Sunday Readings Commentary

Father Andrew Wadsworth offers a short commentary on this week's Sunday Lectionary readings.

To read the relevant Bible passage just click on the reference.

Before reading and reflecting on God's word you might like to use the following prayer:

O Lord,
who hast given us thy word
for a light to shine upon our path:
Grant us so to meditate upon that word
and follow its teaching,
that we may find in it the light that shineth
more and more unto the perfect day:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Pentecost

On Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower the church in ways not previously available for the whole people of God. Often God’s people do not consider the immensity of the power God has provided for the task: our lives can betray spiritual mediocrity only when we underestimate the reality of the third person the Trinity living and working in us.

The context for this event is important. Luke makes clear that Jesus public ministry begins with his announcement of his Spirit empowerment in Luke 4:18-19 (quoting the prophet Isaiah) so the church’s service to the Lord begins with the announcement of our Spirit empowerment in Acts 2:17-21 (quoting the prophet Joel). The Gospel of Luke moves from the temple to Galilee and back to Jerusalem, but Acts will move from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

The promise of the Holy Spirit is not just about recreating us spiritually so that we become Christ like. It is about inspiring believers to speak God’s message of hope and salvation as Peter demonstrates later in this chapter.

The power of the Holy Spirit is seen visibly, in wind, fire and speaking in tongues. Each of these has meaning and significance. The wind is about the life giving power as seen in Ezekiel the prophet. The fire recalls the judgement of God bringing about change and also about the appearance of fire on Mt Sinai before Moses ushering in the law for the people of Israel. This fire will create a worldwide people of God, the Church rooted in the teaching of Jesus.

The speaking in tongues empowers the Church to speak salvation to all nations thus the Holy Spirit crosses cultural barriers and comfort zones. In our own day the Holy Spirit challenges and equips the Church to reach out in racial reconciliation, in cultural sensitivity, in cross cultural ministry and in church unity.

The entire point of Pentecost is that God will accomplish his purposes through us, not because we are powerful in ourselves, but because he will show his power through us.

The letter to the Romans has been likened to the Cathedral of the Christian faith and Chapter 8 the inner sanctuary of that Cathedral. This is because it touches on so many of the benefits conferred on believers by the Holy Spirit who deliberately remember, celebrate and proclaim today in this feast of Pentecost. At the heart of which is the heart of Christian assurance that the believer is no longer condemned because he or she is now in Christ and no longer in Adam. The Holy Spirit confers life on believers now and sets us on a new way of living as well guaranteeing future resurrection life as well. We are reminded of who we are and the balance we require in order to have an accurate understanding of our spiritual condition. If we focus too much on what we have, we drift into triumphalism and a lack of awareness of our persistent tendency to do wrong against others. But too much focus on what God has yet to do will lead us to despair and defeat. We live in a permanent tension of already but not yet. Finally we need to note the Christian perspective on the environment. God wishes to bring the world of nature into the glorious freedom of God’s children. God has a concern for nature. The natural world is not a commodity for us to exploit for our own benefit. It has value in itself. We are to be careful stewards of the earth.

Since every human era and generation has a slightly different mentality and way of thinking, differing dominant skills (the present generation dominated by social media) it will use different questions and different terminology. The guidance of the Paraclete will be necessary to translate or formulate the truth in ways which are intelligible, relevant and gripping to each new generation. Sometimes these will be expressed and forwarded by charismatic personalities who stand out from the accepted norms of society and yet are revered as transcending those norms (a Mother Teresa or a Nelson Mandela). At other times the truth will be forwarded by the established hierarchy of the Church. It may even be that some Church leaders are seen also as charismatic (Michael Ramsey, Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis). At all times the Paraclete would be needed to guide Christian thinkers with regard to new philosophical insights and insights into human nature, such as St Augustine of Hippo, St Anselm, St Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Newman, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

An important element in this would always be the understanding of Christ himself, for instance in the concepts of personality and nature, in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, in the part played by Christ in the salvation of all people. In all these the revelation and guidance of the Paraclete would ‘glorify me’.