Today is Pentecost, and as always we read from St. Luke’s sequel, the Book of Acts, where the disciples are back in the Upper Room where they’d been the night they betrayed him.
Outside the Upper Room, it’s like the SXSW Music Festival. There’s thousands of pilgrims from all over the Jewish Diaspora, from Mopac and Northwest Hills, from Biderman’s Deli to the JCC on Hart Lane.
“And suddenly,” St. Luke says, there’s a sound— not like a still, small voice but a mighty rushing wind. And the Holy Spirit descends like fire, and people start speaking, and even though they’re speaking different languages there’s simultaneous translation.
All these different languages but everybody understands everybody: Swedes and Texans, UT and A&M fans, woke folks and folks who have no idea how to use the word intersectional in a sentence, millenials and geezers in MAGA hats, people who watched the final episode of Rape of Thrones and people who didn’t, parents and their 13 year olds, guys who still wear cargo shorts and everyone else.
The Holy Spirit descends.
And everybody starts speaking and everybody understands everybody.
The commotion gathers a crowd in the street, and the crowd starts to gripe: Those Christians are doing the same thing they did when Jesus was with them— they’ve been drinking (which, if you’re counting at home, is the first and last time anyone ever accused Christians of being fun).
Peter comes out to the crowd.
And Peter speaks.
Remember where we left Peter in the story?
Back on the night they’d been in that same Upper Room—
“Jesus? Jesus who?”
The third time he actually curses Jesus’ name, which sounds worse when you translate the name the angel gave him: “Jesus? Curse this Jesus whoever he is. Curse this savior.”
And then the cock crowed.
But today they’re back in the Upper Room, and the Holy Spirit descends and Peter speaks. Peter says to the crowd “We’re not drunk— yet. We’ve still got an hour before brunch. No, no, no. All this your hearing, this is what the prophet foretold.”
And then Peter preaches this long sermon that crescendos with Peter proclaiming “This Jesus, whom you crucified, God has him raised from the dead [for our justification] and God has made him Lord. Be baptized.”
Let’s get right to it, shall we?
I don’t have anywhere near the time for this sermon as Peter got for his sermon. Cynthia tells me you’re used to sermons shorter in length than the average tenure of a Trump administration official.
I’d need a flux capacitor just to get in all my normal preaching time.
So let’s just get right down to it.
Here’s my question for you: Why does the Holy Spirit come at Pentecost?
I’m a guest preacher. You don’t know how to hear me.
So make sure you’ve got my question straight. I’m not asking “Why does the Holy Spirit come?”
Our teachers all lied. There are such things as stupid questions and that would be one because the Holy Spirit has already come.
Today is not the arrival of a heretofore absent Spirit.
The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus when he first preached. The Holy Spirit overshadowed his mother’s womb. Even before the incarnation— the Holy Spirit spoke to us, we say in the creed, by the prophets.
My question isn’t “Why does the Holy Spirit come?”
The Holy Spirit already has come more times than…nevermind I can’t tell that joke here.
I’m asking “Why does the Holy Spirit come with fire and wind at Pentecost?”
Or, as the Jews call it in Hebrew, Shavuot. The Festival of Week. Five weeks (penta-) after the Passover.
If Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to be with us in this in-between time between Christ’s first coming and his coming again, then why does the Holy Spirit not descend upon the disciples as they’re building make-shift tents of sticks and leaves to celebrate Sukkot, the Jewish festival that commemorated Israel’s wandering in the wilderness in between their rescue from captivity and their deliverance into a promised kingdom of God.
Why Shavuot? Why not Sukkot?
For that matter, Yom Kippur would make sense too.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit’s work would include convicting us of our sin. So why does the Holy Spirit not descend on Yom Kippur as Jewish pilgrims watch the high priest cast all their iniquity onto a scapegoat?
Of all the days of the year, why does Jesus schedule the Spirit for Pentecost?
If the Holy Spirit is who Christ sends so that you know he’ll never give you up, never let you down, never run around and desert you, then why doesn’t the Holy Spirit come on February 6, the birthday of British pop icon Rick Astley?
That’s right, All Saints, you just got Rick-rolled.
