Day of Pentecost: The Epistle Passage – The Meaning of the Day

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.” (Acts 2:1- 4)

I want you to note, beloved reader, there are two aspects of the Spirit happening here – first that each of the disciples receives the Spirit of the Lord, and that they started to talk in different languages. As Paul asserts in his epistles, speaking of tongues is not a test of whether or not you have the Spirit of the Lord. And most times such speaking is for a specific purpose and not just as a “merit badge” for the Spirit of the Lord.

“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.” (Verses 5 – 11)

Two things I take from these verses; first that Jews from all over the known world were gathered in Jerusalem. This was probably one of the only handful of times that so many devout Jews would be in one concentrated area. This was a jump start to making disciples all over the known world. What better way to get their attention then to have local people suddenly start speaking in the native tongue of these Jews. Second, the sound of this must have been more deafening than we could imagine for it to have spilled out into the streets and draw the attention of a large crowd. I am not quite sure what the audio dynamics of that would have been. In any case . . .

“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” (Verses 12 – 13)

When the Spirit of the Lord comes and intervenes in usual life, there will invariably be those who seek and find reasons to explain it away. And as humanity becomes more aware of the natural world and the ways science can explain it, the easier it is to find a non-Spiritual reason and rationale for such events. Maybe that is way miracles seem to happen less often; I don’t think miracles happen any less. What I do think is that we find ways to understand the underpinnings of the events; or, we are more accepting of Divine intervention and events that we do not observe astonished and aghast. I would like to think that we are more accepting and accommodating of the Spirit of the Lord intervening in our lives. That we accept that daily walks with the Lord will be accompanied by the Lord acting in our lives.

“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.” (Verses 14 – 18)

A lot has been made about the phrase “in the last days” and a lot of assumptions have been been made about the “last days” before or of what. In fact, it seems pretty opinion interpretation. Each person who tries to explain or interpret it, does it within his/her own time period which might negate the explanation of the person before them. Let me parse that out for you, giving you some hypothetical explains.

The prophet Joel might have meant when the Lord restores the fortunes of the people of Israel. (Joel 2:28) Peter might have meant the last days or the days just following the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth; he might have meant the last days before the Christ returns. More modern commentators might have meant when the Spirit of the Lord has dominion over the earth and the peace of the Lord is known, but not necessarily the return of the Lord. Some more “fiery” ones might mean the last days before the Day of Judgment.You see, each person interprets it to be compatible to the time they are living in. So when you, beloved reader, hear of prophesies that spell out when the last days are to come, remember each previous person who made such a prediction was incorrect.

“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.” (Verses 19 – 20)

I wrote, beloved reader, my cautionary before we came to to more calamitous verses so that you would not take them as signs to be on the look out for. In Peter’s time such things would have had not explanation. They were mysterious and frightening. We, with our science and understanding, know what events these are and realize it is most probably nature and not the return of the Divine.

“Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “ (Verse 21)

THIS is the important part of Peter’s message – that when in the midst of problems or situations that seem terrifying or “end of days”-ish, call on the Lord! Whether it is one of a string of problems or the first of its kind – call on the Lord! The overwhelming message and meaning of Pentecost is that the Spirit of the Lord dwells with us and in us, in ways that are mystifying and wondrous. That in times of trouble, when it seems like nothing is natural or understandable; or in times of calm, when our days spread out before us – call on the Lord to be with you. And that the Lord God will do many things to get our attention, specific to ourselves and our life situations.

The celebration of the Day of Pentecost comes but once a year; the Lord, however, is with us all ways. Look for the Divine tongues of the Lord’s fire in your life. Heed them! Call upon the Lord and let the Divine rest upon your life. Selah!

Day of Pentecost: The Psalm Passage – Getting instructions and directions

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.
There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” (Psalms 104: 24 – 28)

Some years back I wrote a reflection on Jonah and the whale – specifically when Jonah was spit up on the sand and the Lord asked him again to go to Nineveh. I remembered it so strongly that I went back and re-wrote it again, specific to my current situation. Look for it on my other blog, Pondering from the Pacific . The leviathan part always reminds me of whales. And that reminds me of Jonah, and Jonah reminds me of . . .

“When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.” (Verses 29 – 30)

But I am guessing that the Revised Common Lectionary is focused on the “send forth your spirit” part as it pertains to Pentecost. And yes, that was a great time of celebration. But in order to get to the coming of the Spirit part, the disciples/apostles needed to get through the Jesus dying part and then Jesus departing part. Those were hard times, I am sure. I am equally sure that getting to the other side of those experiences made the coming of the Spirit even sweeter. Then they knew what they should be doing, and how to do it. And were empowered and equipped for their calling. My hope and prayer, beloved reader, is that we might all be so prepared and quipped. Selah!

