Day of Pentecost
Psalm 139:1-12 (13-16)
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land: and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken it and performed it, saith Jehovah.
I know people who can quote scripture at the drop I am pretty familiar with the Bible, but I have to admit that I can't quote the 'addresses' of most texts without looking it up. I know the biggies and my favorites, and I can usually turn to the right book if I'm looking for something specific. I make use of concordances and I have been so thankful for websites like Bible Gateway that helps me find the passages I need. I'm impressed by those who have that kind of memory, but it is definitely not my gift.
I laughed yesterday when I read the 'addresses' for this week's lectionary. I did not even have to look up Ezekiel 37 to begin singing the old song, "Dem Bones." I don't know whether it has to do with the fact that this Sunday is Pentecost, the day when God gave the Holy Spirit and new life to the disciples.
The lesson from Ezekiel is about Godís promise of restoration. In this strange but powerful story, God told the prophet to speak to the dry bones, to speak life into the bones, to speak God's Spirit into the bones. Ezekiel's message was one of hope. The people thought they had nothing left. Even the Temple where the God of their fathers dwelled for generations, was in shambles. They were looking for hope in Babylon, turning to the ways of the other gods. God sent Ezekiel to prophesy to the people, to give them hope. They would be restored to Jerusalem, the Temple would be rebuilt and they would live once again as His people. There would be life in the nation of Israel.
This Old Testament lesson is a miraculous witness to the work God can do in this world. He gave the prophet Ezekiel the words to speak so that the dead were raised to new life. While I doubt that this will literally happen in our seeing, this is what God does every day with His Word. He speaks His word into our lives and brings to life those who are dead in their sin. He puts His Spirit into their hearts so that they will have faith and hope in Godís promises. God promised to bring new life to His people. Jesus promised that the new life would only come if He left, but He promised to send an Advocate.
I can't imagine what it was like to be one of those disciples. They had lived with Jesus for three years. They saw Him die and they saw Him raised again. They lived with Him for forty days as He reminded them of everything He had taught and showed them in that time. No matter how many times He warned them that He had to leave, I suspect they hoped that He would stay with them forever. Yet, the day came when He ascended to heaven. The disciples were told to wait for the Helper.
The disciples were left alone on the day Jesus ascended to heaven. I wonder if they started to lose hope. After all, Jesus was gone and the promise had not yet come! They hadn't written down everything Jesus said and His words were becoming more distant, His voice harder to remember. They saw the feast of Pentecost celebrations that filled the city around them. Did they wonder if they could ever enjoy the feasts again? They may have even thought about abandoning the cause, joining in the feast around them, returning to their old ways.
In today's Gospel lesson John writes that Jesus promised to send the Spirit that would be their Helper. They had hope, even when there seemed to be no hope, because they trusted the promise of Jesus. The Holy Spirit would testify to the things that Jesus said, remind them of the things He taught, give them courage and the words to share everything with the world. The Holy Spirit would give them the power over life and death.
The Spirit testifies that sin is not disobedience to the Law, but rather that sinners are those who do not believe in Christ. The Spirit testifies that Jesus has gone to the Father and in being received at the right hand of God He is proven to have been righteous. The ascension is the vindication of Jesus and the Holy Spirit is the proof that Jesus did not lie when He said He would be going to the Father because He sent the One He promised. The Holy Spirit testifies to the end of evil. Jesus overcame sin, death and the grave. The ruler of this world no longer has power over God's people. The Spirit testifies to God's faithfulness.
God said, ďI have spoken and I will act.Ē This is the promise of Pentecost, a realization of the promise given in the story from Ezekiel. When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, they took the Hebrews into exile. Godís people were far from home a long time, living amongst people who seemed to have much more powerful gods than the God which they worshiped. They felt abandoned. After all, if God were almighty, would He have allowed strangers to devastate His people? They did not see the destruction and exile as a way by which God was turning them back to Him. They lost hope and they assimilated into the culture of the world around them. In essence they died, and they were left like dry bones in the desert. For the children that were born in exile, Jerusalem was not even a distant memory. They only knew the world in which they lived. During the exile, God's people forgot who they were. But God would not let them go.
The ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost were like a time of exile. The disciples did not yet have what they needed to continue the work of Jesus in the world, but they could no longer return to world. They had to be patient. They had to believe the promise that Jesus made to them when He was praying the night before His crucifixion. Their patience was rewarded when God sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, calling them to new life and sending them into the world to speak to the dry bones.
That's what we do. We speak God's Word into lifeless bodies. Of course, they have life. They are living, breathing human beings, but without God's grace they are dead in a dark world. They need to hear the Gospel so that the breath of True Life, the Holy Spirit, will transform them into new creatures of faith that believe in the promises of God through Jesus Christ.
The disciples who received the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost, were the first fruits of Christ's message and work. Jesus told them that He did not tell them everything because He was with them. But He promised that when the time was right, the Advocate would come and tell them everything. They could not have the whole message of Jesus when He was in their presence. Some of the things they learned from the Spirit were too hard for them to receive on their own. However, Jesus' ascension to heaven made it possible for the Spirit to come and dwell in their hearts. If Jesus stayed, the Advocate could not come. The faith could not spread beyond the small group of people who could follow Jesus Christ in flesh. With the Spirit, the message could, and would, be taken to the four corners of the world.
That's why Jesus told the disciples, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you." We need the Holy Spirit to be Christians; we need God's Helper to be disciples.
Pentecost is not really a very popular church holy day in this modern age. Look at the numbers: far more people attend church on Christmas and Easter. Even Mother's Day fills the pews. Many churches will plan special events for this Sunday. One year we filled the sanctuary with red balloons. Some congregations find people who speak different languages to read the texts for the day. Some congregations use that day to celebrate the Affirmation of Baptism for those who finished confirmation classes. The children might have a birthday cake to celebrate "the birthday of the Church." But Pentecost will not fill the pews. Some might not even realize it is a special day.
Part of the problem is the time of year. The date of Pentecost changes every year, so it is either in the spring or early summer. People are dealing with the end of school, the beginning of vacation time. Sports take up time on Sunday mornings. The weather is just too nice to sit in church, so families are off hiking in the park or building sand castles at the beach for the weekend. This year we are dealing with Memorial Day and a long weekend, so many people will be traveling.
That is not the only reason why people don't flock to church for Pentecost. Faith is personal for many people. It is about the relationship between Christ and the individual. Christ is a friend. He dwells in the heart. It is about God and I, or perhaps more to the point about me and God. Yet, as we've heard for the last few weeks, faith is not just about the individual. While faith is a personal gift, and our Christian journey is about our relationship with God, it is also about more. It is about the whole Church, the community of God's kingdom, the body of Christ.
Ask many Christians about their faith and they will be able to tell you the date, time and circumstances of their conversion. Ask the same Christians about the birthday of the Church and they will probably not know very much about Pentecost. Surely they know the story from Acts, but it would be difficult for them to identify the day on which we celebrate this important event.
Yet, the message for this day is not about the individual. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus promises His followers that there would be someone, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, sent to the believers to testify on His behalf. Then the believers are to testify also, to take the message to the world. The Holy Spirit was not going to be sent for judgment or deliverance, but so that those who experience and witness the mighty works of God will know Christ. In other words, Pentecost was the beginning of an eternal revelation of Christ.
The Church would not exist without Pentecost, and though it is true Christmas and Easter are vital also to our faith because they are about Jesus, we should not forget the importance of the day when God truly made us one with Him, filling us with Himself and giving us everything we need to continue His work in the world. The gifts we have, whether it is to quote book-chapter-verse of the scriptures or simply know what to say when it needs to be said, come to us from God through the power of that same Holy Spirit that gave the disciples the words to speak on that first Pentecost. He continues to give us the power, boldness, courage, strength, talents and words to speak the Gospel to those who are nothing but dry bones. God uses us to rattle those bones so that the dead will be raised into new life.
God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows the depths of our hearts and the number of hairs on our heads. He knows what we need and the best way for us to go. He searches every aspect of our lives to know us completely and perfectly. We are not able to know God that deeply, but He reveals Himself to us daily so that we might come to a deeper and fuller relationship with Him. He knows what we need even before we need it. He knew, even as He began His great work of redemption through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that we would not be able to go it on our own and so He made us one with Him through faith. He is never far away, and though we will never know God as intimately as He knows us, each day of discipleship brings us deeper into His grace and love.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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