Tomorrow for Roman Catholics Ordinary Time resumes. I’ve noticed this distinction for years now. Turns out it’s not a reference to ordinary compared to special, and it explains how the liturgical color for after Epiphany was changed from white to green. Ordinary Time is called ‘ordinary’ not because it’s common but because the weeks of Ordinary Time are numbered. The Latin word ordinalis, which refers to numbers in a series, stems from the Latin word ordo, from which English gets order. So the numbered weeks of Ordinary Time represent the ordered life of the Church. It’s the time in which we live neither in feasting (as in the Christmas and Easter seasons) or in repentance (as in Advent and Lent) (www.learnreligions.com/ordinary-time-in-the-catholic-church-542442). So I was wrong, again. But if you came to church and read it was the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, wouldn’t you take that to mean commonplace, usual, run-of-the-mill? But Pentecost marks the beginning of a time anything but ordinary.
Today we see that the Babel of confusion has been undone by Jesus. The Tower of Babel account from Genesis tells us that to stop mankind from doing whatever they wanted because they could work together in concert, God came down and confused their languages. It was done to scatter them after the Flood. The Lord had commanded them to scatter and fill the earth, but they wanted to stay together. And as always the unbelieving population was many times bigger than the Church, so the Promised Seed was threatened by this slide into unbelief. But you don’t appreciate this confusing of languages for the crisis it was unless you’ve been in a situation where you desperately needed to be understood or to understand someone else. I worked one spring break with an all Hispanic maintenance crew. A crane was lifting some heating coils into a vat. The crew, myself included were standing around. I could feel them inching back and heard them speaking excitedly. A foreman walked up and asked if I knew what they were saying. I said I didn’t. He said, “They’re telling you to be careful; that’s acid.”
Technology, as is proper, has gone a long way toward eliminating the suffering linked to language barriers. The UN already in the 60s had translators communicating via headphones, so that everyone heard the speaker in his own language. Now anyone with a smartphone has some kind of translator putting in another language what they say in theirs. That’s how it was in Pentecost: The division God created to preserve the Promised Seed was healed to proclaim the Promised Seed. The Epistle says, not only each heard their own language but they heard individual dialektos, dialects. But just what did they hear them saying: “we hear them declaring the wonders of God”.
“Wonders” is Greek is megaleios, and only twice is it found in NT, both by Luke. Mary describes the incarnation as megaleios. We sing that in her Magnificat “He that is mighty hath done to me great things,” and the Pentecost preachers are speaking in some translations the mighty or the “great things” of God. But great/mighty is too generic. One Greek lexicon translates: “magnificent, excellent, splendid, wonderful” (Thayer). Perhaps they spoke of Creation, maybe of saving Noah, or of rescuing the OT Church from Egypt. But surely they spoke of God’s greatest, most magnificent, excellent, splendid, wonderful thing of all: Jesus at last crushing the head of the serpent Satan. At last redeeming humanity from dust and ashes. At last Yahweh keeping His OT promise to come down and rescue His people.
Anything but ordinary going on here, am I right? But look what Peter says this really is. This is what the prophet Joel prophesied about 800 years earlier. That means Pentecost 30 A.D. “is the Last Days.” That’s what Peter preaches: “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel. ‘In the Last Days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’” Those of us sure that gay marriage, abortion on-demand by pill, transgender, and wokeism indicate the Last Days are at last upon us, think again. Been there done that for going on 2,000 years now. Of course, in God’s time it’s only been a day or two. In God’s time, once Jesus rose from the dead time became transparent all the way till the End of the World because God’s redeeming work was finished. Nothing stood between Easter and the Last Day.
But get this: rather than apostasy, gloom and doom, characterizing the Last Days, Joel said that prophesy, dreams, and visions would. This is the result of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all people. The word pour is the same Greek word translated as shed as “This is My blood shed for you.” It denotes lots of, a large amount. And the two shedding’s are related: Jesus shed His blood to pay for the sins of the world. Jesus’ blood could do that because it is holy. Jesus being born with no original sin and having never committed an actual sin meant that His blood could pay for and cover all sins of all time. And covered by Jesus’ blood the Spirit could descend on all people. Put vinegar on baking soda and it bubbles up. Put the Holy Spirit on sinners and they can see things, dream things, predict things out of this fallen world. Like what? Now don’t get all Pentecostal on me. Prophecy, dreams, and visions from the Spirit are here and now and have been.
