Homily for the Feast of Pentecost
June 3, 2001
St. Agnes Church, Cincinnati
"When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled". "When the time was fulfilled" -- where have we heard that expression before.
It turns out that this was the expression Luke used at two key moments in the story of Jesus. The first had to do with the time for Mary to give birth: "when the time for her delivery was fulfilled" (Luke 2). On the second occasion it referred to the beginning of the climax of Jesus' earthly ministry: "as the time approached when he was to be taken from this world" (Luke 9:51).
In Luke the expression signals the time for beginnings; for the new; for birth. It is the time for events reaching a dramatic climax.
The Gospel for today reminds us that the Spirit had already been given on Easter Sunday: "he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'." Any faithful Israelite, upon hearing that expression, would think immediately of the beginning of the creation story ion Genesis. The Spirit breathes over the chaotic waters and form begins to happen.
In creation it is the world that is being born. On Easter at the Baptism of our RCIA members we are invited to be born by renewal of our baptismal promises.
So the Spirit had already been given. Then why this event?
The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is just the unfolding of the birth process begun in the upper room at Easter. "Pentecost" means "50 days" so there is a sense that this whole period has been Pentecost, not just this single day.
Think what it was like on that Easter Sunday. The apostles were huddled together in secrecy. They had the doors locked for fear that what had happened to Jesus would happen to them. But meanwhile in the various Easter 'appearances' they had experienced him revealing that he was still with them, that though he had left he was still there. And now on the day of Pentecost these formerly frightened individuals stand up before the world and proclaim boldly their faith in one who had been taken down as a criminal. (The one word which characterizes the whole Acts of the Apostles is boldness.)
The Pentecost experience is meant to show us the meaning of the gift received in Baptism. It comes to us as a people, gathered, in prayer together.
We are not baptized for ourselves, Jesus coming to us as -- to use the TV evangelizers and a lot of evangelical people -- "my personal savior" -- if that means myself in isolation from a community. God doesn't pour out the Spirit on you or me as some private consolation to make me or you feel good. Baptism is not some spiritual goody to be hugged in some romanticized me-and-God way.
Many of the evangelicals go around asking the question: "have you been saved?" A good biblical scholar, who belongs to the evangelical tradition himself, says they are misreading the biblical message when they go around asking "Sister/brother, have you been saved?" The biblical question is rather: how does God's gift of salvation for you or me join us in the mission of Jesus to bring healing to everyone?
They were gathered; they were together; they were in prayer.
Did you ever wonder how many were there, how many the Spirit fell upon that day? It wasn't just 'the Twelve'. In the passage immediately preceding today's reading, the gathering to select a successor to Judas, it says "there was a group of about 120 in the one place."
Did it ever occur to you that that's just about the size of our normal 11:00am Sunday congregation?
So let's just close our eyes and just imagine. The Spirit really falls no this community and the front doors are opened and we go forth into our world.
And people hear us and they say, "These people are speaking St. Agnes talk, they're 'speaking in Bond Hill ' -- and we understand them in our own tongues. In Queensgate and Lincoln Heights and Cumminsville. We understand them although we speak Mt. Lookout and Hyde Park. And yes, we even understand them in Over-the-Rhine and Mohawk."
These people are different: They're black and they're white. They're young and they're old. They are people who have a little money and people who have a whole lot less; they are professionals and they are blue-collar workers -- yes, and they are police officers and they are civilians. And they respect one another and they care for one another and they share the same Lord and work for the one single kingdom of God.
And did you notice? They are joyful. They sing! They sing a different song; they clap and they move and they dance -- why, you'd think they might have had too much wine. . . .
That's the birth the Lord is always pulling us forth to, out of narrow birth canals into the light of his creation. It's what Peter was talking about when he explained to all the people the meaning of what they were experiencing:
"Listen to what I have to say. You must realize that these people are not drunk, as you seem to think. . . No, it is what Joel the prophet spoke of:
'It shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
that I will pour out a portion of my spirit on all humankind;
Your sone and daughters shall prophesy,
your young men shall see visions
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Yes, even on my servants, slaves and handmaids
I will pour out portion of my spirit in those days,
and they shall prophesy. . .
Then shall everyone be saved who calls on the name of the Lord.'" (Acts 2:14-18, 21)
In a short time we will drink the newest of wines, the life-blood of the Lord; we will feast on the finest of wheat. Together. One loaf, one cup. We eat and we drink with the promise that the Spirit of Jesus will continue to be poured out, that we will eventually be able to hear his voice in all the different tongues and accents, the cultures and life-styles -- of all God's people. Across our globe. And in our city.