Engaging the Word: Readings for 5/24/15 (The Day of Pentecost)

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By Barbara Klugh

 Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.

Pentecost, by Jean II Restout (1692 - 1768). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Pentecost, by Jean II Restout (1692 – 1768). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

This Sunday we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, which always falls fifty days after Easter and marks the end of the Easter season. At Pentecost, we celebrate the presence and power of the Holy Spirit as it descends upon the disciples. It’s one of the four days during the church year that the Prayer Book especially recommends for Holy Baptism and we’ll have five Baptisms at the 10 am service. Each one of our new Christians will be “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” Amen.

Acts 2:1-21: We read this passage from Acts every year at Pentecost. Pentecost, also known as the Feast of Weeks, was one of the three annual festivals celebrated at the Temple in Jerusalem. Jews had come from Jewish communities all over the Roman Empire and the streets were full of voices speaking many languages.

Descent of the Holy Spirit, by Louis Comfort Tiffany (c.1892). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Descent of the Holy Spirit, by Louis Comfort Tiffany (c.1892). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

This week’s reading tells the dramatic story of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Before he ascended, Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem, and he promised that they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the day when the Spirit came upon every follower of Jesus as the permanent guiding authority in Christian lives—although at this stage in Acts, the gospel is being proclaimed only to Jews.

A rushing wind (in both Hebrew and Greek the words for wind and spirit are the same) and tongues of fire filled the people with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in other languages. Moreover, the people heard in their own native language. The miracle of the tongues on Pentecost overturns the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel.

But some sneered at this wondrous happening, and Peter addressed the crowd to explain the meaning of what happened—that this event was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy—“Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Psalm 104:25-35, 37: Psalm 104 tells the creation story in poetic form. We read this particular portion of this hymn of praise every year at Pentecost. It marvels at the vast universe and praises God for his creative work and steadfast provision for all that exists. “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” The psalmist promises, “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will praise my God while I have my being.”

Romans 8:22-27: Paul’s Letter to the Romans is Paul’s most ambitious theological work and the Bible’s most systematic and comprehensive interpretation of the Christian message.

In this week’s reading, Paul describes not only the whole creation groaning in labor pains, but that we, too groan inwardly as we wait and hope for the fulfillment of God’s glorious sovereign rule over all creation.

But guess what—we have a role to play. N.T. Wright puts it this way in his book Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1:

The whole creation is in labour, longing for God’s new world to be born. The church is called to share that pain and that hope. The church is not to be apart from the pain of the world; it is to be in prayer at precisely the place where the world is in pain. That is part of our calling, our high but strange role within God purposes for new creation.

And we have help. Paul tells how the Holy Spirit will help us to become like Jesus, our firstborn brother. So often we don’t know what or how to pray because we can’t articulate the deep longing in our soul. No matter. The indwelling Spirit is present with us in our struggles and intercedes for us “with sighs too deep for words.” And the Spirit takes the longing in our soul and pleads for us, bringing us into harmony with God’s will.

Head of Christ, by Elisabetta Sirani (1638 -1665). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Head of Christ, by Elisabetta Sirani (1638 -1665). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15: In this week’s reading we have two passages about the Advocate, or Holy Spirit, from Jesus’ farewell discourse at the Last Supper. The time for Jesus’ crucifixion is drawing near, and Jesus prepares his disciples for his absence. The disciples are feeling frightened, confused, sorrowful, and unprepared.

Jesus promises his disciples that he will ask the Father to send the Advocate to support them as they serve as Christ’s witnesses to the world. If he were to remain it would not be possible for the Holy Spirit to come to them. The Advocate will “prove the world wrong” because they did not believe in Jesus—the basic sin—and about righteousness and judgment.

Time is running out and Jesus has more to say, but they “cannot bear them now.” When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide the disciples into deeper truth. The Spirit will remind them of what Jesus has already said to them and guide them into the profound truth. In other words, the Spirit will declare all that is of Jesus and, in doing so will glorify him.

When we listen to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, our advocate and guide, we, too, can bring glory to God.

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