Don’t believe me? I prophesy based on Jesus’ holy life and guilty death, that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The Spirit teaches there is no sin that is too big, too dark, too vile for Jesus not to have carried it away. Therefore, I can predict, “If you confess your sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive them and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” And dreams don’t have to be only what you see while sleeping. Martin Luther King Jr. had a powerful waking dream. I dream of a time when for Jesus’ sake all people will dwell together in peace. It won’t just be the lamb lying down with the lion or the little child playing safely by the snake. I dream of a time when all can dwell in peace together as members of the One Body of Christ. And talk about visions: I have visions of water that can wash away decades of sinfulness. Of Words that can break Satan’s spell, the World’s hold, the Flesh’s guilt. I see a place on earth where Jesus gives His Body as Bread and His Blood as Wine. And what bigger prophecy, or dream, or vision could there be than the resurrection of the dead, the life everlasting, and the life of the world to come?
What Jesus says the Holy Spirit He sends on Pentecost will do is anything but ordinary. In a world that laughs at holy things, persecutes historic Christian teachings and doesn’t believe it will be or can be held accountable by anyone, Jesus says His Spirit will convict the world – that’s us too – of guilt, righteousness, and judgment.
Notice Jesus doesn’t say the Spirit will ‘convince’ the world but ‘convict’ it. Stop waiting for the LGBTQ community to be convinced they are wrong. Quit thinking the Pro-Abortionists are ever going to be convinced that abortion is not a right. The Holy Spirit isn’t failing by not convincing them. Jesus only promises He will convict them. Julian, the 4th century Roman emperor, converted to Christianity but apostatized later in life. Her didn’t physically persecute Christians but made fun of them much the way comics, sit-coms, and social media does now. At his death, it is reported by some that he said, “You have conquered O Galilean.” Most modern historians don’t think this genuine, I do. I’ve had dying people convicted that Christianity was true but not convinced to confess it. They are heading for hell and know it, but they remain unconvinced. Convicted: in tears, in terror, but unconvinced. It’s unnerving.
The Spirit convicts us of what true righteousness is, and it’s nothing we have in thought, word, or deed. The answer to the sin and sinfulness we feel killing us softly is the Man Jesus who went ahead of us to God the Father. He went ahead and prepared a place for us. The only righteousness that avails, stands before, can withstand the scrutiny of the Holy God, an accusing Devil, and an ever guilty conscience, is that of Jesus’. Only in Jesus’ blood and righteousness can we stand before God the Father, His Angels, and all the Company of heaven and not blush.
What about the Devil? The Spirit sent by Jesus convicts the world, us, everybody, in regard to judgement “because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” Look about you. Doesn’t seem the Devil has been convicted of anything. In fact, it looks like he still rules as prince. The tune the world dances to is still called by the Devil. It’s true; the Devil remains a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. He roars and we all cower. He roars in apparent random acts of violence; he roars in childhood diseases; he roars in messed up lives going nowhere. But Jesus tells you he’s a toothless lion that is finished. He says the prince of this world now and forever stands condemned. He bit off more than He could chew. He could swallow the Man Jesus dying for you and your sins, but He had to spit back out God in the flesh. Death can’t swallow Life. And since the incarnation in the Virgin Mary, since Divinity took up Humanity, where the Divine Nature goes, the human nature goes too. And where Christ goes those in Christ go with. The Devil continues to roar and can still cause us to cower, but in Jesus his devouring days are over.
I have never felt this much palpable despair in the world before. Not in the First Gulf War, not on 9/11. Maybe I was too young when JFK was assassinated, but I was 11 when MLK and RFK were assassinated months apart and this was after the ‘67 race riots. I sensed upheaval in the world but not despair. Luther says if we are wise only in how things appear, we will despair (LW 25, 369). And we should not make the mistake of thinking that tapping into the spirit of the times we have the Spirit of eternity (In Jesus Name, 228). According to the Rabbis the Holy Spirit dwells in man only through joy (The Temple, 280). Maybe that makes sense of Ambrose saying, “’As often as you drink [of the cup], you receive the remission of sins and become drunk in the Spirit’” (Exam Council of Trent, II, 354). And Luther’s comment that we’re attached to the Vine, Christ, in order that we may be drunk with the Holy Spirit (LW 8, 251). In any event, when this Spirit was poured out, we entered extraordinary times that we can only see, feel, participate in by the Word and Sacraments Jesus left us. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Day of Pentecost (20230528); John 16:5-11