PENTECOST YEAR C HOMILY 2022
ENTHUSIASM OF THE SPIRIT & MISSION
Jn 14.15-26 AA 2.1-11 1Cor 12.3-13
And now it’s Pentecost, 50 days after Easter Sunday, an event we celebrate evolving from a springtime harvest festival, once again reminding us of the connection between the spiritual and the temporal, the physical world around us affecting our experience and seasons reminding us of how life goes on around us, as we come and go.
On Friday I was walking through the playground to have morning tea and a chat with the school staff, I was approached unannounced, by a bright young student in Grade 4, who greeted me in a friendly way, and then floored me with the question: “What’s the difference between, God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit?” My temptation was to say to go and ask her teacher or her parents, but on the spot, all I could suggest that it was a mystery, which means there’s no simple explanation! Besides, one thing at a time, as Trinity Sunday is next week! Then I moved to the most concrete image, suggesting we need to focus on Jesus and his message, as the one who walks among us as one of us and shows us a God of love and life through the way he talked and acted, as an example of how to live life well as believers in him.
And, of course, the standard follow-up question was: “Where did God come from in the first place?” It just got more difficult!!
In some ways, it was easier in my primary school days, 50 years ago, when we just accepted it all, because Sister said it, and there wasn’t too much room, if any, for, or encouragement of further questions! On the other hand, I believe it’s a good thing our young people are thinking and questioning for themselves, as we know faith seeks understanding.
Today we focus on the Spirit, or Paraclete, as the one who accompanies us in our lives, as we follow the way of Jesus, but as the Spirit of God, who calls us to respond to the reality of presence with faith and enthusiasm, the word itself coming from the Greek and meaning ‘God within us’. The Spirit is also identified as a consoler, who lifts us up from our weakness and sorrow, if we make the decision and then practical effort to respond by producing the good fruits, in terms of I’ll say it again, from one of my favourite passages from Paul: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
It’s the lived out concrete reality of life as friends of Jesus, to which we need to aspire, believing that His Spirit is present within and around us. The image of the Spirit first appears in Genesis, where there is darkness over the waters and God’s Spirit is present, where light appears and life gradually evolves, as order and complexity overcome chaos, but there’s no measure of time, as we understand it!
So here we are, reflecting on how we can best live the Christian life, as we face up to the day to day challenges in our own small worlds, sustaining and working on our relationships, trying to do the right thing, and practising our faith in word and action. And we all know we can’t pretend it’s easy.
Pentecost is sometimes described as the birthday of the Church, but at a time when it was hardly the institutional Church we know today, which needs to be shaken up and open to change on a regular basis. Here, at the start of the faith journey in Acts of the Apostles, we have a picture of a very mixed bag of diverse people gathered as an open, inclusive, loosely linked community, where mention is made of surrounding countries, provinces, and a variety of ethnic groups from different cultures and prior pagan beliefs and practices.
A clear break is made here from the strong link between Jewish tradition and practice and the move to focussing on Jesus’ teaching of the primacy of the commandment to love one another as the priority, and not the peripheral details of ritual and associated regulations.
The images of Luke’s Pentecost scene are powerful, with wind and fire emphasizing the force of the Spirit’s presence, and urgency to get out there on mission to spread the Good News and encourage others to respond with faith in Jesus and enthusiasm to live that message, so leading others to faith as well.
In fact, at a stretch, here we can even be reminded of the need to work towards renewable energy, by converting the natural resources of wind and solar energy into power to provide for our physical and material needs, in protecting our home of planet Earth and to address the issue of global warming in a practical way.
In a way, the power of the Spirit of Pentecost is directed to individuals gathered in Jesus’ name, and who are to proceed from here with enthusiasm and a sense of mission to expand the movement to the ends of the earth, as we heard last week, with Jesus final words before departing physically permanently.
And, as for the different tongues spoken, a literal interpretation is just not acceptable, as it’s obviously a message of diversity and inclusion, rather than people speaking in languages incomprehensible to each other. It’s also symbolic of the Old Testament Tower of Babel problems being reversed, where human incomprehension, ignorance and prejudice, led to confusion and hostility, rather than peace and understanding. Isn’t it a pity that the message of openness to and recognition of our common humanity was not more accepted as the way to live in our world as a Global Village, which is surely how Jesus saw his message to be proclaimed and lived?
So we celebrate the coming of the Spirit, reflecting Jesus’ ongoing presence in Word, Sacrament and where we gather in his name, as they do in today’s First Reading, and the Apostles earlier as Jesus commissions them and gives the promise of his spiritual presence remaining with them, and so us, always, prior to the Passion, in today’s Gospel.
As Claude Mostowik MSC puts it well: “The Spirit is with us today when we continue to journey together in spite of great human frailty and suffering… It is with us because there are heroes among us who choose justice over law, non-violence over violence and pay the price. It is with us because men and women from many nations and faiths hear the same message of peace, compassion and human dignity and incarnate it in their lives and groups. The power we receive is not about fire but presence. The Spirit is near suffering and pain, loss, and fear people endure, despite times we cannot see the visible sign of the resurrection… At Pentecost, God gave a divine voice to all the languages, to the marginalized, to the street… To truly celebrate Pentecost, let us listen for the voice of God among the silenced, the powerless, the ignored, the forgotten, the oppressed, the nobodies.”
Let us continue to be people who produce the fruits of the Spirit, once again: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
john hannon 5th June 2022