Pentecost

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Acts 2:1-21Romans 8:14-17John 14:8-17, (25-27)Psalm 104:25-35, 37

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. – Rev. 22.17

Today’s lectionary presents us with some fascinating insights into the enigmatic and shadowy person of the Spirit. In John, chapter 14, Jesus promises a helper to his disciples, explaining that it will be a gracious gift to those who would be Jesus’ followers. In acts 2, the disciples finally are visited by this Helper, who does far more than Advocate for the first Christians; rather, like a violent wind, it descends on them in flame and causes them to speak in languages other than their own for the purposes of proclaiming the Lord’s salvation to the World. In another optional reading for the day, Paul tells the Romans that through this same Spirit we are more than adopted children of God, our Father; instead, we become, like Christ, heirs to the Father, destined to be glorified with Christ.

All of these readings communicate an important truth: that this Spirit, which is the Spirit of Jesus, draws us deep into the relationship of the Father and the Son. Being drawn into this relationship, we are remade, recreated, repurposed to do those things that the Son has done, and even greater.

So, through the Spirit, Jesus and the Father recreate us.

I love this concept of recreation. As Christians we affirm that the Father almighty is the creator of all that is seen and unseen, and that he creates all things through the Son. But we also believe that God is committed to making all things new, and that God does so through the Spirit.

One of the last times we saw the Spirit at work in the lectionary, it was hard at work during Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan. In that scene, which is represented by one of the icons you have in your bulletin, the Spirit descends as a dove on Jesus. The Spirit heralds the love of the Father for the Son. The Spirit is the presence of the Father in Jesus’ earthly ministry.

IMG_0001-0This icon, the Baptism of the Lord, is perhaps my favorite icon. It suggests that this event is actually about the appearance of all three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In fact, Orthodox Christians call the Feast of Jesus’ baptism the Feast of the Theophany, which means a divine revelation, or appearance.

In icons such as the one you have before you, Jesus is typically depicted standing on the water of the Jordan River, between two cliffs, while John, on the bank of the Jordan, attends Jesus, stretching forth his hands, cupping water. Above, the sky bursts open, and radiant darkness shoots forth like a supernova. This is the voice of the Father. Descending from this divine darkness comes the dove, the Spirit, who alights on the Son. In the Spirit, the Father communicates both his presence with the Son and his love for the Son.

This icon is important for us today, I believe, because the same presence and love that Jesus receives at his baptism is also ours at Pentecost.

Take a look at today’s Gospel. We hear the disciple Philip ask Jesus for another theophany. Philip just wants Jesus to show them the Father. Sounds reasonable right?

However, earlier in that chapter Jesus explained that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that no one comes to the Father except through him. In other words, You want the Father? You have to go through Jesus.

“Well,” Philip thinks, perhaps a bit hastily, “No problem, I’ll go through Jesus then. Come on, Jesus, show us the Father.”

Jesus, however, calls Philip on his laziness. Really, Philip, haven’t we been together for a while? haven’t you been listening? What Jesus actually says is this: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

The problem here isn’t that Philip doesn’t believe Jesus. Instead, the problem is that Philip hasn’t counted the cost of being with Jesus. Maybe he is avoiding counting the cost. He isn’t really prepared to see the Father in Jesus. Nor is he ready for what that means for him.

Understanding this, Jesus gets real with Philip. If you believe me, he suggest, then big things are in store for you; you’re being made like me, and that means that you’re going to be doing some amazing and perhaps even terrifying things in my name.

As a follower of Jesus, as one who is a little Christ, “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these”

Now Philip is totally ready to be delighted by yet another theophany. But he isn’t really ready for for his person to be so radically transformed, and, frankly, neither am I.

Jesus, however, is emphatic: I am already revealing the Father to you, and you will be my revelation to the World. People will look at you, YOU, and see me. They will see Me in YOU because of your Love for me. 

Jesus equates the disciple who is ready for the Spirit with the one who loves him. He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” At first glance, it seems like Jesus is saying, you’ll prove you love me by keeping my commandments. Is Jesus preaching a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately works righteousness?

I don’t think so. Instead, I think Jesus is saying that our works in his name go hand in hand with our love for him, just like the Father and Son’s love for one another go hand in hand with the Son’s ministry. The sign of love in both cases is the Spirit.

PentcostAnd this is exactly what we see at Pentecost and in the Pentecost icon. The same dove that alighted on Jesus at his baptism now alights on the disciples at Pentecost, and this time purifies them with a cleansing fire. The Spirit descends on the disciples, purifying them, recreating them, empowering them in their love for Jesus to be Christ to the world.
So too, that dove alights on us in our baptisms. We are not only washed clean of our sins at the baptismal font, we are also filled with the Holy Spirit. We become new, we are repurposed for God’s new work, for recreation. God’s love descends on us in the Holy Spirit like fire and a cleansing rain that recreates in love, making all things new.

A friend of mine many years ago captured this idea in song form:

Come let us return to the Lord
Come sinners, heal the places sin has torn
His justice true, but his mercy sure
He will cover us in love.

Like a spring rain falling
He will come
Like a spring rain falling
He will come
He will come.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Pentecost, 2016
St. David’s Episcopal Church
Baltimore

 

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