The Day of Pentecost
May 24, 2015
This morning we celebrate the Day of Pentecost, the coming of God’s Holy Spirit into the world. There are two stories in the New Testament describing the coming of the Spirit. The first is found in John 20:19-23. Here we enter a quiet room where the disciples have gathered behind locked doors in fear. The risen Christ comes to them, and he says, “Peace be with you.” He shows them his hands and side, and they rejoice in the risen Lord. Then he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus teaches them that the Spirit of God will bring forgiveness through them. The Spirit draws the community together in peace and in unity.
The second story of the coming of the Spirit is found in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-21. Here the disciples are gathered together in Jerusalem where Jesus has instructed them to wait to “receive power from on high.” Suddenly there was a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and divided tongues like fire rested on each of them. They spoke in many tongues – many languages – about God’s deeds of power. A crowd of people from many different countries and cultures gathered in the streets, heard the disciples, and understood them.
Today, let us wonder about this Holy Spirit of God, for she is the power of God – the strength of God – unleashed in the world. The Spirit is our guide, leading us forward into the unknown, as the Spirit led the disciples in their own day. The Spirit is the “counselor” of God, giving us insight and knowledge and leading us into all truth. The Spirit draws us together in unity. The Spirit helps each one of us grow “into the full stature of Christ.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 302)
Our Collect today emphasizes that the Spirit came to lead the disciples out into the world. They left the room where they gathered in fear behind locked doors. They left familiar places and patterns. The Collect for today says, “Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit. Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth.”
The Pentecost story is not only about speaking many languages, it is a story about understanding many languages. This is the way of the church. We speak in many ways to share the Gospel. We sing in many voices to share the Gospel. Today I invite you to join me as we sing a portion of three Pentecost hymns. Please turn with me in the Hymnal 1982 to number 513. The author of this hymn is Carl Daw, an Episcopal priest who teaches at Boston University. When I first met him, he was a chaplain in Storrs, Connecticut. He has contributed numerous hymn texts to our hymnal. I selected this hymn because of its beautiful imagery and sensitive coupling of text and tune. You will see in the notes below the score that the tune was written by Peter Cutts. It happened that as the Standing Commission on Church Music was compiling our current hymnal, they wanted this tune in the collection. Carl Daw appreciated its beauty and wrote this beautiful text while he was a student at the School of Theology. Sewanee, Tennessee. Note the image of a dove:
Like the murmur of the dove’s song,
like the challenge of her flight,
like the vigor of the wind’s rush,
like the new flame’s eager might;
come, Holy Spirit, come.
You may remember the image of the dove from the story of Jesus’ baptism. Carl Daw also incorporated the image of the dove because of its murmuring voice. Specifically, he remembered the passage from Romans (8:22-27) that says the Spirit intercedes for us “with sighs too deep for words.”
Next, let us turn to Hymn 507. This text is written by Michael Hewlett, and coupled with a tune by David Hurd, who is on the faculty at the General Theological Seminary. Hewlett was an Anglican priest who created more than 100 hymn texts. He wrote this one because he needed a Processional Hymn for Pentecost. As we sing stanza one, note the reference to the Spirit moving over the waters at creation. Let’s also sing stanza four:
Praise the Spirit in creation,
breath of God, life’s origin;
Spirit moving on the waters,
quickening worlds to life within,
source of breath to all things breathing,
life in whom all lives begin.
Tell of how the ascended Jesus
armed a people for his own;
how a hundred men and women
turned the known world upside
to its dark and furthest corners
by the wind of heaven blown.
Notice Hewlett’s image that one hundred men and women turned the known world upside down. That is a very important image for us today. At this 10:00 a.m. service this morning we number close to one hundred men and women. We come from various backgrounds, drawn together by the Holy Spirit. We, too, are empowered by the Spirit to proclaim God’s deeds of power in our own day. We, too, have the power to turn the known world upside down.
Peter’s speech in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us about our work today. Peter explains to the crowd that the signs they are seeing and hearing are not due to intoxication. In this very hour, God is pouring out God’s spirit on everyone, from the youngest to the oldest. And this Spirit will lead them to dream dreams and see visions. The Spirit brings power, insight, strength, and purpose to everyone! We need everyone here to carry the word of God out into the community. We need everyone to share the Good News of Christ with others.
My sermon will close with one more text. Please turn to Hymn 521. The author of this hymn and composer of the tune is Howard Chandler Robbins, who served as the Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and also served on the faculty at General Theological Seminary. His text speaks about the Spirit’s might, leading us to increase God’s Church, “in breadth and length, in depth and height…” Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will empower us to do the work of evangelism during this Pentecost season.
Put forth, O God, thy Spirit’s might
and bid thy Church increase,
in breadth and length,
in depth and height,
her unity and peace.