the Lord's table.  Are we also burning with love and missionary zeal?  Do we see each other as individuals or as a people gifted with tongues of fire?

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