A homily for Pentecost Sunday 2020

Updated: Jan 25

I am reminded by today’s readings (all of them) of back around 2006 or so. I got in my car to go get a haircut at the mall. No masks were required in public back then. As I was driving there, I had the radio on and an NPR interview was the broadcast. I remember this one NPR broadcast and no others. [NPR = National Public Radio] A man was being interviewed. I believe the man had some history of some level of fame, perhaps as an author. Whatever he had accomplished, it all came crumbling down when he had a sudden onset of a crippling disease, I believe with a terminal diagnosis. The man was being interviewed because he had been miraculously cured. That was why he was being interviewed by NPR (that and his renewed life had brought about a new book, perhaps?). The man talked about how miserable his life had become, being bed-ridden and no longer visited by friends. Then, he said, “Jesus appeared by my bed. He said, ‘You are cured.’” The NPR interviewer asked, “What did Jesus look like?” I remember the response as clear as if he just said these words today. He said, “He looked just like his pictures!”

The man then said, “Jesus began to walk away after he told me I was cured and I called out, ‘Wait a minute! Isn’t there something you want me to do for you?’ and Jesus said, ‘Oh. Okay. Live a better life.”’ I might be wrong about what all the man said Jesus said to him, because it was not as memorable as “He looked like his picture.” The point is: I remember his words giving me the image that Jesus did not act as thrilled as did the man in the bed. To tell the truth, I have never put much faith in NPR broadcasts. When I have listened to it, I have heard propaganda, nothing more. When I heard this man’s interview, which might have still been going on when I reached the mall, I know I would not have hung around in the car hanging on every word that man said. For all I know, the man was making up the story and never was as bad off physically as he made it seem. But, maybe he was telling the truth and maybe he did see the Jesus. I believe I am reminded of this past memory because of the optional reading from Numbers 11, when God came down in a cloud and seventy elders began to prophesy.  That happened, but for only that one time in their lives. I imagine that would have affected them for the rest of their lives, much in the same way that this man says, after one time being cured by Jesus. It is not hard to imagine how those seventy, including Eldad and Medad, spent the rest of their days in the wilderness … sitting around the campfire telling Holy Spirit stories to the children.  That man was telling his story to NPR similarly. This becomes a perfect example of how telling someone a story of an important moment in one’s life has little lingering value, more than a clouded memory. I imagine, had Eldad sat around the campfire year after year, for a decade telling the one story of his life that had made an impact on him, the only listeners would be the little children. Their parents probably would have nudged one another and found something else to do, whispering, “Here we go again.”

That means the first Apostles, who became Apostles on Pentecost Sunday, never passed on the Holy Spirit by telling people about having known Jesus personally and what it was like to follow him around. They did not win converts by telling stories and finding those who “believed their story” of a dead man coming back to life. Even if they were born with so much natural charisma they could charm a bird off a branch, Christianity would have died when they died, if Christianity had begun because of telling tales. The story of Acts 2:1-21, where Peter stood and recited words written by the prophet Joel, cannot possibility explain the transformation of three thousand Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem that day into true believers – that their Messiah had come in Jesus of Nazareth – simply by reading those words aloud. There is no more possibility that story told in Acts’ second chapter could have had such an impact, no more than if someone had, somehow, broadcast that NPR interview where some strange man said he saw Jesus … TWO THOUSAND YEARS AFTER HE DIED! A story is always just a story. One can get caught up in a well-delivered story (they pay actors and directors to do that kind of stuff), but at the end of the day that’s all it is. While it can be fun to believe – hope springs eternal from a well-told story – ask anyone in Hollywood and they will admit every story ever told needs some theatrics and embellishment, in order to make it more believable, to make a movie sell more tickets and to make more money. A priest who preached at a church where I was once a member said (more than once), “If you think the early Christians were facing death in a Roman arena because they “believed” in Jesus, think again. They would have recanted any and all beliefs, if that would have saved their lived. They were willing to be slaughtered because of their faith, which had been brought upon them by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Again, my memory might have embellished the ending part of what I just said, but it was clear he was saying belief and faith are not the same. Every Jewish pilgrim in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday, according to the Acts story, was from out of town: “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.” Those pilgrims were basically from all around the known world, where Israelites and Jews had been scattered. They spoke different languages, but they all knew Hebrew, so it is possible that Peter spoke in Yiddish when he recited Joel 2:28-32. Still, every one of those devout Jews knew the words of Joel written in Hebrew. So, Peter did not tell them a story they had not already heard – probably many times before. It was the way Peter told the story that is not written – the between the lines hand gestures, emphasis placed on some words more than others, and perhaps he spoke with a bright aura surrounding his head.

