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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 5/31/2020 Pentecost Sunday.
Please pause this audio and read Acts 2:1-21.
On a hot North Carolina Sunday 25 years ago, I preached in a sweltering church that lacked air conditioning. It was Pentecost Sunday, and I was carrying on like I do when I preach, which is entirely unintentional. At the end of the Homily, I exclaimed, “Holy Spirit, Come!” and two doors at diagonally opposite ends of the church, which opened in opposite directions, were slammed shut. Needless to say, it caught my attention and the attention of every person in the pews.
When Moses took the Hebrew people to the foot of Mount Sinai, the Scriptures tell us that when he spoke, “God answered in the thunder.” I think that would get my attention. What about you?
So, today, on Pentecost, ten days after Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father to rule heaven and earth, the apostles, who when we last left them, were cowering in an upper room and then were led out to see the Ascension of the Lord, are amongst the large gathering of Jews in Jerusalem. Pentecost, or the Fifty Days, was where people came to Jerusalem to offer the first fruits of the harvest and, by that time, come to celebrate Shavuot, or the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Jews would come from all over the world to celebrate this holy time. There were Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylites, Egyptians, Libyans, Cyrenians, Arabs, Cretans, and Roman Jews. In other words, there were people from everywhere in the known world to the people of Jerusalem. In their observance, they would have heard the story of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai again on that trip. That Torah was given with the backdrop of the thunder-speaking God on Sinai.
So, for us reading, when we see at the beginning of the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, “suddenly there came from heaven a sound like the rush of a violent wind,” it is sorta like two doors slamming in a hot church in rural North Carolina, it cannot be but that it is the sound of God communicating with his people. The Wind was so loud that it caused the people all around Jerusalem to come to see what was going on with the apostles and the people around them. It is like when we say, “The Lord be with you…” loudly to get everyone’s attention.
Once the Lord got everyone’s attention, they encountered a couple of things: first, they encountered hearing the Gospel preached each in their own language, from all those places I mentioned. It is the exact opposite encounter of what happened at the Tower of Babel. There, God felt the need to thwart the human desire to be like God, so he created multiple languages. See Genesis 11. Here, he unifies the people with a singular message, understood in every language present, presenting the mighty acts of God: that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World.
I have been on both sides of this debate about speaking in tongues. We believe in ecstatic speech, speech of the Holy Spirit that is so deep that it expresses itself in a language all its own. The passage here clearly indicates that a communication of a message was the key purpose on this day. It cannot be denied, I believe that there was also ecstatic speech because of the power of Holy Spirit. It is clear that the detractors thought the apostles were drunk. This can only be because sometimes, especially when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, it is overpowering. It can be, indeed, a “holy black out.” If you have ever seen a bunch of free range Pentecostals, it can look like people have been drinking.
Although I do not possess the gift of ecstatic speech, or speaking in tongues, I have heard it, seen it in our own parish and diocese. Yet, what I have learned from those who are wise and gifted in ecstatic speech and prophecy, is that there is an insistence that there be a purpose, a message, or someone to whom that speech is directed.
One of the things we often get mixed up about is that God is not about showing off. He doesn’t send a loud sound so that it can be heard. He sends it so that people will listen to Peter declare that the end times are here. The Holy Spirit has come and ushered in the “already and not yet” of the Kingdom of God. It is the Holy Spirit that moves the apostles to declare the message. He guides us to know what is, and what isn’t, the message. That is how the Bishops at the Synod of Hippo in the 390s AD knew what was and what wasn’t scripture from all those “Lost manuscripts of the Bible” that the History Channel talks about.
The Holy Spirit came upon them to unite them and reverse Babel. God is now coming to us before we can come to him. The Holy Spirit comes upon us in Baptism and unites us into the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit reaches out to us in preaching and hearing the Scriptures read to move our heart to move our head to move our hands into doing God’s mission. The Holy Spirit lifts up the prayers we pray in tones too deep for us to hear from our own hearts to the Son who pleads for us at the Father’s right hand. The Holy Spirit descends at some point during the Mass to make the bread and the cup into the Body and Blood of Jesus, who we consume, and remain in the Vine so that we can be branches which spread throughout the world. The Holy Spirit works through the oil of anointing to heal our illness in conjunction with medicine or beyond medicine. The Holy Spirit is the “Lord, the Giver of Life”, which means that the Holy Spirit is existence itself. I will just let that hang there for a moment.
The Holy Spirit is existence itself.
Without the Holy Spirit, we would not have life. Which means that we all have access to the Holy Spirit, but do we understand the purpose of all this? Is the purpose of an ecstatic experience of the Holy Spirit to make us sing? Is the purpose of an experience of the Holy Spirit to make us look drunk to others? Is the purpose of an encounter with the Holy Spirit to have our prayer answered to our satisfaction? I do not think so. These are all byproducts of living life with the Holy Spirit, but they are not the purpose.
Peter, at the end of this passage says something important: “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The purpose of all of this is to save souls. The purpose of prophecies, inspirations, healings, etc. is for the purpose of pointing to the Saving God and that people all around us would be saved. The Holy Spirit united all those people from all those places to hear a single message: the mighty acts of God which point to his salvation. If you read the rest of the Acts of the Apostles, the whole operation of the Holy Spirit was to protect the message and mission of the Church, which is salvation for all through Jesus Christ.
That fact is the test which we should use for whether what we have just experienced is of the Holy Spirit. Is what happened useful for the mission of the Gospel, to save souls, gather them in to worship the Lord, commune with the Lord, and bring God’s peace-filled and mercy filled justice to the world? If our experience of the Holy Spirit can lead to that, then the answer is yes, it is of God. If not, then it probably isn’t.
Finally, what this also means is that the Holy Spirit is near to everyone. He is their animating principle. He is what makes them draw breath. So, we do not even have to ask if people “know the Holy Spirit” because they just don’t know they do. It is yet another way that God gives us to reach out to others and invite them into the kingdom, which is the entire purpose of Pentecost.
As [my] Bishop said last week, Acts is the Gospel of Luke, Volume II. In the first volume, Our Lord Jesus leads us to Jerusalem for his death and resurrection. The Acts of the Apostles starts in Jerusalem during Shavuot and Pentecost for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to unify us with one purpose: to spread the Good News. Then, the Acts of the Apostles recounts the taking of the Gospel to the entire world.
That is our mission, if we choose to receive it. That is, if we choose to ask the question about our own lives, “is my life structured for the purpose of hearing the Holy Spirit lead me to save souls in my every day life?” If it takes a hot day and the slamming of doors to regain our attention to His purpose, so be it. May God bless the preaching of the Gospel in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2020.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian