This weekend, we will do a dangerous thing. We will admit four of our young men to Holy Communion. What power and mystery they will be confronting at that altar rail. I’m sure you join me in hoping that the act of receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord will become central to their lives, their source of comfort and power, solace and refreshment.
This weekend is also, obviously, the feast of Pentecost, dangerous in it’s own right. Being baptized with fire and the Holy Spirit sounds warm but not cuddly. Being baptized with fire and the Holy Spirit can change a person.
“Barbara Brown Taylor notes we can see that Jesus was the Messiah when we think about his followers in a kind of before-and-after set of pictures.
“Before Pentecost they didn’t fully recognize who Jesus was, even though he ministered and lived with them for years.
“Jesus’ disciples didn’t stick with him when he got into deep trouble with the authorities, instead abandoning him as quickly as they could. Then, when he, just as he had promised, rose from the dead, they struggled to fully believe that he was alive again.
“On Pentecost, however, those very same slow, timid, bumbling disciples become utterly fearless leaders. Jesus’ disciples proclaim the gospel in front of both large crowds and menacing authorities. After Pentecost, they heal sick people and exorcise demons. Jesus’ disciples even go to jail gladly where they sing hymns that shake their prison’s foundations.
“That miraculous transformation begins with what Acts 2:1-21 describes. Among the last things Jesus told his disciples before he ascended to the heavenly realm was to wait in Jerusalem for God to keep his promise to baptize them with the Holy Spirit. So with what we suspect was little idea of what Jesus meant, Jesus’ disciples obeyed him by returning to Jerusalem.
“In Jerusalem, while they waited, these assembled people prayed “constantly.” They may even have asked God to tell them about just what they were waiting for. After all, John the Baptizer had said something about how Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. It probably sounded dangerous.
“Perhaps thankfully, then, Jesus’ disciples had to wait only ten days for God to answer their prayers. On the day of Pentecost, a festival the Jews celebrated fifty days after the Passover, the disciples received what Taylor calls “a crash course in power.”
“First there was what Luke calls “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind.” Then there were what looked like “tongues of fire.” Finally, God filled Jesus’ disciples with the Holy Spirit, so that they began to talk in all sorts of foreign languages.”1 The bystanders who first encounter the disciples after all of this supposed they were all hammered, and since it was 9 o’clock in the morning, they were pretty vocal in ridiculing them. But the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, not distilled spirits, and their boldness and power went on display.
What happened next? Well, the Holy Spirit scattered the disciples around the world to witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. All of them were at some point imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and eventually killed, save John. Him they boiled in oil but he wouldn’t die. Thomas, who we heard last week misunderstanding every word out of Jesus’ mouth, made his way through India. A few weeks ago I met a man after the Vigil Mass who is from Palayur, India, and was educated at the school attached to the Church of St. Thomas, consecrated in 52AD by St. Thomas himself. Thomas they killed with a lance.
And so Pentecost had and has consequences. Being baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire can change a person. The Christian Faith is not for the faint of heart. C.S. Lewis famously said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” What we get instead is an actual relationship with the living God, whose Spirit, if we let Him, will take us places we could never imagine.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/day-of-pentecost-c/