Lectionary Scriptures and Comments

Archive for June 12, 2011

Pentecost Now! and what to do with it. 061211

A typical Western image of the Pentecost. Ducc...

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Su12   Day of Pentecost

Numbers 11:24-30

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

Acts 2:1-21

John 20:19-23

John 7:37-39



Numbers 11:24-30

24So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. 26Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” 30And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

24O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

25Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

26There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

28when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

29When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

30When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

31May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—

32who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.

33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

34May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.

35Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to 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. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12For 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. 13For 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.

Acts 2:1-21

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14But 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. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o”clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘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. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

John 20:19-23

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 7:37-39

37On 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, 38and 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.’” 39Now 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.

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the 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.

Pentecost Now! and what to do with it. 061211


With today’s sermon title I am playing around a little with the movie title Apocolypse Now! in which an innocent and green young soldier, as played by Charlie Sheen is engaged in the most horrific life and combat as a soldier in Vet Nam. Oh how things have changed. Now we have Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya and maybe Syria for our wars, and Charlie Sheen is like a Viet Nam vet that never came home.


But playing with the title as Pentecost now, I’m expressing that Pentecost, like the Apocalypse is something we may never the exact time and date of.


In the case of Apocalypse, we almost always have someone predicting when it will occur, and what will happen, even though Jesus says clearly that no one will know the exact time of apocalypse. Pentecost raises some similar questions. We may not understand precisely what it means and when it occurred or when will it occur.


First, what is Pentecost. Acts 2:1-21 describes it in a scene with which most of us are familiar in one way or another. Tongues of a flame from a fire that fills the room, then reaches around the room with an individual tongue of fire reaching each individual in the room, which enables each to speak in foreign tongues as if a native. Graphically, visually this is similar to a scene from an Indiana Jones movie, but here the tongues of fire are the Holy Spirit as it touches each individual. There were 120 disciples in the room, including 11 apostles, Mary, the mother of Jesus and other female and male co-workers.

Pentecost refers to the number 50. It has been 50 days since the execution and resurrection of Jesus—10 days of Passover, then 40 days more.

Note the following points—the Holy Spirit touches each individual that was there in the Upper Room. The Holy Spirit does not touch them all collectively—it clearly touches every individual. This is a revolutionary idea for that time, and ours. It is God reaching out to every individual, not to a family, tribe, social class or group. It is an individual being touched by the tongue of fire—the Holy Spirit.

Also, note that the Holy Spirit comes in response to their prayers while they all are engaged in prayer. They elect the apostle Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot and they wait—all while praying. Praying takes place during activity, not in complete stillness and quietude—like we tend to think it must. So we can pray while working or singing or reading perhaps…etc.

An idea that sort of haunts me is why does God need to have a Holy Spirit. Why can’t God just send his spirit to touch us? He is GOD after all, and can do this however he please…why do we need to be confused by this Holy Trinity stuff—why can’t we, why don’t we just say that God took the shape of Jesus, God or the Holy Spirit as needs be—like God also could be a flower or a butterfly or maggots on dead flesh.

This very question has been a troublesome for centuries of Christians, who have argues, disagreed and killed one another over various interpretations of this idea. For Jesus to proclaim that he was God would offend almost all Jews—instead he proclaimed himself to be the Messiah or to be sent by God or to be the son of God. Any of this was enough to cause condemnation, and claiming he was God incarnate directly was clearly insane, so Jesus had to step back a little, and claim he was the son of God, and not God. This son of God idea may have come first from the Caesars who claimed they were sons of the Gods, and born of virgin mothers, etc before Jesus’ time. So for Jesus to challenge the Roman Empire he also must be a son of God, at least equal to a Caesar.

