New Testament: Acts (2:1-22)
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
The Response: Psalm (104:25-35, 37)
25 O Lord, how manifold are your works! *
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
26 Yonder is the great and wide sea with its
living things too many to number, *
creatures both small and great.
27 There move the ships,
and there is that Leviathan, *
which you have made for the sport of it.
28 All of them look to you *
to give them their food in due season.
29 You give it to them; they gather it; *
you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.
30 You hide your face, and they are terrified; *
you take away their breath,
and they die and return to their dust.
31 You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; *
and so you renew the face of the earth.
32 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; *
may the Lord rejoice in all his works.
33 He looks at the earth and it trembles; *
he touches the mountains and they smoke.
34 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; *
I will praise my God while I have my being.
35 May these words of mine please him; *
I will rejoice in the Lord.
37 Bless the Lord, O my soul. *
The Epistle: 1 Corinthians (12:3b-13)
No one can say “Jesus is Lord!” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
The Gospel: John (7:37-39)
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Pentecost, or Shavuot, is an ancient Jewish feast, celebrating God’s gift of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. According to the book of Exodus (19:16-25), that gift was accompanied by a powerful sound and by fire. The Torah was a blessing that gave life to God’s people.
Pentecost is also a great Christian feast, celebrating God’s gift of God’s Spirit. According to our reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-4), that gift, too, was accompanied by a powerful sound and by fire. The Spirit, too, was a blessing that gave life to God’s people.
We all know what Pentecost is about. It is about the Spirit or Breath of God coming into and transforming the world. Or is it?
According to St. Luke’s two-volume work that we call the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, the Spirit could not have been coming into the world as a completely new presence. The Spirit was already present and active in the world long before the events described in today’s first reading took place. In Luke’s version of the Good News, it is the Spirit of God that directs and empowers everything that Jesus does during his life and ministry. But even before that, Jesus is conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (1:35). And even before that, the angel Gabriel (1:15) informs Zechariah that “even before [John the Baptist’s] birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit was present and active in the world before Jesus had ever come into the world.
But in Luke’s way of thinking, the Spirit of God is not just a New Testament phenomenon either. In many ways, Luke describes Jesus’s life and ministry in terms derived from the descriptions of the Old Testament prophets’ lives and ministries: those who, many centuries before, were inspired by and empowered by the Spirit of God.
Clearly, in Luke’s way of thinking, the Spirit of God did not come into the world on the first Christian Pentecost, as if the Spirit had not been present and active there all along. So what difference did the event described in today’s first reading make?
The focus in Luke’s Pentecost narrative is actually not on the Spirit of God itself, but on the effect that the Spirit of God had on Jesus’ followers. The Spirit, who had been present and active in their lives and in the life of world all along, was now present in them in a new way, enabling them to live and to act in a new way, making them bold proclaimers of the gospel and bold co-workers with God in transforming the world. Maybe what God did in those disciples’ lives, beginning with the Pentecost event, is to enable them to recognize the power and the life of God’s Spirit that was already present in them, to unlock the potential that they never knew they had.
That process of discovering the potential that we have within ourselves, but did not know we have, is something that we all experience in different ways in our lives. A young woman, for example, might already have a working knowledge of a foreign language; but it is only when she dares to use it in speaking with a native speaker of that language that she realizes that she knows more than she thought she did. Who knew?
A young man might have a talent for acting or for singing; but it is only when he dares to use it in a school play or in a choral group that he realizes that he has had that ability all along. Who knew?
Or a group of Galilean fishermen might have within themselves the life and power of God’s Spirit that can enable them to proclaim, both to individuals and to great crowds, God’s gift of the fullness of life — to go out, not only to fellow Jews, but to the Jews’ ancient enemies, the Samaritans, and to non-Jews of many nations and cultures as well, and to transform many people’s lives and, ultimately, to change the world. Who knew?
As I mentioned, Luke’s focus in his Pentecost story is not on the Spirit of God itself, but on the effect that it had in the lives of Jesus’ followers. It enabled them to recognize the Spirit that was living and active within them, and to go out and do the work of God in the power of that Spirit.
Maybe that is what Pentecost is intended to be for us as well. Maybe this day is not just an occasion to remember and celebrate what God did two millennia ago for a group of timid and often frightened men and women, enabling them to recognize and act on God’s Spirit that had already been present with them all along. Maybe it can be an occasion for us to recognize that that same Spirit has already been present in us and in our lives all along, and that that same Spirit will empower us for ministry, if only we are willing to trust God enough to go out and do what God calls us and sends us to do.
The Spirit of God, whose life and power we celebrate today, is not a sort of foreign force that we need to come into a world where it has not already been. Rather, the Spirit of God, whose life and power we celebrate today, is the living and empowering presence of God that is already present in the world and in us, as a people and as individuals, as well.
Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century Benedictine abbess and mystic and writer and composer, captures that essence, that universal presence and life of the Spirit of God in one of her visions. Writing in the Spirit’s name, she declares: “I am that living and fiery essence of the divine substance that flows in the beauty of the fields. I shine in the water; I burn in the sun and the moon and the stars. The mysterious force of the invisible world is mine. I sustain the breath of all living beings. I breathe in the grass and in the flowers; and when the waters flow like living things, it is I… I am the force that lies hidden in the winds; they take their source from me, as a man may move because he breathes; fire burns by my blast. All these live because I am in them and am their life. I am Wisdom. The blaring thunder of the Word by which all things were made is mine. I permeate all things that they may not die. I am life.”