Sermons  SSLR  Illustrations  Lenten Resources  News  Devos  Newsletter  Clergy.net  Churchmail  Children  Bulletins  Search


kirshalom.gif united-on.gif

Sermon & Lectionary Resources           Year A   Year B   Year C   Occasional   Seasonal


Join our FREE Illustrations Newsletter: Privacy Policy
Introduction To The Scripture For Pentecost Sunday - Year B
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION  TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Pentecost Sunday (B)


ACTS 2:1-21.      Pentecost celebrates the climax of the Gospel.  On this day 
all the benefits of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ rush into our 
lives and into the church through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The coming of 
the Spirit makes this Good News available to the whole world.

Note how this turbulent account differs from the quiet breathing of the Holy 
Spirit upon the disciples in John 20:22.  The early church also experienced 
many other ways in which the Holy Spirit came to the gathered community.
	
All descriptions of the coming of the Spirit tell us of the special 
relationship God establishes through Jesus Christ with all of humanity.  This 
is the true definition of the third person of the Trinity: God with us and at 
work in the world right now.


PSALM 104:24-34.    The work of Spirit of God in creation and providence 
through the Spirit is celebrated in this psalm.  There is a possibility that 
this hymn had a parallel in an ancient Egyptian hymn to the sun.


ROMANS 8:22-27.    Paul clarifies some of the distinctive work of the Spirit in 
us.  By entering into our deepest longings, the Spirit serves as intercessor 
for us and the whole creation.
	
Note the emphasis on the Spirit as "helper," the same function brought out in 
our Gospel lesson.  Paul's understanding of the work of the Spirit arose out 
of his own personal experience, not theoretical analysis.


JOHN 15:26-27; 16:4b-15.     In his table talk at the last supper, Jesus 
promised to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples.  The Spirit would carry on 
Jesus' work and constitute his continuing presence in the world.
	
Many different names have been given to the Spirit, each one defining a 
different role. In each case, the work of the Spirit is to glorify Jesus, 
i.e. to make him known as the Son of God, the One who reveals God completely 
and so shares God's glory. 

************

ACTS 2:1-21.   For Christians, Pentecost celebrates the climax of the Gospel.  
On this day all the benefits of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ 
rush into our lives and into the church through the gift of the Holy Spirit. 
The coming of the Spirit makes this Good News available to the whole world.

This was not what Pentecost meant to Jews before and after the time of Jesus. 
Originally, it was the  harvest festival (Exod. 23:16; 34:22; Lev. 23:17; 
Jer. 5:24) recognizing Yahweh as the source of rain and agricultural 
fertility. Greek-speaking Jews gave it the name of Pentecost referring to the 
seven week period of the harvest. It was also known as the Feast of First 
Fruits (Num. 28:26) and the Feast of Weeks. In his article  in *The 
Interpreter's Bible* (vol. 4, 828) J.D. Rylaarsdam comments: "The day of the 
feast was one of solemn joy and thanksgiving that God's protection had 
watched over and brought to a successful completion the activities of the 
cereal harvest season begun seven weeks before. It was a day of 'holy 
convocation' (Lev. 23:21). Work was to cease; through its male 
representatives, and, especially in later periods, through the temple 
priesthood, the whole community of Israel presented itself before the Lord."

Following the destruction of the temple in 586 BCE, a gradual transformation 
took place into a feast commemorating the gift of the law. But it was not 
until after 200 CE that this became fixed in the Jewish religious tradition. 
Rylaarsdam regards it as "historically incorrect to describe Weeks as a 
'feast of revelation' at the time of Jesus ... and consequently misleading to 
attempt an interpretation of Acts 2 and the meaning of Pentecost in the 
Christian church on the assumption that it constitutes a literal displacement 
of, or substitution for, a feast of the law." He claims that there is no 
evidence of this in the NT. 

This view, however, does not take into account the possibility that Acts 2 is 
a midrash on the celebration of the Jewish festival of the first fruits. 
There are compelling elements of the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2 that it is 
such a midrash: The assembled pilgrims from many lands in Jerusalem (vs. 5); 
the assembled twelve representative of the New Israel (vs. 1); the witnessing 
to "God's deeds of power;" the festive atmosphere in which some were thought 
to be inebriated (vs. 13).

Note how this turbulent account differs from the quiet breathing of the Holy 
Spirit upon the disciples in John 20:22.  Paul also wrote of what many assume 
was the Pentecost experience in 1 Cor. 15:6 when Jesus appeared "to more than 
five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive." 
Paul would have known those living witnesses and may have heard the story 
directly from them, possibly even during his persecution of the apostolic 
community. His account may be from the earliest tradition and the version in 
Acts 2 a more formal reflection on its meaning. 

The early church experienced many other ways in which the Holy Spirit came to 
the gathered community. All descriptions of the coming of the Spirit tell us 
of the special relationship God establishes through Jesus Christ with all of 
humanity, not one exclusive group of believers.  This is the true definition 
of the third person of the Trinity: God with us and at work in the world 
right now. None of us can claim to have exclusive control of the countless 
ways the Spirit of God works to bring the whole world to faith.


