May 20, 2018

Pentecost Year B

Remember a few weeks ago one of our readings was about the Ethiopian Eunuch who was travelling home after the Feast of Passover in Jerusalem and he didn’t understand what he was reading from Isaiah’s prophecy about the suffering servant. Philip the Deacon shows up and explains how Jesus is the fulfillment of that prophesy. Today’s reading from Acts continues that story with people from many nations hearing the good news of Jesus in their own language after the Holy Spirit had been given to the disciples.

There is so much going on in the Feast of Pentecost, it’s easy to miss the many layers of meaning here. In fact, there are more layers to this story than there were in the royal wedding cake yesterday.

Where should we start? Well, maybe Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel. Although that reading is for another year in the lectionary cycle, it is still something that had to have been on the minds of the Jews and Godfearers who came from different parts of the Middle Eastern world and spoke different languages, when they heard the story of Jesus in their native tongue. The cacophony of voices all saying the same thing in different tongues, communicating truth in diversity of language, like a symphony played by a multitude of different instruments. No longer were the people confused and unable to communicate, but now there was one unifying message in multiple voices. This is a reversal of the Tower of Babel story. God confused the language of the people so they couldn’t understand each other and unite to conquer heaven. A reversal to our story in Acts where people spoke in various languages so that people could understand the good news about Jesus and enter into the reign of God.

Another layer to this story of Pentecost concerns the giving of the law at Sinai, the ten commandments and the rest of the Torah, the law. A good Jew was supposed to study the law day and night and have the law memorized in large sections of scripture. Pentecost was the Jewish festival that commemorated the giving of the law to Moses by God. However, the vision of Jeremiah was that the law would no longer be written on tablets of stone but on the hearts of God’s people. With the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Jesus has promised his disciples that the Spirit would lead them into all truth. Jeremiah’s vision has been fulfilled!

The Levitical law of Jubilee prescribed that every seven years the land would lay fallow to give it a Sabbath rest and in the seventh cycle of seven years, the fiftieth year, all land would be returned to it’s original tribal heritage and all debts cancelled. At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Luke chapter 4 Jesus proclaims :

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Or more properly, the year of Jubilee. That same Spirit that was on Jesus was now being released on all humanity that everyone might receive that same promise.

Pentecost was also a harvest festival where the people gave thanks for their crops and the fruits of their labor with grain offerings. Again the law required that the fields were to be left un-harvested at the edges by God’s command so that the poor and the destitute and the immigrant would be provided for – even Jesus and his disciples took advantage of gleaning the fields on the Sabbath and were chastised for it. This new community of Jesus we find in Acts chapter 4, who had been empowered at Pentecost to share the good news, had all things in common so that no one was in need. A community where everyone shared what they had and provided for each other like they were family. All because of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.

The same Spirit that sealed us at our Baptism unites us as one to be the Body of Christ for the world, unifying us in spite of our differences, empowering us to be witnesses to God’s good news in Jesus, that as bad as things look sometimes, the Spirit is working in us to bring about God’s reign of justice and peace; so when people don’t have enough, the Spirit inspires us to provide for those who are in need; and with our world continuing to change we need the Spirit more than ever to lead us into all truth, a truth that transcends our boundaries and creates a new community of love and forgiveness. So Come Holy Spirit, Come!

I’d like to close with a poem from Mark Davis, written in the idiom of “Twas the night before Christmas.”