KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
Pentecost Sunday - Year A
Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34,35b, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 7:37-39
'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will
pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and
your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall
see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.'
There once was a church in need of a new pastor, the old one having
reached that age when he could finally go out to pasture. They did their
goodbyes well by him, serving up a $10 a plate dinner in the church
basement to add to his retirement fund. They barbershopped "For He's a
Jolly Good Fellow" and told nice stories about him. They gave him a new
fly rod and reel with instructions on how to get lost in the wilderness.
And he went on his way.
Then they invoked section 6.4.13 of their By-Laws and started the process
to look for a new leader. The first meeting of the new search committee
met in the parlour one evening soon after the minister's departure. It was
chaired by an enthusiastic laywoman who impressed upon the group that a
picnic this was not. In looking for a new minister they were charting
their church's destiny. God was depending on them to put all other agendas
in their lives secondary to this God-given task; and heaven help them if
they didn't rise to the occasion. She did such a superb job that four
members of the committee resigned on the spot. So madam chair backpaddled.
What she really meant to say was that she hoped they would do their best
by the great employment officer in the sky. Then the fainthearted stayed
on to consider the next item on the agenda. "What do you want in a new
There was splendid participation at that point. Every last person spoke
with a voice of authority on the subject and the scribe for the evening
noted all their points on a blackboard until an image began to emerge.
Then they all agreed to some modifications since neither Moses nor Jesus
was available for call. Then, it was cookie time and, while refreshing
themselves for the task at hand, some started talking about their former
minister. "You know, after all is said and done he really was a pretty
good guy. But we took advantage of him. We let him carry our bucket.
Whenever things needed doing, we left it up to him."
One by one the others voiced similar sentiments. And it was if the
heavens opened. Suddenly it came to them that they would never ever expect
everything to come from their minister again. They would take their
responsibility from now on and take their part in giving direction to
their church. And the more they thought about it, the warmer their hearts
became not only toward their old minister but to one another as well. And
the more they talked about it, the hotter their enthusiasm became until
their voices became like a rush of mighty wind filling the room.
Word of this great moment quickly spread to the entire congregation. And
there was a great and most spontaneous "Amen!" to this new spirit. "Find
us a minister and things will be different this time," everyone said.
And the search began.
Now, it was shortly after this that a group of concerned citizens asked
the church to join a movement to ask for an international inquiry into the
Pentagon's treatment of detainees at Guantanimo Bay. It was a matter of
justice they said, human rights, and they thought the church would
naturally have something to say about that. So the church held a meeting
about it and discussed the controversial matter at great length. Then
someone said, "Let's table the matter for now until the new minister gets
here. Let him or her decide."
One of the things to notice about the sudden out-pouring of God's grace on
the day of Pentecost is that it was a very inclusive moment. Unlike other
moments in the history of God's powerful interventions in human history -
like Jesus' baptism or his transfiguration - where only a few people were
witnesses of what happened, everyone was included at Pentecost. The
tongues of fire come to rest upon each and every one of the disciples who
were gathered together, and a moment later the crowd gathered outside the
house comes surging forward because
...each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
And just to make sure that even the slowest among us doesn't miss his
point, Luke lists all the nations of the Greco-Roman Diaspora who were
represented there that day. What happened at Pentecost was no mystical,
inner, personal experience of the Spirit. It was an outpouring of God's
energy that touched every life that was present.
Even Peter. You remember Peter. He's the one who, the last time Jesus met
with his friends, was saying, "No matter who else heads for the hills when
things start to get tough, I'll be right there behind you, Jesus." When
things got tough for Jesus, Peter was behind Jesus all right, a long way
behind him! Like everybody else, he ran away into the darkness. "Weren't
you with that group from Galilee?" somebody asked him outside of Herod's
palace on that awful night and Peter couldn't deny Jesus fast enough. He
simply could not find it in himself to admit that he even knew Jesus.
Peter. On the day of Pentecost there he was out in front of everybody
speaking to a crowd of people! Peter, the one who could never seem to get
one foot out of his mouth without exchanging it for another. The one who
denied having known Jesus - preaching about Jesus to a crowd in Jerusalem!
Whether or not it was the best sermon he ever preached, it certainly seems
to have been one of the most effective. It only lasted about three
minutes, according to Luke; but about three thousand people got saved by
it. (Some of you have been trying to tell your preachers something about
that, haven't you!?) The Holy Spirit, in other words, was given to a very
ordinary man and it turned him into a public speaker just like that. And
you thought it was all about going to seminary, learning Hebrew and Greek,
getting your theology down pat and being trained in "voice management"!
Nope. At least, not this kind of public speaking that we also call
Remember what Jesus said when he preached his first sermon back in
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me..."
He was quoting Isaiah, of course, who said about somebody else who stood
up to speak to a crowd one day,
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord
has anointed me; has sent me to bring good news to the
oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim
liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners...
