HOMILY PENTECOST SUNDAY Cycle C June 9, 2019
Red. How do I look in red? Would I not look good as a Cardinal?? Maybe not. What do you think of when you see the color red? Watermelon? Firetrucks? Why are firetrucks always red? No blue firetrucks.
Or perhaps you think of a stop light, a red traffic light?
Or do you think of something more political? Red states vs. blue states? Or if you are older, The “Reds”? Red-China? Anyone remember “Better dead than red?”
Or do you think of the opposite, as in “red-blooded American”? And the “red, white and blue”? Why is red always first? Why not the white, blue and red????
For our Asian brothers and sisters red means joy and happiness. Some years ago I did a wedding in South Carolina. The bride’s mother was coming from Hong Kong, and the young couple asked me to wear red vestments for the wedding, since in Chinese culture white signifies death, but red signifies joy. So I wore red for the wedding.
In church we wear red for several different occasions. Red signifies blood; but not blood as a sign of death, like in some Hollywood horror flick with gallons of fake blood over everything, but rather blood in the scriptural sense as a sign of life. We wear red on the Feast of the Martyrs, like Sts Peter and Paul and John the Baptist. Also for the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.
But today we wear red primarily for the symbol of FIRE. In the first reading we heard that tongues as of fire came to rest on the disciples, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
The result is that the disciples went from frightened and confused people hiding in fear, to bold and effective proclaimers of the Gospel, of the wonderful things God had done in Jesus Christ.
The symbols of fire and the “strong, driving wind” are signs of energy, of life, of vitality: and that is what the Holy Spirit brings to us. Just as when God formed man out of the clay of the ground in the Book of Genesis, and blew into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being, so in the Gospel today the Resurrected Jesus breaths on the Apostles and says “Receive the Holy Spirit” and so they came alive.
As an aside, did Jesus give the Holy Spirit to the Apostles on Easter Sunday night, as in our Gospel from John, or did the Holy Spirit come on the Apostles 50 days later, at Pentecost, as in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles? What do you think?
Well, similarly, did you receive the Holy Spirit at your Baptism, perhaps as a baby, or did you receive the Holy Spirit at your Confirmation, when you were in 8th grade like me, or in high school, or some other time?
The correct answer to both questions is YES. In our religion the correct answer is usually “both/and” instead of ‘either/or”.
Is Jesus divine or human? YES. Is God one or three? YES. Is the Bible the word of God or the words of humans? YES.
Human logic is often too limited and inadequate to hold the mystery of God.
Anyway, back to Pentecost: The Spirit is all about life: just like when you have team spirit or school spirit, the school is exciting and vital and energized and alive, so also the Church, God’s people, when the Holy Spirit is present the Church is vital and energized and alive. “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” St. Paul assures us in the second reading today. St. Paul is not talking about physical words, but rather to make this statement with conviction and sincerity and deeply lived faith. “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” The life of faith comes from the Holy Spirit.
So when you see faith-filled Christians who are alive, and filled with concern for others, and generous, and actively putting their Faith into action, who look like they have heard Good News and so radiate the joy of the Gospel, you recognize that these are Spirit-filled Christians. Amen! And you praise God for that.
But when you see Christians who look grumpy, and are stingy, and think of religion as all about rules, and “don’t”s, and radiate an up-tight, constricted sense of narrow-mindedness and small-heartedness, you recognize that they are Spirit-lacking Christians. The life is just not there. They are dead in the Spirit. There is not that burning flame of faith and love. The upsetting, disruptive, strong wind of the Spirit that overturns our neatly laid-out tables of rules and regulations and proper expectations is not there. The Holy Spirit is messy.
Spirit filled Christians are bright, brilliant, bold, red Christians: so red it hurts your eyes: you need sunglasses in their presence. The Spirit-less Christians are nothing but dingy, insipid, beige Christians. They make you yawn, and put you to sleep.
Today, on this Pentecost, we are called to be RED Christians, to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit that we received at our Baptism and were sealed with at our Confirmation. People should be able to see the Spirit of Christ at work in us.
Therefore, Look and act like you have heard Good News, not bad news. Act with courage in living the way of Christ. Proclaim boldly by your deeds what you believe. Jesus is Lord!
May you be on fire with the Holy Spirit! Happy Pentecost!