Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104: 24-35b; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition) Oremus Bible Browser
Pentecost is at the base of the spine of our becoming
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
I’m finding it more and more enlightening, helpful, enjoyable, to actually listen to the readings during the time here in church. I equally enjoy reading them on my own, but this morning in the gospel, I thought, there’s a summary of the sermon, we could almost skip it … which we won’t! There’s a summary in there that’s really quite helpful - verse 7: ‘Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you’.
Many of us have experienced someone dying who is close to us. Many of us have experienced other losses - that can be divorce, it can be our countries of origin, whatever, we’ve experienced losses, and particularly death. And one of the things that often happens in death, quite often for those who are left, is called grief, and some people get totally stuck there, because what they do is they cannot let go of the one who has died. They hold on and hold on and hold on and go nowhere. Pentecost is about that: if we don’t let go of Jesus, then we end up stuck with one who has gone, and it’s almost as if the Christian church has been in grief since the first Easter. The idea is, and what we get in the readings today is, ‘now let go, let go of the one who has died, ascended, has left, because then you can find that power that the love that was shared has left with us. It is so much like that time after a death and I wonder if we as church could let go.
It’s summed up also in the song, which is - if you want something to sing in the car, I mean a lot of people have got CD players; the reason that we have CD players in cars – quite simple, because if you’ve only got a radio you realize how much drivel there is being pumped into the air, so we use technology, we get a CD player. Now the other trick is to just sing, create, give voice to your own song. Sometimes we can’t help that, because we get fed jingles and you suddenly find yourself regurgitating some useless jingle. ‘Spirit of Gentleness’ is a song that even I can sing and probably hold the tune, could be really helpful to just learn it, learn it and sing it in the car, sing it in the car, because theologically it is stunningly sound:
You sang in a stable, you cried from the hill,
Then you whispered in silence when the whole world stood still
Down in the city you called once again
When you blew through your people, on the rush of the wind.
Sort of summarises – it’s a really good theological understanding that’s placed that verse together. And the context of Pentecost does need us to look at the cry from the hill and the cry from the stable. It needs to be understood in relation to the other major festivals that we celebrate as part of our spiritual tradition, and not in terms of a chronological progression. One of the things that we looked at at Easter was the fact that Easter really comes before Christmas. If we look at Pentecost in relation to those other events: Easter - dying and rising; Christmas - the incarnation, the divine gift; Ascension, a week ago Thursday - the returning to, the uniting with; and then we come today to Pentecost. Traditionally, this is about gifts – the giving of the Holy Spirit and/or the empowering with the Holy Spirit; traditionally also this is the action of Jesus – sending the Holy Spirit to the disciples. And that understanding has created the practice of asking Jesus ‘to fill me with the Spirit - I read the book, thought it was great, I want to be like the disciples. Oh God, please send your Spirit upon me and fill me with …. whatever’.
Let’s just consider for a moment that Jesus is not the active agent of the event. This is not about Jesus saying, ‘Look, just hang on a minute, I’ve got to go to Heaven, because there’s a switch there which when I switch it the Holy Spirit will then come down here’, which is the classic orthodox understanding. Let’s look beyond that and see whether this is an event that is itself a revelation of the Divine activity, because I think Pentecost could be the defining event that constitutes the Church, in the same way as, and with equal weight and equal consequence, to the Last Supper and the Eucharist. The Pentecost narrative, like the Christmas narrative and the Easter narrative, is a revelation of the Divine. It is an illumination of the unseen in creation: these narratives shed a light on our call into full humanity. Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, they’re calling us into fullness, to wholeness, into a life that is lived, a life lived in glory to the Divine. So let’s look at Pentecost as an event that illustrates or reveals the activity of the Divine and maybe then we can find a reference point there for ourselves and for the revelation of the Divine in and through us.
As a totally interesting aside, I was looking at chakras on the Net the other night. In the Eastern tradition, it speaks of our progression into full humanity as a journey through and an integration of, the seven chakras or energy centres, and these are symbolically located in the body. The first chakra, the beginning of that journey into fullness and wholeness, is located at the base of the spine and it governs our very existence. The colour associated with that chakra is red. And I thought, just looking at the colour red in our tradition and in that eastern tradition, perhaps we can learn from outside, that this really is a foundational event. This is at the spine, the base of the spine of our becoming.
And I think that becomes clear when we explore the readings that we’ve had and heard this morning. They dispel the idea that Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to certain individuals called Christians, completely dispels the idea that I should go and seek to be spirit-filled myself, because what we have in the first verse from the Acts reading: ‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place’. ‘All together in one place’. The writer of Acts, Luke, could easily have named individuals but he chose the phrase, ‘all together in one place’. This is an inclusive and universal revelation about life lived in the Divine. The divided tongues of fire that we have in verse 3 - the word that’s used for ‘tongues’ in ‘tongues of fire’ is exactly the same word that’s translated later on in verse 4 into ‘languages’. We could read this as ‘divided tongues as of fire appeared among them and the tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues’. Now some churches have seen that that means that people were given an almost incoherent expression with their tongue. But if we look at it, the tongues of fire, the revelation of the Divine, is what will be given expression when that revelation is realized. Our true, our true expression is when we speak from the Divine within, from that which abides and is incarnated in us. When we speak from there, then we speak as if those tongues of fire were appearing above our own heads. Verse 4 says ‘all of them were filled’, ‘all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit’. Again it emphasizes this is a revelation about all people and it’s a revelation for all people.
And then we come down and there’s a stunning question in verse 8: ‘How is it, how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?’ And if you follow the narrative this question is one that comes from a people that are amazed and perplexed as to the experience that they have encountered. Clearly, when the Divine is given expression it is understood by all. Verses 8, 9, 10 and 11 list out thirteen different cultures or religious traditions. Luke was very careful to include in this text the whole of the known world in all its religious expressions. They were all there, is what Luke is trying to say. Jews and Greeks, Muslims, refugees, terrorists, the Axis of Evil, the Coalition of the Willing, they were all there, all of them. The interesting thing is that when divine expression was given, they all understood. So different, so different to the modern world, where one cannot even begin to hear another.
The Pentecost event is a reversal of the Tower of Babel story, where a people who did all understand each other and spoke with one language, sought to make themselves greater than God, and so they lost the plot, they lost the ability to hear each other, they lost the ability to express themselves. This event is saying, telling that story the other way round. If we find our true voice, the voice of the Divine within us, it will be understood by all because we will also from that place, hear all. And the event is actually given import when we move to the gospel reading, to John, verse 8: ‘When he comes’ - when the Advocate, when the Spirit comes, when we find the voice of the Divine within, when we can express ourselves as the Divine has sought expression in us – ‘then he will prove the world wrong about sin and about righteousness and about judgement’. Pentecost illuminates the movement from being a part of the problem to being a part of the answer. Pentecost will prove the world wrong. It reveals an end to the groaning labour pains of the whole creation.
Pentecost calls a church into being, not as a social club, not as a home for strays, not as an institution that manages, dispenses and preaches about sin, righteousness and judgement, but rather, Pentecost calls a church into being, a church that is seeking full humanity, a church that is seeking to realize what we are created to be – an image of the Divine.
We are a spirit-filled people; we and all people are spirit-filled, filled with the Divine. The flame of Pentecost is within. The opportunity, the call of Pentecost is to find an expression of that flame, so that we might shine as a light in the world.
The Lord be with you.