27 May 2020 • From Elizabeth, our Vicar
Reflection for Pentecost
Pentecost is the day when we recall the promise of Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to the people after he has ascended into heaven; this is the story of how that happened.
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
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.’
Peter Addresses the Crowd
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.”(Acts 2.1-21)
We hear this same reading from the Book of Acts every year on Pentecost Sunday – so it gets to be quite familiar. One of the things that St Paul is doing in this story is offering to us a foundation for human life.
It’s a foundation for human dignity and human flourishing that is both inherent and universal. It’s a foundation that can’t be destroyed by any sort of evaluation of religion, gender, nationality, class, education, social position, because it’s beyond all of those things.Paul brings to us a renewed and deeper sense of the dignity of each person. On the day of Pentecost that’s a social and political revolution, and it demonstrates the power of healthy religion. That was a notion unheard of back then, and it’s something the world often still struggles with now.
The story goes out of its way to emphasise that people from all over the world heard the disciples speaking in their own languages, after they’ve witnessed the tongues of fire alighting on the heads of the disciples. And then thousands of people from these disparate groups were baptised and then they also received the Holy Spirit that day, as a gift.
So that’s the message: the Spirit of God is democratic, unmerited, and inclusive.
One of the reasons Paul’s teachings had so much influence in Asia Minor was that he restored human dignity at a time when a great many people were slaves, at a time when women were often considered the property of men, when temple prostitution was a form of worship, and oppression and injustice toward those who were poor and those who were outsiders was the norm. It’s into this corrupt and corrupting scenario that Paul delivers his challenge.
“One and the same Spirit was given to us all.”
Paul levels the playing field when he declares: “You, all of you, are sons and daughters of God, now clothed in Christ, where there is no distinction between male or female, Greek or Jew, slave or free, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” All are equal in every way. Considering the culture of the time that’s quite amazing. In Paul’s estimation, the old world was gone and the new world was born. This notion was clearly impossible and frightening for some people to grasp, but utterly attractive and hopeful to the many people who found themselves with little dignity or power. Paul goes on to have great success in his evangelism – understandably. Who doesn’t want to be told that they are a worthy and good person?
After Pentecost a person was no longer to be considered a cheap thing, which could be degraded by slavery and abuse. Paul is saying, ‘Your body has dignity, you are, each one of you, the very temple of God.’ It’s an affirmation of dignity that began to turn the whole Roman Empire around.
We may sometimes consider Paul’s writing to be a bit moralistic, or a bit sexist, but here’s a message that we can read as universally positive and dignifying. On the day of Pentecost – the day that the Christian church has its beginnings - its people, those who are followers of Jesus, are to know themselves, their fellow Christians and indeed all people to be equal and free, to be valued and valuable, to be treasured and cared about. We may all of us, often, fail in that endeavour – but ultimately that’s what Jesus has declared is to be our goal. And so today is surely a day to recommit ourselves to that goal.
In his poem entitled Pentecost, William Blake uses the words, ‘unless’ and ‘catch’ to talk about this relationship. Everything that the Spirit does is dependent on the disciples, on Christians, on the church, responding actively in faith and carrying forward into the future, the message and the story of Pentecost. This is part of William Blake’s poem.
Unless the eye catch fire,
The God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire
The God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire
The God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire,
The God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire,
The God will not be known.
William Blake (1757-1827) from Pentecost
A Collect for Pentecost
O Lord, from whom all good things come;
grant to us your people,
that by your holy inspiration
we may think those things that are good,
and with your guiding do those things that are good.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Take some time to pray in silence for those who are sick,
those who are bereaved,
those who are struggling with the restrictions to daily life,
and those who are on your own heart and mind this day.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven.
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.Amen.
From St Teresa of Avila
Let nothing disturb thee.
Nothing affright thee;
All things are passing;
God never changeth.
Patient endurance attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth in nothing is wanting;
Alone God surfficeth.
May the eternal God enfold you with love,
fill you with peace,
and lead you in hope
to the end of your days.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
be with you this day and always. Amen