Lectionary Reflection—04 June 2017

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says,
I’ll pour out my Spirit on all people.
   Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
   Your young will see visions.
   Your elders will dream dreams.
   Even upon my servants, men and women,
       I’ll pour out my Spirit in those days,
       and they’ll prophesy.
I’ll cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
   and signs on the earth below,
       blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
   and the moon will be changed into blood,
       before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Pentecost Sunday. Some say this is the day the “church” was born. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I will say, though, that it definitely marks the beginning of the end of one part of God’s plan to rescue creation and the beginning of the next part. And that’s an important distinction.

Let’s look again at what happened. While the apostles and others were waiting in the upper room (possibly 120 people; see Acts 1.15), a great sound like the “howling of a fierce wind” filled the room. As anyone living in my part of the country can tell you, that’s not a sound one wants to hear! But then, amidst the sound, a fire breaks out—but not upon the tapestries or the furniture. No. Each person was alighted with holy fire but wasn’t burned (cf. Exodus 3.1-3). And God’s Spirit filled them and, in different languages and dialects, they all began “declaring the mighty works of God”!

The “pious Jews from every nation” living in the area heard what was happening and followed the sound until they found its source. Some people were astonished by what they heard. Others said the people in the upper room were drunk.

But then, a burly, blue-colored fisherman stood up. With a new zeal he’d never experienced before he addressed the crowd. Peter tells the gathering throng that he and his companions aren’t drunk (it was much too early for that) but what the gathering was witnessing was actually the fulfillment of something the prophet Joel had said a long, long time ago. Notice again Peter’s words, “This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel…”

But what did God say through Joel?

God said the Spirit would be poured out on “all people” (we’ll come back to this).

When would this happen?

“In the last days…”

The “last days” of what?

For some people when they read the words “the last days,” they have visions of the most ghastly things—nuclear war, the so-called “rapture” of the church depicted by commercial airplanes falling from the sky because the pilot has been “taken,” the rise of a character known as the “anti-christ,” etc. And we’re told that all of this is still in our future (or currently unfolding). But, again, notice what Peter said. He said that the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit upon him and the others was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. In other words, the Spirit falling upon those in the upper room was the beginning of the “last days”! The countdown clock started.

But, again, the “last days” of what?

It surely can’t be the “last days” of the earth for the simple fact that the earth is still here. It can’t be the “last days” of the Church “age” (whatever that means) because the church (we’re taught) had just started at that precise moment. So what’s left?

The “last days” of the Old Covenant.

For a lot of people, though, the end of Old Covenant was the cross. However, the New Testament tells us that the Old Covenant was still in place (see Acts 20.6, 16; 24.11, 17; etc.). In fact, the passage from our Lectionary reading today points to the Old Covenant Feast Day of Pentecost (or Festival of Weeks). It was one of the three annual festivals of the Old Covenant (see Exodus 34.22; Numbers 28.26; Deuteronomy 16.9-10; 2 Chronicles 8.13; Tobit 2.1; 2 Maccabees 12.32). And the book of Hebrews is pretty explicit, too, especially chapter 8. After the writer describes the “main point” so far in the letter—that Jesus fulfills the true purpose of the Old Covenant (without some sort of supposed “third fulfillment” coming later on)—Jeremiah 31.31-34 is quoted showing that Yahweh promised a New Covenant. Hebrews 8 ends with, “When God speaks of a ‘new’ covenant, it means he’s made the first one obsolete. It’s now out of date and will soon disappear (verse 13; NLT*; adapted; emphasis added).

As I’ve stated elsewhere, the eschatology of the New Testament was about the end of the Old Covenant and came to fulfillment in 70 CE with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, just like Jesus predicted. The Spirit of God coming at Pentecost was the beginning of the “last days” of that system.

So, what does that have to do with now? A lot, actually.

The coming of the Spirit is important because it’s the witness of what God has done through Jesus of Nazareth from then until now. Jesus promised he would send the Spirit after his resurrection (see John 14.15ff).

The passage above also shows us the totality of God’s concern for humanity, i.e., who are God’s people. Notice again what God said through Joel:

I’ll pour out my Spirit on all people.
   Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
   Your young will see visions.
   Your elders will dream dreams.

“All people.” Not some people. Not only the “elect.” Not some specific ethnic group. Not some specific gender. Not some specific age group. Not some specific sexual orientation. Not some specific country or political party.

No.

All people.

Everyone.

As Paul points out in Romans, even people who don’t fit within our version of spirituality have God’s spirit within themleading them, teaching them, convicting them (Romans 2.14ff). So, on this day as we celebrate God’s Spirit being poured out upon “all people” may we stop and look deeply within the face of the Other and see—not a stranger or an enemy or even our neighbor—may we look and see our sister and brother.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC 

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