Year A; Day of PentecostFB; May 28, 2023
8:00 a.m. homily, Acts 2:1-21, The Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund, Rector
Today we heard the story of Pentecost from the Book of Acts in several languages. Thank you volunteers for treating us to what it might have felt like that day of Pentecost in Jerusalem when so many pilgrims came from far and wide. They were pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. It is also called Shavout and is a major feast of agriculture, celebrated 50 days after Passover.
For Christians, the Day of Pentecost is the event of Jesus sending his mighty Spirit to enlighten his followers and make manifest in language and inspiration, “…God’s deeds of power.” You can hear in the English version and in the reading of the other native tongues, the energy and surprise coming from the event that day. The languages were actual native languages that the Spirit enabled clear understanding between nationalities. The words of God’s power and deeds were understood among all the pilgrims. From Rome in the west; from north Africa, Libya to the Arab countries and even what is now central Turkey, Cappadocia and Mesopotamia, Iraq. These pilgrims were empowered by the Spirit to hear and understand each other in the most unifying spectacle of Scripture.
The two things that I notice in this passage are that God’s Spirit blew open wide God’s love for all people, all nations, all nationalities. Any barriers that human beings had made, God blew open. I’m imagining what the Spirit might have inspired in me to speak God’s saving power to others in English. What would I have said?
First of all, I might have started crying with joy. I might have said, “These tears are tears of joy, for God has wiped away the pain and sorrow of my life and replaced them with joy and love.” Someone in the crowd who spoke another language might have heard me and understood me.
I also love in this story that Luke the gospel writer who also wrote Acts, makes a great deal of that fact that the pilgrims were from “every nation under heaven and living in Jerusalem.” God’s word and power are opened up for all the nations. The power of the Spirit was not confined to a select group of disciples living in an upper room. The earthquake, wind and fire of the Spirit were clearly meant to energize all people that day. God’s deeds of power were shouted from all places.
I’ve wondered what exactly are those “deeds of power?” We know what they aren’t: We know that they aren’t hatred, division, war, violence, greed. No, immediately, what comes to mind are words like unity, power, joy, healing, forgiveness, love, mercy. The Day of Pentecost initiated God’s saving power as the beginning of the Body of Christ the Church. God’s international community of faith and love comes into being on this day.
The ancient Church adopted the ritual of water as the Sacrament and symbol of God’s claim on believers – a claim of God’s love that God never breaks. Many of the ancient sites I visited in Turkey and Greece still had remnants of mosaic shallow baptismal baths in the shape of a cross still visible in the rubble of the churches.
The ruins of the basilica in Laodicea had a small room off the nave where the baptismal font was located. There is an intact baptismal pool in the ruins of the basilica where tradition locates St. John’s burial in SelÇuk, Turkey. And in the ruins of Philippi, the ancient church built near where Paul and Silas had been jailed, there also was evidence of an inground font.
The person receiving the Sacrament of Baptism would step down into the water to the words of, “we are buried with Christ in his death.” They would receive the water poured over them in the name of God, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Then they would step back out of the water with the words, “And raised with Christ in new life,” fully adopted as Christ’s own for ever.
In a few minutes we will renew our Baptismal promises. In these promises are refreshing statements of faith, justice, love, and mercy. Everything in these promises expose the twisted values of power, division and greed that our culture sets before us all day long. Instead, our baptismal promises are the truth Christ gives us to live by. When we renew our Baptismal Covenant, we will be refreshed in the truth of all the deeds of power that God lavishes on every single person in every single nation on the planet.
Our deacon Mary Lee Wile wrote a confirmation and baptism curriculum that we have used here at St. Paul’s and that I used even before I knew Mary Lee at my parish in New Jersey. It’s called, “I Will with God’s Help.”
Mary Lee and I have had good talks about what to focus on in the preparation of adults, parents, children and youth for receiving the Sacrament of Baptism.
Mary Lee and I love the prayer at the end of the Baptism liturgy. In this prayer, the entire congregation says, “We thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon us the forgiveness of sin, and have raised us to the new life of grace. Sustain us, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give us an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” I love most the prayer for an inquiring and discerning heart and the courage to persevere.
The poet and retired pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes has written a poem for us to savor this beautiful day of the coming of God’s Spirit. I share it with you:
On Pentecost the real miracle
was not the momentary wonder
of people speaking languages
they hadn’t been taught,
but the lasting miracle
of people making connections
despite all their separations,
discovering how they were alike
despite apparent differences,
despite their being foreign.
They were one;
the boundaries did not exist.
They found a shared story,
tapped into the one Spirit
that breathed in them all.
Wonder at this: not that you could
speak some foreign language
but that you could love someone
who speaks a foreign language,
knowing by listening that
your hearts speak the same language,
you and they breathe the same Spirit,
one breath in all of us,
members of one body.
Something divine is going on,
partly in your heart and partly in theirs.
Only together will you behold the miracle.
How will we behold God’s universal miracle of love today?