Whit Sunday (Pentecost) - Sunday 8th June 2014
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
The readings for Whit Sunday naturally have at their heart the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the outworking of that crucial moment in salvation history for the life of the church. The emphasis falls on the impact it has on the outward-looking mission of the church.
Acts 2 narrates what happened as the Spirit came on the day of Pentecost just as Jesus had promised he would. The disciples are all together in one place, gathered, waiting. And suddenly the Spirit arrives, not quietly and gently, but “like the rush of a violent wind” and with tongues of fire. It must have been an awe-inspiring experience, as Babel is undone and the Spirit gives them the ability to speak in other languages. They proclaim to the Jews in Jerusalem, from all over the world, God’s mighty deeds.
It puzzles and perplexes the crowd. Yet, as always when God is at work, others sneer and draw the wrong conclusion. But this is not “new wine” as those dismissive critics understood it, inebriating the disciples so that they lose control, but the new wine, spiritual refreshment, which Jesus had foretold. Peter explains it to the crowd as a fulfilment of Scripture. It is not drunkenness but prophecy they are witnessing — the great and glorious day of the Lord. It calls not for mere astonishment or derision, but comes with an implicit challenge for the whole world: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Will you?
The Gospel reading takes us back a little in time before Pentecost, to a different moment, prior to Jesus’ ascension. Fear is turned to joy when the risen Lord appears. There can be no doubt about who he is and what he has done when he shows them his hands and his side, where the cruel nails and vicious spear had pierced him as he hung on our behalf from a cross.
The breathing of the Spirit upon the disciples at this point is different from the more dramatic filling with the Spirit narrated in Acts 2, but it is again linked to them being sent out to proclaim the gospel. As Jesus had come at the Father’s bidding to live, die, and rise for our salvation, so they would also be sent to bring news of that salvation to others. Only through faith in that joyful proclamation will people have their sins forgiven; without it, their sins are retained, unforgiven. A reminder for us of the obligation not to hoard the gospel, and that it comes with a commission to pass it on.
Paul reflects on the giving of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, for the edification of a church which argued over who was most spiritual. No one confesses Jesus as Lord without the aid of the Spirit, and that same Spirit cannot lead people to curse Christ. He is the common possession of all who profess. Our relationship to him is begun and directed by him. The Father empowers us in all spiritual activities; the Lord Jesus enables us in varieties of service; and the Spirit endows us with diverse spiritual gifts — but none of this is for ourselves alone, but for others.
Those who have come to know God in Christ were baptised in one Spirit into one undivided body. Christ cannot be torn in pieces, and his Spirit is the inexhaustible fountain of all good things for all people, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free. Those identity markers are no longer basic or primary for those who drink of the Spirit. Our relationship to Christ is all, and it impels us outward, to serve others as he did, not to rate or rank ourselves above them anymore.