Feast of the Pentecost
Acts 2:1-11 | 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13 | John 15: 26-27, 16:12-15
Oh God, who by the mystery of today’s great feast sanctify your whole church and every people and nation, pour out, we pray, the gifts of the Holy Spirit across the face of the earth, and with divine grace that was at work, when the gospel was first proclaimed, fill now once more the hearts of believers. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
TODAY the Feast of Pentecost is considered the beginning of the church, the birth of the church. I’m always fascinated by the fact that we talk about the church, and yet in our experience, there are so many churches around us, so many different religions, denominations, even within the Christian body. Certainly within the Abrahamic tradition there are so many differences, and it strikes me as such a strange thing that we have this one God, this one Messiah, this one Spirit, one source somehow promising to fill everyone with a kind of understanding of who God is, how he saves us and how he sustains us. And yet this division reveals to me a very real part of the struggle that you and I have as believers.
I always go back to this story in the Old Testament of sin and how Adam and Eve made this mistake of wanting to enter into the world, which was not a mistake, wanting to be effective and wanting to have a life that was more than just living in a blissful place of no pain, no suffering. They wanted to struggle. They wanted to be what all of us want to be, somehow a part of something and to be effective in performing our part. Yet we recognize in this desire for that, what they chose as a way of doing it was to just choose a thing that seemed so logical to them in terms of where they were in their development as human beings and their level of consciousness. How they understood as a child understands right and wrong: “No, don’t do that; yes, do this”. It’s the way we begin in our journey on this planet to understand how to deal with the world. Some things are bad; some things are good. And it’s fascinating to me that, as we move on in terms of our growth and development, we realize that this image of separating the world into two parts, profane/sacred,good/bad,right/wrong, there’s something somehow incomplete in all of that. There’s something we have to get past, and so when we see this story of Pentecost, which to me — if you believe in a Trinitarian God, which I do, we have God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit. It’s one God, one person. It’s one God, and he takes the form of three persons, a Father — he’s partly Father. He’s partly our brother who experiences everything we experience and goes through the challenging experience of what it means to surrender to the essence of what is real, what is true. Then we sense that, when one individual understands the truth, understands the mystery, somehow that’s a gift given to them. We call these kind of people initiates. They’re way ahead of their time, and they come into the world with an insight or awareness. Once they have it, it’s the weirdest thing, but once an individual in a community or an individual in a race, when they see something and it’s real, it’s true and no one else sees it, somehow through their seeing, everybody else begins to see it. Does that make sense? It’s very fascinating.
Take an easy example. Take a family that, like all families, has certain dysfunctions. Everybody is going along with the dysfunction and realizing it’s the way things are. It would be to them the norm. It’s the way everybody lives. It’s what’s real, what’s true. Then one person in the group says, “This is not true. This is not right. This is not the way it should be. There’s something in this that is toxic, that is harmful, that is hurting us, and I see it. And I’m going to name it.” And when you name it in a family, it’s really impossible for the family to stay as one, because if the one person is seeing the truth and the others somehow — and this is the interesting thing about the truth. - The truth is something that everybody basically knows deep down. Call it our unconscious, but there that truth is. And when somebody taps into it and we realize that what they’re saying is true but we do not want to go through the changes that are necessary or that would be inevitable, if we did believe in that truth, if we’re resisting the truth, then we’re angry. And the most natural thing is to attack the one who is unsettling us. So you often have an individual in the group that sees something that the rest of the group refuses to see. Then what’s the reaction of the group to that person? Well, Jesus is the perfect example: the scapegoat child that gets cast away, that gets rejected, that gets condemned. It’s fascinating that this dynamic is such an integral part of who we are as human beings. Individuals get an insight, and when they take that insight into, let’s say, the human community, whether it’s a small community or just call it the human race, some insight and it is true, and people begin to see it, it just begins to transform everyone.
So let’s look at some of the images that we have in this Feast of Pentecost, because they’re so powerful and so clear, in terms of their teaching. One of the things that we’re asked to look at very carefully is that we, as a group of people, have a capacity to connect with one another in a way that goes beyond language, beyond culture, even beyond time and space. There’s a connection. What to call this connection I don't know. It’s a way that we’re all intertwined, and this first story is about a powerful force that comes into the world. It’s mysterious. It’s a wind. You don’t know where a wind comes from. You don’t know where it goes. You don’t know who started it. All you know is you know the wind by its effectiveness. How it changes something. And so here’s a group of people gathered together, and there is this great wind. So the spirit is descending, and this spirit has a name, not holy but truth. It is a holy spirit, but the real issue is this holy spirit, this mysterious force that comes into the world is the truth. As Jesus is saying in the gospel, he says, “I have received the truth from the Father. I as a human being have struggled with these issues, and somehow the Father has revealed to me what is real, what is true. And so because I have it, now what I’m able to do is declare it to you, because it took root in me, a human being, also a God but a human being. And as it came into me, then I’m able to somehow bring it to you.” It’s almost like this truth, the spirit, has to take some kind of tangible form. It doesn’t work so much as pure spirit, but it works as an incarnate spirit. It’s a spirit that changes an individual, and the individual, as they change, begins to change the community, the group. Does that make sense? It’s really important to say that. I want you to understand that there is this powerful thing that is nothing more than seeing reality as it is, and when you see it name it, you awaken it in other people.
