Rev. Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber
Today is Pentecost. It feels odd not to be gathering in person to celebrate Pentecost for a second year in a row. And yet, when we really think about it, this is not a bad way to celebrate Pentecost. For the past 14 months, we’ve been living similar to how the disciples did between the time of the death of Jesus and the day of Pentecost.
The story of the Day of Pentecost is told in the beginning of the second chapter of Acts. But let’s take a moment to get situated and remind ourselves of what was going on in the disciples’ lives at this point in the story.
There are 40 days between Easter Day and the Day of Ascension, and then 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost. In the 40 days between Easter and Ascension, the post-resurrection Jesus visited the disciples on many occasions. In the first chapter of Acts verse 4, we hear that, “[Jesus] ordered [the disciples] not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’ he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”
After that, they watched Jesus ascend into heaven and just kind of stayed in that place, not knowing what to do with themselves. After some angels gave them a little nudge, they returned to the place they were staying in Jerusalem and hung out in the upper room, waiting. I’m guessing there in the upper room, the disciples might have felt somewhat like we have over the past 14 months. Lives on hold. Not quite sure what to do with themselves.
They were just waiting. It wasn’t that their ministry had died, exactly. It’s just that they didn’t know what it would be, after Jesus was gone. The disciples could no longer follow Jesus around and learn from him. They would need to re-imagine their ministry for a time without Jesus in their midst. They didn’t quite know what to do with themselves, or how to go about doing it.
Pentecost falls ten days after the day of Ascension, that day when the disciples watched Jesus leave for the last time. Pentecost was a first-fruits celebration for the Jewish people, celebrating the beginning of harvest and growth for newborn livestock. All faithful families were to return to the temple in Jerusalem to make their Pentecost offerings. So Jerusalem was a very crowded place on the day of Pentecost.
In the midst of this crowded city, after 50 days of waiting somewhat aimlessly after the death of Jesus, the disciples finally were given the Holy Spirit. And the receiving of the Holy Spirit wasn’t some gentle strange warming of the heart like it was for John Wesley. No! When the disciples received the Holy Spirit it was quite dramatic. A violent wind filling the house! Tongues of fire resting on their heads! Speaking in languages all the visitors could understand!
And the disciples were not speaking random words to the others — they were sharing stories about the saving acts of God in this world. Peter then calms the chaos of this scene. (Peter, the same disciple who was overcome by chaos when he tried to walk on water to Jesus…) Peter calms the chaos by helping all the people understand that Jesus is for them, too.
When the Holy Spirit filled the disciples, the first thing they did was begin to tell stories of how God has been active in the world. The next thing they did was to tell others that God is for them. Jesus is for them. The saving grace of Jesus is for all. And then, that day, the disciples baptized over 3,000 people in the name of Jesus AND with the Holy Spirit.
The day began with a handful of disciples receiving the Holy Spirit, and the day ended with over 3,000 having the Holy Spirit.
THAT is the work of the Holy Spirit. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we can not keep it to ourselves. We tell the stories, we offer healing, we invite others in, we go out to others. We share the Holy Spirit, we share our resources, we share all that we have and all that we are — because the Holy Spirit binds us together: one to another, and us to God. And in that sharing, love–and God– is made real in this world.
My prayer for St. Luke’s is that in this next year the Holy Spirit will show up in our lives and become more real than we had ever imagined. My prayer for each of you is that when the Holy Spirit shows up in your life, you will have unburdened hands to be able to accept this gift. My prayer for our community is that the Holy Spirit, active and alive and swirling and burning within the community of St. Luke’s will not be able to be contained within the bounds of our church. That the Holy Spirit will stretch out through our own acts of service, through our own prayerful meditation, through our own words and actions and being — that the world will be changed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. That we–you and I– will have a part to play in the Holy Spirit showing up in Durham, North Carolina and beyond. That we–you and I– will never be the same because the Holy Spirit is alive and dwelling within us.
How can this happen? There is both nothing we can do, and so much we can do.
On the one hand, the Holy Spirit will come in her own sweet time. The disciples had to wait 50 days — and they had the benefit of full-time teaching from Jesus for three years.
On the other hand, you’ve heard this before. There is so much we can do to prepare ourselves body and soul for the transformation our Creator and Jesus and the Holy Spirit have in store for us. When we devote ourselves to the practices of the Way of Love, we commit ourselves to preparation for transformation, for being all-in to build the Beloved Community.
Today, on Pentecost, make a commitment to go deeper into the way of love by devoting yourself more completely to one or more of the practices of Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go and Rest. We’ve talked about these practices a lot over the past few years — and we still have so much work to do to practice these actions in our lives, day in and day out.
Click here to do your own research, and take on a commitment about the Way of Love practices for a month or this summer or a year.
What will be going on in the life of St. Luke’s at Pentecost 2023? The answer to that depends on what each of us are willing to do, and if we’re ready for all that the Holy Spirit has in mind.
Do the work!
St. Luke’s and Durham and the World need more Holy Spirit in our lives!