For May 27, 2012: Pentecost, Year B

The Reading            Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost is the birthday of the church. At the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came in a powerful way: uneducated Galileans were suddenly able to speak all the languages of the Roman Empire. During today’s reading, if all goes according to plan, we will hear Acts 2:4 read in Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, Choctaw, Russian, Czech, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, and Old English.  Listen for the similarities: in the Spirit our differences, rather than dividing us, can enrich us.


The Response            Psalm 104:25-35,37


The Epistle            Romans 8:22-27

The Pentecost narrative we just heard shows us the Holy Spirit coming like wind and fire and with all the languages of the world. In the Gospel, Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit as advocate and teacher. In between, the book of Romans gives us the Spirit interceding for us when we can’t even pray.


The Gospel            John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15


Further thoughts

I write this a week after the fact. Our little church, St Alban’s El Cajon, did not quite pull off all of the languages promised in my preface to Acts 2:1-21—but we did manage most, plus Sgaw Karen, and that was a very great grace. Indeed, Pentecost is about grace and gifts.

One of the graces of this holy day of Pentecost is the selection from Psalm 104. The selection praises God’s manifold works, all of them made in wisdom. The first few examples are unsurprising—the earth and its creatures, the great wide sea and the life that teems within it. The psalmist them makes some choices of examples that are intriguing and delightful.

Verse 27 builds on verse 26 by pointing to the ships on the sea. This is intriguing: these are the work of human hands and human ingenuity—but, the psalm suggests, they are as surely in the gift of God, and as surely part of God’s interest, as the living creatures that swarm in the waters below.

The verse goes on to mention Leviathan. This word may mean ‘crocodile’ or ‘whale’ or even ‘sea monster’: clearly not something to be taken lightly. Most translations of this verse render it as does the King James Version: “There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.” That is, this formidable creature is made to play: it enjoys itself in its place, and it is supposed to. That is delightful enough. The NRSV translation, which the Episcopal Church uses, represents the verse a little differently, however, by saying that the Lord made Leviathan “for the sport of it”. This suggests that Leviathan exists because, in God’s good judgment, a world with a Leviathan in it is simply irresistibly cool. If the NRSV translators made a mistake here, it is surely an inspired one.

Verses 28 through 29 are justly famous. The NRSV translation mostly gets the point across, but whenever I read these words I think of the King James translation of a similar sentiment from Psalm 145:

The eyes of all wait upon Thee
and thou givest them their meat in due season.
Thou openest thine hand
and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.

The magnificent setting of these words by Jean Berger can be heard at  As with the tongues of fire, we have our daily bread, our lives, and even our deaths as gifts from the God whose great good pleasure it is to create and to inspire us to be God’s co-creators.

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