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Embed code for: Homily - Pentecost Year A 2017
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1 Pentecost – Eucharist – 4.vi.17 (Acts 2.1-21; 1 Corinthians 12.3b-13; John 20.19-23) I wonder if we can easily picture that first day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Not just the gathering of disciples who find the Holy Spirit come upon them like the rush of a mighty wind,… the Spirit who comes upon them with tongues of fire which rest upon the apostles, giving them the ability to tell what they believe, even in languages they did not know. But the way they then go out for their first exercise in preaching the Gospel… Can you picture the crowd which gathers to hear them, people with so many different languages and from so many different countries? How could the disciples get them all together? Is this simply an account of an event nearly 2,000 years ago which is never to be repeated? In Jewish tradition, Pentecost was the Feast of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Set free from slavery in Egypt the people gather below the holy mountain as Moses ascends. He’ll come back with the Ten Commandments of the Law inscribed on tablets of stone. But the legend says that as Moses met with God a mighty wind turned to fire and a voice proclaimed the Law. A tradition goes still further that the fire split into seventy tongues of fire corresponding to the seventy known nations of the world - in other words God’s Law was proclaimed not only to the people of Israel but to all humanity. St. Luke here at the beginning of his second book, the Acts of the Apostles, has the mighty wind and tongues of fire coming to rest upon the disciples. And then they go out to preach. For Luke the universal proclamation is not the Law but the Gospel - the Good News which can bring healing and unity to the divided nations of the world. 2 What does that mean to us now? There’s so much division and darkness in our world today - so much that needs to be healed. The priest and writer Henri Nouwen knew that from his own experience - not only from his encounters with other needy people but from what he had learned of his own brokenness and need of healing. In a journal he kept during the final year of his life, he wrote: Without Pentecost the Christ-event – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – remains imprisoned in history as something to remember, think about, and reflect on. [But] The Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell within us, so that we can become living Christs here and now. Pentecost lifts the whole mystery of salvation out of its particularities and makes it into something universal, embracing all peoples, all countries, all seasons, and all eras. Pentecost is also the moment of empowering. Each individual human being can claim the Spirit of Jesus as the guiding spirit of his or her life. In that Spirit we can speak and act freely and confidently with the knowledge that the same Spirit that inspired Jesus is inspiring us. Nouwen wrote out of his experience from priestly pastoral work, in academic institutions, of living a monastic life, and finally from his life in the communities of L’Arche where he lived alongside people with a range of disabilities - there he found people who might easily be written off in terms of their value to society, but who are created in God’s image and who themselves could share a gift of healing with those around them, a healing Nouwen himself needed. And look at the Gospel reading we have today. St. John brings us back to the evening of the first Easter Day. Easter and Pentecost are inextricably bound together for him. The risen Jesus comes among the disciples who are 3 meeting in fear behind locked doors. And his gift to them is peace. He shows them his wounds but they know him to be alive. However anxious they had been, however closed in on themselves, now they know the hope of a new life with God. “Peace be with you,” says Jesus to them - and to us. And then, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” It’s a much quieter experience than what will follow fifty days later at Pentecost - but no less transforming: disciples dependent upon the presence of the Teacher they follow are now called to be apostles, people sent forth, as Jesus tells them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Again and again we have to go back to that small room in which the disciples met their risen Lord where he breathes on them and they receive the Holy Spirit; and back to that place as well where they met just ten days after the Ascension of our Lord. It all starts from there. These are simple men and women, none of them rich, probably few of them even more than barely educated – but we read how they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and how “the Spirit gave them ability.” All they can do is go out and share what they now feel and believe. Theirs is a faith which needs to be proclaimed – and they can follow no course of action other than to shout it out and put it into practice. They couldn’t know where it would lead them. But from preaching it first to that gathering of people who just happened to be in Jerusalem, in the course of a few years they will find themselves at work in those very lands from which their audience had come. Pentecost is sometimes called “the Birthday of the Church.” It’s the Holy Spirit coming upon ordinary men and women like us that makes the difference. The rest we might say is history. But also something to be lived 4 now. The risen Christ had come to the disciples behind locked doors and breathed on them with the words, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit is the very breath of God, the life of God breathing in us. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” St. Paul tells us. That means “to each one of us.” There are many varieties of gifts, says St. Paul - “but the same Spirit…” What are the gifts you might exercise? Paul lists a few of them in his First Letter to the Corinthians including wisdom, knowledge, faith and the discernment of spirits. Actually more than that: not merely wisdom but “the utterance of wisdom;” not just knowledge but “the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit.” The gifts we have need to be deepened and treasured - cultivated - but also shared. That’s what it means to give them utterance. And it’s God’s Holy Spirit who activates them - let him into our lives, give him time and space, and see what he can do. In administering the sacrament of Confirmation, the Bishop prays over the people who are to be confirmed: Let your Holy Spirit rest upon them: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding; the Spirit of counsel and inward strength; the Spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and let their delight be in the fear of the Lord. That’s a prayer which has been made for each of us who has already been confirmed, a prayer to join in for those who still to be confirmed, a prayer to make for ourselves each day. How can God’s Holy Spirit work in me? Am I ready for him to make a difference to the way I live? Am I ready to be 5 delivered from despondency and the feeling that things can only wind down? Am I ready to allow the Spirit of God to breathe in me with his life? – to deliver me from staleness and direct me beyond my expectation? These are the questions I know which I need to ask myself. The answer is only to be found if I make it possible for God’s Spirit to work in my heart - by time I set aside for prayer, by readiness to learn from him, by openness to what he may share. So let me end with a prayer of one of the great mystics of the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, which seems to say just that: Eternal Godhead, O sea profound, what more could you give me than yourself? You are the fire that never burns out; You consume in your heat all the soul’s self-love; You are the flame that drives away the cold. Give me your light that I may know all truth, clothe me with yourself, eternal truth, that I may live this mortal life with true obedience, and in the light of your most holy faith. St Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) eive the Holy Spirit…” It’s a much quieter experience than what will follow fifty days later at Pentecost - but no less transforming: disciples dependent upon the presence of the Teacher they follow are now called to be apostles, people sent forth,