Filled With the Holy Spirit: A Sermon for Pentecost 2017

Happy Pentecost! I know this phrase doesn’t roll off the tongue like “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter”. I know we’re not used to saying it, we’re not as practiced at it, as society has not yet commercialized Pentecost. There are no Pentecost gifts or candies at the store, which is their loss, as this is a major Feast Day. This is right up there with Christmas and Easter for us. This is one of the three most important days of the church year. The rest of the church year revolves around Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. The first two are about Jesus, his birth at Christmas and his resurrection at Easter. Pentecost is not about Jesus (except in the sense that everything is about Jesus). Pentecost is a feast about us: it is a feast about the Apostles, about the Disciples. And so where fifty-one Sundays of the church year the most important lesson is the Gospel that the deacon reads, today the most important one is the reading from Acts which tells us that story of the first Pentecost after the resurrection. I say the first Pentecost after the resurrection, because it was not the first Pentecost. Pentecost was already a feast day—that’s why everyone was gathered together in Jerusalem—to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, a harvest festival fifty days after the Passover. But for those disciples, this Pentecost was going to be quite different, this Pentecost fifty days after the new Passover. As we heard, the Holy Spirit came down upon them that day, and landed on their heads like tongues of flames. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and when they preached everyone understood what they were saying in their own language. The day ended with three thousand people being baptized. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine if we had three thousand baptisms here on one day?

But before we begin to understand Pentecost, we have to back up a little bit. The story that we are celebrating today begins before this. As you know, the book of the Acts of the Apostles is actually Part II in a series. The first part is the Gospel According to Luke; same author, different books. At the beginning of Acts he says I told you in my last book all about Jesus, and now I’m going to tell you all about the Apostles. At the beginning of the Gospel According to Luke, the Holy Spirit plays a particularly important role. As you remember from Christmas, Mary says this is impossible, but the angel says the Holy Spirit will overshadow you. With God all things are possible. Because of the Holy Spirit, the Incarnation can take place. Fast forward to the baptism of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, and at the river Jordan where he is to be baptized by John, the heavens open up and down comes the Holy Spirit like a dove. That same spirit, Luke says, leads Jesus out to the wilderness for forty days of temptation, forty days of Lent. After those forty days, Luke says that Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, went to Galilee to begin his ministry, preaching and teaching and healing around Capernaum and Galilee. The first specific story is when Jesus went to his childhood home of Nazareth. He went to the synagogue that day, and he was the lector. From a scroll, Jesus read from Isaiah, and it began, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. To bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”. The year of the Lord’s favor is a particular term that means the year of Jubilee—the year in which all debts are reset, the year in which we all get to start anew and afresh and try again. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me”, and then Jesus sat down and said, “Today this has been fulfilled in your sight”.

Fast forward again to today’s reading. The apostles are gathered together in that room, and again the Holy Spirit appears. In this moment that is the beginning of their ministry, the Holy Spirit fills them, just as the Holy Spirit had filled Jesus. Luke is making a point here: he is trying to connect these two events. The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is saturated with the Holy Spirit, and the beginning of the Apostles’ ministry is also saturated with the Holy Spirit because their lives and Jesus’ life is connected as one. They are not mimicking Jesus, they are not doing exactly the same things. Jesus was not married, some of them were; Jesus’s ministry was only three years, their ministry went on for much longer. It was not mimicking, but grounding. Their lives are grounded in Jesus.

So this feast really is about Jesus, isn’t it? Jesus and the Apostles are now one—one and the same Spirit, “they who are the Body of Christ”, as Paul puts it in the Epistle. So they, filled with the Holy Spirit, are now the ones to proclaim the Good News to the poor. They are now the ones to proclaim the Good News of release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed and the year of the Lord’s favor; to start afresh in this world, cancelling out the past for a future filled with love and grace and mercy; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? The Holy Spirit has filled us. That mantle that was passed down from Jesus to the Apostles, that has been passed down through the ages has been passed on to us. We are the Body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit has filled us so we can proclaim the same thing. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, and today it is being fulfilled in our sight. We have to be like those Apostles with the Holy Spirit down on our heads like tongues of flames, and the Holy Spirit as a fire lit underneath us to push us out into the world to proclaim this Good News to all who need to hear it: to the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed, and to anyone in pain or sorrow or challenge or difficulty in this life. We must take them that Good News and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, be renewed this day by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who came upon you in your baptism, the Holy Spirit who comes upon you every day, the Holy Spirit who is like those tongues of flames above you, and that fiery flame of Holy Spirit that has been lit underneath you to go proclaim this Good News into a hurting world.