The Day of Pentecost

Numbers 11:24-30
11:24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.

11:25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

11:26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.

11:27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

11:28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!”

11:29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

11:30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
12:3b No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;

12:5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;

12:6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

12:8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,

12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,

12:10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

12:11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

12:13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Acts 2:1-21
2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

John 20:19-23
20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

The Holy Spirit is sometimes identified as the most hidden person of the Holy Trinity. Perhaps best portrayed/illustrated by the russian avantegarde artist Natalia Gonchorova’s painting of the Trinity where the Spirit hides, barely peeking out from behind protecting hovering wings. Indeed even the creeds give the Holy Spirit short shrift. While dedicating 10 descriptive lines to Jesus & at least one to the Father, the Apostles’s merely notes “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” without further comment before unhestitantly hurrying on…”I believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body,and the life everlasting. Amen.” The Spirit fares a little better in the Nicene creed; “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,  who proceeds from the Father (and the Son); who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets.” before then commencing on with “And I believe One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church; I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” (I will return to this dangling creedal stuff subsequently). The Holy Spirit is that member of the Trinity who is faithfully & consistently pointing away from herself* to the other members; “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 14:26) & “Howbeit when s/he, the Spirit of truth, is come, s/he shall guide you into all the truth: for s/he shall not speak from herself; but what things soever s/he shall hear, these shall s/he speak: and s/he shall declare unto you the things that are to come.” (16:13). Because the Holy Spirit is so elusive I propose for our consideration, Seven (marks or) mysteries of the Holy Spirit to celebrate this Pentecost. When I use the term “mystery” I do not mean it as used by Agatha Christie or Ruth Rendall. This is not a whodunnit murder mystery. This is mystery is something Divinely revealed by the Spirit herself, beyond our mere human grasp & understanding. This is God showing herself to us “But the Paraclete, 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 14:26).

Why seven one might well ask? Numbers in scripture are symbolic of a deeper meaning. Seven is a favourite biblical number. The number seven is especially prominent in Scripture, appearing over 700 times. From the seven days of Creation to the many “sevens” in Revelation, the number seven connotes completion and perfection, exoneration and healing, and the fulfillment of promises and oaths. In the Scriptures, seven often symbolizes completion or perfection. Genesis tells us that God created the heavens and the Earth in six days, and, upon completion, God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 1; 2:1-2). The Hebrew word for swearing an oath (shaba) and the Hebrew word for seven (sheba) both derive from the Hebrew word meaning satisfaction or fullness (saba). Seven symbolizes completion or perfection.
Traditionally the gifts of the Spirit as enumerated by the scriptures are sevenfold. “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon the shoot of Jesse, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord..” (Isaiah 11:2f). The gifts are 1 ) wisdom, 2) understanding, 3) counsel, 4) fortitude, 5) knowledge, 6) piety, and 7) fear of the Lord. Five New Testament texts also form the basis for understanding the gifts of the Spirit, known as the charismata in Greek. These texts include 1 Cor 12:1-14:40, Rom 12:8, Eph 4:11-12, Rom 1:11, and 1 Cor 2:14. The lists of gifts in these NT passages are neither exhaustive nor entirely consistent. The imparting of the gifts of the Spirit is associated with baptism, as well as Confirmation and Ordination. The “sevenfold” gift of the Holy Spirit is similarly noted in the musical tradition of the Church as witnessed by the hymns Veni Sancte Spiritus, “Come, thou Holy Spirit bright” and Veni Creator Spiritus, “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire” One of these hymns invariably precedes the period of silent prayer and the prayer of consecration at each ordination. So perhaps this 7ishness already hints about the first mystery about the Spirit; The Spirit is that person of the Trinity bringing about completion, perfection in us. I recently used the designation Holying Spirit in an email with a parishioner who noticed my peculiar particular vocabulary. We might say the Holy Spirit is the verb of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit is the action of God. She is not a stagnant, once, past tense. The Holy Spirit is Holying now. She is actively engaged in the action of holying. That is why by-the-way all those dangling bits of the creed(s) that follow after “I believe in the Holy Spirit” do so. Do so follow after the acknowledgement of the sanctifying/holying Spirit, because that is precisely the Spirit doing her sanctifying; in, by & through, “the one, holy (imparting her own characteristic attribute, holiness, to the church), catholic & apostolic Church, the communion of the saints (the communio sanctorum ), one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting to come.” The “Holying Spirit” – the spirit that makes things ‘holy’ (and not through any effort of ours). The Holying ongoing continuing action Spirit is still busily at work in us more deeply deifying us, as yet imperfect creatures, forming us into the mature fullness of Christ. So we ought not to confess the Holy Spirit as if her sanctification just applied to herself as an attribute nor was a fait accompli but rather acknowledge the holying Spirit active in “calling, gathering, enlightening & sanctifying us & the making whole the Church. She is perpetuating the ministry of the Risen & ascended Lord in & through us. St. Luke’s second volume, the book of (“the) Acts (of the Apostles”), which perhaps you have noticed, we have been listening to as our first reading throughout Paschaltide, in lieu of a Hebrew scripture reading, might well be better identified as, the Acts of the Holying Spirit. As it is the Spirit who animates the oft befuddled apostles, as today’s Acts (2) reading further substantiates.