PSALM 104:24-34.  For many Christians, it is anathema to suggest that any 
part of the Bible could have been influenced by literature from another 
culture. This attitude ignores the obvious historical reality that ancient 
Israel lay on the main route along which nearly all commerce and military 
action of the ancient Middle East occurred.  Theologically, the Israelites 
may have been a special people, but racially and culturally they were part of 
the same milieu as their neighbours around the Fertile Crescent from the Nile 
to the Tigris-Euphrates valleys. Like all ancient and modern peoples, they 
were also wholly dependent on the fruitfulness of nature. This psalm reflects 
careful observations of nature's wonders. Unlike other observers of the same 
natural environment, as a devout Yahwist, the psalmist celebrates these as 
the creativity and providence of Yahweh.

The viewpoint of the psalmist is similar to that of the Priestly document's 
hymn of creation in Genesis 1. There is a strong possibility that it also had 
a parallel in an earlier Egyptian hymn to the sun. Keen observer that he was, 
the psalmist knew that everything that grew depended on the sun. Unlike the 
Egyptians millennia earlier, however, he did not worship the sun. It too he 
saw as part of creation obedient to the divine will (vs. 19). 

The psalm has many similarities to the Hymn to the Aton dating from the time 
of Akhenaton in the 14th century BCE. That pharaoh was unique among Egyptian 
monarchs in that he disavowed the ancient polytheistic tradition and adopted 
a new religious system based on the worship of the sun as the sole deity. 
Preoccupation with building a new capital, the arts, literature and his new 
religious system proved  disastrous to Akhenaton's Asian empire which 
included Palestine. Hittites from Asia Minor  seized most of those 
territories. During the reign of his son-in-law, the famous Tutankhamon, the 
movement was branded as heresy, but it left lasting results. However tempting 
it may be to speculate, no evidence has ever been found to show that the 
monotheism of Moses or later Israelites was influenced by this Egyptian 
heresy. 

References to Leviathan, (vs. 26) may seem unusual for a Hebrew. They were 
not known as a sea-going people. This was likely an accretion from Canaanite 
traditions in which the myth of Baal defeating Lothan (a variation of 
Leviathan) had a significant role in creation. The mythical creature was 
described as a seven-headed serpent. Others have proposed that the crocodile 
is intended. It also appeared in Ps. 74:14, Job 3:8, 41:1, and in later 
apocalyptic literature.

However dependent it may be on foreign sources, the point of the psalm cannot 
be mistaken. Everything that lives is dependent on Yahweh whom the psalmist 
vows to praise "as long as I live" (vs. 33).


ROMANS 8:22-27.  "The Holy Spirit is what the Holy Spirit does," wrote a 
senior theological student in an essay on the work of the Spirit. It might 
have been better for him to have said, "The Holy Spirit is what God does." 
Trinitarian theologians name  "God the Spirit" what they understand this 
mysterious spiritual phenomenon to be. Language fails us when we try to 
describe more specifically the experience to which countless Christians have 
witnessed with their lives since the day of Pentecost.   

Paul's understanding of the work of the Spirit arose out of his own personal 
experience, not theoretical analysis. In this brief excerpt from one of his 
most significant passages about the Spirit, Paul clarifies some of the 
distinctive work of the Spirit in us. Note the emphasis on the Spirit as 
"helper," the same function brought out in our Gospel lesson.

By entering into our deepest longings, the Spirit serves as intercessor for 
us and the whole of creation. As often in his letters, Paul's metaphors are 
vivid, if somewhat contorted. The whole creation groans as a woman in labor 
(vs. 23). Then focusing on Christians ourselves, he identified us as those 
"who have the first fruits of the Spirit." The phrase was one he had written 
in Galatians 5:22-23, one of his earliest letters.  One can assume that this 
must represent a favorite way he lifted up the ethical aspects of Christian 
spirituality. 

Suddenly the metaphor changes; the groaning has a new cause, not the pains of 
childbirth, but waiting for adoption. That referred to the anticipated 
physical resurrection at the Messiah's coming in which all the faithful, 
living and deceased, would be included. As a Pharisee, Paul had believed in 
resurrection long before he became a believer in the risen Christ. Now, after 
he had come face to face with Christ himself, he had all the more reason to 
believe in life beyond death; but  now the general resurrection would occur 
at the return of Christ. That miracle must wait for some future time, so it 
becomes the object of hope. If it had already been realized, it could not be 
still anticipated. Waiting in hope engenders patience, one of the fruits of 
the Spirit he had named in Galatians 5:22-23. 

