The Rev. Ted Berktold
Acts 2: 1-21; Ps. 104: 25-35, 37:
1 Cor. 12: 3b-13; John 20: 19-23
May this be in the name of the most holy Wisdom, her exalted Child, Jesus Christ, and her joyful Spirit. Amen.
When a volcano erupts, what happens on the surface is a result of unseen things happening below. Heat, pressure from gases and molten rock build up. They cause the ground to bulge and quake and then, amidst exploding rocks and fire, flooding mud and flowing lava, a volcano is born. What happens under the earth’s crust happens to people. The People of Israel, God's Chosen People, once spiritually powerful and influential, lay dormant despite so much potential force, talk of a messiah, and the promise of God's power. Some Jews thought that the eruption had come with Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth. But it blew up in their faces. Dreams of glory were buried under fear and death, and their hopes were turned to ashes. The disciples, however, did not disband and go fishing. They did as the Lord instructed; they waited. The Lord of all creation, of all the past and all the present, had claimed to be the Lord of the future as well. So they waited.
During Jesus’ time on earth, the disciples got to know him as they walked together and talked together, felt his healing touch, and heard his words of comfort and truth. They began to respect and love him, and place their hope in him before his arrest, but “He was crucified, died, and was buried,” says the Creed. Then something tremendous happened within the earth; so tremendous it still brings a shout of “alleluia” to our lips two thousand years later. Inside the earth itself, God gave life to the crucified one. The stone was rolled back; the Holy One of God arose to rejoin those who had followed him faithfully. Although they had no hope of ever looking into his eyes again or hearing his voice or touching him, they found themselves doing all those things. Now their relationship with Jesus changed. He was still who he had been before the cross, but they made it clear that now he was more, much more. They could touch the holes made by the nails and the spear. They recognized him in the breaking of bread. He came through closed doors. He had become, to use the words we know so well, the risen Christ.
But this, too, had an end. Christians have always regarded the Ascension of our Lord as the ending of Jesus’ presence among us in a special, personal way that will only begin again in the kingdom of God, after this phase of our life has ended. The early Church would need half a century to absorb his departure and speak about his return. The phrase that comes into my mind when I think of the Ascension is “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” In his account of this event, Luke says that the disciples and Mary went home with joy after Jesus ascended into heaven. I know that we must read the lines of scripture before we read between the lines, but I can’t help feeling that their joy was mixed with sadness on the day Jesus departed. I'm not surprised that scripture mentions only joy, for joy and sadness are opposite ends of the same dynamic, and are often intermingled. So, joyful or sad or fearful, the disciples waited, because he told them to.
On the Jewish feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, when Jews commemorate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, the waiting stopped. We read in the Acts of the Apostles: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2: 2) Here in the Pacific Northwest you see the effects of volcanoes everywhere; eruptions that were recent, like Mount St. Helens, and those that happened thousands of years ago. They are always a display of monumental power. But I know that the power of a volcano is nothing compared with the power of God; nothing. The disciples poured out of that room on fire with the Holy Spirit. Like volcanic ash, they began to choke the secular world, and its powers. They drifted to Spain and Africa, Rome and Corinth. Those original followers, who had never left their homeland, covered the known world. They preached love, forgiveness. They preached Jesus Christ. They baptized; they immersed others in the Spirit of God which was poured out in them, the same Spirit which is poured out into us in baptism, giving us the gifts Paul speaks of in today's epistle. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good," he says. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, various kinds of tongues, the interpretation of tongues, all are activated by one and the same spirit.
Paul expands the list in the 12th chapter of Romans. The gift of the Spirit can be administration, teaching, giving to charity, leading. He gave no definitive list. The Spirit blows where it will, he said. We do not know where the Spirit of God will blow tomorrow. According to Paul, the gifts are given for the building up of the church, Christ’s visible, tangible presence on earth. They are not for the elite few, these gifts. Each member of the church has his or her particular character, from the youngest to the eldest. There is no Christian who does not have one or more of the gifts of the Spirit, and no individual has them all; not even the pope. So the question for Paul was not, “What is biggest, best gift for a Christian to have?” but rather, “What gifts has the Spirit given to me?” and “How can I use those gifts?” We might ask, "How can the Church discern the gifts of each person, recognize those gifts, and celebrate them?" Some gifts are extraordinary, miraculous, sensational. Some are quiet and ordinary, as modest as a welcoming smile to a newcomer on Sunday morning.
At bottom, all the gifts are one gift. There is one Lord, one Spirit, who gives the gift of eternal life. "And this is eternal life," says Jesus in last week's gospel (John 17: 1-11), "that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." That life begins today when we live the love of Christ. Love is our experience of eternal life now. When Jesus ascended from their sight, the disciples realized that the love they had come to expect from him would now have to come from among themselves. Jesus was saying goodbye and handing on his work to those who were to continue his mission. "Peace be with you," he says in today's gospel. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." He knew people would no longer run into him at the marketplace; they would run into us. They would see and hear us, and he knew that through us, they might eventually come to know him. Over the centuries, by way of water and Word, bread and wine, that first Christian community has become us and we have become them. Like the disciples, we may feel tempted to look back nostalgically to the times when Christ was there for us, and not realize he wants us to be here for him. Pentecost redirects our vision from ascending Lord to empowering presence; from sky to earth; from far-away God to Christ in our midst. Having received the Spirit of the Living God, may we always be Christ to each other, and to world he came to sanctify with his love.
Let us pray:
May the Spirit’s fire be in our thoughts
Making them true, good and just.
May it protect us from evil.
May the Spirit’s fire be in our eyes
Opening them to what is good in life
Protecting us from what is not rightfully ours.
May the Spirit’s fire be on our lips, so that we may speak the truth in kindness.
May the Spirit’s fire be in our ears
That we may hear with a deep, deep listening
And be protected from gossip and from other things
That harm and break down our family.
May the Spirit’s fire be in our arms and hands
So that we may be of service and build up love.
May the Spirit’s fire be in our whole being; in our legs and feet
Enabling us to walk the earth with respect and care
Steadfast on the path toward truth and justice.
May it be so.