Sermon for the Day of Pentecost
Readings: Acts 2:1–21, 1 Corinthians 12:1–13 & John 20:19–23
In Christianity, we associate the Day of Pentecost with the time when the disciples received the Holy Spirit. This of course was recorded in our first reading for today, which was from the Acts of the Apostles.
But long before it was taken over by Christians as a holy day to be celebrated, the Day of Pentecost was actually one of the three pilgrim feasts of the Jewish religious year, when devout Jews, where possible, would seek to celebrate the festival in Jerusalem. It was the feast of firstfruits (the dedication of the first sheaf of the wheat harvest) and it occurred fifty days after Passover. The Greek word pentekoste, actually means 50th.
And it’s interesting on the celebration of this agricultural feast day, that the Apostle Peter, whose very first sermon is captured in today’s reading from the Book of Acts, uses the opportunity to quote from the Book of Joel. Because it was an agricultural catastrophe that struck the nation of Judah, in the form of a locust plague, which was at the centre of the Book of Joel.
Peter quoted from Joel when refuting the claim that the disciples were drunk, which of course was the claim made by some of those present in Jerusalem, who witnessed the disciples speaking in tongues after they had received the Holy Spirit. Peter declared they were not drunk, but that what was being witnessed was what the prophet Joel had foretold, which was that God would pour out His Spirit on all people, and people would prophesy, as the disciples did that day, and that everyone who then called on the name of the Lord would be saved.
Interestingly, in his first letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul, said that no one can say that “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for Lord was kyrios, and it was this word that was used for the sacred name for God (Yahweh) in the Old Testament when it was translated into Greek. So, when Paul said that “Jesus is Lord”, he was really saying that Jesus was God, and he was saying that this knowledge was only revealed to people by the grace of God. It was a gift from God, that was given through the Holy Spirit, in the same way that spiritual gifts: such as the utterance of wisdom, the utterance of knowledge, the gift of healing, and the gift of prophecy, among many others, were given.
Paul reminded the Christians in the church at Corinth that each of them had received a gift from the Holy Spirit, and even though the nature of each of their gifts was different, each was just as valuable and important as the others because they had all been gifted by the same Spirit. Paul felt the need to do this because some members of the church in Corinth were boasting that the particular gift they had received, which may have been the ability to speak in tongues for example, was more important than the gifts that other members had received.
This is then when Paul made his famous analogy of the church being the body of Christ in the world, and just as the body is one and has many interdependent parts, so the church is one that has many different members (all with different gifts) who are all dependent on one another, and whose different gifts complement each other.
The same is true of every church, or parish, in the world today. Each church, or parish, is comprised of individuals with very different personalities and skill sets, who ultimately complement each other, and enable the parish to function effectively, and fulfil the purpose or mission that God has intended for it. The Spirit is at work in each individual within the church, enabling them to achieve the personal purpose or mission that God has earmarked for them.
And our gospel reading for today, from the Gospel of John, contains John’s version of Jesus commissioning the disciples for their ministry, when Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection and said to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”. So just as God had sent Jesus to carry out the ministry that God had ordained for Jesus, now Jesus was sending the disciples to carry out the ministry that he had earmarked them for, which was of course to proclaim the good news of the gospel to the world. To enable the disciples to do this, John told us that Jesus breathed on the disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
Each of us received the gift of the Holy Spirit at our baptism. And each of us has been tasked by God with carrying out our own particular form of ministry in the world today. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, each of us have been given our own particular set of gifts or skills that will enable us to perform that ministry. For as Paul wrote in the First Letter to the Corinthians, ‘Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.’ (1 Cor. 12:4–6 NRSV)