Since Jesus was already ascended to heaven, on Ascension Day, the Holy Spirit might be a way to explain Jesus’ presence, when he already had left us. For Jewish culture of the first century the idea of a disembodied spirit was not easy to understand. The Jewish culture didn’t really see a separate mind, body and spirit—instead, the culture embodies all three as the individual and never conceived of a possible spirit one could disembody and send anywhere, so in Jewish thinking of the time a ‘spirit’ was not conceivable or imagined. So, for Jesus’ spirit to be with us, the Holy Spirit fills the bill perfectly. It is a spirit of God, not a ghost from Jesus, and remains here with us, like the absent Jesus.

Christians later evolved to believe in a separate spirit and a promise that Jesus is still here with us, so the Holy Spirit has less position it seems, compared to a relationship with Jesus directly.

Then, we have the question of when did Pentecost occur. Acts says it occurred 50 days after Jesus’ death, but John has it occur at Easter, directly after the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus ‘commissions’ Mary Magdalene first on Easter morning outside his tomb, then later the same day when Jesus appears to a group of followers and leave ‘his peace with them’.  So, John’s version does not occur on the day 50 days after Easter at all, but on Easter morning. Have you noticed that all the major Christian occurrences happen to occur exactly always on Jewish holidays? It makes the actual date of all Christian holidays suspect—Christmas is not on a credible date—perhaps Easter and Pentecost are also suspect dates.

But what happened at Pentecost? The events described in Acts and John are different also, and not just on different dates.  We have to look for a similarity beyond the narrative alone, or the date alone.

In both Pentecost descriptions the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon disciples and believers. But this is not simply a gift bestowed upon disciples, believers, upon us!

If we think about, it is clear we all are trusting Jesus a tremendous amount. We are trusting that we should live our lives in relationship to him and to God. We are trusting that what he says is true and we are trusting that there is a new way to live our lives in relationship with God that changes each one of us and changes the world to come.

But I don’t think Pentecost is just about us receiving a wonderful, exciting, amazing thing called the Holy Spirit that fills us with the very spirit of Jesus, and is from God.

Instead, Pentecost is God and Jesus bestowing their trust upon us. It is God trusting us—it is Jesus trusting us—to do the work of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

In this way, Pentecost is the beginning of our lives as Christian disciples, and also it is the beginning of the church, for in Pentecost, the church—the community of Christ begins.

In a parallel, the Holy Spirit comes to us after we have trusted God and Jesus, and we are the one who is trusted with a gift, a gift to be used in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Exactly what is your gift I do not know, and it is probably an ongoing process rather than a set event or objective—one’s gift is always in process with our God—a God of great creativity and process.

Paul talks about these gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13. The problem being discussed was how the gifts of a diverse group were to be used, but not exalted. People vied for power, prestige and position, and Paul levels the playing field to an egalitarian organization with no position or gift more important than any other. In Mennonite churches, this is interpreted that the minister or pastor has no title and often no salary, and deals primarily with spiritual matters and Bible scholarship only. The elders manage the life of the church, the trustees manage the business affairs, and so forth. There is no clear leader.


And you and I, we are not bound by any pattern. We should consider and pray about what role we can play in our church, and what roles we need performed here. Each of us should discern with God how best we can assist in our church, and all of us should do something, depending on how much time and energy each of us has. I suggest we begin discussing this and praying about in the weeks to come.

There is a concept called ‘mutual causality’, traceable at least back to a book by Joanna Macy entitled ‘Mutual Causality in GST and Buddhism’. Mutual Casuality is also applicable to the Holy Spirit, God, Jesus and us, both individually and as a church. The reality and glory of the Holy Spirit arises in us as we arise in the Holy Spirit. We arise together so to speak, and are both cause and effect for each other. There is no church without God trusting us to do church, and there is no Holy Spirit without a church expecting and believing in God and the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion, the ultimate question is whether you and I and this church have been reached by the Holy Spirit? Do we trust in God daily and hourly? Do we pray without ceasing? Do we see our own lives and the life of this as doing something very important (but also simple and humble) in the Kingdom of God? What is the Holy Spirit leading you to, and what is the Holy Spirit asking of this church?







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