Posts Tagged ‘Pentecost’

Homily for the Feast of the Pentecost, Year B 2015 (May 24)

May 17, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Pentecost, Year B 2015 (May 24)

Last week I spoke about the promises that Jesus made before he left the Apostles and ascended. Those promises were all centre around the coming of the Spirit, a free gift of God to those faithful to Jesus, which would allow them to experience and continue to experience Jesus in their lives.

In Acts today the coming of the Spirit is imaged by violent wind and the appearance of tongues of fire resting on each person. Whether that is a literal image or the best description they could come up with for what had happened, the important thing to note is that it had an affect. It changed the Apostles. The first major change that came about was the ability to speak or be understood in many different languages. It is not made clear whether they actually spoke those languages or the hearts just heard everything in their own languages.

The concept of the spirit of God had been in Jewish writings and beliefs for many years. We read in the Psalm today: “when you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” If you remember back to Genesis it was the breath or spirit of God that originally blew over and created the earth. The Jews looked forward to a renewal of that original creation.

The coming of the Holy Spirit took place on a Jewish holiday – the Feast of Shavuat or in Greek Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. It came to be associated with the giving of the Torah, the Law, to Moses. On that feast God put his spirit into the two tablets of the Law for his people to follow. Now, at the Christian Pentecost, the Spirit comes into their hearts. There are comparisons with both comings. There was a theophany, or visible manifestation of God at Sinai and in the house at Pentecost. Both had fire – one in the form of a burning bush seen by all, the other as tongues of fire given individually. There were many people – non Jews present after both events, and both were accompanied by many tongues or voices. (See Stern, David H.  Jewish New Testament Commentary, p.221). Another word for Torah is teaching and the Holy Spirit was sent also to teach. If Shavuat is considered the birth of Judaism, Pentecost is often considered the birth of Christianity.

The Gospel reading today, however, gives a different interpretation of the coming of the Holy Spirit by having Jesus breathe on the apostles and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Most scholars consider this not the Pentecost experience but Jesus preparing them for that experience. John’s Gospel is often different from he Synoptics because his purposes are more theological, coming longer after the others. The purpose here seems to be one of preparation for the power that they were to receive. John does not concern himself with what happens to the Apostles as much as follow what happened to Christ. So he does not include Pentecost but ends with Jesus talking about coming again.

St. Paul today also expounds about the Spirit. He says that without the Spirit, none of us would be able to believe in Jesus. We see the early signs of our understanding of the Trinity also in Paul today. He talks about the Spirit giving many and various gifts, the many and various services we do in Christ’s name, and the activities we carry out in God’s name. But it is one God activating everything. If we are one body in Christ, the Spirit is our life blood coursing through that body to give life and strength to all the limbs.

So the importance of Pentecost for us today is more than just a birthday; it should be a reminder of our unity through the Trinity and through the workings of the Three Persons in One. Being part of that one body, we should not distinguish any member or part of that body being better than any other member. That is why Paul ends with “we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greek, slaves or free. Arguments about priests being better than lay people, men better than women, rich better than poor, different better than same – should have no place in a Christian’s heart. The Spirit unifies us all. And though we may play different parts, just as the function of the heart is different from that of the right arm, we all work together for the wholeness of the body, and we celebrate the health of each part, since it all affects us in some way.

This way of thinking is a different paradigm than we have in modern society. Can we bring our Christian paradigm to the forefront of our own lives, and convince others by our love and care to do the same. That is the challenge of Christians today, and it all began at Pentecost – the Good News that we celebrate at the end of our Easter season.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Homily for Pentecost Sunday, Year A 2014

June 1, 2014

Homily for Pentecost Sunday, Year A  2014

If we had celebrated the 7th Sunday of Easter last week instead of the Ascension, we would have read that the Apostles, after witnessing the ascension, went back to Jerusalem as Jesus told them to do, and went to an upstairs room and devoted themselves to prayer for a ten day period. The story in Acts then picks up where we started today. 

