Sermon for the Day of Pentecost
Readings: Acts 2:1–21; Romans 8:14–17 & John 14:8–17
“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.”(Romans 8:9a NRSV)
With this statement the Apostle Paul identifies a key way in which we, as Christians, are different from people that we might refer to as ‘non-believers’.
Paul also says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5 NRSV)
When he talks of living “according to the flesh”, he isn’t specifically being critical of anyone who has a desire for the material things of this world. Paul thinks that through “the pleasures of the flesh”, we are more likely to succumb to the temptation of sin. Sexual desire, for example, is a perfectly normal human trait, that can lead someone to betray their spouse or partner by having a sexual encounter with another person, which in turn can cause irreparable damage not only to their relationship with their spouse or partner, but also to the lives of others whose lives are interconnected with their relationship; that being family members and friends. In that sense, someone who seeks only to satisfy their own desires, can end up doing great personal harm to both themselves and others.
To “live according to the Spirit”, is to be guided by the wisdom of Jesus that prevents us from doing harm to ourselves and to others. It is to listen to the Spirit of Jesus that lives within each of us. As Paul said, “you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you”. Paul encourages us to “set our minds on the things of the Spirit”.
Two weeks ago, on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, in the reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus told his disciples that, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23 NRSV) He also told them, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25–26 NRSV) The Holy Spirit will teach us, and remind us of all that Jesus said.
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and that those who don’t believe in Jesus can’t receive the Spirit, because they neither see him or know him. They neither see or know the Spirit precisely because they don’t believe in Jesus. But Jesus tells the disciples, “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” In other words, Jesus is saying you believe in me and therefore you believe that I have sent the Spirit to you, and you believe that the Spirit is with you. That is true for all disciples of Jesus, including all of us here today.
And today, as we commemorate the Day of Pentecost, we are reminded of the very dramatic and public way in which the first disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Having received the Spirit, each of the disciples was able to speak in another language, the native language of one of those Jews present in Jerusalem that day who had come from the surrounding regions and even farther away to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost is actually a Greek word, meaning the fiftieth day after Passover. And on that day, the people of Israel would bring the first fruits of the wheat harvest, as a grain offering to God.
Pentecost was one of three pilgrim feasts of the Jewish religious year, when devout Jews would go to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival. And it is these people we read about in this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles which says, “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” (Acts 2:5)
Although Jewish by birth, these Jews were living in regions of the Roman Empire outside of Jerusalem, and they obviously spoke the native language of the region where they lived. And this is why they are surprised, when in Jerusalem, they hear the disciples, who are all natives of the region of Galilee, suddenly speaking the different native languages of the regions these Jews themselves are from.
Many people today, who are members of Pentecostal Christian churches, can also be observed “speaking in tongues” after receiving baptism with the Holy Spirit. This is a different form of baptism than that which we as Anglicans receive, whether as infants or as adults. We obviously believe that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at our baptism, whereas Pentecostal Christians would generally claim to have received the gift of the Spirit at a time prior to their baptism with water.
Regardless of how and when one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, I like what the Apostle Paul says about in the Letter to the Romans. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:14, 16 NRSV)
If we trust and allow our lives to be guided by the Spirt, who reminds us of all that Jesus said, rather than putting ourselves at the mercy of our desires, then we bear witness that we are children of God. Or to put it in the words of Jesus from the gospel reading from the fifth Sunday of Easter: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35 NRSV)