The Preacher’s Study
The Day of Pentecost, Year C
Mark W. Stamm
Acts 2: 1-21 or Genesis 11: 1-9,
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b,
Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2: 1-21,
John 14: 8-17 (25-27)
Pastors and parishes committed to the baptismal dynamics of Lent and the Great Fifty Days may arrive at the Day of Pentecost feeling a sense of accomplishment. Perhaps catechumens have been accompanied through intense preparation for baptism. Perhaps they have been led into the baptismal waters, and then, as neophytes, into a period of mystagogical reflection. Perhaps many in the parish have walked this sacramental pathway with them and thus have experienced their own renewal.
Some church leaders may feel a sense of regret or frustration at a general failure to engage these paschal dynamics. Many of us will stand somewhere in the middle. between our ideals and the realities of parish life. We may be tempted to grade our parishes (and ourselves) on our conduct of the paschal cycle, but that’s not particularly helpful.
The texts for the Day of Pentecost remind us that our task of engaging the Paschal Mystery is an ongoing one. As much as we cherish the work of Lent, the Triduum, and the Great Fifty Days, these rites and celebrations are not end points, but rather they shape us to engage that mystery at all times, both pastorally and prophetically. Consider that the 9/11 attacks came during Ordinary Time, and that domestic abuse, which rarely makes the news, occurs in all seasons. In such cases the formation that we receive during Lent and Eastertide shapes our response, and a similar formative work continues every time the church gathers for worship and service.
Both today’s feast (and the Great Fifty Days) draw their names from the Acts 2 text and its reference to the fiftieth day (v. 2:1). Its place within the wider context of Acts reminds us about God’s intention to pour out God’s Spirit on all flesh (v. 2:17) even “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). That work, we are reminded, comes through “(our) sons and daughters (who) shall prophesy and … see visions,” and it also includes the dreams of the elderly (v. 2:17). Acts 2 suggests that this movement toward the world brings both blessing and judgment (vv. 19-20), and that simultaneously. Indeed, a church that takes its baptismal vocation seriously--receiving all as brothers and sisters and feeding them in generous measure--presents a hopeful sign, yet one that will trouble many.
The Romans text reminds us “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Romans 8:14), yet such life in the Spirit does not exempt us from the Paschal dynamic of suffering (v. 8:17). Much less does it allow a withdrawal from the world. We are part of God’s ongoing project. We should hear this pericope within the entirety of Romans 8, beginning with its call to live not by “the flesh … but according to the Spirit” (v. 8:4). The whole chapter presents the call into suffering (v. 8:17) ... groaning with Creation (v. 8:23) … believing that we can never be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus (v. 8:39). Receiving the Spirit, along with refusing to retreat back into fearing all of the things that can go wrong (v. 8:15), is to follow in the Missio Dei. Inevitably, that mission leads to suffering but also to glimpses of Resurrection.
The John 14 reading brings a similar reminder, a promise that the Spirit of truth will continue Christ’s work through us, doing even “greater works” (v. 14 12), guiding and teaching (vv. 14:25-26). One hears a stunning promise here—the “greater works.” At the same time the way forward seems strikingly mundane. Says Jesus, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). That word speaks to an important truth that Christians need to learn again and again. We were not baptized to become religious, but rather to live Christ’s way in the midst of a suffering world. And so, on the Day of Pentecost and every other time we gather, the Spirit sends us back into the cosmos that God loves, to do the loving works of that same God.
Mark W. Stamm is Professor of Christian Worship, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX. He is the author of Sacraments and Discipleship, Understanding Baptism and the Lord's Supper in a United Methodist Context; Let Every Soul Be Jesus’ Guest, A Theology of the Open Table; and Extending the Table, A Guide for a Ministry of Home Communion Serving. A member of the North American Academy of Liturgy (NAAL), he is a participant in, and former convener of NAAL’s Christian Initiation Seminar.