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Pentecost Sunday 2018

Pentecost…………… “Freed of Inhibitions”

Pentecost is one three great religious feasts of the church year.  When we think of the religious holidays the first two that come to mind are Christmas and Easter.  But without the Pentecost event we would not be sitting here today.

            Pentecost is a word that means 50.  Fifty days after the feast of Passover every year the Jewish people gave thanks for the corn harvest.  When we think of Pentecost we could think of two earlier events in salvation history.

            One of the incidents we remember is the creation of the world. When the creation narrative begins in the first chapter of Genesis we read how a Spirit moved over the waters of chaos.  The chaos soon began to change.  Over the next seven days order was brought out of disorder.  Light was separated from darkness.  Dry land rose out of the water.  The stars shown out of the blackness of the sky.  Night was divided from day. 

            On Pentecost Day 2,000 years ago, there was confusion as well.  Jesus was gone.  The disciples did not know what to do next?  We get a sense that two emotions were in the upper room we read about. One feeling was sadness at the loss of Jesus’ physical presence.  The other feeling was one of fear.  But then the Holy Spirit blew into the room.  Minds were cleared.  Voices that were muted were raised.  The church began to organize itself.  A pathway became clear. The growth of the church exploded.

            The other event we could remember in the Bible when we think of Pentecost was when Moses receive God’s law on Mt. Sinai.  We read in Exodus 19 how Moses goes up on the Mountain to meet with God.  The people of Israel are led out of their camp to the base of Sinai.  As everyone watches Moses ascend the Mountain fire reigns down from heaven.  Smoke covers everything.  The earth shakes.  A trumpet blast is heard.  When Moses comes down the mountain he brings the Law with him.  Because all this happens Israel felt like the Law was God’s supreme gift.

            Pentecost, then, was not only a harvest festival, but it was also the commemoration of a religious event. Jews remember the day God gave the Law to his people. But why do we Christians believe?  What the church believes is that new Pentecost has superseded the first Pentecost.  We are no longer guided by Law, but by the Holy Spirit.   

            What does that feel like?  How does it feel to live according to the Spirit?  I think about my own life.  My ordination anniversary is coming up at the end of the month.  I remember when I was contemplating entering the seminary.  I wondered if people would look at me differently when I became a seminarian.  How would they treat me when I would become a priest?  Would they look at me as someone who was supposed to virtuous all the time?   Would my friends be comfortable around me?  I remember meeting people, being evasive about what my life’s plan was. I was twenty-one, not sure of myself.

            But then I went to seminary for a semester.  I was around other young people who were full of the Spirit.  I found the fruits of the spirit living in a Christian community that was supportive of my vocation.  I found the fruits of the spirt of love, joy, peace, especially I found the gift of courage. A tongue of fire did not descend on me, but I felt something change in me nonetheless.  Over the course of those first months in seminary I decided that when I went back to my home town I would not be evasive any more.  If someone asked what I going to do with my life, I would tell them I was studying for the priesthood.  I was free of inhibitions.  I think that is what the Apostles experienced on Pentecost.  The disciples of Jesus did not care what people thought about them anymore.  The followers of Jesus were giddy with their new-found confidence. If we asked people to share in this church today, we probably could be inspired by many stories of life changing moments.

            We refer to these changes in people as metanoia experiences.  When we experience a metanoia, we have a change of heart.  We no longer, as St. Paul says, live according to the flesh or the values of the world. We are on fire.  William Blake says this must happen if the Christianity is to grow.  He writes:

            Unless the eye catch fire, Christ will not be seen.

            Unless the ear catch fire, Christ will not be heard.

            Unless the tongue catch fire, Christ will not be proclaimed.

            Unless the heart catch fire, Christ will not be loved.

            Unless the mind catch fire, Christ will not be known.

We remember today that the best thing that could happen to us in life is that we be transformed by the Spirit, so we might catch fire with an enthusiasm for life.