The Feast of Pentecost
It has been 2,000 years now since a special child was born in the land of Israel. He was a Jew, and even as a boy, he seemed to have a deep interest in the things of God. Once, when his family had gone to Jerusalem to attend a festival, he wandered away, and when his anxious parents finally found him, it was in the temple, where he was engaged in serious discussion with a group of religious teachers. He grew up in a small village in a part of the land called Galilee, north of Jerusalem, and there he was trained by his father to be a carpenter.
Somewhere around the age of 30 he left his childhood home. He had felt for quite a long time that he was being called by God to a particular work, some way of being in the world that was related to the purposes of God. Exactly what that work was he wasn’t yet sure, but he had heard that there was a prophet of God who was preaching and baptizing in a remote place along the river Jordan, so he went there. He joined the crowd that had come to hear the prophet preach about the need to repent and return to God, and he offered himself to be baptized along with many of the others.
It was a powerful experience, this baptism, one that marked a new beginning for him. As he waded into the river to be baptized by the prophet, he was overwhelmed by a deep sense of being loved by God and affirmed in his desire to be of service. The words that came to him were these: God said, “You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased.” Imagine what it must have been to receive a message like that! Some testified that at this very moment, the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended on him in the form of a dove.
This experience of profound affirmation at the river Jordan served to deepen the intimate bond he felt with God, whom he often referred to as “Father.” From this moment on, he began to travel the countryside, speaking of God and of the “kingdom of heaven” All along he lived in close communion with the “Father,” and claimed that the words he spoke and the deeds he did were not his alone, but expressed the will and purpose of God. He taught his disciples and those who followed him to love God above all else, and to love their neighbors, even their enemies, as much as they loved themselves. He taught them the blessedness of being peacemakers in the world, and of hungering and thirsting for righteousness. He showed them how important it was to show compassion, especially towards those who were poor and marginalized. They were to be merciful, just as God was merciful. There was a curious power in him, and many who were sick experienced healing in his presence and by his touch.
His growing popularity posed a threat to the political and religious leaders of his day, and in the end he was arrested and tried, and finally put to death, a shameful death usually reserved for criminals and outlaws. It was a most difficult time for his followers, because they had come to believe that he was the promised Messiah, the one who would deliver Israel from her enemies and establish God’s reign among them. In the wake of his death, they felt utterly lost. Full of confusion and despair, they huddled in secret rooms, fearful for their own lives, as they mourned his death and pondered their own futures.
And then a most remarkable and unexpected thing happened. Just two days after his death, they found his tomb empty. They were certain that someone had stolen the body and this only increased their despair. But then something even more remarkable and unexpected happened. He began to appear to them. Sometimes he came to individuals, sometimes to small groups of his followers. They couldn’t believe it was him at first. They had seen him crucified, dead and buried. They had mourned his loss and grieved their own shattered hopes. And now he was alive! It couldn’t be, and yet it was. He was with them once again – for brief moments, teaching them, reassuring them, empowering them to carry on his mission in the world. “Just as the Father has sent me,” he told them, “so I send you.” And then he said he must leave them, but that he would send the Holy Spirit to teach and guide and strengthen them in the work they were being given to do.
Now we would find such a thing very hard to believe, except that these men and women were completely changed by these remarkable encounters. They no longer cowered in hidden rooms for fear of their enemies, but boldly proclaimed their message in the most public places. The crushing despair and disappointment that had been theirs only a few days earlier was replaced by a new hope, a new vision, a new purpose. Of course, there was resistance to their message. They were persecuted and even put to death by those who wanted to suppress this news. But they were not deterred, even by the threat of death. They preached the message without fear — that in the person of Jesus, God had been at work in the world, reaching out to all people, so that they might know God’s love and experience the salvation and deliverance God had promised.
On the day of Pentecost, one of the gospel writers tells us, these followers of his experienced the Spirit of God being poured out upon them in an extraordinary way, with gifts of courage and boldness that enabled them to proclaim the good news of the Risen Savior throughout the world. Their lives had been completely transformed their encounters with the Risen Christ, and their message continues to be proclaimed to this day. We too have come to know him and to believe that he is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of those who trust in him.
And so on this day, we celebrate this Good News and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that has enabled us to receive it and to offer it to others. It has transformed our lives as well, given us courage and hope in the face of trouble, and reassured us in the knowledge that we are deeply loved by God.
It is this gift which we impart to baby Benjamin today. The gift of knowing himself to be chosen in love by God and ‘marked as Christ’s own forever.’ The gift of belonging to the family of those who have also come to know God through Jesus Christ, and have become members of the band of his followers known as the Church. His parents bring him to this moment in faith, trusting that with time and with the support and love of many others, he too will come to know God and to know himself as deeply loved by God. They present this child to God, in the hope that he will one day be a channel of God’s love to others, and a witness to the new life which the Spirit is bringing into the world.
Today God will lay claim on him, “sealing him by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marking him as Christ’s own forever” (BCP, 380). He will forever be a child of God, loved and cherished, protected and cared for by the Most High. No one can ever take this identity from him. No circumstance can alter it. There is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate him, or us, from the love of God in Christ. From this day forward he belongs to God.
“See what love the Father has given us,” exclaims the author of I John, “that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are!” Marvel today in the wonder of God’s love, that we have been chosen and loved, each one of us, by the God who made us and redeemed us. And open yourself to the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose power will enable you to boldly live out your baptismal vows with integrity and holy zeal. Be agents of God’s love in the world, channels of God’s peace, bearers of God’s compassion to all you meet, so that God’s name may be praised and God’s love made known through all the earth.
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