The story of Pentecost that we hear proclaimed from the Acts of the Apostles recounts in dramatic fashion how the once-timid band of Jesus’ followers confidently emerged from their refuge of mourning and fear into the bright light of day to boldly declare the mighty acts of God. This band of Jesus’ followers included more than just the eleven remaining apostles. The mother of Jesus was likely among them, along with another 120 or so who were also present when Matthias was chosen to replace Judas. They had already been through a lot together, since before the horrific events of Jesus’ passion and death; which meant they probably already shared many of the same stories of Jesus, and lessons and insights gleaned. They mostly spoke the same familiar tongue, and spilling into the streets that morning, they did not hold back from speaking about Jesus, his message of hope, and his unique role in God’s plan of salvation.
A crowd of onlookers began to gather, attracted by the noise. They did not quite grasp what they were hearing. “Are not all these people speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?” It seems a number of the residents of Jerusalem had immigrant roots from all over. And they spoke many other tongues. And it surprised them to hear both the local Aramaic and the other languages of their native cultures. The listeners soon realized something amazing was happening. They could clearly understand what they were hearing in several tongues simultaneously.
Just two verses after our reading ends, some bystanders suggest that “they have had too much new wine.” Addressing the crowd, Peter admits that it was an amazing unusual sight. But no, they weren’t drunk, not at 9:00 in the morning. They had just encountered the awesome Spirit of God in swift rushing wind and blazing tongues of fire, and they just hadn’t yet analyzed the experience. But they were empowered by that encounter, and intensely moved to tell about it to anyone who would listen. When your heart swells with holy joy and gratitude, you just feel the need to proclaim it, and you acquire this eloquence, and there’s a spring in your step, and the smile on your face is infectious, and there’s something markedly different in the way you interact with people. An abundance of holy joy and gratitude begins to just ooze out of you, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop it. That’s what happened to Peter and the other disciples. And the experience was so powerfully transforming, it would see many of them through hardships and persecutions, even torture and martyrdom.
But the great risk of focusing entirely this feast of Pentecost on the extraordinary outpouring of the Holy Spirit a long time ago on a roomful of Jesus’ disciples is that we forget that the Holy Spirit comes to us as well in many ordinary and unspectacular ways. We love the spectacular and the extraordinary. That’s why a number of you were up before dawn yesterday to catch the live broadcast of the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. You know who you are. It’s not an unimportant event, but since it gets significantly more attention than less spectacular everyday boring events, we tend to not notice them sometimes. As the Holy Spirit was present in awesome splendor and glory that Pentecost day in the upper room, so the Holy Spirit is with us this day and every day in our churches, our homes, our schools, and our workplaces. As the Holy Spirit gave the disciples that Pentecost day boundless strength and joy to proclaim the mighty acts of God, so the Holy Spirit gives us this day and every day the courage and eagerness to witness to God’s abiding love and mercy through our words and actions.
I realized too late that I had chosen the alternative second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians and that last night’s lector was a child who would be proclaiming boldly and clearly a list of the works of the flesh, not exactly something you want to hear in church ever. But as unusual at that might be, did we perhaps miss the list of the fruits of the Spirit that came right after? Unspectacular and ordinary, they are truly tangible evidence of the presence of God’s awesome Holy Spirit. We witness each day to God’s abiding love and mercy by our love, our joy, our peace, our patience, our kindness, our generosity, our faithfulness, our gentleness, and our self-control. No need for trumpets or fireworks. Yet the Holy Spirit is without a doubt with us in our midst.
“I have much more to tell you,” Jesus said to his apostles at the last supper. “But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” Jesus didn’t say we would know all truth intuitively, but rather that the Holy Spirit would guide us in our discernment. We will need to want the Holy Spirit’s guidance. And we will need to be ready for the Holy Spirit’s surprises. All we need to do is scour the scriptures. We will find many surprises throughout the history of God’s people. It all started when God chose a ragged band of desert-dwellers to be his chosen people. Then in time he sent his beloved Son, born of a young virgin, to invite sinners to repentance and to proclaim God’s mercy and compassion, then to suffer and die in that ultimate act of obedience and surrender, and to conquer darkness and death by rising from the grave. And in succeeding generations, God has extended the same message of hope and reconciliation to people of every nation, culture, language, and race. God continues to reach out to us, especially the overlooked and the marginalized, to remind us that he is present in the spectacular and extraordinary, as well as in the unspectacular and the ordinary. We do not tell God how we want things to be. Instead we live in the Spirit, so we should follow the Spirit’s lead.
On Pentecost day many years ago, God’s awesome and mighty Spirit came down on Jesus’ followers in rushing wind and blazing fire, and transformed them to the core. Each of us received the same Holy Spirit at our baptism and confirmation. And Jesus tells us we need only ask the Father as often as we desire, and he would send us the Holy Spirit. But why do we hesitate to ask? Are we fearful we might be transformed? Each time we celebrate a sacrament, we call on God to send the Holy Spirit—when we go to confession, when we celebrate a wedding, when we ask for the anointing of the sick. We might want God’s Spirit, but frequently only on our own terms. We are often unwilling to hand over control, even to God. And when we get the nerve to ask, are we prepared to welcome God’s wind and fire?There will be hardship and persecution, as we still must suffer the scourge of substance abuse, gun violence, and mental illness. Jesus never promised his followers a life without the cross. But the presence of the Holy Spirit will be evident in the fruit we bear—lives of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We want the Holy Spirit to transform the world, but it cannot happen unless we first are transformed. Will we be eager and willing to embrace the rushing wind and blazing fire of God?
Rolo B Castillo © 2018
Acts 2: 7-8
Acts 2: 13
John 16: 13