Because in Luke and in Luke's book of Acts, people get the Holy Spirit in
order to speak up publicly so that everybody can hear.
You know me. You know that I talk for a living. You know that I've been a
preacher for many years. Did you know that I'm just as nervous now when I
preach as I was on the day I first began. I get this churning in my
stomach. My hands begin to shake. Fear will do that to you. Does that
surprise you? That after all these years and after all these sermons I'm
still afraid to speak to a crowd? Speaking to a crowd is bad enough.
Speaking to a crowd about God is even worse. Imagine the nerve. Imagine
the arrogance. I sometimes think that's one of the reasons the church
gives us robes and stoles to wear, a funny kind of armour to protect us so
to speak. They even give us a pulpit behind which we can duck if
necessary! Because the only thing that would make a sane person put
himself or herself at such risk is the Spirit of God. That's why I've kept
And if I can do it, you can do it. That's got to be one of the most
important lessons of Pentecost. If people like me can do it, people like
Peter, then people like you can do it too. You don't have to wear robes to
do it; and you certainly don't have to do it from a pulpit. You might be
on the phone to somebody who is down on their luck. What on earth do you
say to someone like that? It's a scary thing, isn't it? But,
The spirit of the Lord... is upon me to bring good news
to the oppressed...
Or you find out somebody's marriage has just come to an end. What possible
comfort could you offer somebody like that.
The Spirit of the Lord ... is upon me... to bind up the
Or somebody who thinks she has nobody finds also that she has no where to
The Spirit of the Lord... is upon me ... to proclaim
liberty to captives...
That's what Pentecost is about as much as it is about anybody speaking
from a pulpit. It's the very public speech ordinary people like you and me
find ourselves giving to others, because even though we didn't know how we
were going to do it, the Holy Spirit descends and gives us the power to
speak. It is what the prophet Joel meant when he said that in former days,
God's word was given only to prophets, a few charismatic, leader types who
managed to speak up for God. But he said that a day would come when God
said, "I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your
daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your
old men shall dream dreams." Everybody gets to speak up for God; because
church is the place where the power to speak belongs, not just to a few,
but to all.
Acts 2:1-21 - Pentecost is a pregnant moment in the life of the people of
God. Something has been promised. Something has been stirring for some
time now. Suddenly, at Pentecost - new life bursts forth in the most
unlikely of places - in the midst of a group of frightened, ordinary men
and women. The vivid language and symbols of the story are a literary
device to remind us of one salient fact: on the day of Pentecost the
friends of Jesus became religious enthusiasts. For the first time in their
lives they listened to the best, the bravest, the most human part of
themselves and found themselves saying and doing things they never thought
possible. Jesus had promised that he would indeed send them such power
"from above" but nothing could have prepared them for the magnificent
outpouring of God's grace that the day of Pentecost became.
1. Not everyone responds in a positive way to what happened on Pentecost
day. Why not?
2. Suppose you were a person in the crowd that day who knew how Peter
had betrayed and abandoned Jesus. What would you have been thinking
3. What old expectations might have been shattered in some people's
minds after they witnessed the events of Pentecost?
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 - Paul is addressing a variety of issues concerning
the corporate worship of the church. There had been problems at Corinth,
notably the problem of those who assumed that their spiritual gifts gave
them superiority over everyone else. Paul confronts this attitude with a
reminder that all spiritual gifts come from the same Spirit and that what
matters most is the common good of the church. There is no room in church
for the attitude that people can use their gifts however they please. The
gifts of the Spirit must be exercised within and for the church.
John 7:37-39 - Rather than repeating the gospel selection for the second
Sunday of Easter, we are looking at the alternative reading from John,
which is a kind of flashback. Jesus is speaking at the festival of Booths
(or Tabernacles), where one of the rituals to be performed was the daily
libation of water brought to the Temple from the Pool of Siloam. Against
such a backdrop, Jesus says that he will give the gift of living water to
anyone who comes to him. What Jesus promises, in other words, is not more
of the same - religion, piety, ritual - but something transforming and
life giving, the gift of the Spirit who produces new life within everyone
who believes in him.
1. What happens to the crowd that is listening to what Jesus has to say?
2. Notice what those who reject Jesus words want to do (verse 44)?
3. What does this tell you about the importance of Jesus' gift?
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "In all these instances the Greek word we
translate as ‘power’ is the same: the word we carry into English when we
say ‘dynamic’, ‘dynamism’, ‘dynamo’, ‘dynamite’. The Holy Spirit is
dynamite... Dynamized by this Spirit, Peter and John, ‘uneducated, common
men’, preached Christ crucified and risen with ‘boldness’ (Acts 4.13),
defiant of death itself; ‘for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and
heard. (Acts 4.20)’. - Walter J. Burghardt, S.J.
HYMN: Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness (Voices United 375)
Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved. Please do not copy.
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
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copyright - Barry Robinson 2005
page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.