Why not Passover?
You’ve all seen Leonardo’s Last Supper— the shock and the shame on the disciples’ faces when Jesus lowers the boom that they will betray him and deny him and cover their own hides while his is nailed to a cross.
That’s the exact moment— in the Upper Room— when Jesus promises the Holy Spirit.
Jesus has dirt on his knees and his sleeves stink of toe-cheese because he’s just stooped over, washed their feet, and given them an entirely new commandment.
Not the Golden Rule.
Something much, much worse than the Golden Rule.
“Love one another,” Jesus commands, “as I have loved you.”
Or, as St. Paul puts it earlier in Romans, Christ loved not the rewardable or the improveable— not for the good but for the ungodly.
I don’t even love my neighbor as much as I love brisket and a Fire Eagle IPA.
How am I supposed to love the ungodly more than me?
Jesus knows not only can we not love the ungodly, we can’t even be relied upon to love God because no sooner does he command this impossible command than he dries off his hands and says “Where I’m going next you cannot go.”
And Peter responds: “Nonsense, I’ll go right now.”
“Will you lay down your life for me?”
“No,” Jesus says, “just tonight you’ll have betrayed me by the time the cock crows three.”
And then they all flip their s@#$, and that’s it— the chapter divisions weren’t added to the Gospels until the 16th century. That’s the moment when Jesus promises the Spirit.
So why not Passover?
Why does the Holy Spirit come at Pentecost?
But even that’s not putting it quite right.
Luke doesn’t say here in Acts 2 “When the day of Pentecost had come…”
No, the word Luke uses there in Greek is symplerousthai.
It’s the word Luke used back in the ninth chapter of his Gospel when Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem because, Luke says, his teaching ministry had been symplerousthai.
When the promised Holy Spirit descends, Luke’s telling you, the day of Pentecost is symplerousthai.
Pentecost is fulfilled.
Chris Arnade is a photojournalist who published a book entitled Dignity earlier this week. Arnade was an unbelieving, french-cuffed financier on Wall Street.
When the market crashed in 2008 and he lost his job, he began travelling through urban America, interviewing homeless addicts and prostitutes and squatters and taking their pictures.
In one of his essays, Arnade writes about a forty-something woman named Takeesha. She talked to him for an hour standing against a wall at the Corpus Christi Monastery in the South Bronx.
When she was 13, Takeesha’s mother, who was a prostitute, put her out to work the streets with her, which she’s done for the last thirty years.
“It’s sad,” Takeesha told Arnade, “when it’s your mother, who you trust, and she was out there with me, but you know what kept me through all that? God. The Holy Ghost. Whenever I got into [a guy’s] car, the Holy Ghost stuck with me and got into the car with me.”
Takeesha has a framed print of the Last Supper that she takes with her— a moveable feast— wherever she goes to sleep for the night.
This moment when Jesus promises the Holy Spirit— she’s hung the image of it above her in abandoned buildings and in sewage-filled basements and leaned it against a tent pole under an interstate overpass. She’s taken it with her to turn tricks.
“He’s always with me,” she told Arnade, “reminding me.”
When Chris Arnade finished his interview of Takeesha, he asked her how she wanted to be described for the reader. And without missing a beat, Takeesha responded: “As who I am. A prostitute, a mother of six, and a beloved child of God.”
When the author expresses surprise at her candor, Takeesha said— pay attention now— “the Holy Spirit tells me that I am not what I do; I am what has been done for me.”
“My worth,” Takeesha said— preached is more like it— “is not in what I do— or don’t do— but in who God says I am.”
All those pilgrims, they’re gathered there in Jerusalem not because they’re waiting around for the Holy Spirit but because it’s Pentecost, the day when Jews would remember the giving of the Law by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai, not just the Top Ten but the 603 other commands God gives before capping them all off, like Jesus does on a different mountain with “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
When Moses returns to his people from atop Sinai, he reads to them the Law, all 613 commands including that final one about perfection.
And the people respond to the Law by promising all you’ve said to do, God, we will do and more.
When the Holy Spirit shows up on that day, the day when God’s People remember their promise to do everything God had commanded them to do, Luke tells you that Pentecost is fulfilled— that’s why there’s no mention of Shavuot again in the New Testament.
