Prayer of the Day
O God, on this day you open the hearts of your faithful people by sending into us your Holy Spirit. Direct us by the light of that Spirit, that we may have a right judgment in all things and rejoice at all times in your peace, through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Acts 2:1-21 – When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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.
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b – When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 – Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
John 20:19-23 – When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
Many thanks to Pastor Don Carlson who did much of the research and writing for these next 12 posts.
The movement of Luke is from the world to Jerusalem. The movement of Acts is from Jerusalem to the world.
Pentecost is the signal that the outward movement is to begin. “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.”
This “world > Jerusalem / Jerusalem > world” movement also bears witness to the ongoing activity of God through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is mentioned in Luke/Acts more than in any other gospel – 34 times in Luke and 67 times in Acts.
Pentecost is not the birth of the Holy Spirit. It is the launch of the Post-resurrection church. There is plenty of Spirit in Luke/Acts before Pentecost. You only have to get to Luke 1:15 before the Holy Spirit is mentioned; to 1:2 in Acts. Spirit is president Jesus baptism. And we read about the spirit plenty in the Hebrew Scriptures as well. Isaiah says, “the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…” In fact, the Spirit is mentioned in the opening verses of Genesis, where the Spirit moves over the face of the deep.
Most of the early Christian community – Paul included – believed that Christ would return in their lifetime. When Luke/Acts was written (85-95 CE?), some questioning must have arisen within the community. “What’s going on?” “Why the delay?” “Were we wrong about Jesus being the one?” The answer of Luke/Acts is found the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. “Just look at what’s happening. The ‘delay’ of Jesus’ return in no way truncates the saving activity of God!”
Now we are at almost 2,000 years of “delay”. What do people make of that? Perhaps we should ask our congregations to find the many places where the Holy Spirit – which is also “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:19) – is working and active (Trinitarian formulas will be addressed next week).
It is also helpful to listen to the rest of Peter’s sermon (which goes through 2:36) and to begin to hear the anti-imperial subversiveness of the text. Luke/Acts is very much an anti-imperial counter cultural work. Just a sampling:
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
– Luke 1:51-53
They said, ”If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
– Luke 22:67-70 (See: Pantocrator mosaic from the Hagia Sophia.)
Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.”
– Luke 23:1-2
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
– Luke 23:42
As Borg and Crossan point out in The First Paul,
To proclaim “Christ crucified” was to signal at once that Jesus was an anti-imperial figure… The empire killed Jesus. The cross was the imperial “no” to Jesus. But God had raised him. The resurrection was God’s “yes” to Jesus, God’s vindication of Jesu – and thus also God’s “no” to the powers that had killed him. The twofold pattern executed by Rome and vindicated by God appears twice early in the book of Acts. The authorities crucified Jesus, but God raised him up (Acts 2:23-24).
A few verses later, in only slightly different language, it is repeated: this Jesus who was crucified by the authorities God has made both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36)… Vindicated by God-raised by God – meant Jesus is Lord, and thus the powers that executed him were not. In language that confronted and countered Roman imperial theology: Jesus is Lord-Caesar is not.
(BORG, MARCUS J.; CROSSAN, JOHN DOMINIC (2009-02-19). THE FIRST PAUL: RECLAIMING THE RADICAL VISIONARY BEHIND THE CHURCH’S CONSERVATIVE ICON (PP. 131-133). HARPERCOLLINS. KINDLE EDITION.)
As individuals and as congregations, in what ways are we as followers of Jesus the Christ called to live counter to the imperial theologies of our day?
In the midst of crucifixion confusion, The Spirit’s plan was Pentecost pluralism. A multi-sensory, multi-faceted, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic event. The Spirit’s plan was an explosion of diversity.
Look at this map. This is my favorite map of Pentecost in Acts 2.
“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven in Jerusalem… Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphyllia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes… Cretans and Arabs…” Sounds like Houston.
And they were amazed and astonished, because it worked. “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” Eric Law asks, “Is Pentecost a miracle of the tongue or of the ear?” “How is it that we hear… each of us in our own native language?”
