Day of Pentecost
Reading: Acts 2:1-11
Language is an interesting thing. It can bring us together or it can divide
Many years ago I was with some friends who hailed from Louisiana and
heard a word I didnt recognize. The word was "ratcheer." Heard
it many times before I finally figured out what it meant. For example, when
Juliet calls down, "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" Romeo
responds, "Why Im ratcheer in the bushes."
I spoke with a native of the South the other day and after I had hung
up the phone I realized that I had been listening to the word "out" pronounced
with three syllables. To a New Yorker like me, that is amazing.
When Pepsi Cola tried to use their slogan, "Come alive, youre in
the Pepsi Generation" over in China, it came out "Pepsi brings your
ancestors back from the dead."
If we could all speak the same language with the same accent perhaps
there would be no wars. I dont know. All I know is that the
miracle that occurred at Pentecost sends us a message we need to hear:
on the language
that does unite us, despite all worldly differences, the language of the Spirit
of God. We all carry a yearning for God in our hearts. We all live on earth
with the Holy Spirit within us and among us. We all are in community because
of that, and God yearns, speaking of yearning, God yearns for us to know it
and to live it. God wants us to be in community with all its nurturing gifts
and its call to us to minister to one another.
The miracle I referred to a moment ago took place on the day known
as Pentecost which
literally means "fiftieth. " It was the ancient "feast of harvest," "the
day of the first fruits." From the second day of the Passover, seven complete
weeks, i.e., forty-nine days, were to be reckoned, and this feast was held
on the fiftieth day. Besides the sacrifices prescribed for the occasion, every
one was to bring to the Lord his "tribute of a free-will offering."
purpose of this feast was to commemorate the completion of the grain harvest.
It was on this high holy Jewish holiday in the City of Jerusalem, 2000 years
ago, that peoples of all nations gathered to worship and celebrate. Multitudes
were doing just that when suddenly they all started speaking in various tongues,
or languages, yet everyone present was able to understand what was said all
around them. They understood it in their own native language.
occurred as the Gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the Church, one of
whose most important characteristics is community, community
that is made possible
by this Holy Spirit. This agape or love-based community,
still lives and empowers us to care about others and to minister and to
empower, from that day to this very minute.
Because the Holy Spirit made and makes possible the existence of
the Church, the Feast of Pentecost is considered to be the birthday
day on which we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit of God;
energy that keeps the Church in existence;
voice that speaks to
us when we are very
- the bearer to
us of what God created us to hear and what Jesus wanted us
Holy Spirit is in us and in the world, linking us
one to another. A parishioner e-mailed me this week and signed
the note not with
the oft-used "Peace," or "In Christ, " but with the words "In
community." That got me to thinking that as a people who worship together,
we are community.
We are in fact in
community with everyone in the world who worships God, who
seeks faith, who believes that good is better than evil.
The word community comes from the same root that gives us the word
communication, and the word Communion. We are, usually for
better, occasionally for worse,
all part of one another.
As people in community we find that we share many things in this
life, several of which are found in the depths of this mornings readings from Scripture.
We hear Jesus speak of forgiveness and we realize that we all share the need
for forgiveness. We see Jesus showing his wounds to his followers, and we realize
that we have in common the fact that wounds are inevitably part of our lives.
We hear about many
languages being understood by those who didnt know
how to speak those languages, and we realize that we have various
languages, backgrounds, ways of expressing ourselves, accents
in which we speak. But we
see that we have similar yearnings and needs and that being part
creation, being part of humanity gives us much more in common than
we have that is different. We know that we share the knowledge
of our own mortality
and, perhaps because of that, we know of our common need for God.
are called, as baptized persons, to think in terms of "we" rather
than "I." Our culture has become one in which many
of us are primarily concerned with our own needs and our own
Many advertisements trumpet
that and appeal to that. Our consumer society has lost a lot
of the concern for others that was present in decades past. But
Biblical focus is on the
God's answer to the
human predicament was to create a new community, to start a
family. We as individuals gain our
identity by belonging to the
community, and the community finds fulfillment in the growth
and healing of the individual. Each nurtures the other. And
of life nurtures all
This one-ness applies to the whole world and to the small piece
of the world such as the community of faith known as
St. James Church. What one of
us does or does not do has its impact on the whole. What one of us receives
or does not receive has its impact on the whole. When one is forgiven the entire
community is healthier in spirit. When we as a community forgive, each of us
Looking at the closing
words of our Gospel reading, we hear, "If
you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins
of any, they are retained." We often wonder about this power given to
the church to forgive or not to forgive. I
think perhaps that our job is to concentrate not so much
the Church is to know which sins are to be loosed
and which are to be retained, but on Jesus confirming
in clear words here the reality of forgiveness. Its the gift of God to an imperfect
but adored people.
Notice, earlier in
the reading, when Jesus comes through the door to reveal his
wounded but living self, how he doesnt wait for
the disciples to express their contrition and repentance before he says "Peace
be with you; your sins are forgiven!" He puts that love out there without
any quid pro quo.
How reminiscent of
the prodigal son and his father! In so many places where we
read about Gods Love in Scripture
we see indications that it is full, that it is unconditional,
it is replete with forgiveness.
So we live in community, even when we go off by ourselves.
Remember the old song:
"I see the moon and the moon sees me,
the moon sees somebody I want
God bless the moon and God bless me,
and God bless somebody I want to
To be in
relationship with God is to be in relationship with every
person who is
also in relationship with God. And we do not need to speak the
same language or have the same accent to be
in true community; we have only to realize that we are all
part of God, and
to keep that uppermost in our mind
and spirit as we live and relate to each other.
Remember the old movie, Star Wars? Remember the "Force"?
I always suspected that the writer had the Holy Spirit in mind.
After all, the "Force" was
powerful, it was greater than any one person
and it was good.
And so on this Day
of the Holy Spirit, my prayer for all of us and those we love
the Force be with You!"
2001 The Rev. Canon William A. Kolb
Preached at St. James' Episcopal Church, Jackson,
Testament Reading: Acts
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. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them,
and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled
with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as
the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from
every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound
the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard
them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished,
they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
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-in our own
languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." NRSV
(New Revised Standard Version)
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." After
he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the
disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them
again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me,
so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on
them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you
forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain
the sins of any, they are retained." NRSV
(New Revised Standard Version)