19 May 2013. Feast of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-11. The first Pentecost: the powerful, life-giving Spirit.

Rom 8:8-17. In baptism the Christian has “died” to his sinful self to lead a new life in the Spirit.

John 20:19-23. Peace be with you! Receive the Holy Spirit

First Reading: Acts 2:1-11

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.”

Second Reading: Romans 8:8-17

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh- for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Gospel: John 20:19-23

 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Birthday of the Faith

Pentecost is really our birthday as a Church, for it celebrates the beginning of our faith community as God’s chosen people. In the Book of Revelation (5:9) a hymn is sung in praise of the Lamb of God, because by his blood he has purchased us for God from every tribe and tongue and nation and made us priests to serve our God. We are a priestly people and through us Christ continues to offer spiritual worship to the Father for the salvation of all mankind. We are also a prophetic people listening to the word of God and to the Spirit stirring within us. We are given an understanding of the faith and the grace of speech, to commend the gospel in our daily lives. But first we must listen, if we are to find that special speech.

This precisely what the apostles and disciples did, that first Pentecost Day. They listened to the Holy Spirit who revealed to them, in a new light, all that they had learned about Jesus. This became a burning force within them, compelling them to speak out about it. They became like Jeremiah, the reluctant prophet, who said: “It seemed as a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me and I could not bear it” (Jer 20:9). Peter and John later said to the Sanhedrin: “We cannot stop proclaiming what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). To understand the imagery of the Pentecost account, we must try and grasp Luke’s purpose. He wants to show how a new covenant was being set up between God and mankind. So he draws on the Exodus story of the Covenant on Sinai, when the mountain was wrapped in smoke and the Lord descended in the form of fire. Likewise, those in the Upper Room heard what sounded like a powerful wind – always associated with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Then a loud noise filled the entire house and tongues of fire appeared also. These were indications that the Chosen People of the new alliance with God was coming into being.

The gospel message of “Peace be with you!” recalls the story of Elijah (1 Kings 19), who was so dispirited after his fight against the worship of pagan gods that he wished he were dead. He went to the mountain of God and standing in a cave he heard a mighty wind go by, but the Lord was not in the storm. Finally, the Lord spoke to him from a quiet breeze and entrusted him with his new mission. The morale of Christ’s apostles after his death was so low that for fear of the Jews they locked themselves in the Upper Room. Then Jesus appeared among them, breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit. As with Elijah, they also have a new sense of mission. Just as God had breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils, making him the first human being alive, so the breathing of Jesus on the apostles made them part of a new creation. In fact the inspiring Holy Spirit will continue through them the mission of Jesus.

That special gifts were alive among the specially chosen followers of Jesus became obvious to those who were not members of that group. The gift of the Spirit as described by John is not a once-and-for-all event, rather it describes an on-going process. Christian beliefs and traditions have their enemies in our own time as well. But we should not despair, for the divine presence is there in our support. To this day Jesus and the Father continue to give the Holy Spirit to all entrusted with a mission of faith. We too can be drawn into the Pentecostal experience provided we keep our hearts open to what the Spirit is telling us and offer ourselves as willing instruments of God’s work.

Once there was a young lad who decided to become a saint. He went down to the library and got several books on the lives of the saints, in the hope of finding a role model. Eventually he chose Simon Stylites, one of the most unusual saints in the calendar. Simon lived his adult life on top of a high pillar in the middle of the town square. What drew the young lad to select him as his model was that if you’re going to be a saint, you might as well get as much publicity as possible out of it! I mean, everybody in town knew Simon and everyone knew he was a saint, despite the fact that if he were alive today, he’d probably be locked up!

Our young friend’s problem was that there was no pillar in his own town square. So to make a start he got a chair in the kitchen and stood on it. Then his mother wanted to get to the sink, so he had to move his chair. Then it was his sister going to the fridge and he had to move again. Later his brothers came in the back door, bumped into his chair and knocked him to the floor. Eventually he gave up and as he put the chair to one side, he declared with sorrow “It’s just not possible to become a saint at home’! But in fact it is not possible to become a saint anywhere else! Bloom where you’re planted, just as the seed of Jesus’ message must grow in the heart in which it is planted.

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