Engaging the Word: 6/4/17 (The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. This Sunday we will celebrate Pentecost, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. To symbolize the fire of the Holy Spirit, priests will wear red vestments, and at Grace, we are invited to wear red as well.

Pentecost by Juan Bautista Mayno, c. 1614. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Pentecost by Juan Bautista Mayno, c. 1614. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Our reading tells the amazing story of the coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s a great reminder that Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension are not the end of the story. 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 their (and our) lives. A rushing wind 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.

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: We read this portion of this wonderful 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.”

I always smile at the phrase, “and there is that Leviathan, which you have made for the sport of it.” It brings out God’s playful aspect and God’s sheer delight in all of his creation.

Gifts of the Spirit, Church of the Divine Spirit, Porto Alegre, Brazil. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Gifts of the Spirit, Church of the Divine Spirit, Porto Alegre, Brazil. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-31: Paul founded the church in Corinth, and stayed there for 18 months.

The ancient Greek city of Corinth was a thriving trade and commercial center. It sat on an isthmus of about four miles wide that joined the Peloponnesus with central Greece. The city was permeated with Roman cultural values relating to power and status, and was known for luxury, materialism, pleasure, and immorality.

While he was in Ephesus, Paul wrote this letter c. 57 AD because he heard from several sources of problems within the church—divisions in the church family, sex and marriage, morality, and women’s role in the church, to name a few.

In this week’s reading Paul discusses spiritual gifts. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” What matters in our spirituality is not whether we have received this or that spiritual gift—or whether we’re physically attractive or have a high IQ, but whether we confess that Jesus is Lord. In this way we all are equal.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” The single source is our Trinitarian God.

Everyone receives a gift from the Holy Spirit to be used for the mutual help of the whole church family. And each gift has the same honor and value—there is no hierarchy of spiritual gifts.

Even though the members of the church are different, we function as members of one body. The Spirit dwells in each of us, but we are not sufficient unto ourselves we need the other members of the body to function as a living, dynamic whole Body of Christ.

Jesus appears to the disciples by William Hole, 1906. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus appears to the disciples by William Hole, 1906. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

John 20:19-23: This week’s reading from John’s Gospel It tells us that three days after the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples are hiding out behind locked doors because they were afraid for their lives.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 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.”

I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the last sentence in The Message: “If you forgive someone’s sins they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?” Food for thought.

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