Bible Study: Pentecost (C)

May 19, 2013

Daniel Stroud, Virginia Theological Seminary

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, (25-27)

Acts 2:1-21

When we get to Pentecost, it’s tempting to just focus on the Spirit coming down and resting on the Apostles. This lengthy and meaty reading seems to beg for more than just a recitation of how the Spirit rested on the Apostles and how it rests on us in the church.

There are two excerpts that jump out at me. One is found right in the second verse: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting.” It strikes me that Acts only informs us of the sound of a mighty wind, not an actual mighty wind. This tension between known and accepted story and text is worth exploring. The echoes here to creation are significant, however, this is not a breath, this sounds of a violent wind; this is powerful and strong, ready to push and strain and fill everything. At this moment, light is also brought into the room, as tongues as of fire rested on each of them. Now wind and flame are a powerful combination, and they can be a force for massive destruction. However, in this case they can quickly start a conflagration, setting the world ablaze with a fire that burns but does not consume.

Also compelling here is the restoration granted by God. In the story of the Tower of Babel, the Lord says, “nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6). Here, God restores the gift of tongues to the Apostles, restoring the power that had been denied when languages were all confused. In Christ, and with the Holy Spirit, there is nothing that will be impossible for them to do.

Knowing this, how is the Spirit moving within you to set the world ablaze? What are you doing to help spread that fire?

Armed with the knowledge that you are in Christ and with the Holy Spirit, seeing God’s big promise that “nothing will now be impossible for them,” what would you strive for if you had knowledge that you would not fail, even if you get unexpected results?

Psalm 104: 25-35, 37

Amidst today’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit animating us to do great things, we see in this psalm just how vital the Spirit is to our very existence. We see in the psalm how the Spirit of God animates every aspect of our lives. The psalmist writes:

“All of them look to you to give them food in due season. You give it to them; they gather it; you open your hand and they are filled with good things. You hide your face and they are terrified; you take away their breath and they die and return to their dust. You send forth your Spirit and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.”

The psalmist would be hard-pressed to make it any clearer. The Spirit does not only give us what we consider to be gifts; the Spirit gives us everything. We are fully reliant on God for our food, even for our breath. This psalm serves as an excellent reminder that we should offer our gratitude not only for those fruits of the Spirit we experience, but for every aspect of life.

What have you recently taken for granted for which you should offer thanks?

How might we improve the gratitude offered? How might we turn our gratitude for things like our breath and our food into new gifts? How might we be good stewards of what we have been given so that we might share our gifts with the world?

Romans 8:14-17

I always found it funny that Paul tells us here we did not receive a spirit of slavery. Only a chapter and change ago, he was telling us to be slaves of righteousness. But Romans builds up steam as Paul’s defense of the righteousness of God continues on, and here we see that the Spirit we received was not of slavery, but of adoption as children of God. And Paul here builds up through one of his frequent (though this one is short) sorites explaining to us just where we land. We have been given the spirit that we might call God by an affectionate, endearing name: Abba! Not as simply the head of a household or one to whom we are subject, but as a parent for whom we have a mature affection, our dearest father.

And Paul takes his point to its logical conclusion: If we are children of God in Christ, God’s firstborn, then we are also heirs with the firstborn of God. But – and this is an important condition – this is the case if we suffer with him that we may be glorified with him. Following Christ has a cost, and it can be a significant cost. But if we accept that cost, we are no longer slaves, we are no longer even just children of God, we are heirs through hope, in Christ.

How do we see ourselves? Do we carry our Christianity as a task to be accomplished, an order to be fulfilled; or is our faith part of who we are, something that we live into as we would a family?

John 14:8-17

The disciples always seem to want more. A few weeks ago we read about Thomas, who, though he gets an unfair rap, said he needed to place his hand in Jesus’ wounds. Shortly after that, we hear about James and John, sons of Zebedee, asking to sit one at Jesus’ right hand and one at his left. And now we have Philip saying, “Well, if you just showed us the father, we’d be happy.” And Jesus gives a brilliant response. “You’ve seen him.”

As Christians, we are not people of the book. The Bible is necessary and divinely inspired and contains all things necessary to salvation, but it is not the perfect revelation of God’s will and nature. Christ is our revelation of that will and nature, and the New Testament is about Christ, who is the true revelation. Christ reveals his nature, saying that the Father dwells in him. This is quite a claim. And Jesus goes on to say that if we love him, and the Father through him, and we keep his commandments, he will send the Holy Spirit among us, to be a spirit of truth in the world. He also tells us that the world cannot receive the Spirit because it does not know the Spirit. We, however, do know that Spirit.

And so this loaded gospel rounds out the essence of our readings for the day. The Holy Spirit has been given to us and will strengthen and empower us to do ministry. This gift was not meant to sit idle but was meant to commission us to spread the Spirit in the world.

Given this charge, what can we do to spread the Spirit?

How can we live a life that shows others that the Spirit is abiding in us?

How can we use that Sprit dwelling in us to show to world the perfect revelation of the nature of God in the loving person of Christ?

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