Sunday of Pentecost, June 19, 2016
Acts 2:1-11; John 7:32-57, 8:12
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
We come now to the great feast of Pentecost, the feast that completes all that we have been laboring for and struggling with for the past few months, beginning with Great Lent and continuing through Holy Week, the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension. On this day, the Holy Spirit descends on the apostles and disciples of Jesus, and things begin to change.
Pentecost is about change. Of course, this whole season has been about change. It is about the change of the world from a place where death reigns to a place where death has been beaten down forever by the great act of the conquering King of Kings. The world has been changed, and nothing will ever be the same.
But Pentecost is about our own change in a distinctly potent way. And it is about this change that I would speak today.
If we look upon the record of what Christianity was like in the first century, as accounted in the Holy Scripture, and then we look at what it meant to be Christian in the years that immediately followed, and then we compare what we see there with Christianity in our own day, we must weep.
We must weep, because in those days, while there were of course sins and various problems, there was also unity. Christianity was united in one apostolic band serving one Lord Jesus Christ, believing one faith, baptizing with one baptism, and worshiping one God and Father of all. In our time, those who name the name of Jesus are divided into hundreds, perhaps thousands of factions and tribes of the elect.
Even the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ, which today—yes, today, Pentecost, June 19, 2016—should have been seeing a great concelebration by all the primatial patriarchs, metropolitans and archbishops gathered in the Holy and Great Council of Orthodoxy is instead floundering with disunity. There are dissensions. There are differences of opinion. And while one of the ancient apostolic churches—Antioch—lies bleeding in the sands of the Middle East, she is rewarded by her sisters largely with indifference and delay. Will anyone hear her voice?
And we must weep, because in the days of the apostles and those that followed, there was not only unity, but there was also great power. There was not only the miracle of the apostles speaking with the tongues of many nations, but there was the greater miracle of the Gospel of Life being preached to the ends of the earth. These twelve ordinary men became extraordinary, and they were filled with power from on high, power to tell what they had seen and heard, power to speak the good news of Jesus Christ at every time and in every place, power to face down pain and death and to bear at all times within them the resurrection of Jesus.
Yet in our time, where is this power? Where is the conversion of hearts that the apostles experienced and that they brought to others? Where is the preaching of the good news? In our time, the average Christian is not concerned with these things. If he is among the “more” faithful, he comes to church inconsistently, says a few prayers at home, throws a few dollars in the offering plate, goes to a few church events, and calls that a “good Christian life.”
The true Gospel has been distorted and truncated by heresy and schism. And while over twenty centuries the Orthodox Church has somehow miraculously preserved the ancient Christian faith as given by Jesus to the apostles, very, very few people are actually living it. Few could speak the true Gospel of Jesus Christ if asked, and I fear that many Christians—even Orthodox Christians—do not even care about whether they could.
I do not say these things to condemn anyone—it is I who need condemnation first. Rather, I say them because most Christians have become satisfied with entirely too little. We have become satisfied with a comfortable spirituality that we like to think is Christianity. But it is not. And we can know that it is not by simply looking at the Holy Scripture.
When we look there, we see a Gospel of fire and wind, a Gospel that is breathed into the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit on the great day of Pentecost, a Gospel manifested as fire. And what does that Gospel do?
First, their spiritual eyes are illumined—they finally know exactly Who Jesus Christ truly is, and their words reveal this new knowledge when they begin their preaching.
Second, their hearts are converted—they are now fully committed to one thing only, that they would follow Jesus Christ and preach salvation in His name to all the nations.
And third, their souls are filled with power—they have been given courage and strength and love and knowledge to bring this Gospel to everyone they meet.
As we look at where we ourselves are and then compare ourselves with utmost honesty and earnestness to those first followers of Jesus, we can be tempted to despair. How can I ever be like the apostle for whom I was named? How can I ever be like the saints? Will the Church ever be the place of unity and power that it once was? These are hard questions.
But even in the midst of failure—both on a personal and a corporate level—we can find this same hope and this same possibility that enflamed the apostles with power some two millennia ago.
When Jesus told the apostles to go into Jerusalem and await the coming of the Holy Spirit, He told them that they would be “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:29). He did not tell them that the Spirit would be sent to them so they could have a comfortable spirituality. The Spirit comes to grant power, and He grants it not only to the apostles. The Spirit came upon all the disciples of Jesus, and the Spirit was granted to those three thousand souls baptized on that day. And now the Spirit has come even to us.
If we are baptized, chrismated members of the Body of Jesus Christ, then we have been given all that was given on the day of Pentecost. And even if we are not yet baptized or chrismated, we are still in the presence of that same Holy Spirit, Who blows where He wills (John 3:8). He is empowering all of us to varying degrees.
We may ask: Where is the power of the apostles? Why is it that so many of us are so weak in comparison with the mighty ones of old? It is not because the Spirit has grown weak or is no longer being given. If we are weak, it is because we are not doing what the apostles did.
Are my spiritual eyes being illumined by earnest and vigorous pursuit of the knowledge of Jesus Christ? Is my heart being converted by making that unwavering commitment to follow Him above everything else? Is my soul being filled with the power of the Gospel? We have exactly the same Spirit. We have exactly the same opportunity as they.
It is true that, as we look around at what is called Christianity today and even just at our own Orthodox Church, we have a lot of reasons to be cynical, to be depressed. There is so much to criticize. One hardly knows where to begin. But where do we begin?
Our beginning must be made here on Pentecost. On this day, I will open my eyes to see Jesus. On this day, my heart will be converted that I will follow wherever He leads. And on this day, my soul will experience that Pentecostal power that brought the Gospel of Life to the nations.
To our Lord Jesus Christ therefore be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Life-giving Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.