So in this first reading, we see this image of the spirit coming, and it takes the form of something. It takes the form of tongues, which means somehow — a tongue is that part of us that we use most literally to communicate, for speech. What I’m learning and what you’re probably learning, as you grow in the mystical traditions of all religions, is that speech is one way of conveying information to another, but there are so many other ways, mysterious ways. Intention is one of the ways that I’m so intrigued by recently, as I begin to study and understand it. Your intention has a power to carry some force from you to someone else, so strong a force it can make major impact on that which it is directed toward. So imagine that this communication image in the first reading is a fire, and fire is about transformation. So truth is that which transforms us. It’s this transforming power that can be communicated between one person and another, and if you think it’s literal language, then you’ll see, in this first reading, how important it is to recognize the miracle that they were participating in, because what it was is everyone was speaking a different language, their own language, and yet everybody understood what was being said. So that means that there’s some way in which the language — literal language is only a very small part of the way the Spirit works. It’s the intention in those words. It is the feeling in those words. It’s the belief in those words. Words can speak the truth, and they can speak lies. And when they speak lies, they’re not nearly as effective in giving life. In fact, they do the opposite. They rob people of life. So lies — and we swim in a world filled with lies — not so much intended to harm us as they are intended to accomplish something, some practical benefit to the person who’s lying. That’s the way it works, and so we live in a world where people are not so much concerned about those that they’re speaking to in terms of what the effects of their intention or their words are. They’re just using their gift of being able to communicate to take from someone.
It’s these images we had recently in the gospels of the Sundays of Easter where we see the Good Shepherd is the one whose voice is somehow unique to the ear of the sheep. When they hear it, they know, “There’s a voice that cares for me, that cares for me, and I’ll follow it. But if I hear a stranger’s voice, I don't know that they care for me.” So here’s this image of Spirit coming into the world, mysterious. It’s communicated from one to another, and when it’s communicated, what one feels is somehow there is value, there is life in this transforming force. Another word for that force is love. When someone cares for you, when someone offers you something because they want you to grow and to become — it’s a beautiful experience.
Then we have the second reading, where we see so clearly in St. Paul that what’s he’s saying is that all these gifts, all this energy and this power that’s communicated, it has a purpose. And the purpose is that it’s going to create in us an ability to do certain things. What I love about this particular passage is Paul’s using the body as a metaphor. The eye does certain things. The ear does certain things. The hand does certain things, and anybody that wants to be an ear, when they’re really an eye, is in trouble. That makes so much sense to me, because as he develops this theme that is in this reading, in other passages, he’s saying many things that make so much sense — that what we have to stop doing is judging as to who has which role, which role is even, more public, more powerful, more effective. That’s all the stuff that we have to let go of as we recognize this powerful force of the truth that’s coming into the world to awaken in us the ministry, the call that we have to do whatever in this world we’re supposed to do. And what an incredible, freeing experience to not compete, to not compare, to not try to be better than. Those are the things that are part of the lies that we’ve been told, that our value is somehow in our effectiveness in the world and how the world in its own way recognizes importance. The world is not necessarily living in the truth, as we know.
So finally we get to this gospel passage, and the gospel passage is clearly saying to us that this Spirit, this wonderful thing that God is trying to share with us, this thing is something that has been earned by this God/man Jesus. What I love that he’s saying is that, “It’s in me, and I’ve earned it through what I’ve gone through, that I’m able somehow to share it with you. And when I share it with you, what is going to happen is I declare it to you.” That’s an interesting image. “I declare this truth to you.” Declaration is not an opinion. It is a fact. “I declare this is it.” And so the Spirit is there as a force within the relationship of the Trinity and ourselves. We have a God who has created us, who has made the world, who is the powerful force and source of everything. In the evolution of our relationship with this God, we see this incredible, beautiful image of a man/God that comes into the world, that gives us the sense of how the Spirit works. It has to enter into a human being, become incarnate, and then through that human being’s work, it brings life to other human beings. And then there is this wonderful truth out there that is just floating around, that is just so powerful and life-giving. Isn’t it interesting that we have religions that are focused primarily on God? It seems the Jewish tradition, the Muslim tradition speaks of Allah, speaks of God, Yahweh, and then we have Christianity that speaks of Jesus most especially. Then we have Pentecostal religions that speak primarily of the Spirit. It’s so interesting that, if we could take every single religion and put it in a bowl and just mix it all up and drink of that, we’d have the truth. We’d have the truth. That’s all we want is the truth. That’s the most important thing. Every religion has a part of it, and how important it is to glean from all religions. It’s not to say they’re all the same or they’re all equally valuable, but they all have value if they speak the truth. That’s the thing that has value.
So when you trust in that and take it in, you want nothing but the truth, you look for it, long for it, and seek it out wherever it is — you then feel its transforming power. You’ll know when you’re awakening the truth, because there is this experience, like Jesus had, where somehow the ego and that which you tend to hold onto too tight — you go through some kind of crisis, and you have to let go of all those things. At first, it’s almost like you’re going to be annihilated, and then you enter into this beautiful place of truth. It’s a great mystery, to die to the ego and to live in this incredible place of the truth.
Father, on this day, we celebrate the completion, the fullness of your revelation. Open our hearts to all that you teach, to all that you invite us into. Help us to drink of this mysterious thing we call the truth so that we can be awakened to the fullness of who we are, to be engaged in a union with all peoples who are seeking to be the people that you have called them to be, and we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.