Homily for Pentecost Sunday, Year A 2014

Homily for Pentecost Sunday, Year A  2014

If we had celebrated the 7th Sunday of Easter last week instead of the Ascension, we would have read that the Apostles, after witnessing the ascension, went back to Jerusalem as Jesus told them to do, and went to an upstairs room and devoted themselves to prayer for a ten day period. The story in Acts then picks up where we started today. 

“When the day of Pentecost had come….”  This Jewish feast, translated in Hebrew as Festival of Weeks is one of three times a year that Jewish males  go up to Jerusalem, seven weeks or 50 days after Passover. The name Pentecost comes from the Greek word for fifty. For Jews it was time to offer the first of the wheat grains for the year, by offering two loaves of leavened bread. The feast was also associated with a celebration of Moses being given the Torah because the Jews linked each Festival with some aspect of their history. They also linked each Festival with a religious theme and the theme of Pentecost was “Revelation”. 

This theme  of “Revelation” is highly appropriate to what we celebrate today as well. Because God wanted to bring his new Covenant first to the Jewish people, he used a Jewish way to do it – through Jewish Feasts – in order to convey truths which were linked with older truths.  The Ten Commandments were given to Moses on this day and are being given again, but, this time, being written as Jeremiah says “in our hearts”. This is accomplished by the gift, not of tablets, but of the Spirit. If the Torah or Ten Commandments has been the glue that bonded the Jewish people as a society of God’s people for so long, the Spirit now will bond the new community of Apostles and sustain them through the centuries to follow. The Ten Commandments are still valid – Jesus didn’t come to destroy them – but with the Spirit we are able to see things in a different way.

Let us continue to look at the story in Acts. The Apostles were in the upper room, praying when a violent wind seemed to go through the place and tongues of fire rested on each of them.  Going back to the Moses story, when Moses was given the Torah, it was from a burning bush. The presentation of God was communal for Moses – there was one fiery bush, but at Pentecost the fire broke off into pieces to individualize each person. The fact that Jesus made point that he wanted this to happen in Jerusalem is also important for that shows the  continuation of the contract that God had made with the Jewish people. The New Covenant comes out of the Old. In one sense the Jewish people as a people was born on Sinai when Moses was given the Torah. In a very real sense the Church was born on Pentecost when the Apostles were given the Holy Spirit. So happy birthday!

The amazing “power” that was given to the Apostles after they received the Spirit was a reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel.  In that story everyone spoke one language until through their pride they thought they could build a tower to heaven so nothing they wanted would be out of their reach. God punished them and suddenly they could no longer communicate with each other and different languages were born.

The reverse happens at Pentecost – God restores the ability to communicate and each hears the Word of God in his or her own language.

The Gospel today is John’s re-interpretation of the Pentecostal event through Jesus’ breathing on the Apostles and giving them both the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sin, more as a foreshadowing of the actual event itself because John seems to take the ascension for granted.

Finally, in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we get, not a story, but a theological interpretation of the event. It seems that Paul had been writing to Corinth because there had been arguments in the Corinth community about the relative importance of the different graces or gifts given by the Spirit. They thought that some gifts were more valuable than others, and that speaking in tongues was to be most valued. Paul response to this is to lump all the gifts together and describe them in their totality as graces given by the Spirit in order to build up a community. This is also one of the passages where we get some idea of early theology on the Trinity. The one Spirit gives gifts in many varieties; we give service, as a result, in many ways, as Christ did, and there is but one Christ; and we take action and evangelize in many ways, but in the name of the one God. All are given gifts and all are valuable and are not to be rated better or worse, but simply they are to be used for the good of the community and the spread of the Word. The gift is not given a person to inspire pride in it, but it is for the common good of all.

The idea Paul suggests is that being a part of the body of Christ, we each have a function for the common good.  We need to find out what that function is that the Spirit has given us, develop it, trust God the Spirit to activate it, and then appreciate and not be envious of the gifts of others which work to further our own good.

I am suggesting, with Paul today, that each of you has been given a gift to advance the community here. You may not have discovered that gift yet. You may have been afraid to discover that gift. But with your confirmation, it can be discovered and activated. It may even surprise you. This week i would love for you to think about what gift or gifts you may have been graced with, and whether you are using them for the good of this community or in building Christ’s kingdom beyond us. You may want to think of it as a talent for something or just simply something you are good at, but it is important to bring it to our table, to use it, to function as part of Christ’s body.  I promise you, when you use it properly it will feel very satisfying and good and you will know you have contributed to the unity of this parish and this community through the grace of God.

This is the Good News you need to discover within yourself and use, and Happy Birthday to our Church!

Bishop Ron Stephens 

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]



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