The operative word there is “psychai,” meaning the plural of “(a) the vital breath, breath of life, (b) the human soul, (c) the soul as the seat of affections and will, (d) the self, (e) a human person, an individual.” (Strong’s) Prior to this event that we remember every Pentecost Sunday, is that Acts begins to shine new light on the disciples.  After all, Acts is short for “The Acts of the Apostles.”  Included today [optional] is the reading from John 20, when Jesus appeared in the upper room saying, “Peace to you.” Peter and the other ten [with Thomas back and Judas Iscariot out of the group] were then termed “disciples.” In John 20:30 is written, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.” In Matthew 28, after Jesus gave his followers instructions to meet him next, Matthew wrote: “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.”

That means, at the end  of the Gospels, the disciples were still only disciples, not yet graduated into a commission of ministry. In Acts 1, after Jesus had left them, they are then termed “apostles.” We read in the 26th verse: “Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” Soon after the reading in Acts 2 cuts off, the use of “apostles” is found three times (in verses 37, 42, and 43). Those references were relative to the “those added to their number,” as the pilgrims also became “apostles.”

This is not coincidence. This is meaningful information. The Greek word for “disciple” is “mathétés.” According to Strong’s, the word translates as “a learner, disciple, pupil.” This can then make a “disciple” be relative to a “student.”

Jesus told his students that they were to be his and the Father’s messengers, in the same was Jesus had been their Apostle Rabbi. Therein lies the reason that Pentecost Sunday is important and a day of significance remembered each year, as commanded by God. Pentecost Sunday represents graduation day. It represents that day of accomplishment when the student has finished learning and is celebrated for going out into the world to be the messenger of that which has been learned. The elementary school students graduate and go to middle school. Then they graduate and go to high school. Then they graduate and go to college, where some graduate and continue on to advanced degrees. A child is a “disciple” until it graduates to being a fully functional adult member of society. Graduation means being productive, by putting to good use one’s education.