The second mystery to celebrate as already hinted * is; The Holy Spirit may appropriately be recognized as she. In both biblical languages, Hebrew & Greek the holy Spirit is feminine. Because our English lacks this gender refinement common to many other languages we necessarily need to specifically designate & recover this important usage. To identify the holying Spirit as she is to dare participate in the subversive action of disrupting the domination of patriarchy & participate in the revolutionary rebalancing of the inequity & injustice of the oppressing status quo. It is to confess with St. Paul that, “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are heirs according to the promise”(Galatians 3:26-29). The holying Spirit she characteristically rocks the boat! She has a preference for choosing a motley crew of refugee hebrew slaves, wandering Arameans, prophets with speech impediments, babes & infants, women, Samaritans (& other strangers & foreigners), despised tax collectors, lowly shepherds & fishermen as her instruments. She shakes us up out of our stupor of our usual expectations & challenges us to dare be renewed.

Similarly, & related, the next mystery, the holying Spirit pushes us onward, always forward. Only last Sunday we left off with “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The action of the Risen Lord’s exploding tomb, although a fulfillment of & firmly grounded in the ancient Hebrew scriptures, impels the fledgling Christian apostolic faith community in only one direction, forward. As we have consistently seen & heard it is necessary that God’s Beloved Anointed press on to the goal of Jerusalem, the religious centre of the cosmos, but then once his exodus & glorification are fulfilled on Golgotha, there s no staying locked up in closets in Jerusalem. In today’s gospel the Risen Lord comes to his fearful befuddled friends in lockup, he breathes on them, & sends them out to perpetuate his ministry of forgiveness to the whole creation (John 20:19-23). Jerusalem is just the starting place, the launching pad. This good news is for all, all Judea, & beyond, yes even radically for Samaria too! & on & on to the very ends of creation. The book of Acts verifies this too, it commences with the apostolic community locked up in the Cenacle in Jerusalem & then today spilled out onto the streets witnessing in many languages. And only culminates, concludes with the apostle Paul, that previous enemy & persecutor, after many trials, arriving & proclaiming, in far flung Rome, the centre of empire, & the springboard for only further mission, to the ends of civilization… with the holying Spirit there is no going backwards! Celebrate this mystery of Pentecost!

Again, similarly, & related, the next mystery, the holying Spirit take us places we ourselves wouldn’t ordinarily choose to go. Recollect way back, seemingly a world ago, on that first Sunday in Lent, we heard how it was the Spirit, that drove the still damp, fresh from his Jordan baptism, Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the powers of evil. We shook our heads, this can’t be right, but the witnesses attest “Then (when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water…) Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 3:16 & 4:1). “And just as he was coming up out of the water…the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:10, 12). “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). The Spirit is in the driver’s seat. This is further confirmed by the book of Acts, while Paul & company on missionary journey throughout Asia Minor are Spirit driven; “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them” (Acts 16:6-10). The Spirit is in the driver’s seat & like our Lord & his first sent ones-apostles takes us too, to places unexpected, as we currently find ourselves in, places we ourselves wouldn’t’ve chosen, but places where God’s purposes are accomplished. And as justifiably terrifying as that may be, we are not alone, the holying Spirit is in control. Celebrate this mystery of Pentecost!