The Spirit empowers them to bridge the cultural gap. All were amazed and perplexed, so they said to one another that great catechetical question: “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
I love that. There’s so much creative disruption. Remember the word that John Nunes used at assembly last year with us? “Creative disruption.” There is so much creative disruption, so much energy, that the newcomers think they’re drunk. So much so that Peter has to begin his sermon with the words, “These people are not drunk as you suppose…”
When was the last time you had to begin your sermon “These people are not drunk…” More like, “These people are not dead as you suppose, it’s just 9 o’clock in the morning.”
And then Peter quotes the prophet Joel. God will pour out the Holy Spirit on all flesh. All flesh. Not just prophets, priests and rulers like Isaiah and David, but all flesh. All flesh. Not just men. Men and women. Sons and daughters. Old and young. Rich and poor, even slaves. All flesh.
The power of the Spirit was given to all people to proclaim a new world, a new vision, a humanity, a new hope that transcends race, culture, ethnicity, and gender identity, for there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The reign of God knows no borders, no boundaries of culture or language. What then becomes of our human divisions? They are irrelevant in the reign of God. This is the church we are called, enlightened, sanctified, and empowered by the Spirit to be: not a culture club, but a church that includes Parthians, Medes, Elamities and residents of Mesopotamia, Samaritan women, and Ethiopian eunuchs – a church without walls, a house of prayer for all people, not defined by culture but defined by faith, hope, and love.
This can only happen with the power of the Spirit. Without the Spirit, our divisions define us, because they are so very compelling. But good news, God has promised to pour out the Spirit freely to all who will receive it. You are empowered to lower your walls, your defenses, and allow the Spirit to blow your life, your congregation, and your community.
This is “Pentecost” in the Gospel of John. Just a couple of things about this text; which was also the text back on Easter 2.
First, what does it mean to “forgive sins”? I suggest that we think a bit broader than just the pardon of individual transgressions. Remember all the great dialogues and encounters in this gospel.
- Nicodemus needed to see the “light”
- The Samaritan woman needed restoration to community
- A paralyzed man at the pool Bethsaida needed to walk
- The crowds following Jesus needed to be fed
- The woman caught in adultery needed freedom from condemnation
- The man born blind needed his sight
- Lazarus needed to be restored to life
In short, since the consequences/effects of sin are multifaceted, the understanding of forgiveness needs to be multifaceted as well. From Speaking Christian:
Imagine Christian liturgies and preaching that emphasize that we are Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt and need liberation, that we are exiled in Babylon and need a path to return home, that we are blind and need to see again , that we are sick and wounded and need healing and wholeness. And, yes, that we are sinners who need forgiveness.
Imagine- to become more specific than I wish to be- that a confession of sin and absolution were part of the liturgy one Sunday out of five. Imagine that on the other four Sundays, the confession of sin were replaced by images of our predicament as bondage, exile, blindness, and infirmity.
Imagine the absolution replaced by the proclamation that God wills our liberation from bondage, our return from exile, our seeing again, our healing and wholeness. Sin matters. But when it and the need for forgiveness become the dominant issue in our life with God, it reduces and impoverishes the wisdom and passion of the Bible and the Christian tradition.”
BORG, MARCUS J. (2011-04-12). SPEAKING CHRISTIAN: WHY CHRISTIAN WORDS HAVE LOST THEIR MEANING AND POWER-AND HOW THEY CAN BE RESTORED (P. 152). HARPERCOLLINS. KINDLE EDITION.
We need to be spiritually cognizant of the complexities. If a person has been raped, a narrow understanding of “forgiveness” is not the immediate real issue. One does not proclaim forgiveness to slaves or victims of abuse.
Second, and this ties in with the first point, Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus’ words are not some theory as to who holds the “heavenly purse strings of grace.” His words are simply the truth about where and how the Spirit functions. If Jesus’ disciples don’t forgive, Jesus’ forgiveness – freedom, restoration, healing, wholeness – cannot come. If we leave people in their sin, Jesus cannot free them. If we do not grant people the “peace of God”, they cannot know it. If we exclude people, Jesus cannot include them.
The Spirit is not just given to bring us comfort and assurance as we face the doubts and uncertainties of our lives – like Thomas in the upcoming part of the story. The Spirit is given so that, through our lives, the risen Lord might be alive in the world.