“May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works — who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.
Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD! “ (Verses 30 – 34, 35b)


Day of Pentecost: The Gospel Passages – Before and After

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.'” ( John 7:37 – 38)

It almost seems like, read out of context, Jesus just randomly burst out with this comment. But actually chapter seven in John concerns Jesus going to the Feast of the Tabernacle and preaching there. His listeners and the Jews/scribes there were voicing their perspective and commentary on who Jesus was. It is not, actually, a random outburst but an outburst that continues in the vein that Jesus was speaking coming very close to revealing completely who he was. But it was not quite time yet for the complete revelation – according to the writer of the gospel of John.

“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. (Verse 39)

As I have said on several occasions, the writer of the gospel of John has a purpose and reason for writing his gospel – the establishing of Jesus’ Divinity. The gospel he wrote based on the life of Jesus is a slow building toward that purpose. Because of the gospel writer’s purpose, he does not use all of the events of Jesus’ life and puts them in a certain context and perspective. It was only when Jesus had been glorified – that is, his Divinity on full display – that the coming and bestowing of the Spirit would come.

“When it was evening on that day [that is, the evening of the day Jesus was resurrected], 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.” (John 20:19)

That appearance, in itself, shows that Jesus was now beyond the physical form and ability of being just human – it is time.

“After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (Verses 20)

But he is the same teacher and rabbi they had known before. But different.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (Verse 21)

Now is the time. All that was to be accomplished has been, except for one thing.

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Verse 22 – 23)

The writer of the gospel of John does not give the same sort of bestowing of the Spirit as other gospel writers. When we are talking about what the fuller celebration of the Pentecost is, we think about the time in the upper room, after Jesus had been taken up into heaven, when tongues of flames came upon the disciples. And when they spoke in tongues, and Peter preached. We will also look at that passage later in the week; it is in the book of Acts, and attributed to the writer of the gospel of Luke.

So I have to wonder, when did the Spirit come upon them? And how? In gradual stages? Or are we reading only one person’s interpretation? When I checked, none of the other gospels note a specific time that Jesus bestowed the Spirit on them. So I have to wonder if this was the “big” bestowal. Because later in chapter twenty Jesus comes again, when Thomas is there. And I don’t think Jesus would have meant Thomas to miss out on the bestowing of the Spirit.

But my wondering does not make me doubt; the coming of the Spirit does not have to be the same for all people and at all times. And that the Holy Spirit was/is an aspect of the Divine means that it can come in many ways and at many times. Whose to say which disciple felt it for the first time in what way. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in the most dramatic way on the Day of Pentecost. And we take the account in Acts as the “official” account. But all we can really be sure of is that there is a “before” and “after” in the coming of the Spirit. May you, beloved reader, dwell forever in the after. Selah!

 

Pentecost Sunday; The Old Testament Passage – Pentecost is coming!

It will be a busy week – the Spirit is coming! But that is really not anything new. The Spirit of God has always been accessible; just not in as apparent a way in the Old Testament as it is in the New. Or, maybe it is just that people after Jesus’ ministry on earth craved the type of intimate relationship that they had with Jesus, and that Jesus exemplified between himself and the Lord God.

So 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. Then 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.” (Numbers 11:24 – 25)

Just as Jesus said to Nicodemus, the Spirit blows where it will, and we have a hard time seeing it. But we can feel it and know it. And welcome it.

“Two 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. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” (Verses 26 – 28)

I am not sure what Joshua son of Nun was so concerned about. Was it fear? Was it unfamiliarity with the ways of the Spirit? Or was it as Moses suggested, that he felt prophesy was only the purview of Moses?

“But 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!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.” (Verses 29 – 30)

I have to think about what Moses said and agree. Would it not be wonderful if all people everywhere had the Lord’s Spirit in them. It would make life on earth like heaven. And that, I am afraid, is the exact point. We live in a fallen and fallible world. Many say they are guided by the Lord and the Lord’s Spirit. But there are also people like Joshua son of Nun who want to contain and quantify/qualify the gifting and blessing of the Spirit. The Spirit is not under control of any person but is part of the Divine. And even if we, as devote followers of the Lord God Jesus Christ, would love to be imbued with the Spirit it does not happen that way. Of course, we need to be and remain open to the indwelling of the Spirit.

As I said and to better explain, the day that celebrates the first Pentecost is coming. Let us yearn for that experience for ourselves! Selah!

Day of Pentecost: The substituted Old Testament Passage – Speaking the language of faith and belief

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”

Where two or three, or more, are gathered wondrous things can happen!

