Sunday of Pentecost 2024

Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17

I have always loved the vision of Star Trek. Its basic premise is that we, humanity, can come together in mutual respect and community, allowing for individual belief but persisting in unity of purpose and values. As Gene Roddenberry put it, “If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.” In that vision, humanity goes to explore the stars because it isn’t at war with itself, the equations of money, power, and hatred being taken out. It is a beautiful, utopian vision, though one that is pretty thoroughly agnostic about God. More to the point, history seems to refute it, humanity never quite transcending our sinful nature despite our more fundamental image-bearing nature. We are still so afraid, and so we hate, are greedy, malicious, and prideful, and war and steal to secure ourselves. New creation won’t come from our human efforts, it seems, because we have not, and may never truly, learn the lesson. 

But does that mean we, those who follow Jesus, should give up? Should say that the world is going to burn up so I’m going to stop trying and just wait for Jesus to come back? I would argue that no, we ought to always hold in one hand that pursuit to make this world an image of God’s New Creation, but that we must always hold in our other hand the knowledge that without God’s power in the return of Christ, we can never fully achieve it. But what we are incapable of doing, God is already doing, and Pentecost was the beginning. The profound event of Pentecost declares that God’s New Creation has been made present in the world by the Holy Spirit. 

Christ had ascended, the disciples waited, and the world continued on its way. A bit over a week after the ascension, around comes Shuvuot, the Feast of Weeks, a harvest festival where the first fruits of the early harvest were offered to God. It took place every year, 7 weeks plus one day from the first day of Passover (if you haven’t done the math, that’s 50 days). The bringing of the harvest, the recognition that it is a bounty from God, and that we must offer up the first fruits as a sign of our faith that he will continue to do so. It is symbolically a significant day; I am about the most skeptical you can be about making numbers in the bible mean something, but these are very suggestive. The significance of the week is that there is a sabbath at the end of it, the 7th day; here, after Passover is 7 weeks, 7×7; and what is given, right at the end? A final day.

In other words, I think the feast of weeks is eschatological, meaning, it points to the Age to Come, the Kingdom of God, the New Creation. It is the sabbath of all sabbaths, stepping from our cycle of time into a new time, a time beyond. I think it is also significant that the other major use of the number 50 in Scripture is the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25, a 50-year cycle where all debts are remitted, all land given back, a time of plenty and restoration that Israel never seemed to practice, but to which we all await, the great Jubilee of the Lord where he will forgive and restore completely.

What is the point of all my speculation here, all of this talk of 50’s and restorations and festivals? Because I think, however much of this may or may not be intended, Pentecost is the first fruits of God’s harvest, giving to us the abundance of his Spirit and receiving back us; Pentecost is the first foothold of the New Creation, as 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being!”; Pentecost is the proclamation of a true Jubilee, a restoration of humanity, which breaks in on that day with the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell in humanity.

The Spirit comes, blowing where he will like the wind we’ve had this week, as John 3:8 puts it. He arrives and they see signs like flickering flames over them, and then the greatest sign, as they spoke in their own language outside proclaiming Christ, the many people from all over the Roman Empire and beyond it who came for this Festival of Weeks, this festival of first fruits, heard it in their own languages. That which most naturally separates humans from one another, distinct languages, is suddenly shown to be transcended in the presence of God’s power. Were their cultural differences eradicated, their languages dissolved? No, but affirmed, drawn into, embraced in the great Kingdom of God, the New Age of New Creation to come. These people in Jerusalem were, as 1 Corinthians talks about, being forged into a body together, the body of Christ, who by the Spirit bring their individual selves in to bless the whole.

We are all a part of this same body, this same Spirit-filled mosaic that in our embraced difference becomes something more beautiful than the monochrome. We’ve become a New Creation that proclaims the Age to Come. We all, together, “in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” In the recognition of God’s work of bringing the Church together, in living out that we have sometimes significant difference that is yet brought together in Christ, by choosing to reject the juvenile hatred based on trivial differences, we proclaim the Age to Come, where we all are promised life together without conflict.

What should we expect from the Holy Spirit today? Signs, multiplied tongues, revival? Maybe, but maybe we need to be more humble. Maybe it is enough for us to lead quiet, peaceable, and yet Christ-like lives, which means this: “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” I pray that we would rediscover by the Spirit’s power that “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. That we will all be able to say with the Psalmist, I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live; I will praise my God while I have my being.” Sometimes the Spirit moves with incredible, visible power, which lasts but a moment. More often, the Spirit moves with power through the everyday humility and love of everyday people, doing our best and following Jesus with faith.

You are empowered by the Holy Spirit, God, to give your gifts to the Church and to proclaim your faith to the world. The same Spirit that led the disciples out as if in a whirlwind fills you, and you are a part of this Temple, the Church, the very dwelling place of God on earth. By the power of the Holy Spirit, in Christ we aren’t Jews, or Greeks, or men, or women, or black, or white, or old, or young, or Americans, or foreigners, or democrats, or republicans. We are all Christians, filled with the Spirit, one body, and each given the Spirit to give to others, working through our own unique experiences and personalities. Unity in diversity, the beautiful tapestry of human experience all united in Jesus Christ, the love of God being given so we can give it to one another. That is Pentecost. Amen.

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