Year B – Pentecost Sunday

On Our Leaky Vessels

(Acts 2:1-11; Gal.5:16-25; Jn.15:26-27; 16:12-15)

Whenever we’re anxious or distressed, we need the Spirit of Peace.

Whenever we’re sad and life seems too hard, we need the Spirit of Joy.

And whenever we’re in darkness and doubt, we need the Spirit of Light.

Today we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit, the power that Jesus poured into his disciples at Pentecost.

On that day, the disciples were hiding in fear in the Upper Room, when a great noise like a mighty wind rushed in and a tongue of fire appeared above each of them.

Suddenly, they were transformed. The once-fearful disciples emerged as courageous Apostles, and started telling the crowds in the street the truth about Jesus Christ. 3,000 people became Christians that day, and the Church was born.

Some people think that Pentecost is a standalone event, but it actually marks the end of the fifty days of Easter. As Joan Chittister writes, ‘… only here in this time, between the bursting open of the tomb and, fifty days later, the overflowing of the Holy Spirit, does the full awareness of what it is to live in Christ, with Christ, and through Christ finally dawn.’ [i]

So, what do we know about the Holy Spirit? Well, with God the Father and God the Son, the Spirit is one of the three persons of the Trinity. All three are co-equal and of the same essence, and like the Father, the Holy Spirit is invisible, but he’s also a person. He’s not just an influence or an impersonal force.

How do we know the Spirit is a person? It’s because of the way he’s presented in the Bible (e.g., Jn.6:63; Rom.8:11; 1Jn.5:6; Jn.16:7-8). The Holy Spirit thinks, feels, has a mind, and does things that only a person can do.

Now, it’s important to remember that the Spirit the Apostles receive at Pentecost is the same Spirit that created the world (Gen.1:1-2); that transformed Adam from a pile of dust into a human being (Gen.2:7); that guided Moses through the desert (Num.11:16-17); and that raised Jesus from the dead.

And it’s the same Spirit we receive at our Baptism and Confirmation.

The Holy Spirit is a powerful, energising force, and in Scripture he has several names, including Spirit of God, Spirit of Jesus, and the Spirit of Truth. Jesus also calls him ‘another Comforter’, a ‘Counsellor’, ‘Advocate’ or ‘Paraclete’.

But what is a Paraclete?

The Jesuit poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins explains it this way:

‘A Paraclete,’ he says, ‘is often translated as comforter, but a Paraclete does more than comfort. The word is Greek, and there’s no one English word for it. Comforter is not enough. A Paraclete is one who comforts, cheers, encourages, persuades, exhorts, stirs up, urges forward and who calls on; … what clapping of hands is to a speaker, what a trumpet is to the soldier, that a Paraclete is to the soul … A Paraclete is one who calls us on to good.’ [ii]

William Barclay says that the Holy Spirit’s purpose is to fill a person with the power and courage they need to triumphantly cope with life.

In Greek, he says, the root word for this power is du-namis, from which we get the English word dynamite, which is an explosive force. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is not passive. He’s an active force of explosive power that encourages and empowers. [iii]

This is the Spirit we receive at our Baptism. We must cherish, nurture and protect the gifts he gives us.

The evangelist Dwight L. Moody, however, often talked about our need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Someone once asked him, ‘If we were filled with the Holy Spirit at Baptism, why do we need to be refilled so often?’

‘Because we leak,’ Moody replied.

‘The fact is,’ he said, ‘we are leaky vessels and we have to keep right under the fountain all the time to keep full of Christ, and so have a fresh supply.’

Why? Because we so often close our hearts to God. We reject his gifts, we ignore our responsibilities, we fail to grow in holiness – and we sin.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We do have a choice.

These are the Holy Spirit’s gifts: love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, peace, and joy. These are exactly what we need right now, and they’re always available to us.

So, let’s seal our leaky vessels by regularly praying this prayer:

Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Amen.

Or this one:

Come Holy Spirit. Fill my heart with love and my mind with light. Amen.

[i] Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year, Thomas Nelson, 2009.

[ii] Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sermon on the Paraclete, Liverpool, 1882.

[iii] William Barclay, New Testament Words. Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1964:216-221.