Pentecost: The Downbeat of the Spirit
Last Sunday in church, I preached about the Ascension of Christ. That story is found in Acts 1:1-11. In that sermon I stated that the Ascension of Christ was the upbeat to the downbeat of Pentecost. This coming Sunday is a celebration of that downbeat, which remembers the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus:
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. 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 and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
But what was the purpose behind this gift of the Holy Spirit? In order to answer this, we have to turn to the Gospel of John, beginning in the 14th chapter. Here Jesus is sharing his last meal with his small group of followers. He is preparing them for his upcoming crucifixion and death. He will no longer be with them. The disciples are sad and troubled. But Jesus tries to fortify them with an amazing promise: they will continue his work, and expand it.
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
Do greater works than Jesus? How is this possible? Jesus healed the sick, proclaimed Good News to the spiritually desolate and discouraged, raised the dead, restored sight to those who were blind, hearing to those who were deaf and functioning limbs to those who were lame. He showed the way of love, overcame ethnic prejudices, preached forgiveness and reconciliation, and commanded his followers to feed the hungry, visit the sick and clothe the naked. How were his followers to do anything greater?
Fortunately he immediately answers the questions, fears and incredulity of his disciples (and us):
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
This Advocate, Spirit of Truth is the One who comes upon the gathered followers of Jesus on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is often represented as a force of fire. The imagery is apt. Jesus had set out to change the world according to the vision and will of God. The world was far from the way it could be. In fact, the world is still far from achieving its created potential. Human selfishness, greed, lust for power and domination, anger and malice continue to mar the earth and scar the souls of humans everywhere. It is a world in need of healing and redemption. That is precisely what Jesus came to do, and it was the mission he passed on to all who call themselves his followers.
The Holy Spirit is God’s Presence abiding within us. The purpose of this divine indwelling is to continue the works that Jesus started on earth: proclaiming the Good News, curing the sick, casting out demons, caring for the poor, healing those who are lame, blind, afflicted with diseases, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, working for peace, transforming enemies into friends.
These are great works, and the need continues to be great for the followers of Jesus to accomplish the things he set out for us to do. Fortunately, we do not do it on our own. As we invite the Holy-Spirit-presence-of-Jesus into our lives each day, we become spiritually and psychologically transformed according to the mind of Christ, and begin to see the world as God sees it. That changes us and empowers us. As this happens, we become more finely tuned instruments of God's love and grace. And the world is made better for it.
(Image sources: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/72/AscensionofChrist2.jpg/225px-AscensionofChrist2.jpg; http://sallysjourney.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341c7a9f53ef013480eefb31970c-800wi;