Today, as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, we remember how the Holy Spirit came down like fire and equipped the disciples to go out and speak in any tongue to any person from any nation about the good news Jesus brought. This holiday is one that has come to be known as the birthday of the church.
Which means that it is entirely appropriate to bake a birthday cake today if you feel like it. One might even say that liturgical tradition demands it. I feel like “red velvet” might be appropriate because red is the traditional color of Pentecost. We wear red in honor of the flaming tongues that alighted upon the apostles, that then illuminated them with the superpower of being able to teach and share and spread Jesus’ message without the limitation of speaking only one language.
I love that the miracle of Pentecost wasn’t making everyone suddenly speak one same language, but it was about equipping the apostles to go and meet so-called “outsiders” where they were and make them feel welcome in ways that felt familiar and comforting to them.
As I started to mix my Pentecost cake batter, I’d add just a drop or two of the red food coloring, a little goes a long way, and if you incorporate even a little of Jesus’ teaching into your life, it will change you, forever! I’d drop the color in gently, stirring it in gradually, and then I would watch as it spread, just as the apostles and early followers of Jesus spread his teaching gradually but steadily throughout the Mediterranean, coloring and forever changing, all they encountered with God’s unconditional love.
I’d pour my batter into the pans and put them into my preheated convection oven, an oven that circulates the warm air over whatever you’re baking. And I’d remember how the winds of the Spirit that once moved over the face of the deep, at the very beginning of time, how those very winds would go on to move through the growing community of disciples in those early centuries.
As the heat of the oven transformed my cake from a gooey liquid into a spongey, flexible solid, I would consider the heat in the crucible of the culture of antiquity. How the violent, oppressive culture of the time produced a kind of “heat,” so to speak, that only fueled the early Jesus movement. That heat demonstrated pointedly the necessity of Jesus’ teaching in such a hurting world. It gave the movement it’s conviction and helped drive its sense of purpose.
As I removed my cake pans from the oven, and flipped them onto a cooling rack, I would remember how the Jesus movement took shape, a shape that would hold, one that wouldn’t melt or crumble, even as the cultural framework shifted.
Then I’d frost it. Now I know a rich cream cheese frosting is traditional for a good Red Velvet, but I feel like something light and feathery would probably be most appropriate. We are told that when Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit alighted upon him “like a dove.” It sounds so light, and gentle. I want a frosting that will alight upon my cake like that.
And then, once it was frosted, I’d probably garnish it with a single birthday candle (since it’d be tough to fit nearly two thousand candles on my little cake) and I’d add a single olive sprig. One like the olive branch that the dove brought back to Noah after the flood. The now-universal symbol of peace. This would remind me of the peace that the teaching of Jesus offers a hurting world.
But lastly, and most importantly, if this was to be a true Pentecost cake, I would have to share it. Not just with my family, my bubble, but with people who had no cake, and people who spoke different languages than me. Because that’s what the disciples and the new believers did with the food and resources they had.
The Acts chapter 2 scripture that we heard the beginning of in the video, the story actually continues on for many more verses. It is, not a short story by any stretch, but that chapter finally closes with this beautiful snapshot of the earliest Christian churches. Let’s hear those final verses of Acts chapter 2:
New believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
The book of Acts is wonderfully dramatic. It has action and plot twists and rich imagery to the nth degree. The whole book is written to show us what the Holy Spirit is capable of doing through faithful communities.
Throughout the recent Sundays of the Easter season, our lectionary has been placing us in the mindset of the earliest Christians using the books of Acts and Galatians. Acts tells the story of how the church was formed, and the letter to the Galatians is probably the oldest piece of Christian writing that we have. It was likely composed a couple of decades before even the gospel stories were actually written down.
So, the snapshot that these two books give us of early church life is especially valuable. They help us understand how the Spirit was at work in those earliest communities, in the immediate aftermath of the drama of Pentecost.
And they help show us today what to look for as we discern the movement of the Spirit in our own lives and communities.
The book of Galatians culminates in the beautiful passage Francie read first today, a passage that promises abundant “fruit” for those who nurture the Holy Spirit within themselves. It offers a closing metaphor that invites us to think of the Holy Spirit like a seed, or a sapling, that grows in our hearts.
As this Spirit-sapling grows within us, Paul calls us to be on the look-out for the blossoming of what he calls the “fruit” of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The promise of the Spirit’s arrival is that we have the capacity to produce all of these fruits within us. Even on days when we don’t feel like it, it’s there.
The struggle, I think, is to learn how to tap into them. As we live through yet another wave of a devastating global pandemic, I am sometimes struggling to tap into the patience that the Spirit promises me is there! Peace, also, can be a bit of a challenge these days, when we are all cooped up together with the same few people twenty-four-seven. Joy, too, comes and goes in surprising ways as this lockdown wears on.
But I keep feeling myself called to remember that the Spirit promises me that those “fruits” are there. I just need to do the work of nurturing them, protecting them, and helping them grow and flower into full-fledged fruit that I can then share with others.
So, as we celebrate the arrival of the Spirit, as spring continues to bloom, and as we start to see beautiful local fruit trees burst into flower, I find myself thinking quite often of Paul’s “fruit of the spirit.”
So, I thought this theme might make for a nice series. I’ll be here at Stairs, doing pulpit supply for the next five weeks, and I thought it might be fun to use that time to dig a little deeper into these fruits of the Spirit. There are nine “fruits,” and five weeks in this series, so most weeks we’ll look at two of these fruits alongside one another. We’ll sort of, put them in conversation together. See what we might learn by considering kindness alongside joy, or by putting faithfulness in conversation with gentleness.
Only one fruit will get its own week, because that’s just how the math works out, and I figured we could give that week to patience, because, if you’re anything like me, that’s the one that I find myself wrestling with most as we move through the uncertainties of this time.
So, I hope you will join me on this Pentecost journey, as we work on building our trust in the Spirit to nurture these fruits within our own souls. As we both remember the early growth of the church through these virtues, and nurture that same growth within our own selves and communities.
Happy Pentecost, everyone!