Homily 546 – 8 Pascha (Holy Pentecost)
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
June 4, 2023
Epistle: (44) – Acts 20:16-18, 28-36
Gospel: (56) – John 17:1-13
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
The Holy Spirit is here.
The Spirit, this time in the form of fiery tounges, not a dove, descends on the Apostles, and the Disciples, and on humanity. The fiery tongues, like the fire that descends from heaven at the Holy Sepulchre each Great and Holy Saturday – the fire of the Holy Spirit, that gives light, but doesn’t consume, like the fire at the Burning Bush of Moses.
The Holy Spirit becomes the marker of Christianity, even moreso than that of baptism. For in the early Church, sometimes, the Spirit came first – then baptism. The Church didn’t decide to baptize. Rather, the Church recognized the Spirit is given, and then baptized to recognize that reality.
Same with many things in the Church. It is true of tonsure, and ordination, and monasticism, and, dare I say it, marriage. In the Holy Spirit, the Church makes visible what God has revealed.
Even today, in this place and at this time, the Church reveals to us that Christ is here – present with us – body and blood. We offer ourselves, and He returns Himself to us.
On the surface the account of the descent of the Holy Spirit is marked by the return of everyone hearing what is being said in their own language. This was the reversal of what happened at the Tower of Babel.
Let’s remember that the Tower of Babel was humanity’s continuing attempt to achieve godhood. To be what God was – His equal, His peer, not His servant. To prevent that from happening, because that may have been the end of humanity had it continued, God confused the languages. Humans could no longer understand each other, and could no longer cooperate with one another.
But now, the reverse is true – everyone hears in their own language. God reveals Himself to the multitude, not just those who speak Hebrew or Aramaic. The difference this time is that the focus is most assuredly not on what humanity can do, but on what Christ has done, is doing – who Christ is. As the Kontakion we just sung tells us – the fiery tongues brings unity, not division.
We are unified – we are united. We are connected, united, unified, whatever word you choose, under and within the Holy Spirit. We aren’t observers from a distance. We are participants from the midst of the Holy Spirit. We can’t seek the Spirit as if He is an object to be acquired, because He is a being to be worshipped, and a being that we are in relationship with – and by extension, then, everyone in relationship with the Holy Spirit is also in relationship with one another.
Let there be no doubt thought that it is the Holy Spirit who is in charge. Not us, not the Bishops, not the priest certainly. It is the Holy Spirit. And we will, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, bow in worship, standing on our knees, offering our devotion, our love, our life, to the Holy Spirit.
We will not just obey Him like a parent – but we will worship and obey and serve Him as our King and Lord and God.
For the Holy Spirit doesn’t just connect us to one another. He connects us to the Trinity. He connects us to Christ, He connects us to the Father. And in those connections, all of them, both human and divine, He is called Comforter.
We can take comfort in those connections. We can be at peace, we can drive out all fear, knowing that the presence of the Holy Spirit, and our continued focus on Him, will keep us in the midst of God’s presence and of one another, and in that presence there is nothing that harms us.
One condition of that, though, is that by paying attention only to God, we then have to by definition ignore the world, and everything else in it. That is to say, we don’t ignore creation – the people, the created wonder that God said was very good.
What we have to ignore is the way those people interact with one another, and the creation. This is a difficult idea to comprehend. The people are made in the image of God and must be recipients of our love. Yet, we have to reject and ignore the way those people interact with others and us, when it isn’t out of love.
The world is transactional – what can I do for you, to get what I want for me? That is the part we reject. The Christian says, what can I do for you? – full stop. And if the Christian has that capability, the Christian does it.
That is what we do – that is God’s will. That is the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And, brothers and sisters, we don’t have any say in the matter. None. But God, if I help this person, they may use what I give to buy drugs, or secure some sort of illicit encounter, or maybe even kill an unborn child.
And God says, that isn’t your issue – your issue, for your soul, is to help if you are able, not help if they deserve it.
But what about …? Nope. Can’t I just …? NO.
NO excuses in God. All we can do when we fail is to ask forgiveness, and try again. We repent – we refocus on God, and we try again.
The Holy Spirit isn’t some magical superpower that we are given at our illumination. It isn’t something to be used, or something that can be manipulated.
He is the presence of God. He is the presence of our Lord, our Master, our Ruler, our King. He is the presence of the one that we unquestionably obey, without regard to our own opinion or thought.
He is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the Kingdom that is now with us, in our midst, the Kingdom without end.
He is salvation.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!