Sunday, May 23, 2021
What are we waiting for?
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
Reading today’s Acts passage I find myself asking the Godly Play question of I wonder. I wonder what the disciples were waiting for? I wonder what they expected to happen? I wonder what it was like to be there? They in this case would be the disciples, all of the followers that had gathered in that upper room. Forty days after the resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven and, as was said in Luke, they were told to wait in Jerusalem. Jesus told them they would be equipped with power from on high. In the reading from John for today he promises them an advocate. They have been waiting for something, they didn’t know what.
This may be an example of be careful what you pray for, you just might get it! Think of the surprise that was in store for them. Now today’s reading in Acts speaks of the bafflement, surprise and disbelief of those who saw the result of this outpouring of the Spirit. Nothing is said about what those disciples thought. Have you ever wondered what it was like for them?
Note the words chosen to describe the event. Something like tongues of fire, something like the sound of a rushing wind. The words something like give us the hint that this was something so outside of normal that there are no words to describe what was experienced. The best they could do was to say it was something like and then fill in the blank.
They had been promised an advocate a companion, but they did not know what was going to appear. In John the advocate is literally “one called alongside.” The promise of the Spirit, the advocate, in John is not about comfort, but about challenge; the challenge to come out from behind the locked doors and get out into the world. This was the start of something big! I will come back to that thought in just a few moments.
Pentecost was originally a Jewish harvest festival long before it was a Christian celebration. The Jewish festival of Pentecost occurs 50 days after Passover. We have kept that tradition in the Christian Church by making our Pentecost 50 days after the resurrection. In the Jewish context this was a festival when the first fruits of the spring harvest would be brought to the temple and offered to God. In the case of the Israelites it would have been the first crop of barley that would be brought to the temple, but the parallels are there for us today as we experience in Texas that spring harvest of a variety of crops. Offering of first fruits to God is of great significance to Jews and many of our stewardship campaigns speak of giving our first fruits back to God.
The Jewish Pentecost celebrates the abundant gifts of God to the people of Israel. This thank offering was a giving back to God a portion of what God had given to them. Very much like our prayer when I accept the gifts of this congregation and we say, “All things come of thee oh Lord and of thine own have we given thee.” Israel acknowledges the abundance of care that God gives to them. They remember on Pentecost all of the wonderful things God had done for them.
This also explains all of those people from all of those nations who were gathered in Jerusalem. That long list of names that makes most of our lectors either run for a pronunciation guide or call me for help. People would have celebrated Passover at home. Passover is a family not temple oriented holiday. Pentecost was a pilgrimage festive and required people to travel to the temple in Jerusalem. It was 50 days after the offering of the first fruits of the harvest. It is into this international milieu that the Spirit bursts in a most unexpected way causing chaos, consternation and joy.
On that day the first fruits of the Spirit were given by God to us. Given to a group of worried and confused disciples who had just seen their leader crucified, resurrected and then taken away again as he ascended into heaven.
There they sat in Jerusalem maybe behind locked doors worried about what the future would bring. Jesus had promised them they would not be left alone, but in that upper room they maybe thought they were. Surrounded by those who disliked them, this tiny group wondered what in the world can we do. Does this sound familiar?
However lost in this wonderful account in Acts is the fact that our scriptures give us two different stories about the giving of the Spirit to the early church. There is the version of Pentecost found in the Gospel of John in addition to the version we hear today in Acts.
Think back to Easter morning and the account from John where Jesus appears to the gathered disciples and says “Peace be with you.” Then he breathes on them and says receive the Holy Spirit. There it is, the Spirit had already been breathed into them. Maybe what happened is the often somewhat slow witted disciples needed a double dose to understand. They had the Spirit, but it took 50 days and a second more spectacular visitation for them to understand and to respond.
In his email for the day of Pentecost Richard Rohr writes:
“We still wait behind closed doors; fifty days (“Pente-cost”), fifty years, five hundred years, we are always waiting and hoping, but not really expecting. It is the day we are always waiting for but never prepared for, the day of the great outpouring of fire-laden love, the day that ties all other days together. Pentecost is actually every day, if we expect it; but, not surprisingly, this is the greatest forgotten major festival of the entire church year. Most come to church expecting no new outpouring, or maybe not even remembering an old one.
Yet it is Pentecost, the day of the great gathering in and the great sending out. The Holy Spirit must get tired of waiting for us, always hiding behind our closed doors.”
In many respects we have been behind closed doors and for more than just 50 days this past year. Yet there is a feeling of having the doors flung open wide and some people are not exactly sure what to do about that right now! We are wrestling with what this new found freedom feels like and how do we respond. I went to the Katy Christian Ministries Pastors Advisory council meeting and walked into a room filled with people without masks. I was really quite taken aback and unprepared for that. In fact I had gone back to my car to get my mask. This Pentecost is a new opportunity to look and see what the Spirit may be saying to us and giving to us. As we come out from behind our locked doors, what joys and surprises does the Spirit have in store for us?
Fr. Edward Hayes in one of my favorite book of prayers entitled Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim writes this prayer with which I want to end.
A Psalm to the wind of heaven1
O wind that blows when and where it will.
teach me to reverence the Wind of Heaven
O mover of tree tops and tall grasses
you who are the servant of no other forces,
open me up to the mysterious Breath of God.
O Divine Wind, blowing with the Spirit’s sweetness
through a chant filled mosque in Arabia
or causing a silent heart to dance
In a hidden hermit’s cave high in the Himalayas
or caressing with compassion
an abandoned packing crate in an urban slum,
wherein sleeps a homeless drifter;
let me feel your loving touch.
Life me up above my selfish interest,
spreading my concerns wider than myself
Exhale a gale of your grace into me
and set me under full sail
as your servant of life and of love
Remind me with your every movement
that history has shown clearly
how you are the private property of none,
how great and passionate movements
have lost touch with your breath of life
And so have become empty of their youthful qlee.
Wind of Inspiration, Creative Spirit of God,
teach me not to forget
that you come always as gift.
Remind me always to be ready
to receive and romance and dance with joy
wherever and whenever you visit
or risk that you may move on without me.
May I ever be sensitive to your gentle breezes
and willing to soar with your wild winds.
May we be sensitive to the breezes of the Spirit. That is what Pentecost is about