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Day of Pentecost, Cycle C (2016)

The Holy Spirit. If not focusing on this theme, the Spirit’s work in Justification, Sanctification, and Church might receive attention.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
This is a hymn to God the Creator, with praise for his providential interventions. It has similarities to the Egyptian Hymn to Aten. The verses considered focus in praise on the multiplicity of creatures that God has created (vv. 24-25). God is said to have subdued all the things of the sea, including the monster of chaos, Leviathan (vv. 25-26; cf. 79:12-17). This reference to subduing the sea may relate to the Priestly version of creation in Genesis, which refers to the watery chaos God is said to have overcome in creating us (Genesis 1:9-10). Providence and the creating role of the Spirit [ruach, also translated “wind”] are stressed in the psalm (v. 30; God as the one who gives food and other good things with the Spirit and who also takes away life [vv. 27-29]). All living things depend on him. These themes could also be related to the ecological agenda or to justice. The lesson concludes with praise of God’s awesomeness (vv. 32ff).

Application: As in the year past on Pentecost Sunday, this psalm affords several sermon possibilities. Sermons on Creation, Providence, and the unity of all living things in the midst of their diversity are legitimate directions. Care for creation and human unity also legitimately emerge as themes (Social Ethics). Given the theme of this Sunday, special attention to the Spirit of God’s life-giving and sustaining role would be most appropriate.

Acts 2:1-21
Like every year, we could not begin the Pentecost Season without a report of the first Pentecost from the second half of a two-part history of the Church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). We note again that there is some dispute about the date of composition, whether it was composed before Paul’s Martyrdom (in 65-67 AD) or much later, after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. In any case the author’s stress on the universal mission of the Church (1:8) and so an effort to validate Paul’s ministry reflects in this lesson. The attention given by the book to recounting of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the faithful (and the origin of the Church) at Pentecost is hardly surprising given the author’s concern to stress the work of the Holy Spirit ([Brevard Childs, The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction, p. 221).

Jewish tradition held that the law was given on the day that Christians commemorate as Pentecost, fifty days after Passover (Leviticus 23:15-21). Luke often says that all faithful were together in order to underscore unity of the community (2:44; 4:24; 5:12). This theme is emphasized in this lesson. The gift of the Holy Spirit [pneuma hagion] (baptism of the Holy Spirit) had been promised by John the Baptist (Luke 3:16). Reference to the Spirit’s appearance as of tongues [glossa] of fire (v. 3) is reminiscent of references to the tongues/flames [lahab] of fire issued by Old Testament writers to suggest God’s presence (Isaiah 66:15-16; 5:24; cf. Exodus 19:18). Luke reports that John the Baptist had promised a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire [pur] (Luke 3:16; also see Jesus’ promise in Luke 24:49). The report of speaking in other languages [dialektos] and the ability to understand each other (vv. 4-11) is a reversal of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) and another mark of the unity of the community. It is said to have transpired among an assembly comprised of devout Jews from all over the Jewish Diaspora. This experience described of actually understanding foreign languages may be different from the Pentecostal experiences reported by Paul about the Corinthian church that seems to have manifested not in foreign languages but ecstatic, incoherent forms of speech [glossa] (1 Corinthians 14:1-33). The amazement [existamai] of those beholding this is typical of amazement over Jesus’ miracles described in Luke (4:36-37). But the skepticism of some who observed the event, accusing those who had the experience of the Spirit of being drunk [full of new wine] (v. 13), is a reference suggestive of the Pentecostal experience noted in 1 Corinthians 12:13. And the fact that the Greek term glossa (as in glossolalia) is also used in this account suggests that the first Pentecost also seems to have been an ecstatic experience.

Peter is reported to stand to defend the validity of the experience that those filled with the Spirit are not drunk (vv. 14-16). His sermon, based on Joel 2:28-32, follows (vv. 17-21). It teaches that the pouring out of the Spirit on all (even on slaves and women, v.18) is a mark of the Messianic Age. The sermon based on the Joel text underlines the eschatological nature of the text. Peter then proclaims Justification by Faith (v. 21).

