20 May 2018
The Feast of Pentecost
Pentecost B (RCL)
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
John 15:26-27, 6:4b-15
We rely so heavily on Luke’s chronology for the liturgical year, that we can hardly imagine any other role for the Spirit than the “birth of the Church” on Pentecost. The Spirit gives the rag-tag band of disciples the courage and ability to begin the proclamation of salvation to all the peoples of the world, beginning in Jerusalem.
In this episode, we often hear that the Spirit ‘undoes’ Babel, but I think Luke is being sneakier than that. The problem with Babel was that the people had intended to settle there. God confused their language precisely so they would have to spread out over the face of the earth – God’s intention from creation (go forth and multiply). Rome, on the other had, was attempting to enforce a single language (Greek) on the whole Empire as a way of unifying it. The Spirit particularizes the recitation of God’s ‘big things’ (megaleia – outside of the New Testament, it means something like magnificence or majesty – we might translate this; how is that each of us hears them speaking in our own language of the magnificences of God?). We don’t have to know Greek to hear of God’s majesties. The Spirit doesn’t ‘undo’ Babel, but ‘undoes’ Rome.
But in the Romans passage (reading on either side of the bit assigned), the Spirit is midwife to God’s restoration of creation, and we are the first-fruits of that recreation. This looks directly back to the Spirit’s role in creation, breathing God’s creative word.
For John, the Spirit serves as both the prosecuting and defense attorney; our defense attorney (that’s one meaning of Paraclete), and the world’s prosecuting attorney, indicting the world concerning sin, concerning righteousness and concerning judgment; concerning sin, because the world did not believe in Jesus; concerning righteousness because he is going to the Father; and concerning judgment because the rule of this world had been judged. Sin is exposed in the death of Jesus, making the claims of the Johannine community about him being the Christ blasphemous (we leave out the first three and half verses of Chapter 16, which have to do with being thrown out of the synagogue, and people thinking they are doing a religious duty when they kill Christians). Righteousness is made clear because Jesus has gone to the Father, this very Jesus who was killed – this Johannine community based on faithfulness to this Jesus is what righteousness looks like. Judgment is made clear because the rule of this world has killed Jesus.
One doesn’t have to stretch the imagine very far to catch the parallels between the Johannine community and ourselves. While people around us speak of building high walls, and condemning those outside as animals, we worship a Jesus whom those very powers would kill all over again; and yet that Jesus has gone to the Father. And the Spirit is among us to give us courage (another meaning of parakaleo), and defend us in God’s court.
And this state of affairs, Paul likens to a women in the pangs of childbirth. A new world is a-birthing, and the whole creation groans to bring to birth. The Spirit groans among us with groans to deep for words as we await this restoration.