Thursday, May 08, 2008

Preaching on Pentecost

Pentecost readings in the RCL for Year A are multiple (for those of you unaware Reconciler uses the Revised Common Lectionary a cycle of readings from scripture organized into a cycle of three years: year A, B and C, we are currently again in year A.). The presence of Numbers 11:24-30 alongside the Acts passage created an interesting juxtaposition, so I chose not have read the Corinthians 12 passage on the multiplicity of gifts.

What I found in the confluence of the Numbers and Acts passage was the emphasis of founding of the people of God. The story in Numbers and Moses words there prefigure what will happen in acts and what Joel prophesies. This of course leads me to some dangerous waters and some obvious objections of seeing the history of Israel prefigure and be completed by the church. I however, believe one can assert a continuity between the church and ancient Israel without needing to deny the continuity between Rabbinic Judaism and ancient Israel. In both there is continuity and discontinuity, but this is not the emphasis of my sermon just something I need to be aware of in preaching it.

What I have found is the constitutive nature of the descent and presence of the Spirit for the foundation of the people of God. In Numbers this happens in a limited way but also in away that shows that this limit is for the moment and itself points to something God will do. The gathered disciples are called to wait after the ascension and they do, they wait for that which will confirm and found what Christ has already done and begun in gathering the 12 and the disciples about him. the ability to spread and bring more people into this new people of God the Church is not upon their own initiative power or abilities but only is made possible in the descent of the Spirit. There is in this act of the manifestation of the Spirit both an announcement of the universality of this new community created by the saving acts of God in Jesus Christ and the pouring out of the spirit on all those gathered together (unlike in Numbers at the founding of Israel), and a particularity that this is not done all over the world at once but happens to Jews in Jerusalem gathered in one room all together, at this witness is first proclaimed in various tongues to those Jews and prosylites who are scattered over the known world of the time. The universality is achieved through a particular people that are no longer bounded by language or other distinguishing features except as those gathered around Christ and those he Gathered joined together by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Where I am struggling and slowly getting some idea is in articulating why this should matter. What is the point of Pentecost and the descent of the Spirit in the universal proclamation in this particular setting and formation of a new people of God the Church? A number of things have come to mind as I work out the text of this sermon. We are not intended to do the work of the Kingdom of God on our own effort or even our own initiative. To enter the Church and to be one who is a disciple of Christ is to be one who waits upon the Holy Spirit and is joined to that community that was formed by the descent of the Spirit and the saving acts of God in Christ. Without the filling and empowerment of the Spirit we will find our efforts exhausting and disheartening. The community we long for and seek is not merely good human community it is the community of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, and the earthly presence of that community is the Church, this is so because of the descent of the Holy Spirit and its continuing presence of the Spirit in this Gathered people Gathered together by Jesus Christ. God's intent has always been to return all humanity to this community of God.

I wonder if these are radical and controversial claims in the Protestant context perhaps all Christian contexts, and yet I can't escape these conclusions and thoughts in this reading of these texts. I am also aware that I see so many chritians exhausted by a sense that God is waiting for us to do something where we should probably be waiting upon the Spirit that descended and if we are in the church is in us and with us continually. But it seems we are more interested in rushing off to attempt to achieve justice, proclaim the gospel or "build" the Kingdom (really we build the Kingdom of God?) when we should be finding the initiative of and empowerment adn direction of the Spirit that has always been in the church resting upon all its members since the Day of Pentecosts.