Pentecost Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 24 May 2015,
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-33,37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Let's give our readers a standing ovation!
How many of you understood the readings in other languages? Sally, how much did you grok? How many of you feel that you grok what you heard? I understood some, but to grok what I heard requires more.
How many of you understand “grok,” a word created, by author Robert Heinlein for his science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land.1 Grok is now in the dictionary: It means “to understand profoundly & intuitively.”2
What is the advantage when we understand profoundly & intuitively? [wait for answers]. On this Memorial Day weekend, I think of the profound communications triumph Navajo military veterans provided in World War II.3 The “Code Talkers”, now buried among Marine Corps veterans near Fort Defiance, Arizona, are featured in the 2002 movie ”Windtalkers” that shows their very significant contributions for their country/our country. The 29 Navajo men serving in the Pacific used the Navajo language to create a combat communications code unbreakable by the Japanese, an important turning point for US forces.4
The Code Talkers' goal was to thwart communications. Remember how, when we humans got too big for our britches, God thwarted our communications at the Tower of Babel? That was a significant turning point for human life. What we hear at Pentecost is the reverse of Babel's garbled communication.5
We know Pentecost is a significant turning point in the life of the disciples. On Pentecost, the disciples gain a profound understanding of their experience with Jesus' death & resurrection. We know their previous lack of profound understanding that we read in our scriptures during Easter.
In today's scripture we encounter people who lack understanding as they hear the Good News in their own languages on Pentecost. Peter is quick to explain, to help the people grok what they hear even though it is in their own language.
Think of a time someone said something to you in English & you just couldn't understand: you knew the individual words, not their point. [We hear, we don't understand, then God – or a person like Peter – explains it to us. Ah!]
I wonder if this first Pentecost was like that. . . . . Actually this was not the 1st Pentecost. We tend to think of Pentecost as a Christian celebration [it IS the birthday of the Church]. Look again at what we read in Acts: Devout Jews from all nations & living in Jerusalem are readily there & easily attracted to gather when they hear Jesus' followers speaking in many languages – in their languages. They are gathered for Pentecost, “the Jewish Festival of Weeks, 50 days after Passover, when the giving of the Law (is) celebrated.”6
People are gathered to celebrate THAT & they receive much more. They hear much more to celebrate than the giving of the Law after their deliverance from Egypt.
Jesus tells the disciples in our Gospel to testify on his behalf when the Advocate/the Holy Spirit comes, the Spirit of truth who leads the disciples – and is here to lead us 21st Century disciples. We hear the disciples testify profoundly to the Good News in our 1st lesson.
The gift of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for disciples to share the Good News with peoples of all languages so that God's kingdom spreads. It is like yeast as we read in the Celtic meditation “Kneading & Rising”7:
As I knead the flour I think of all the many grains that have been ground to make it. Christ's church is like flour made up of many people of many races ground up to make a single dough. As I watch the dough rise, I think of the yeast's power raising up the weight of flour & water. Prayer in Christ is like rising dough drawing together every hope & fear and lifting them up to God.
Jesus' ability to impact us, to make the diversity of us humans into a single dough, is directly connected to the Holy Spirit,8 as my seminary professor the Rev. Dr. Bob Hughes says in his book, Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life.9 Any grace we have individually or in community is “the direct impact of the Holy Spirit”.10 “All grace is simply a name for God the Holy Spirit at work.”11
As our lesson from Romans tells us, the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness: for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” This is a gift to cherish. This gift equips us for our work as disciples to testify to the Good News of God's Love that we know because Jesus dies on that cross, rises from the dead & ascends into heaven & lives in us as the Holy Spirit.
This gift gives us the insight & courage to know God does not expect any one of us to do all the work. Even in prayer, we can let the Holy Spirit speak for us & through us. We hear this perspective from Celtic wisdom in the devotion “Praying with Spirit”:12
Sometimes when I pray, I utter the words, but I do not feel or think them. Sometimes when I pray, I utter the words, thinking about what I say, but not feeling. Sometimes when I pray, I utter the words, & I both think & feel what I say. An act of will cannot make me feel, nor stop my mind from wandering. An act of will can only make me utter. So I shall utter the words, and let the Spirit do the rest, guiding my mind & heart [as the Spirit] wills.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971.
Heinlein, Robert A. Stranger In a Strange Land. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group. 2003.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Hughes, Robert Davis III. Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. 2008.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 10 April 2015.
Magness, The Rt. Rev. James B. Bishop Suffragan for Armed Services and Federal Ministries. “Navajo Code Talkers”. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2015/05/18/bulletin-insert-trinity-sunday-b/ Accessed: 21 May 2015.
Merriam-Webster. Smartphone Dictionary app. Merriam-Webster Inc. 2012. Accessed: 22 May 2015.
Underhill, Evelyn. The Fruits of the Spirit. New York: David McKay Company, Inc. 1965.
Van de Weyer, Robert. Celtic Praise: A Book of Celtic Devotion, Daily Prayers and Blessings. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1998.
Wall, John N. A Dictionary for Episcopalians. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2000.
1 Heinlein, Robert A. Stranger In a Strange Land.
2 Merriam-Webster. Smartphone Dictionary app. Merriam-Webster Inc. 2012. Accessed: 22 May 2015.
3 Magness, The Rt. Rev. James B. Bishop Suffragan for Armed Services and Federal Ministries. “Navajo Code Talkers”. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2015/05/18/bulletin-insert-trinity-sunday-b/ Accessed: 21 May 2015.
5 Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. P. 1082.
6 Wall, John N. A Dictionary for Episcopalians. P. 98.
7 an de Weyer, Robert. Celtic Praise: A Book of Celtic Devotion, Daily Prayers and Blessings. P. 30.
8 Hughes, Robert Davis III. Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life. P. 43.
12 Van de Weyer, Robert. Celtic Praise: A Book of Celtic Devotion, Daily Prayers and Blessings. P. 45.