Readings for Pentecost 27 May 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Pentecost Textweek


Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-36; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, (25-27)


The obvious place to start for Pentecost is that reading from Acts because that seems to tell us what it’s all about: ‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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’. One of the important things to appreciate about the day of Pentecost and any day from the holy scriptures is that they are not event, but process: the day is not event, that story is not about the event of Pentecost rather it is about the process. Pentecost, the day of Pentecost is not located in history. If we shift from being event into process, instead of being located in history it becomes history-making. The divine scriptures constantly bear witness to and reveal the creative activity of the divine: ‘When the day of Pentecost had come’ is about a process, it’s about movement. And if we read through it there is so much in the story, there are so many things that we can have a look at and question.

I just want to have a look at one aspect of it. In verse 6: ‘the crowd was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.’ In verse 11, ‘in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power.’ To drive that point home we then have a list of languages, which really we can read as a list of voices of the known world. The Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs’ – all of those – ‘in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power.’

It asks the question, who does not hear you; it asks the question who do you not hear? It asks the question what do you listen to and what do you hear? It asks the question who does not hear you; it asks the question to what is your language aligned? We could stay there in the stillness and ponder those questions. Let’s begin with them further afield and come back to them. Begin further afield and it becomes quite easy to find the answers: does Israel hear Palestine; does anyone hear the children in Darfur? Do the politicians hear the people; does the medical specialist charging $2400 an hour in South Terrace hear the plight in the health system? Does the university dean hear the cry for education; does Australia hear the refugee? Does the conservative Christian hear the Muslim? Does the USA hear?

We can all, all of us readily make lists, examples of living without Pentecost - the not hearing, the not being in one place, well I can, I can run off lists long into the night of living without Pentecost. But then come back and consider that which you hear, that which you listen to and equally important, consider that which you speak into being -that which others hear from you. Becomes quite daunting when we become aware of the power of the word that we have. In light of the Pentecost story it can almost drive us to silence – I become conscious and aware of what it is I utter into being. Everything around us is of our creation; the lists that we make of living without Pentecost is us putting that onto others so we can avoid the responsibility ourselves.

If we go even deeper within we can discover just how much of ourselves we do not hear – we make a noise that serves to distract even ourselves from who we are and who we are called to be. The up-side of that is imagine how much more of ourselves there is to listen to and to find, and maybe it’s in the finding of the unheard self that we can utter the divine word into creation. At a guess, I guess that eighty percent of what we say, eighty percent of what I say, I’ve said before. Just think about it for a moment – every word that you utter from the moment you wake in the morning, just think about the week – 80% of what we speak we’ve spoken before and probably of the remaining twenty percent we’re just regurgitating the words of someone else that we’ve heard.

The voice of creation, the wind of Pentecost, the divine breath is the word of creative life that speaks into being for the whole. Gosh, when do I utter that word? In our being together in one place, one of the draws that brings us here, we glimpse an opportunity to find our true voice, to speak from that place which is our divine truth and to hear the divine truth that is spoken creatively into the common. We glimpse that, it draws us; we often will just stand back wishing, ‘I wish I could utter the divine truth of creation that is gifted in me’. But my smallness of self will hold me back, but I delight when I hear someone else do it, I wish I could utter the divine truth that they utter. In Christ the divine was made flesh, divinity was incarnated in humanity; at Pentecost the voice, the word, the very breath of God sets us aflame.

In the Gospel we have Philip, good old Philip, prototype churchgoer. ‘Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." He’s the prototype churchgoer – comes in, ‘Here I am, I’ve sacrificed my Sunday morning, I’m here. Show me God and I’ll be happy.’ It’s a stunningly self-centred and self-seeking approach to the divine and it’s one that the church has almost institutionalised – ‘yep I’m happy with that’. It’s a complete danger area for priests, because the temptation is when they come in is to stand there and pretend, well I know, I can show you God and follow that path. I’ve fantasized about that path – it leads to a 24/7 TV show where you speak with a weird American accent and tell people. That’s the approach of Philip; it’s often our approach as well.

It’s good for us to listen to the Gospel and hear the Christ response and also for us today to hear the response when the ask comes from that place. What’s the incarnational response, the response from those within Pentecost, not without Pentecost? And the response comes from a knowing, a knowing, in verse 11, ‘that I am in the divine and the divine is in me. The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the divine who dwells in me does his works’. Verses 12 right through to 27 are a gentle unpacking of the process of Pentecost. Not talking about the day of Pentecost, they’re actually an unpacking for us to say, what is this process? And Verse 12 begins ‘Very truly’ - this is the holy scripture word for ‘listen, listen’ – ‘greater works than these you will do’. One of the hardest things to believe in the scriptures – once we know the story of Christ, the divine being made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, we think ‘I could never ever, ever be anywhere near that or like it’, so what we do is we settle for worshipping that. There’s nothing in the Gospel where Christ says worship me, turn me into an idol. Constantly, the life and the work and the teachings of the Christ are to reveal the divine in human form - that is, in us. ‘Greater things than these you will do’ and the reason is, that which is given: given in the Christ child at the nativity, given in servant of Christ on the Cross and in the tomb, given in the dancing flame of Pentecost and what is the gift? The gift is, in verse 17, the gift is, ‘the Spirit of truth who abides with you and will be in you’. The Spirit of truth who abides with you - that is lives with you, that is in community, and the Spirit of truth will be in you. It’s with you as you participate, because you bring the Spirit of truth into the community of the Spirit of truth, so that the Spirit of truth may be realised in one place, ‘together in one place’.

Verse 27 introduces a slight degree of difficulty: ‘I do not give to you as the world gives’. Hence the missing of the point from Philip earlier on in the story. See Philip wanted to receive the gift as if it was given as the world gives – ‘here it is mate, you want God, there he is. Next.’ That isn’t the process that’s being unpacked. The divine gift is that which enables us to live without fear, and if we go back to the Acts narrative, what we find is that the gift is given in the violent wind of the divine; the violence of the divine breath is the bringer of the spirit of truth and its violence is the violence, the birth pangs, the growing pains, the truth which hurts. And yet how can this be if this is the word of love? Well it can be because the violence only affronts and is violent to our self-centredness. It is not a violence to our common humanity but it is a violence to our sense of self. The flame of Pentecost draws us into one, into love.

There is a sense as we follow the story of the Acts, follow them through, look into them and see them reflected in the moment and in my own life, then the Gospel, just allow that sense of what is being revealed in Gospel, approach it as if it were true. If the divine lives in me and the divine lives with me, become aware then of where that hurts, because there’s a part of us that does not want to believe that; the self in me does not want to believe that because the self in me stands over and against the divine. It is letting go of the self-centredness that I have and embracing the largest Self that is to be found in the common. That’s the journey and that’s the process that leads to the spirit of truth, because the spirit of truth is that the divine is incarnate in us. No less.

Pentecost: listen, hear, be silent and then speak the divine into being.

Peter Humphris