“When the day of Pentecost had come….”  This Jewish feast, translated in Hebrew as Festival of Weeks is one of three times a year that Jewish males  go up to Jerusalem, seven weeks or 50 days after Passover. The name Pentecost comes from the Greek word for fifty. For Jews it was time to offer the first of the wheat grains for the year, by offering two loaves of leavened bread. The feast was also associated with a celebration of Moses being given the Torah because the Jews linked each Festival with some aspect of their history. They also linked each Festival with a religious theme and the theme of Pentecost was “Revelation”. 

This theme  of “Revelation” is highly appropriate to what we celebrate today as well. Because God wanted to bring his new Covenant first to the Jewish people, he used a Jewish way to do it – through Jewish Feasts – in order to convey truths which were linked with older truths.  The Ten Commandments were given to Moses on this day and are being given again, but, this time, being written as Jeremiah says “in our hearts”. This is accomplished by the gift, not of tablets, but of the Spirit. If the Torah or Ten Commandments has been the glue that bonded the Jewish people as a society of God’s people for so long, the Spirit now will bond the new community of Apostles and sustain them through the centuries to follow. The Ten Commandments are still valid – Jesus didn’t come to destroy them – but with the Spirit we are able to see things in a different way.

Let us continue to look at the story in Acts. The Apostles were in the upper room, praying when a violent wind seemed to go through the place and tongues of fire rested on each of them.  Going back to the Moses story, when Moses was given the Torah, it was from a burning bush. The presentation of God was communal for Moses – there was one fiery bush, but at Pentecost the fire broke off into pieces to individualize each person. The fact that Jesus made point that he wanted this to happen in Jerusalem is also important for that shows the  continuation of the contract that God had made with the Jewish people. The New Covenant comes out of the Old. In one sense the Jewish people as a people was born on Sinai when Moses was given the Torah. In a very real sense the Church was born on Pentecost when the Apostles were given the Holy Spirit. So happy birthday!

The amazing “power” that was given to the Apostles after they received the Spirit was a reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel.  In that story everyone spoke one language until through their pride they thought they could build a tower to heaven so nothing they wanted would be out of their reach. God punished them and suddenly they could no longer communicate with each other and different languages were born.

The reverse happens at Pentecost – God restores the ability to communicate and each hears the Word of God in his or her own language.

The Gospel today is John’s re-interpretation of the Pentecostal event through Jesus’ breathing on the Apostles and giving them both the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sin, more as a foreshadowing of the actual event itself because John seems to take the ascension for granted.

Finally, in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we get, not a story, but a theological interpretation of the event. It seems that Paul had been writing to Corinth because there had been arguments in the Corinth community about the relative importance of the different graces or gifts given by the Spirit. They thought that some gifts were more valuable than others, and that speaking in tongues was to be most valued. Paul response to this is to lump all the gifts together and describe them in their totality as graces given by the Spirit in order to build up a community. This is also one of the passages where we get some idea of early theology on the Trinity. The one Spirit gives gifts in many varieties; we give service, as a result, in many ways, as Christ did, and there is but one Christ; and we take action and evangelize in many ways, but in the name of the one God. All are given gifts and all are valuable and are not to be rated better or worse, but simply they are to be used for the good of the community and the spread of the Word. The gift is not given a person to inspire pride in it, but it is for the common good of all.

The idea Paul suggests is that being a part of the body of Christ, we each have a function for the common good.  We need to find out what that function is that the Spirit has given us, develop it, trust God the Spirit to activate it, and then appreciate and not be envious of the gifts of others which work to further our own good.

I am suggesting, with Paul today, that each of you has been given a gift to advance the community here. You may not have discovered that gift yet. You may have been afraid to discover that gift. But with your confirmation, it can be discovered and activated. It may even surprise you. This week i would love for you to think about what gift or gifts you may have been graced with, and whether you are using them for the good of this community or in building Christ’s kingdom beyond us. You may want to think of it as a talent for something or just simply something you are good at, but it is important to bring it to our table, to use it, to function as part of Christ’s body.  I promise you, when you use it properly it will feel very satisfying and good and you will know you have contributed to the unity of this parish and this community through the grace of God.

This is the Good News you need to discover within yourself and use, and Happy Birthday to our Church!

Bishop Ron Stephens 

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]