At Pentecost we remember God’s gift of his Holy Spirit to Jesus’ spiritual body the church. We are baptized in God’s Holy Spirit to become God’s holy people and to proclaim Jesus’ salvation to Avery County and to the world. God grant the world may say of us, “we hear them tell in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”
Pentecost is the Greek word for the Jewish feast of Shavuot - 50 days after Passover. In Judea the barley harvest began in April at Passover, the winter wheat harvest began in late May at Shavout or Pentecost. The Exodus is remembered at Passover, and God’s giving the Law on Sinai is remembered at Shavout or Pentecost. God has blessed the people of the Law, both Jews and Christians, with knowledge of God’s perfect will eternally expressed in his unchanged and unchanging Law, knowledge and power received by God’s grace through the faith God gives.
On Pentecost in Jesus’ time and now devout Jewish men spend the night studying the Bible and eating dairy foods - lots of cheesecake – to remember the manna in the desert while the women prepare a feast for family and visitors. The Passover seder meal ends, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Devout Jews in the many countries to which the people of Israel have been dispersed dream of celebrating Passover in Jerusalem. In Jesus’ time it was a long, expensive, difficult trip: people came in March for Passover and stayed the 7 weeks visiting family, worshipping in the Temple, seeing the sights, until the weather got hot. Then they ate the Pentecost feast and headed home.
Jesus’ disciples gathered for the Pentecost feast with the many new believers in Jesus. They talked about Jesus and his free and freeing teaching about the Law. Traditional interpretation had made the Law complicated and difficult to observe. The disciples remembered that Jesus had quoting the summary of the Law, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5) This is the first and great commandment And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18) On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
We confess that we do not keep even these two commandments, nor the 10 commandments of Sinai, nor the 613 commandments the Jewish scholars found in scripture. We know that our efforts to obey the Law do not save us from sin and spiritual death. We are saved by God’s grace in the death and resurrection of Jesus, grace received in faith. We are justified by God in Jesus without the Law, and then God the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth shows us how to return thanks to God for the gifts of justification and salvation. We return thanks as we seek to obey the law and to become the holy people God calls us to be. We cannot obey God in our own spiritual strength, but with God’s power and God’s strength given by his Holy Spirit we can grow in faith to love God and obey him.
On the first Pentecost the disciples remembered that Jesus had promised them the Spirit of Truth. They had come to know the truth of Jesus. They remembered Jesus had promised them the Spirit of Power. They knew Jesus’ power because he had defeated the great enemy death by rising from the dead. And at the Pentecost feast they remembered the giving of the law at Sinai, Moses on the mountain top, the fire lighting up the sky, the powerful wind almost blowing the people away.
They remembered Jesus teaching at the Ascension 10 days before when Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” They remembered Jesus’ teaching and so on that first Pentecost they studied Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. What was this Spirit going to be like? How would life be different with Jesus no longer physically present with them?
Then suddenly came a sound from heaven like a mighty rushing wind, . . . tongues as of fire appeared among them, and “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” From Iran in the east to Lybia in north Africa, from the north coast of Turkey to south Yemen and all the places in between, “we hear them tell in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”
Professor Bruce Rigdon tells of being in Russia to make a movie about the Christian church under Communism. Mikael was their minder, arranging interviews, getting churches opened, making the project possible. After the last night’s farewell party Mikael told Rigdon, “You showed me parts of my Russian heritage I never knew; I had never been in a church until you came to make this movie.” He fell silent. Rigdon moved toward the door, tired and ready for bed. Mikael stopped him and said, “You are a Christian?” He knew Rigdon was ordained and a seminary professor, but he had to ask, “You are a Christian?” Rigdon said, “Yes, I am a Christian.” Mikael said, “It was not true when I said I’ve never been in a church. I was once but I don’t remember it. My parents are atheists and party members, but my grandmother was a Christian. One day when I was an infant she took me to church and I was baptized. Tell me now, I’m just curious, you understand, but for curiosity’s sake, tell me, do you think anything happened when I was baptized?”
The Jewish custom is to spend the night of Pentecost in study of the bible and prayer. Rigdon and Mikael spent that Pentecost night in study of the bible and prayer. An American Christian in Russia with a young man raised in Communist atheism, “We hear them tell in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
The same Holy Spirit who came to the disciples at Pentecost comes to us when we are baptized and believe.
St. Paul wrote to the contentious church at Corinth that the Holy Spirit gives many gifts, but they are given in the one body of Jesus Christ.
We are all baptized into one body, filled with one Holy Spirit just as the disciples were on that first Pentecost.
We are filled with the Holy Spirit to remember Jesus’ teaching, “Love God, love neighbor.”
We are filled with the Holy Spirit to keep the commandments and grow into the holy people God calls us to be. We are filled with the Holy Spirit to know the truth of Jesus and witness to that truth in the world Jesus redeemed by his death and resurrection.
We are filled with the Holy Spirit to witness to the power of Jesus who defeated death and gives us new life.
We are filled with the Holy Spirit so that the whole world, and everyone we know may truly say, “we hear them tell in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” Amen.