Today, the Day of Pentecost is the birthday of the world-wide Church, as we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from the first reported event told to us in Acts2:1-21 at the Jewish Pentecost celebrations. Originally Jesus’ followers had gathered on the celebration of Shavuot, the 50th day after Passover, a festival to celebrate the gifting of the Torah and the Festival of Weeks, the harvest festival. However, after this first Pentecost celebrated by Jesus followers, Christians continued to celebrate the festival of Pentecost, keeping the Hebrew name, but eventually calculating it from Easter Sunday, the 7th Sunday following Easter.
As we think about these birthday celebrations, John’s Gospel reading today 14:8-17 opens with Philip asking Jesus for more proof about God, God’s presence, God’s reality, wanting more evidence to comfort, reassure and to help in times of our unbelief. It is a request I suspect we have all made at one time or another when God appears to be absent, or our faith seems absurd and foolish, or when life is hard and suffering seems to be arbitrary and without end; and so we wonder about what we believe. We wonder where God is in the world and we might wonder even more so in these difficult times. Celebrating might seem hard when life is difficult for people around the world and the Church.
I can imagine a note of exasperation and loving patience in Jesus’ response to Philip.
Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9
Jesus repeats his words of reassurance again to reach through the confusion, dismay and misunderstanding, trying hard to be as clear as he can, saying once again there is no difference between God and Jesus. I am in the Father, and the Father is in me. I speak for the Father; his words are my words, my works are his works. At the end of the day, whatever Jesus does, God is doing, whatever God is doing, Jesus is doing. There is no difference, no separation. If we cannot see God working in the world and are unable to stop demanding more evidence, proof and constant demonstrations to convince us, then it is likely nothing will do so.
Jesus goes onto say to the disciples, to reassure them as they grapple with the mystery of faith and trust, doubt and wonder opened up by Jesus, there will be another Advocate among us.
This time, instead of Jesus being physically present, God is giving us another Advocate, the Spirit of truth to be with us once Jesus has gone. This is such an extraordinary, generous declaration of love from God. The eternal commitment from God to all God’s people, as God continues to be present among us with love and in love.
We can see, hear and dare to believe there is no change in God’s love or God’s presence in the world. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate carries on Jesus’ work, as Jesus the Advocate returns to God. Just as Jesus is the truth, so we hear the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit of Truth dwells within the communities of those who love Jesus and is someone they ‘know’ in a way the world cannot.
So, the story in Acts tells us about Peter who speaks to the gathering crowd who has come to see what all the noise is about, amazed and disbelieving at the languages being spoken by the disciples.
Peter shows us where the next step in faith can take us, from being simply defined as Jew or Gentile, slave or free, to understanding with joy, we are all people of God, without any distinctions between us. The presence of the Holy Spirit among us, teaches, reminds, abides and testifies about Jesus to us, just as we do to one another and to the whole world.
Peter quotes from Joel, in the Hebrew scriptures saying:
God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, …[and] everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Acts 2:17, 21
The gifts of the Spirit are plentiful, including prophesy, evangelism, teaching and speaking in tongues, and all these and more are shared abundantly among Jesus’ disciples.
The Spirit, Advocate and Guide exhorts, encourages, comforts and consoles, helps and supports us. The fruits of the Spirit among us consistently show proof of God’s presence. If God, Jesus and the Spirit abide in and among us, have made their home with us, how can we then imagine there is any distance between us and God? Our lives, our work, our communities are one with God, Creator, Word and Holy Spirit.
It is a day of real celebration. It is a day of change for all us, individually and as a community. The disciples were changed on that first Pentecost from hesitant, frightened people wondering about God’s plans for them, to people speaking with confidence about God’s truth and love to large crowds without fear or embarrassment. They converted at least 3,000 people on that first Day of Pentecost. So, we too on this day of celebration are changed forever and we too can speak about God’s love to those around us.
There is no need to doubt or fear the world as we have irrefutable proof about God’s loving presence in the world, and we too are changed into a people of trust, hope, faith and love which we also share with the world. The mystery and surprise of God’s Spirit, God’s presence as our constant companion, is a God who never ceases to walk at our side, filling us with the gifts of the Spirit, until our time is done, and whether unexpectedly, or in suffering and waiting expectantly, we know we return to God, confident in God’s love for all of us for all time.
The Lord be with you.