Paul knew that from long experience that patience is a gift, not something 
achieved or developed. The vigorous drive with which he pursued in his 
apostolic mission stands out in his letters. They consistently voice  
impatience, a failing he may well have regarded as his "thorn in the flesh." 
He proclaimed his message so persistently and argued his interpretations of 
the gospel so vehemently that he may well have driven some people away. Was 
this the "weakness" of vs. 26? Yet when his most fervent prayers went 
unanswered how did he react? When he could no longer rattle the gates of 
heaven with his prayers, he found an alternative for the silence in the 
intercession of the Spirit.

In vs. 27, we find an interesting identification of both God and the Spirit 
as distinct personalities.

No easy, mysterious monism here. God and the Spirit are two very unique 
entities, each with a mind of its own. Nonetheless, there also is a 
commonality of purpose and will. "The Spirit intercedes for the saints 
according to the will of God." This is not a case of either/or, but of 
both/and. The Spirit, however distinct it may be in some respects, is still 
the Spirit of the living God.


JOHN 15:26-27; 16:4b-15.  In his table talk at the last supper, Jesus 
promised to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples.  The Spirit would carry on 
Jesus' work and constitute his continuing presence in the world. Again in 
this passage, the distinctiveness of the personalities stands out; but the 
persons are not the same as in the Romans passage. Here it is Jesus and the 
Spirit whoa re distinguished one from the other. One can quickly see how the 
eminent bishops of the 4th and 5th centuries felt it absolutely essential to 
express this spiritual reality in the Trinitarian formulae. In particular, 
the Chalcedonian phrases of "homousios" ("of the same substance") and 
"proceeding from the Father and the Son" became the *sine quae non* of the  
doctrine of the Spirit.
	
Many different names have been given to the Spirit,each one defining a 
different function. In each case, the work of the Spirit is to glorify Jesus 
by what the Spirit does, i.e. to make Jesus known as Christ, the Son of God, 
the one who reveals God completely and so shares God's glory. Here the name 
given to the Spirit is Advocate or Helper (vs. 26) "who comes from the 
Father" and "will testify on my behalf." The name in Greek (*parakleptos*) 
has quasi-legal meaning, as in "one who is called to the side of," denoting 
one who pleads for another in judicial court, like a modern defense witness 
or attorney. 1 John 2:1 applies the term to Christ himself. Hebrews 7:25-27 
also regards Christ's high priestly role in the same way. William Barclay has 
an enlightening comment on the word in his *Daily Bible Readings: The Gospel 
of John* (vol.2, 219):

"When the story of Jesus is told to us, when the picture of Jesus is set 
before us, when the teaching of Jesus is unfolded to us, what makes us feel 
that this picture is none other than the picture of the Son of God, what 
makes us feel - as we say, instinctively, - that here is wisdom that is 
divine? That reaction of the human mind, that answer of the human heart is 
the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit within us that moves us to 
respond to Jesus Christ."

It should be noted, however, that the Spirit cannot come to the disciples 
while Jesus is still with them (16:4b-7). The Spirit could come to reveal 
Christ to them only after the resurrection. Then, as vss. 12-13 emphasizes, 
the Spirit will also have a teaching and interpretative role. But it will be 
the things of Christ which he will teach and interpret (vss. 15-16). As 
G.W.H. Lampe wrote in *The Interpreter's Bible Dictionary,* (vol. 3, 655) "It 
is the Paraclete who will inspire the preaching of Christ's disciples and 
enable them to testify to him; and their testimony, which is that of the 
Paraclete himself, is directly related to martyrdom and the confession of 
Christ under persecution."

Vss. 8-10 contains a somewhat complex description of yet another function of 
the Spirit: convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. The sin 
was the lack of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, a challenge John had Jesus 
utter through the whole of the gospel. The righteousness of which John spoke 
referred the total reversal of the shame and curse of the crucifixion. As 
Paul noted in Galatians 3:13, quoting Deuteronomy 21:23, the law of Moses 
regarded anyone hung on a tree as especially cursed by God. According to this 
law, the crucifixion placed Jesus under just such a curse. The judgment came 
about through the resurrection which revealed that the powers of evil in the 
world had done their worst in crucifying the Lord of glory; but the 
resurrection had totally defeated them 

This theological reflection may say as much about the Christian confession of 
John's era at the end of the 1st century as on the night before the 
crucifixion, sixty or more years earlier. It may have been directed in 
particular at the Jewish element in John's community. By the last decade of 
the century, Christians of Jewish origin had been banished from their 
synagogues for their confession that Jesus, crucified and risen, is the 
Messiah/Christ. Jewish families no longer acknowledged their members who had 
accepted to the new messianic tradition. In essence, therefore, this somewhat 
cryptic statement is an almost complete confession of faith designed to 
encourage those who had already sacrificed much for their conversion.

                                              
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



Further information on this ministry and the history of "Sermons & Sermon - Lectionary Resources" can be found at our Site FAQ.  This site is now associated with christianglobe.com

Spirit Networks
1045 King Crescent
Golden, British Columbia
V0A 1H2

SCRIPTURAL INDEX

sslr-sm