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.”

When I was growing up, and growing up in faith, speaking in tongues was not something that usually happened to a person. It was seen as a “special” sort of gift, and one that was commended by others. It was a sign of devotion and strong, deep faith in God. It was in a word, cool! If you did not have that gift, that was okay because it was a rare gift and blessing from God. If you did have it though . . . wow! . . . . cool!

Now, I am not so sure it gives a person a “leg up on faith” or any particular enlightenment of faith that is not available to others. And especially when I are reading now this passage, it was done for a purpose set in motion by the Spirit and not because of any particular attribute or accolade for the disciples.

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?”

What did it mean? It meant that at this opportune time the Spirit used the disciples to jump start the ministry they were called to. It also jump started doubt and disbelief in the purposed and tenets of Christianity because . . .

But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter, the disciple who was most likely to trip and make a misstep in his faith was suddenly imbued with leadership, ability, and the calling of preaching.

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.” (Acts 2:1-17)

I am not sure what the “last days” part means, but it seems to us who follow in this faith that it was the beginning or first days of the spreading of Christianity. The Spirit uses us and whatever circumstances that seems best to spread faith. If we let ourselves be used, and allow the Spirit to make good use of the talents that we have and are given, then the spreading of faith will continue on from generation to generation. The celebration and remembrance of Pentecost is not just about what happened back then, but the hope, promise, and foretaste of what might yet come. The prophesying, seeing of visions and dreaming dreams is not done . . . far from being over! But it is up to us to be open to it, to gather together in faith, and to carry out the plans that the Spirit sets before us. May you beloved reader keep yourself open to the Spirit and to speak what the Spirit gives you to speak. Selah!

Day of Pentecost: The Epistles Passage – “Children” are “messy”

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14-17)

“[T]hat very Spirit” – that is the Spirit that came down at Pentecost. How quickly it used in scripture! The writer of Romans came to faith soon after the death and resurrection of Christ. How quickly the Spirit became a part of the Christian confession of faith. It was not by human means that this happened, although the writer of Romans adding it into his letter probably helped in spread across the known world at that time. And it spread to us, beloved reader. It is part of our confession of faith. How good is it also that this year’s lectionary theme if confession, penance, and forgiveness. And how well that suits this passage for today! Everything tied up so tidily!

But faith is not tidy, beloved reader. It is messy; we slip and slide in our beliefs, using them at times to divide us instead of uniting us. Messy because Christians have been hounded and persecuted for their faith. Messy because we walk away from our faith, or consign it to only a small portion of our lives instead of letting rule everything. And messy too because the Spirit convicts us of our sins, and pleads with us to return to faith.

The Spirit came down at Pentecost, not to tidy up the loose ends but to start and establish a faith that can all things, endure all things, accomplish all things, and forgive all things. And let us not forget that there was faith before the coming of Jesus, the Christ, resurrection, and Pentecost. So perhaps I misspoke when I said “start and establish”; more accurately it was to jump start and spread faith. Lead it, and the believers, into new and renewed faith. Remind us of what had been and what can come – for good and for bad.

May this Pentecost season see your faith confirmed and encouraged to grow! Selah!

Day of Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – If Jesus leaves, the Spirit will come

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” (John 14:8 – 11)

Growing up a vital part of my faith was the concept of a Triune God – Jesus, the Lord, and the Holy Spirit individual yet as one. It is something I never questioned, and do not question now. I never had to have the proof of it given to me; it was part of my bone and marrow of faith. However, as vital as this is, it is not the focus of the portion of scripture today.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (Verses 12 – 14)

Also a strong part of my faith is that Jesus did not mean “anything” without any limits. Jesus/God is not going to give you the wealth of another person – just as an example. Of course the caveat and protection is asking it in Jesus’ name. Jesus will not be taken advantage, and Jesus’ name protects itself from greed and sin. However, neither is this the focus of the portion of scripture today.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (Verses 15 – 17)

This is the focus of today, and for this week – the coming of the Spirit. As I said my faith tells me that God the Creator and sender of Jesus, Jesus Christ who was and is the living example for us, and the Holy Spirit who holds and contains all the counsel that is from God and Jesus Christ – are part of the same Divine. In fact, if I would give the term “the Divine” a definition it would be the Triune God, encompassing all the faiths that hold God as its center. God came to the Hebrews as the “breath” that is God; Jesus came to the Jews as the Son of God; and the Spirit came to the world after Jesus returned to Heaven. Never, NEVER, was the world without God. If we can see and understand, we can know God in our world and in our hearts. Each Day of Pentecost we celebrate that God’s presence has always been in the world, and God in ever increasing ways binds the world to the God-self. Selah!