As the Apostle Paul says at the top of Romans 8, God has fulfilled the Law in the Son, who was the only one to live the Law perfectly.
I realize you don’t know how to hear me.
So let me it put it plain for you to see—
This is why the Spirit Jesus promises on Passover comes at Pentecost:
In Jesus Christ, the promise of Pentecost is no longer “All this we will do for you, God.”
When the Holy Spirit comes and Pentecost is fulfilled, the promise we remember now is that in Jesus Christ everything has already been done.
All the commands the Lord spoke have been done for you by the Word made flesh.
Everything the Father said to do has been done—for you— in the Son, and his perfect obedience has been reckoned to you as your own irremovable suit of righteousness.
You are not what you do (or what you fail to do).
You are who God declares you to be.
That’s the promise we pray over the water at baptism:
Clothe Elin in Christ’s righteousness.
Clothe Elin in Christ’s permament perfect record..
This is why the language the Apostle Paul uses in our text today is the language not of earning and deserving but the language of adoption and inheritance.
Your being recknoned as a righteous child of God, your being credited Christ’s permament perfect score— it’s neither natural nor is it your hard-earned reward.
And it’s not cheap.
It’s not even expensive.
And it’s yours by faith.
“The people who challenged my atheism most were drug addicts and prostitutes, homeless and squatters.”
Chris Arnade writes in Dignity:
“On the streets, with their daily battles and constant proximity to death, they have come to understand viscerally the truth about all of us which many privileged and wealthy people have the luxury to avoid: that life is neither rational nor fair, that everyone makes mistakes and often we are the victims of other people’s mistakes.”
I’ve heard from Rev. Cynthia and from some of you all about All Saints.
I gather you all know as well as any church that everyone makes mistakes and often we are the victims of other people’s mistakes.
You all have hit up against the hard truth that most of us have the cash and the comfort to avoid— the truth that our lives are not in our control.
Hear the good news:
Not only are you enough
In Christ, right now, as you are, no matter what qualification is running through your head, you’re enough— indvidually and as a congregation— in Christ you’re enough.
That’s the promise the Spirit brings on the day Pentecost is fulfilled.
That’s the promise of your baptism.
But not only are you enough, you’re not alone.
The Spirit, who comes at Pentecost so that you might trust and believe this crazy, impossible promise that all of what God demands in the Law— perfect obedience and righteousness- is given to you (given away!) in the Gospel, has since become a squatter.
That’s what the name Jesus gives for the Spirit, paraclete, means.
Para means to come alongside of, to attach to, to cling to.
When the Day of Pentecost is fulfilled and the Spirit descends like fire and wind, the Spirit becomes like a house guest you can’t get rid of.
The Spirit who comes when Pentecost is fulfilled now clings to the word, to water, and to wine and bread.
These sacraments are the Holy Squatter’s rites, and he uses them, Jesus promises to us today, to help you keep all of his commandments, which…chillax All Saints, it isn’t as overwhelming as it sounds.
Because in John’s Gospel—
Other than that impossible command in the Upper Room he knew we couldn’t keep the very moment he commanded it, the only other commandments Jesus gives in John’s Gospel are all the same commandment.
To Nicodemus under the cover of night.
To the woman at the well.
To the 5,000 with fish and bread in their bellies.
98 times in the Gospel of John the commandment is always the same.
To put your trust in him.
So all you saints at All Saints, chillax.
And hear the good news:
The message of Pentecost is not Do your best and the Holy Spirit will do the rest.
The message of Pentecost is Everything has been done, gratis; so go, with the Holy Spirit with bread and wine and water and word tell the nations.
Or, just, you know…your neighborhood.
With these Holy Squatter’s rites, word and sacrament— that’s it, just these— Jesus promises you will do greater things than him.
Notice, All Saints—
The burden on you is not to do great things.
The burden on you is his only command: to believe.
To trust— no matter how out of control your life feels— that the simple things he has given you— bread and wine, water and word— can yield something greater even than loaves and fishes.
You’ll see for yourself at the font— they can kill and make alive.