“What Does This Mean?”
June 5th, 2022
Rev. Rebecca Migliore
Pentecost—that festival that comes 50 days after Easter. Pentecost—the wild wind, the flickering flame, the amazing array of speech. Pentecost—the gift of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost—the birth day of the Church. Pentecost—what in the world does this mean?
Pentecost—often the forgotten holy day—because it’s graduation time, and it’s (unofficial) summer time, and it’s “we’re ready to take a break from routine” time. Pentecost feels like the baby sibling to the big feasts of Christmas and Easter. And Pentecost might get short shrift in some Presbyterian circles because it is definitely not a day done “decently and in order.” And yet, it is the festival most closely tied with us.
Christmas is about new beginnings—about birth and revealing, again, God’s love for us. Easter is about new beginnings—about resurrection and revealing the depth of God’s love for us. Pentecost is also about new beginnings—about the thread of the Spirit creating the tapestry of the church, and revealing our part in passing along the message of God’s love for us.
What we call Pentecost starts in the Jewish tradition of Shavuot (which happens on the 50th day or “Pentecost” after Passover). It was one of the three most important religious days in the Jewish calendar at Jesus’ time and a time when people were required to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. We are told in the gospels that the passion happened on the eve of Passover, and so finding the small band of Jesus followers in Jerusalem 50 days after his death is not odd.
They were continuing to worship, continuing to pray, continuing to gather together, waiting for inspiration, waiting for what was to come next, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit that Jesus had talked about.
Shavuot celebrates the revelation on Mt. Sinai—Moses being given the 10 commandments—God speaking to God’s people about who they were and what they would be about. The beginning of this group of people being called God’s people. You can see how the early church, with its deep Jewish roots, would be hoping for a new revelation, a new gift, so that they could know better who they were and what they would be about.
And if we go back into the prehistory, into the stories of the beginnings of humans told in those first chapters of Genesis, we also see a connection between Pentecost and Babel. In that early time, so we are told, people had one language, and one focus, to make themselves bigger and better and higher. In other words to rival God. And in this “how did we get here” story—God decides to foil their plan by “confusing” their speech, by breaking the one language into many languages, and they scattered into all the world.
I sometimes think God is the great Recycler—taking what already is, and putting it to new use; reworking what seems faded and old into something different and new. So I love the layers upon layers of the story of Pentecost.
The Babel story where one people and one language with a self-serving purpose are broken into many people with many languages, and scattered to the ends of the earth. The Pentecost story where many people and many languages are used by the Spirit with one Godly purpose, to spread the message of God’s love for us—and eventually the sending out of those many people and many languages into the world.
The Shavuot story where God finds a way to communicate with God’s people, and leaves them with a covenant, a law, that ties them together and ties them to God.
The Pentecost story where God through the Spirit, finds a way to use us, to use even talents and languages we did not know we could speak, to communicate with one another, and leaving us with a covenant, the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, who ties us together, and ties us to God.
Of course, the world looks at the workings of God—the ecstasy and joy of worship, the beautiful use of all these different languages, the prominence of the least and the last—and the world thinks “these people are drunk.” Others think “This is amazing! What does it mean?” And we are still asking that question today. It is Pentecost. What does this mean for us?
I hear it saying: Be open to having unexpected encounters with the One who knit us together in the womb and propels us into more newness than we thought possible.
I hear it saying: God revels in taking the old and the new, the east and the west, those in the present, those from the past, and those who will be in the future, and aligning it all, aligning the sparkling mosaic of diversity for a common purpose, God’s purpose.
I hear it saying: You are beautiful in your uniqueness; you are honored and loved just as you are. You are also an integral piece of God’s kin-dom-to-be, here in this place, here in this space, here on this hallowed ground.
I hear it saying: Each of you, each of us, will be given gifts for our special work. We must recognize that we are urged to leave our upper room and move out into the highways and byways of our lives, remembering we are connected always to each other, and to our God.
I’d like to end with a rewording of the Pentecost story from Seasons of the Spirit that I thought was so wonderful.
Imagine people from all around the world:
from Australia and Scotland,
Canada and the United States,
from countries of Africa, India, and all places in between:
from places of hope and places of anger;
places of plenty and places of hunger;
people who are overwhelmed by emptiness
and people who are overwhelmed by abundance;
people from yesterday and today, and tomorrow –
imagine all these people gathered in one place.
captured by fear,
we wait – wondering what it is
that we are waiting for.
And in the midst of all time and space
God’s Spirit bursts in, once again,
as it always does,
and we are reminded that God,
our Creator God,
our loving and forgiving God,
our God that never lets us go
is come to us once again.
The risen Christ, who we sometimes fear has left us,
is right here in our very midst,
and we are overcome with joy.
And while others may laugh at us
and make fun,
and tell us we are too full of fanciful ideas
and not dealing with the “real” world,
we know that the real world
is God’s place,
and that reality is seeking to align ourselves
with God’s will.
And hear these words from the prophet Joel:
God’s Spirit is poured out,
on all people
no matter who we are or where we have been –
God’s Spirit is poured out upon us
and we know, as sure as the sun rises and sets,
that God’s love is for all people.
(Seasons of the Spirit, June 5, 2022, p. 183)
And I add:
May we be swept into the gale,
May we be consumed by the flame,
May we be overtaken by the call—
To be God’s people,
Doing God’s work,
In God’s world.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.