The Gentle Shepherd: Reading and Sermon for Pentecost Sunday Service 2022

Today’s reading is from the Jerusalem Bible version of the Book of Acts, Chapter 2, verses 1 to 11:

“When Pentecost day came round, they had all met in one room, when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech. Now there were devout men living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, and at this sound they all assembled, each one bewildered to hear these men speaking his own language. They were amazed and astonished. ‘Surely’ they said ‘all these men speaking are Galileans? How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; people from Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya round Cyrene; as well as visitors from Rome – Jews and proselytes alike – Cretans and Arabs; we hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God.’” This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

In the New Testament, the combined texts of Luke-Acts divides Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, and the giving of the Holy Spirit into three distinctly separate events. However, perhaps it would be more appropriate to combine all three events together in today’s message so that they create a unified narrative. This is because all three events clarify for us what God the Father has done for us through Jesus as God the Son, and through the Holy Spirit.

While it is often overlooked, the Holy Spirit is as much a part of God as any other of the divine persons in the Trinity. In the movement of the Trinity, the procession of the Spirit is from the Father through the Son. Thus, the Holy Spirit is never a human spirit that we could understand, domesticate or control. Indeed, it is in its movement that we can perceive in the Holy Spirit a faithful disclosure of Christ’s saving work in perpetual ministry, uniting us through revelation and reconciliation as both gift and giver.

The relationship between Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is reciprocal and also interdependent. Jesus is the gift of the Holy Spirit in conception, baptism, and in his anointing to preach, teach, and heal. Jesus also is raised from death and into eternal life by the Holy Spirit. However, the Holy Spirit also is a gift of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is sent by Christ to teach us about him, to fill our hearts with love, empower a new life in Christ, and equip us for service. Thus, the Holy Spirit is the love of the Trinity expressed in unity and consummation in the form of an ever-opening circle.

There are several important elements, which are apparent to us from the trinitarian nature of the Holy Spirit. It is the presence and power of God at work in the world. It is active in creation of the world and life, in the endowment of gifts, in offering assurance of forgiveness, and hope to the hopeless. It is active in the economy of salvation; it is present at the birth of Jesus Christ, through his baptism, transfiguration, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection. The Holy Spirit bears witness to the risen Christ, filling the gathered disciples at Pentecost, and pouring out into the life and ministry of the first churches. The Holy Spirit is the power behind the witness and representation of Jesus Christ, thereby bringing him to life into the present. Thus, Jesus Christ is not some distant historical personality, nor some possibly unrequited future hope.

Accordingly, the Holy Spirit gives life to all creatures and powers our new life and freedom in Christ; we become liberated from our enslavement to sin and death, free to find new patterns of life founded upon God’s law. This is more than mere financial freedom or personal autonomy; rather, such freedom in Christ is the foundation of our healthy relationships with self and others. The Holy Spirit empowers the creation of a new community in Christ, comprised even of strangers or former enemies, giving diverse gifts to it members for mutual dependence and support. It keeps hope alive, encourages new dreams, and offers the eternal comfort of Christ to the distressed and the downtrodden.

The work of the Holy Spirit is cosmic in scope when expressed in terms of the saving work of Christ. This means the Holy Spirit is present and active throughout all creation, even if it is mainly hidden from our sight. This breadth and inclusiveness of activity requires us to see the movement of the Holy Spirit beyond the church and even beyond our narrow, human-centric focus. It sees its expression within art, science, within movements towards social justice, and in a yearning to encourage dialog and reconciliation different faiths. It resists the triumphalism of one church community over others, as the work of the church does not constitute the completed scope of divine activity. This should encourage greater ecumenical dialog, by adequately addressing the need to show that Christ and the Holy Spirit are inseparable, while at the same time showing that no divine person is subordinated to the other.

In today’s passage, we see how the fire, wind, and noise of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost transformed the nascent church into a community of prophets. In this way, our glorious Triune God brings the grace of mercy and the promise of redemption to a world that still desperately needs both so much. How is the Holy Spirit moving through you and your community today? How can we hear each other better with Spirit’s urging? How can we, on this very special day for the church, bring our world closer to the Kingdom of Heaven in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds? God speaks to all of us still through our worship and our praise, through theophany and through silence. How can we respond? Amen and Amen.

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