The holying Spirit she comes as fire. As much as we are familiar with this Pentecostal image we perhaps fail to grasp its import! To get a better understanding we need to listen to the prophet Joel who first uses this intentionally disturbing image; “Thus says the Lord: ‘‘I will pour out my spirit on all humankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young see visions. Even on the slaves, male and female, will I pour out my spirit in those days. I will display portents in heaven and on earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.’ The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood,before the day of  the Lord dawns, that great and terrible day. All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, for on Mount Zion there will be some who have escaped, as the Lord has said, and in Jerusalem some survivors whom the Lord will call” (Joel3:1-5). We don’t have to be very imaginative, as scenes of incendiary Minnesota & throughout the USA currently pass before our eyes! Fire is dangerous! The holying Spirit she burns! This potent force, she is not to be trifled with. We ought rightly be in awestruck before her, falling down silent before the mystery. Holy, Holy, Holy!!! And yet miraculously, simultaneously, she is our mother (“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Genesis 1:1-3)), our comforter, our advocate, (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7) the One who does not leave us lonely, abandoned or bereft. Celebrate this mystery this Pentecost!
Again, similarly, & related, the next mystery, the holying Spirit she is dangerous, intoxicating. “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But some sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Folk of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet… ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh’” (Acts 2:12-16,17). The holying Spirit enables us do things we wouldn’t ordinarily, soberly dare do. She pushes us beyond, outside our staid selves, “to (ad)ventures of which we cannot see the ending , by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown…not knowing where we go” yet assured that she is leading us & that we are supported by love. Celebrate this risky mystery this Pentecost!

I could go on & on, there is so much to say, so much, that only one tongue or language or witness could not contain it all as today’s Acts 2 reading confesses, but I constrain myself & limit myself to merely the seven; This last mystery to describe the indescribable, is exactly that; the holying Spirit she is characteristically that part of God colouring outside the lines. This is aptly demonstrated in the optional first reading Numbers 11:24-30 for today, that I could not bring myself to edit out despite the rubric, as what it says is so profoundly important. It is as a parishioner recently observed in response to my earlier reflections; “Thank you for your continual messages and meditations.  Also, thank you for sending out messages from others in the parish.  It is great to share what others are thinking in this time.  I have been thinking that one good thing about this crisis – even while we cannot gather together in worship.” To which I responded; “thanks again for responding, its encouraging & helps me refine & refocus; its my view that the ordained leader doesn’t have a monopoly on the good word, in fact the Holying Spirit loves to spill over sloppily throughout the community, (see book of Numbers chpt. 11 especially vss. 26ff), so I like to share & encourage the gifts & I love hearing it back from others, part of why I preach the way I doas you’ve noticed”. One of the things  I have especially missed during this our pandemic exile is having your presence, seeing your faces, before me, as, as I was want to say, we endeavour to discover together what it is the Spirit wants us to hear & apprehend as we delve into & listen to the ancient story each Lord’s day in worship. It is a very different thing for me to prepare this manuscript sermon to send out to you. It is more scholastic. I miss our community! (1 Corinthians 12:3b-13). So, to celebrate this Pentecost today I want to invite you to do something you might not ordinarily do, to dare to go Spirit-led beyond your comfort zone. The Spirit is the One who creates, she creates & animates the one, holied, catholic & apostolic Church.  I invite you to let the Spirit prompt you to practically reach out to at least one other member of our faith community this week. Not necessarily somebody you already know well & feel comfortable with, but someone whom perhaps makes you feel uncomfortable, or whom you know less well. All I can recommend is listen to the Spirit, I can guarantee she will gently nudge you. And even more…”For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:46-47). This dangerous sloppy holying Spirit she coaxes us to go on further… So I challenge each of us to reach out beyond the safe confines of only our own faith community, practically reach out to some alien other with the universal message of healing forgiving love, let this dangerous holying Spirit be your guide, she will not disappoint. Do not be afraid.  The Risen Lord has commissioned you! (John 20:19-23). Our Lord has promised us, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:11-12). Celebrate the mystery of Pentecost!

In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

The Reverend Brian Heinrich