Genesis 11:1-9, Psalm 104, Romans 8:14-17, Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17, 25-27
Pentecost is a holiday for both Christians and Jews. We Christians call it “Pentecost” from the Greek word for “fifty”, because it’s fifty days after Easter, and it marks the end and the fulfillment of the Easter Season. We Christians got the holiday from the Jews, of course, who call it Shavuoth, which means “sevens”, because it comes seven-times-seven days after Passover, a week of weeks.
For Jews it marks two things: First, it’s the feast of the first-fruits, when in the new growing season you bring offerings in of the earliest fruits and vegetables. Asparagus. Fiddle-heads. The first-fruits of the Christian Church. Second, it’s the commemoration of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, when God came down in fire and smoke. When God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; thou shalt have no other gods before me.” God did that fifty days after the first Passover.
Fire and smoke. “For he is like a refiner’s fire.” “And who may abide the day of his coming?” That was the prophecy of God’s coming, as repeated by John the Baptist who said, “I baptize you with water but one is coming after me who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Because when God comes down, God is so holy and righteous that God will burn you pure or burn you up. That was the prophetic expectation, so when it happened like this, little flames upon their heads, harmless little flames, it was a very new thing that God was doing, and I think for many a disappointment.
This day was full of surprises. God was doing new and unexpected things. Although every new thing that God did on Pentecost had its intimations already in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit took a new form in the world, in these little tongues of fire on their heads, and giving this multiplicity of languages. I want to stress the interplay of both newness and continuity. The old salvation in new forms. The faithfulness of God in new applications.
Which is why we do not say, as some churches do, that Pentecost is the birthday of the church. You hear that said in other traditions, but not in the Reformed tradition. Notice what we read in the catechism, that the church goes back to the beginning the world. The church began Adam and Eve, and then Noah and his family, and I would say the animals, which God gathered, protected, and preserved within the ark, and then it began to take new forms: successively the clan of Abraham, the twelve tribes of Jacob, the nation of Israel, the kingdom of David, and then the remnant of Judea, until it took new form again on Pentecost. Up to then, four thousand years of Biblical chronology, and one people of God through out, with different forms and different people, coming from different places with different backgrounds and different accents and different stories, whom the Son of God is gathering, protecting and preserving.
That’s the first thing that is typical of the Holy Spirit. That is, the old salvation in new forms. The faithfulness of God in new applications. The one truth in many languages. I will say more about this next week, on the Feast Day of the Holy Trinity, when I will preach a further sermon on the Holy Spirit, and what the Spirit shows about the character of God.
But today I want to stay with what the Spirit does within the world. And so the second thing that is typical of the Holy Spirit is multiformity and creative multiplicity. Psalm 104, “O Lord, how manifold are your works, in wisdom you have made them all.” That Psalm celebrates the great diversity of creatures in the world, creeping things innumerable, the fish in the sea, the birds in the branches lifting up their voices.
That’s why we have that reading about the Tower of Babel. Whether it’s from pride or fear or arrogance or love of power, we prefer the safety of centrality and predictability and uniformity. But that is not what God wants for us. It is a judgement that God makes them speak in different languages, but it also is a gift, so that they might go back out and fill the earth, and be creative in experience and experiment. That’s the doing of the Holy Spirit.
It’s also true in the church. You need not take it as a thorough negative that we have different denominations of the Christian church. When it comes to the different churches condemning each other and not being in communion with each other judging other, then it’s negative. But the variety of churches is a positive work of the Holy Spirit as the people of God have scattered by God like seed into the world and scattered by the Spirit into human history. Did you expect the church among the Filipinos to sound like the church among the Greeks or to look like the church among the Dutch? I wonder how many forms of the church we still may see? O Lord, how manifold are your works, in wisdom you have made them all.
And third thing of the Spirit was totally new, what Jesus told them in the Gospel, that the Holy Spirit is among us an Advocate. Advocate, from the Latin ad-vocare, translating the Greek word παρακλητος,, which is sometimes anglicized as “The Paraclete,” a specific title for the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. It means Counselor, the Holy Spirit is your Counselor who gives you advice and wisdom and good counsel, who whispers the relevant words of Jesus in your ear. It also means Counselor in the legal sense, the Holy Spirit is your attorney, your lawyer, who takes your case, who helps you make your case. You are the one who has to be the witness, you are the one who has to speak, but you have a Counselor who keeps you prepared to make your case.
Since Easter I have been saying that human history is like a great, long, public trial of the truth, the truth about the world, the truth about God. Within this trial we are witnesses, and when we give our testimony, our testimony is contested. And the verdict as to what stands and what falls will only be given at the end. We do not have the luxury of some kind of rationally conclusive “proof” of our position. The Lord Jesus is always on trial on the world, and so it is no different with our Christian faith. (Romans 8:17) But we are not left alone in this, we are given a Counselor, an Advocate, who helps with our testimony, and also counsels us to give our testimony in gentleness and humility and love.
And also for the trial that is always going on in your own mind, in the inner courtroom of your head. I mean the constant trial of your consciousness and the voices in your conscience and the trial of your own experience as you try to find the truth about yourself. “What is true about me in my life? Should I think this, should I think that?” You want to believe, you have your doubts. Can you believe in your own belief? Can you trust your trying be true? Don’t be discouraged that you doubt. Don’t judge yourself that issues keep rising within you to question your belief. Don’t think you have to hide behind the walls of your inner tower to keep protecting your belief. It is the Spirit who sends you out to life and to experience, and the Spirit is your counselor who helps you interpret all the unfamiliar sounds and the multiplicity of voices. Even in your own inner courtroom you can be at peace. Among the clamor of voices that keep echoing in your head is the voice of your Counselor who reminds you what Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
The Spirit is your life-long Advocate. The Spirit creates diversity. And the Spirit is always faithful. Those three things all speak of love. Capital S, capital L. You know, it always comes down to the Love of God, the love of God for the world and all the creatures of the world, and it always comes down to the love of God for you.
Copyright © 2013, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.