Application: The text provides an occasion to explain the real meaning of Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit who brings the Church together in all its multicultural unity that counteracts how the Tower of Babel experience has divided us. This is why Christians need not speak in tongues today. Sanctification (as made possible by the Spirit) might also receive attention.

Romans 8:14-17
This letter of introduction was written by Paul between 54 AD and 58 AD to a church which to date he had never visited. The church he addressed at that time may have been comprised of mostly Jewish Christians. In this lesson Paul continues a discussion of life in the Spirit in view of the realities of sin. First he urges the faithful not to live according to the flesh [sarx], for that leads to death. (The Greek word sarx does not refer to the physical body, but to sinful flesh, to the sin that has corrupted our bodies and lives in their entirety.) But the Spirit [pneuma], he proclaims, gives life (vv. 12-13). All led by the Spirit, Paul notes, are God’s children [huios, sons] (v. 14). When the Spirit, who adopts [huiothesia] us, leads us to bear witness [summarturei], and with our spirit to cry that God is our Father [pater] (presumably in ecstatic ways [see Galatians 4:6-7]), we are not made slaves [doulos], but children [tekna] of God, and so heirs [kleronomoi] (vv. 15-16). As children of God we are heirs of Christ [of his Resurrection], if we suffer with him we are also glorified [sundoxasthomen] with him (v. 17).

Application: This is text for proclaiming the Holy Spirit’s work in creating faith and stimulating good works (Justification by Grace, Sanctification).

John 14:8-17 (25-27)
Again we note that this book is the last of the four gospels to be written, probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century. It is very different in style in comparison to the other three (so-called Synoptic) Gospels. In fact it is likely based on these earlier gospels. The book has been identified with John the Son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and this claim was made as long ago as late in the first century by the famed theologian of the early Church Irenaeus (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 414). It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John.

Recently, though, some scholars have suggested an alternative account of the origins of John’s gospel. Appealing to the writings of a late-first/early-second century Bishop Papias, who may have implied that John’s gospel was the result of eyewitness origins, such scholars have argued that the book is in fact an authentic historical testimony to Jesus (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, especially pp. 423ff; cf. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 154-155). Regardless of its origins, though, most scholars agree that the book’s main agenda was probably to encourage Jewish Christians in conflict with the synagogue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31).

This lesson records Jesus’ teaching of the way to the Father, including the relation of Father to Son and Holy Spirit. He offers these reflections in his Farewell Discourse, a speech as we have noted previously unique to John’s gospel that Jesus reportedly gave between the Last Supper and his arrest. First, Philip asks Jesus to be shown [deixon] the Father (v. 8). Jesus responds that whoever has seen him has seen the Father (v. 9). He claims to be in [en] the Father and the Father in him. His words are not spoken on his own, Jesus claims, for the Father in him does his works [ergon] (v. 10). Jesus says that he is in the Father and the Father in him. If this is not believed, he should be believed because of his works (v. 11). He proceeds to note that those who believe [pisteuo] in him will do the works that Jesus does, even greater works as goes to the Father (v. 12). He adds that he will do whatever they ask in his name [onoma] so that the Father may be glorified [doxaso] in the Son (vv. 13-14). The lesson seems to be teaching that God is only known through Christ.

Jesus adds that if one loves him, his commandments [entole, literally “what is given”] will be kept. He notes that he will ask his Father to send the faithful another Advocate/Comforter [parakleton] who will be with them forever (vv. 15-16). This is the Spirit of truth
[pneumates aletheias] whom the world cannot receive but the faithful know him because he abides in them (v. 17). In the final verses of the lesson Jesus claims to be saying these things while with the faithful (v. 25). The Advocate [Holy Spirit) whom the Father sent in Jesus’ name will teach everything and remind them of all that he has said (v. 26). Jesus claims to leave peace with the faithful and not as the world [kosmos] gives. He exhorts them not to have troubled hearts (v. 27).

Application: With this lesson opportunity is afforded to preach on the gift of the Holy Spirit and what the Spirit does in our lives (Sanctification) as well as how the Spirit’s work relates to other persons of the Trinity.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen