Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17 (25-27)
Narrative Lectionary: Pentecost: Rejoice in the Lord, Acts 2:1-21 and Philippians 4:4-7 (John 14:16-17)
The readings for the Day of Pentecost for both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary traditionally begin with Acts 2:1-21, the story of how the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. The disciples had gathered together in Jerusalem for the celebration of Moses receiving of the Torah at Sinai, along with the first fruits of the garden. Because the Jewish people who lived all over the Roman Empire had pilgrimaged to Jerusalem, there were Jewish people who spoke all different languages. Yet suddenly they heard the disciples speaking in their language, after the disciples experienced the Spirit like the rush of a violent wind, and its appearance like divided tongues of fire. While some bystanders were confused (and some thought the disciples were simply drunk), Peter quoted from the prophet Joel that this was the work of the Holy Spirit, God among all the people. Following this passage, Peter continues his speech that it was Jesus, crucified and raised, who poured out the promise of the Holy Spirit.
An alternative first reading is Genesis 11:1-9, the last of the “prehistory” stories, before Genesis turns to Abraham and Sarah and the ancestors of our faith. In this story, positioned after the great flood, all the people of the earth were one people, with one language, who migrated to Shinar and decided to build a great tower so they wouldn’t scatter but stay together. This tower was built into the heavens, the place where divine beings were thought to dwell, and God saw it and wasn’t pleased. God spoke to the heavenly beings and determined that humanity was dangerously close to having power and determination, and so God scattered the people so they would be confused and speak different languages, so they called the city Babel. In this story, speaking different languages is confusion and disunity, as contrasted to the story of Pentecost, where speaking and understanding other languages is the work of unity through the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b is a song about creation, praising God for the wisdom of all God’s works. God’s spirit is sent forth in creation, and the breath is the life of creation. When God takes away their breath, they die. Breath, Spirit, and wind are all the same word, ruach in Hebrew, and pneuma in Greek. The song praises God for all of God’s work to bring life in creation.
Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:14-17. For all people, Paul claims, the Holy Spirit is a spirit of adoption, adopting Gentiles into the family with Jewish believers, so that all are joint heirs with Christ. The presence of the Holy Spirit is proof that we are children of God.
(An alternative reading for the Epistle, if Genesis is chosen, is Acts 2:1-21).
The Gospel lesson turns to John. During Jesus’s final discourse in John 14, after Thomas told Jesus that he didn’t know the way and Jesus declared “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one gets to the Father except through me,” Philip then demanded, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Though Philip and the others had been with Jesus all along, they began to question him and not understand that he and God were one. They didn’t understand how God and Jesus abided in each other, and that Jesus was returning to God, whom he called Abba, or Father. Those who believed in Jesus would do greater works than the ones they had experienced. Jesus taught that if they loved him, they would keep the commandments, and the Parent God would send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would remind them of all Jesus taught and would continue to teach them. Though Jesus would be leaving them soon, the Advocate would remain with them forever.
The Narrative Lectionary also begins with Acts 2:1-21 and uses Philippians 4:4-7 as its accompanying verses. This is part of Paul’s appeal to the church in Philippi that had experienced some infighting. He called on the church to rejoice in God, to not allow worry to overcome them and instead to bring their requests to God in a spirit of gratitude. “The Lord is near,” Paul wrote, and the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding would be with them as they discerned together.
John 14:16-17 are supplementary verses. This short selection speaks to Jesus’ promise of the Advocate, who will be with them forever. The world cannot know the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, because the world does not know the Spirit, but the disciples will receive the Spirit because it already abides with them.
This day marks the end of our seasons, from Advent through Christmas and Epiphany, Ordinary Time to Lent and to Easter. We now enter the second half of the year until Reign of Christ Sunday in November. This is the season in which we experience and know the Holy Spirit continues to abide in us and be at work in our world. Pentecost is a great celebration, the birthday of the church, and a reminder of who we are and who we can be: a people filled and led by the Holy Spirit to include everyone, to be passionate for God in this world, and to rejoice and celebrate that God always has the final word and that word is one that begins everything new again.
Call to Worship:
The Spirit is among us now!
The Spirit calls us to rejoice together!
The Spirit is moving in our world now!
The Spirit calls us to do justice,
love mercy, and walk humbly with God!
The Spirit is within us, alive in us now!
The Spirit awakens us
to the movement of God in the world!
Come, worship God, and be filled with love,
For God is about to rush the world with the Spirit!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy Spirit, we confess that we have dampened our own spirits. The news of kindness and compassion and goodness often does not make it to our hearts, and instead we only feel and experience the brokenness and pain. You are alive, active, in the world now and in us, and yet we sometimes are stuck in cycles of despair and hopelessness. Lift up our hearts, O God, and call us to lift our voices. Even when we cry out in pain and suffering, may we be lifted up so that we rejoice. May we remember You always have the final word and You always make things new again. Hate and despair, hopelessness and violence and death will never have the last word, for You are about to make all things new again. Holy Spirit, may we trust in You and be filled with Your power. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from Philippians 4:4-7)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” May it be so. Amen.
Holy Spirit, rush upon us with all the power of the wind, so we might feel Your presence. Fill our lungs with the breath of fresh air, the new life that You have brought into the world. Remind us that we are alive, as long as we have breath, we can do something that builds hope. As long as we have breath, we have Your Spirit, and You will not let us fail. As long as we have breath, there is an opportunity for something new to happen, far greater than what we have experienced and far beyond what we can imagine, for Your Spirit is in us. Renew our hearts and fill us, and call us forth in hope. Amen.