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Bible Study: Day of Pentecost (B) – 2015
May 24, 2015
Here we have the familiar and yet still hard-to-believe story of the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles. It comes in the first section of Acts where the focus is largely on Peter and his ministry. The second major section of Acts (starting in chapter 13) will turn to focus more on Paul’s missionary journeys.
In this story, the Spirit comes with the sound like a rushing and violent wind (verse 2). The spirit descends in tongues of divided fire onto the apostles’ heads, and they begin to speak in different languages. Then a crowd gathers and begins to hear about God’s amazing power and deeds all in their own language. (See verses 6 and 11.) The primary reactions to this are amazement, confusion and a “sneering” kind of doubt. (See verse 13).
I could see these categorizations being the same today with people’s different reactions to amazing acts of the Spirit. We hear in verse 13 that people start to audibly doubt the situation, blaming alcohol for the craziness of the moment. But then Peter responds with his first public speech. He bases his words largely in scripture, quoting Joel in our portion for today, but also Psalms and other books later. Something that’s incredibly significant about Peter’s speech is that he quotes Joel in verse 18, saying that everyone, regardless of status or gender, will receive the Spirit and prophesy. Peter’s speech goes onto to explain that the Spirit will come, and then he briefly discusses the end times. Peter, quoting Joel, uses powerful imagery about the last days before Christ’s return, saying that the moon will be turned to blood and the sun to darkness (verse 20). But those who believe in Christ and have received the Spirit will be saved (verse 21).
- What would it be like to hear about God’s deeds and power in our own individual languages? Maybe this means more than just languages that we speak, but also the different ways that we experience communication in non-verbal ways. How do you imagine that you would hear or experience the Spirit speaking?
- Reflect upon verse 18 that all will receive the Spirit and prophesy. Are there people who you sometimes think have not received the Spirit and should not prophesy? Perhaps this verse will challenge that?
- I mentioned the three responses to an amazing act of the Spirit: amazement, confusion and a sneering kind of doubt. Which of these responses do you normally experience? Do you experience one more than others or none of them?
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
This is an exuberant psalm of gratitude and praise for our Creator God. The psalmist reflects upon God’s magnificent creation of the earth. One can easily conjure up luscious images of God creating the earth and its inhabitants with joy. (See verse 27 about the Leviathan.) God created everything, and verse 28 tells us that all the earth and creatures look to God for their sustenance and preservation. As we will hear in Romans, we get the message that the earth, the animals and humans are all in this experience of life and existence together. We have all come to being through one creator. God send God’s Spirit through all that lives, grows and dies, and that Spirit will renew the earth (verse 31).
The psalm ends with the psalmist almost unable to contain his praise: “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will praise my God while I have my being” (verse 34). How wonderful and right that marveling at God’s handiwork in creation would lead the psalmist to such praise. The speaker then reveals that he speaks his words to glorify God, to rejoice in God and please God (verse 35). If only we could all take such delight in God’s creation – both the earth and our fellow humans!
- If you were to write your own psalm of praise to God for creation, what would you say? For what would you give thanks to God?
- In verse 34, the psalmist says that he will sing to the Lord and praise God while he has his being. In what ways do you show your praise? Do you sing? Do you dance? Do you write? How can you show your praise and gratitude in more ways?
This has long been one of my absolute favorite passages of scripture. There is so much communicated in these few verses: the pain of ecological damage to the earth, the struggle of being human, the doubts about how to pray, and the awesome power and presence of the Spirit. Romans is one of the last-known undisputed writings by Paul. Read in this context, Paul’s words become that much more poignant.
Here in these verses we see that Christ’s return has not yet come. We live on this earth in a spirit of anticipation. This anticipation requires a hope for what we cannot yet see or maybe even imagine (verses 24-25). And while we wait, it is not just humanity that struggles “with sighs too deep for words,” but also the very earth and “whole creation” (verse 22).
This message may sound depressing, but the power and presence of the Spirit is assured in verse 26 when we hear that the Spirit will help us in our weakness. We may not know how to pray, or even how to deal with the destruction we see around us, but that third person of the Trinity will intercede for us. These verses give us the permission to grieve for life’s difficulty, but they also give us the responsibility to hope and trust in God and God’s will. And if you were to keep reading onto the next verse of Romans (8:28), you would read that all things will work together for good for those who love the Lord.
- For what losses and disappointments do you sigh in a way that is too deep for words?
- When you are struggling, try to remember Romans 8:26, that the Spirit will intercede for you in your difficulties. Perhaps this will give you comfort.
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
These words from the Gospel of John come in the last section of the gospel. They are in the middle of what has become known as the “Farewell Discourse” (Chapters 14-16). The Last Supper has just occurred in Chapter 13, and Jesus’ trial and execution immediately follow our selection for today. These emotion-filled words come in what could be thought of as the calm before the storm. The overriding message of these passages is similar to what we hear in Romans: The world will be oppositional, life will be hard, but we will not be alone.
In this somewhat lengthy discourse, also known as the “Johannine Pentecost,” Jesus names the fact that the news he’s delivering is not easy to hear (16:6). He communicates that he must go away and that it is to everyone’s advantage that he goes away (16:7). Imagine the dismay and emotion of the disciples upon hearing this news!
Jesus continues to discuss the future, explaining that the disciples will not be alone once Jesus leaves. Jesus introduces the idea that “the Advocate,” or the Holy Spirit, will come only if and after Jesus leaves (16:7). The next words are staggering in their honesty and their poignancy: The Spirit will come and prove the world wrong. The Spirit will prove the world wrong about sin and about judgment. When the Spirit comes, it will guide us into “all the truth” (16:13).
These words, even though they are hard to hear, also bring tremendous hope. These are the words that we can turn to when we are struggling with the hardest things we have to face in life, when we question why there is so much violence and injustice in the world. Jesus never claims that it will be easy, but he does say that we will have to testify with the Spirit to what we have seen and done, and that we will not be alone in this journey.
- In what ways do you hope that the Spirit will “prove the world wrong”? What areas of life seem particularly detrimental and unfair?
- Consider the title of the Spirit as “Advocate.” The Spirit is also sometimes known as “the Comforter.” In what ways can you relate to this person of the Trinity with these identity designations?
- Read the passage in an imaginative way, trying to imagine that you’re one of the disciples hearing this farewell discourse from Jesus. What are your emotions? Your reactions?
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