Homily for The Day of Pentecost, Parish of All Saints by the Sea, Diocese of NS and PEI
9 June 2019
Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:25-35, 27b; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, 25-27
Collect of the Day (BAS): Almighty and ever living God, who fulfilled the promises of Easter by sending us your Holy Spirit and opening to every race and nation the way of life eternal, keep us in the unity of your Spirit, that every tongue may tell of your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
O Come, O Holy Spirit, come!
Come as holy fire and burn in us,
Come as holy wind and cleanse us,
Come as holy light and lead us,
Come as holy truth and teach us,
Come as holy forgiveness and free us,
Come as holy love and enfold us,
Come as holy power and enable us,
Come as holy life and dwell in us.
Come, Holy Spirit, and increase in us your gifts of grace
Convict us, convert us,
Consecrate us, until we are wholly yours
And Transform us into the image of Christ. Amen
Today we mark a milestone in the way that we might mark a significant birthday. Today is a most fitting party of sorts. Pentecost has become known as the birth of the Church. The word Pentecost was used by Greek speaking Jews celebrating the giving of the Torat Moshe– the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Pente-cost refers to the number fifty. This is the fiftieth day in the Jewish Festival of Weeks that began with Passover.
Pentecost is also the fiftieth and final day in the Easter Cycle. It was on this Jewish Feast Day that Jesus’ followers experienced the descent of the Holy Spirit in a new way. This new way began the Jesus movement from which God birthed the Church in creation. The experience of the new expression of God’s Holy Spirit creation is like having the Spirit released from its cage. Today we are reminded that God cannot be tamed.
We also celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit in this new way as we celebrate today as a Baptismal Feast Day. This is why we reaffirm our Baptismal promises on the Day of Pentecost. Baptism, like Pentecost, unleashes the Holy Spirit into our lives revealing something new in us by the power of the Spirit.
Gathering as Christ’s Body in worship on days like today is like arriving at the airport for check-in at the start of a “surprise [trip]; [we are] not sure of our destination, but [we are] excited to be [here, nonetheless” (Richard Giles in Times and Seasons, 174).
This surprise trip begins on the last day of the Easter season. It comes with a sense moving forward that the Holy Spirit has now been uncaged and released into our everyday lives. And now, life in the Spirit asks something of us.
But, what is life in the Spirit asking of us?
Life in the Spirit asks us to uncage ourselves, to be free from the things that bogged us down before we found our resurrected lives; this in order to more fully be as God has created us to be – to be the people of God that live in unity with the Holy Spirit. When we set our lives on this course, our lives more fully take on the shape of God.
We are an Easter people because of the resurrection of Jesus. And now, we are Pentecost people because God unleashed God’s Holy Spirit, revealing new insights into who God is and to who God calls us to be.
This now is a gift of grace freely given to us by God that returns us to God over and over and over. God does not seek so much our perfection, but our faithfulness and repeated turning to God. When we are faithful to God, the work of God’s transformation of all of creation is possible. Further, “we are united with each other in so far as we are united with Christ in the Spirit” (Tanner in Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity, 83).
The experience at Pentecost reveals to us that God unleashes God’s self to us in ever-new ways.
This experience contrasts with what we read in today’s first lesson from Genesis about Babel. This story takes place following the Great Flood. Those involved are the families of Noah’s sons. We might understand their fear. After all, God destroyed everything except for the life Noah saved on the ark. I say “Noah saved” because that seems to be how the people now understand it. God destroyed. Noah saved. You see, they’ve forgotten that God saved through Noah’s faithfulness to God. So, as the people now scatter and multiply, they are afraid. Perhaps they will be destroyed again, even though God promised that this would not be so. Remember the rainbow?
So, the people take matters into their own hands. Perhaps if they build a city…wait…even better…a city with a great tower as a “gateway to God”…then they will continue to prosper in unity. This, however, isn’t what God has in mind. So, God causes the human’s “gateway to God” to become confusion. By giving them various languages, God drives them out into the world once more; just as God drove the first humans from Eden.
We might say that the people built Babel in an effort to return to Eden. But, as it turns out, their taking matters into their own hands is a gesture of independence from God rather than the dependence on God – their completeness in God – that God seeks over and over again for us and all of creation. Return again and again to God.
The people’s efforts to put God in a cage, to tame God, only brings about confusion that takes them further away from Eden, not closer to it.
It occurs to me that those of us who live on the sea, perhaps, know this best. We cannot live for too long on the sea unless we learn to respect it, learning lessons about it as best as can be learned in order to arrive at harbour.
How much more so is this when it comes to the Holy Spirit?
God’s revealing of the Holy Spirit in new ways at Pentecost is made possible because of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us as much. “I have said these things to you [I am in the Father and the Father is in me so that] the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Notice that “God does not so much require something of us as want to give something to us” (Tanner, 69). What God intervenes to separate in Genesis, God reverses at Pentecost. What could not be understood before is revealed with new understanding. Now God’s manifestation in the world is complete in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. “[The Holy Spirit] enables us to return the love of God shown in Christ through a life lived in gratitude and service to God’s cause” (Tanner, 14).
May we commit ourselves to live our lives, becoming ever more Christ-like, living in gratitude and service to God’s cause. Let us be so committed as we renew our Baptismal promises this Pentecost.
We celebrate with all of the excitement of being on a surprise trip. The Holy Spirit is our driver. We are not sure where the Spirit might take us, but we are excited to be here. So, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Because, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
I say all of this to you in the name of the Holy Undivided One God: +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.