We find vices that seem to numb our pains and sufferings, until they become new pains and sufferings. We look for some sense of stability and hope, which is often religion; but then the news about religion these days only reinforces one’s lack of faith in anyone or anything.  The Jews of Jesus’ day faced the same real world dilemmas, so an expansion from twelve to about three thousand – in one morning – is spiritual happening, not vocal – not recited stories. The adult world becomes a place where only the wealthy can pretend their lives are happy, but the poor have only God keeping them from anarchy, having nothing left to lose but their souls.  That is why Jesus said getting the rich to heaven was harder than getting a camel through the eye of the needle. It is this aspect of souls that differentiates Pentecost Sunday as a graduation day from educational graduations. It is the element of “Spirit” – the capitalized “Pneuma” – that makes Apostles be messengers sent out as God’s priests, not male or female brains sent out with seminary diplomas. A normal rabbi from a synagogue, a typical Pharisee or Sadducee, or a run of the mill temple scribe could have stood outside an upper room in a building right next to where Peter and the eleven were, reading the same lesson from Joel from a scroll; but the results would have been nobody changed. None of the pilgrims in Jerusalem that day would have changed in their hearts. None of the pilgrims in Jerusalem would have had their souls baptized by the Spirit and become new men of faith.  It was possible only by the Spirit, which regular ‘men of the cloth’ do not possess. In the John 20 reading, we hear how Jesus “breathed on them,” saying “Receive the Spirit.” This is where we need to realize that Jesus of Nazareth stood before his disciples as a dead body that had been brought back to life by the Father. Jesus no longer breathed as a natural control mechanism that was a soul, as God’s breath of life. The soul of Jesus had “gone to heaven and was seated at the right hand of God.” Thus, it was the dead body of Jesus returned to life via the Spirit of God that was greater than a breath of life. All of the disciples were still alive and physically functioning because they had intact souls, which regulated (among many thing) their ability to breathe. This means that when Jesus “breathed on them” is was God telling the disciples of Jesus to open themselves to Receive God (capital “R”) within their being, alongside the souls of life breath God gave them at birth. This means “Pneuma” is greater than “psuché,” or “breath.” In John 20 is written, “Labete Pneuma Hagion,” three words, all capitalized, which say, “Receive Spirit Holy.” We translated those three words as a command to “Receive the Holy Spirit,” but the reality is each word, due to its capitalization, is an important statement in itself. It is an error to combine Spirit and Holy as one. The reality is the three words state important steps that will change a “disciple” into an “Apostle.” The first step is to “Receive.” According to the NASB translations of the New Testament, there are four times the Greek word “labete” is written and translated as “married” or “marry.” According to Brown-Driver-Briggs, as the third usage (“to take what is one’s own, to take to oneself, to make one’s own) and the “a.” category (“to claim, procure, for oneself”), that source states: “to take i. e. marry a wife,” citing Mark 12:19-22 and Luke 20:28-31 as where those uses can be found. “Labete” is God’s proposal of marriage to those who have ‘dated’ Him as believers. The disciples of Jesus were asked to be taken by God, just as Jesus had “Received” God as his Husband. Because this is a spiritual union, it is not physical [a man and a woman] but a marriage between the soul’s breath of life spirit and the Spirit of eternal life. Since the first step poses a question that demands an answer, the second step comes when one accepts the proposal of marriage and the Spirit of eternal life joins with one’s soul, all within one human body of flesh (regardless of human gender). This is the truth of a marriage being such that no man can tear asunder. Once one accepts God’s proposal for eternal life, the union is permanent – lasting from then until forever, with “death do you part” meaning soul-Spirit leaving the body of flesh for Heaven. In the John 7 reading [the other option], Jesus stood in the midst of a Jewish procession on the last day of the Sukkot festival and proclaimed – he screamed out – “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” Jesus then cried out, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

That speaks of the eternal union between a regular soul and the Spirit of God (the “Pneuma”). When the translation says, “who believes in me” and “as the scripture has said,” that was God speaking as the Spirit joined with the soul of Jesus. There had been no scripture written about belief in Jesus (at that time), as all Scripture was about belief in Yahweh. The Sukkot festival was the temple Jews making a production of commitment to God, when none of them truly believed in God, because they rejected His Son (who stood before them). That is why “Hagion” is a stand-alone statement of importance. “Holy” is what the Jews never attained. Only some individuals in their history could legitimately make that claim, but then they wouldn’t be that selfish.  While the Numbers reading tells of a one-time ability to prophesy, it was like a story told by a man cured of a terminal disease. Sure, we all believe God is Holy. Who wouldn’t? The problem comes from not recognizing God meaning Holy, where it needs not be said.  Any “Spirit” associated with God is thereby also accepted as holy, coming from God.  That means to say “Holy Spirit” is meaningless, simply from being a statement of redundancy. God IS Holy. God is great. God is good. God is God.  Nothing becomes “Holy” without God’s involvement.

