Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39
(If the reading from Numbers is chosen as the first selection, then the Acts reading is chosen instead of the Epistle reading)
Narrative Lectionary: Nothing Can Separate Us, Acts 2:1-4 and Romans 8:14-39 (Matt 28:16-20)
We have arrived at the penultimate moment of the Christian year. While the liturgical year begins with Advent, bringing us to the Incarnation at Christmas and the revealing of Christ to the world in Epiphany, then the season of Lent brings us through the wilderness of faith through Holy Week and the life and death of Jesus, and resurrection at Easter. But just when we think things couldn’t get any better than Jesus rising from the dead, giving us the promise of new life now and the hope of eternal life, and Jesus ascends to be one with God, Jesus’s promise is revealed—God is always with us! The Holy Spirit is present and active in our lives and in our world, gathering us as the church and working through us to bring about Christ’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.
On the day of Pentecost, when the Jewish people had gathered in Jerusalem fifty days after Passover, they gathered to celebrate the festival of the first fruits of the garden and the Torah being given to Moses at Sinai, the festival of Shavuot. The disciples were all together when they felt the rush of wind so powerful it shook the room they were in, and divided tongues, as of fire, appeared above them. Suddenly, the disciples could speak all the languages of the Jewish diaspora around the Mediterranean. Some of the crowds were perplexed, others said they were drunk, but Peter boldly declared that this was what God spoke through the prophet Joel, that the Holy Spirit was to be poured out on everyone. This was a sign of God’s faithfulness and God’s power upon the people, and there would be even more signs to come as prophesied of the day of the Lord.
The alternate for the Acts reading is Numbers 11:24-30. Moses had hit his limit of the people’s complaining, and in turn complained to God about it. God told Moses to gather seventy elders of Israel, to help share in the leadership with Moses so he would not be burdened. God portioned out some of the same spirit on Moses onto the seventy leaders. However, two others who were in the camp also began to prophesy, for the spirit had rested upon them as well. Though Joshua, Moses’s assistant, told Moses to stop them, Moses questioned Joshua’s motives. Moses wished that all people had the Spirit!
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b is from a great psalm praising God for all of creation. In this portion, the writer speaks of God’s wisdom, often associated with the Holy Spirit, and how in wisdom God made all creatures and how God provides for everything in due season. When God’s Spirit is sent forth, life is renewed, especially plant life as it grows and provides oxygen for us to breathe. The word for spirit in Hebrew, ruach, also means wind and breath. Every living thing that has breath has the Holy Spirit. The psalmist praises God for all of God’s works in creation, for they are so awe-inspiring they cause the singer to tremble. The author blesses God and prays that their meditation will be acceptable and pleasing to God, the audience of this psalm.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 about the gifts of the Spirit. There are a variety of gifts, but they are all from the same Spirit of God. They are all different—prophecy, healing, teaching, discernment, speaking in different tongues, interpretation of different tongues, wisdom, knowledge, miracles, etc.—all different gifts from the same Spirit. Just as the body has many members, so also the diversity of members and their gifts make up the one body of Christ, into which all believers are baptized. One body, one Spirit.
(If the Numbers passage is chosen, then Acts 2:1-21 is used in lieu of the Epistle reading).
The first choice for the Gospel reading today is John’s account of the arrival of the Holy Spirit in John 20:19-23. On the same night Jesus rose from the dead, when the disciples had gathered in a room and shut and locked all the doors for fear of some of the religious leaders, Jesus appeared before them, said, “Peace be with you,” breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In a similar way of the elders of Israel receiving the same Spirit that was on Moses, so too did Jesus’s disciples receive the Spirit and the power and authority to forgive sins.
The second choice is John 7:37-39. At the end of Succoth, the Festival of Booths, Jesus spoke to the crowds and called for those who were thirsty to come to him, for those who believe would have an overflowing faith. The writer of John notes that Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit, which had not yet come because Jesus had yet to be glorified at that time.
The Narrative Lectionary pairs Acts 2:1-4 with Romans 8:14-39. In Acts 2:1-4, the writer of Luke-Acts describes the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost. In Romans 8:14-39, Paul writes of life in the Holy Spirit. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Paul makes it clear that neither Jew or Greek or anyone of any background can be kept out of God’s reign, because if the Holy Spirit is present, they are a child of God. The Jewish and Gentile Christian communities in Rome were at odds with each other after the Jewish population returned during Nero’s time, and the Gentile believers didn’t quite understand how to fit in with their Jewish neighbors, whether they were believers in Jesus, or not. There were struggles, even suffering, during that time, but the Spirit is the one who brings aid and comfort and intercedes when things seem impossible. “All things work together for good for those who love God.” God has continually been working to bring all of God’s children together, no matter their background, no matter what struggles or suffering they have been through. There is nothing they have done and nothing anyone else could do that could separate themselves from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
The supplementary verses of Matthew 28:16-20 contain what is known as the Great Commission. After his resurrection, Jesus gathered the disciples—even those who still doubted—and told them that the authority he had been given by God was now on them. The disciples were to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to teach them all Jesus had taught them. And they were to remember that Jesus was always with them, for all time.
It is hard to find something new to say on Pentecost, but the truth is the Holy Spirit is always making things new. One might focus on how the word for spirit is also the word for breath and wind (in Greek it is the same for the word, pneuma) and that creation care is intrinsically part of our theology of the Spirit. God renews the face of the ground in Psalm 104, the earth in which all our living plants are rooted and give us oxygen to breathe. The wind brings us clean air—or smoke from forest fires. If the Spirit is rooted in Christian community from the beginning, then our own rootedness in the Holy Spirit must also be to care for the earth. The call of the Great Commission is to create disciples for Jesus. To be baptized in water and receive the Holy Spirit is to remember that all water is sacred. All water is Living Water, for all water is connected to the Spirit (a wind from God sweeps over the waters of the deep in Genesis 1). The Spirit is poured out, like water, into us and all living things. May we use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to do good in this world, to care for the earth that God has entrusted to us and remember that all people are children of God. Water is life.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 104:24, 30-31, 33, 35b)
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom God has made them all; the earth is full of God’s creatures.
When You send forth Your spirit, they are created;
God renews the face of the ground.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
May we rejoice in God’s works.
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
Bless the LORD, O my soul.
Praise the LORD!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess our sins to You. We have not cared for Your precious earth the way we care for some of our prized possessions. We have polluted the air and poisoned the water. For a people who are baptized in water as symbolic of the Holy Spirit, we have treated You and Your gifts as if they were trash. Forgive us, O God, and hold us accountable. Help us to find ways to reduce and eliminate pollution, especially for communities that do not have clean water to drink. May we work to clean the air and reduce our carbon footprint in this world. For how can we know Your Spirit when we do not treat Your breath, Your wind, as if it were precious? How can we know Your Spirit when we waste water, the very lifeblood that flows in You as a wellspring of eternal life? Forgive us, O God, and instill in us Your wisdom and understanding to care for the earth as Your precious gift to us. For You have shown us through Scripture that the dividing line of heaven and earth will one day be no more, and that You will make Your home with us. You have shown us through the Spirit that we are all Your children. Help us to care for this home You have given us and for the basic needs of clean air and water for all Your children. Amen.
From Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate us from God’s love. May that love of God fill us and renew us and restore us. May that love of God call us to love our neighbors, our siblings, as ourselves, and to care for their needs. May that love of God remind us that we are intertwined with all creation and that we are called to care for the earth as if it is our only home. May that love of God encourage us to live in new, sustainable ways, to be at one with God, others, and nature, for God is one, and made us all dependent on one another. May we depend on each other to do this work Christ has called us to do. Amen.
Prayer (can be sung to the tune of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”)
O Holy Spirit of our God,
descend to us we pray.
Lead us from sin to enter in
We hear the Spirit’s calling
Our baptism like birth—
To clean our air in grateful care;
One love, one faith, one earth.
O Holy Spirit, come upon us, breathe in us and stir in us. Remind us of the gifts You have given us for Your good work here on earth, to love one another, and to meet our neighbor’s needs as You have called us to do. We know when we love one another, we are loved. When we care for one another, our needs are met. Your Spirit intercedes and binds us together. May we be open to the movement of Your Spirit in our world, in our communities, and in our lives, for You make all things new. Call us into the faithful work of Your Spirit’s love. Amen.
Some tips for celebrating Pentecost:
-Invite everyone to wear red.
-Have pinwheels or make pinwheels to celebrate
-Use red streamers and balloons
-Make red and orange folded paper cranes
-Learn about the watershed you live in: https://water.usgs.gov/wsc/map_index.html