Pentecost Sunday - Homily 4


Homily 4 - 2018

The active volcano in Hawaii has been at it again, with enormous explosions sending molten rock and ash high into the air. I think of volcanoes whenever I read of God’s appearance to Moses, Israel’s charismatic leader, on Mt Sinai: the noise, the winds, the fire, the fear. The purpose of the authors of the Book of Exodus, writing their story several centuries later, was to tell their readers that was really going on was more striking than any volcanic eruption. God was stepping into human history, forming the Hebrew people, giving them their Law, setting them free from oppression.

St Luke was a great story-teller, too. With this account of Pentecost, he used something of the imagery of God’s intervention at Mt Sinai to describe the coming of the Holy Spirit of God into our world: powerful wind, deafening noise, spectacular flames, ecstatic disciples. God was stepping into history once more, forming his people of the New Covenant, writing the Law on their hearts, setting in motion a new liberation, destined not simply for one small ethnic group, but for the whole world.

St John, writing his Gospel some time after Luke, wanted his readers to go deeper into their understanding of Jesus, to recognize not only that Jesus was, as he put it, the “Christ, the Son of God”, but, that, as they pondered that truth ever more deeply against the background of their personal experience, they “might have life through his Name”.

John’s story of the coming of the Spirit is much quieter than Luke’s. Rather than erupting volcanoes and spectacular reactions occasioned by strong winds, loud noise and flames of fire, John draws more on the imagery of God’s gentle creation of the first human. As the creating God had done to Adam, Jesus “breathed” on the gathered disciples, saying simply, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.

According to Luke’s account, through the coming of the Spirit, the disciples were enabled to preach about “the marvels of God” in ways that people, despite all their differences, could understand, relate to and appreciate. In John’s account, the breathing into them of the Spirit was to enable them to fulfill what Jesus invited them into when he said, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you”. Jesus’ mission had been to reveal to the world the beauty, the truth, the love and the creative joy of God; and he specified that even more by inviting them to share in the mystery of God’s unconditional forgiveness of the world’s sin as they related to each other in the communities to which they belonged: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven.”

And here we are two thousand years later; and the same Spirit is at work in the world and the Church now as then. We do not have to choose between Luke’s account and John’s account. Details differ; but both writers are wrestling with the same mystery, and invite us to do the same. What is that mystery behind their stories, and do we ever depth it fully? That is the important question. The story is not the issue but the meaning is.

Can we.. , do we speak about the “marvels of God”, the beauty, the truth, the love and the creative joy of God in ways that people can appreciate? Do we set people free as we accept them as they are, as we listen to them? Do we open their hearts to God’s forgiveness by ourselves gently, personally and obviously forgiving them? Do we look at them with love or with hostility and criticism? We have the choice. The Spirit of God has been breathed into us. All we need is to take the time, to make the effort, to allow that Spirit thoroughly to saturate us and, as it were, even to electrify us.