The Sabbath was the day “God sanctified and set apart as consecrated.” We translate the Hebrew “way·qad·dêš” as “made holy.”  “Holy” is a condition that sets one apart from the rest. That is what “Hagion” means. It means “set apart by (or for) God, holy, sacred.” (Strong’s usage) There can be no question about the holiness of God. God can only be Holy.

The third step, however is a human being who has “Received” God within his or her heart – in Holy matrimony – and had the Spirit of God’s eternal river of life baptizing one’s soul. Then that soul with a body of mortal flesh is made “Holy” by God, as a walking, talking, teaching messenger reproduction of God’s Son, Jesus the Messiah reborn.

That is the difference between some mortal human being standing up, dressed in all kinds of paraphernalia that gives the impression of religious importance, and reciting Scripture to ears that connect to brains that think, “Ho hum. Here we go again. Heard this before.”

The Spirit was so infectious it makes COVID19 seem like a harmless butterfly.  The result was about three thousands souls heard a proposal made to them by Jesus Christ [God] and they immediately said, “I do.” That represents the last time a wife of God says “I” as a statement about what mortal flesh surrounding a soul will say. From that point on one says just what Jesus said: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” (John 14:11) Ezekiel knew the routine: “Lord Yahweh, you know.”  This sacrifice of self-ego, through a union with God, makes “I” obsolete, unless as a statement of God through the Son (no matter what gender one’s flesh makes one appear). This understanding makes the terrible translation of Jesus’ proposal be so misinterpreted that it makes pretenders have a way to prove to others their piety by their (a form of “I”) use of “forgiveness.” They think Jesus said, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” No mortal human is without sin. No mortal human can forgive sins. If they could, then there would be no need for God. Sin is the awareness of not being true to God, based on having memorized His Law, which makes God become an external monument that one worships before.

You do not have the ability to make yourself Jesus Christ, while retaining any part of the you that was filthy from mortal sin. You can only choose to be baptized squeaky clean by the “Spirit” (God’s “Pneuma”), or you can choose to go back and have a seat in a pew, still filthy as sin. It is the difference between “holding onto” Self (“retain the sins”) and “letting go” of Self (“forgiving the sins”). In David’s Psalm 104, he sang, “You hide your face, and they are terrified; you take away their breath, and they die and return to dust. You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.” “You” is God. “They” is all mortal human beings. “They are terrified” by such things as COVID19, losing their jobs without government subsidies, having the cost of everything go sky high because of a shutdown economy, and getting terminal diseases that only miracles can cure (among too many others to list). “They die” because the only “breath” they have is a soul, born into mortal flesh that is bound to die. “They are created” when they “Receive Spirit Holy.” As Apostles going beyond the wall of Pentecost Sunday, as God’s Sons sent out in ministry, God “renews the face of the earth.” There are pretenders who have retained their Selves who never prepare anyone to go through the gate of Jesus Christ reborn, able to prophesy. According to Ezekiel, those pretenders are just “dry bones,” who have “tendons and flesh appearing on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.” (Ezekiel 37)  The pretenders are “they” who refused to marry God.

They who said “Yes” are the real deal, who are just as Ezekiel wrote about what God told to him: “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” (Ezekiel 37:8-9) Pentecost Sunday marks that point of decision. The Easter season marks when Jesus has risen, just to prepare all who will  answer that question of proposal, “Yes.” Sadly, few Saints are graduating these days. Few are teaching disciples to commit totally to God. On this Pentecost Sunday, in the year 2020, if any priest, minister or pastor uses the Facebook pulpit to preach some public service announcement to “Stay safe at home; We are all in this together; Remember Jesus said to practice social distancing;” or, any other misuse the title “father, mother, reverend, or brother” they hold onto tightly, tell them when you next meet in person: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (Revelation 3:14-18) Keep in mind; should you do this, “I” is not you speaking. Do not pretend to be God if you have not said “Yes” to Jesus’ proposal.

But, if your flesh and soul are joined with the reborn Jesus, then by all means, step back and let him do the talking.  It’s what Saints do.


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