Acts of the Apostles 2:1–11; 1 Corinthians 12:3–7, 12–13;
The Fifth Christ
On Pentecost, the risen Jesus began to indwell his
Years ago Leonard LeSourd, former editor of Guideposts magazine, was at dinner with ten other people.
followers in a powerful, new way.
They were discussing a movie about Jesus. Suddenly a young woman, obviously bored with the conversation, said,
“Well, who would want to be like Jesus anyway?”
An awkward silence fell across the group.
Then the conversation veered off in a different direction.
Later LeSourd asked himself, “Why did that young woman’s remark create such an awkward silence?”
He concluded that some of the people were intimidated by her remark. Others, perhaps, were as bored as she was with the conversation. And still others didn’t know Jesus well enough to know if they wanted to be like him or not.
Then LeSourd asked himself about his own understanding of Jesus. He concluded that he had known five Christs in the course of his lifetime.
He first met Jesus in Sunday school. His introduction to Jesus came in the form of a stern-looking person whose picture hung on the Sunday school wall.
This Jesus failed to impress a nine-year-old who was more interested in playing baseball than he was in learning about a man who lived 2,000 years ago in a faraway country.
And so the first Christ LeSourd ever knew was a “fanciful Christ” who existed only in his own immature mind. LeSourd met his second Christ in college. This was the Christ of history. It was the Christ whose impact on history has been so immense that even non-Christians call him “history’s greatest person.”
But the historical Christ didn’t touch him personally. He was just another great man, like Lincoln. “Putting Christ in this setting,” he says, “was a simple solution during college and four years as an Army Air Corps pilot. The historical Jesus did not interfere with anything I wanted to do.”
And so the second Christ LeSourd met was the “historical Christ.”
LeSourd met his third Christ after mustering out of military service. he got a job with Guideposts magazine interviewing people about their faith. In the course of doing the interviews, he was surprised to learn that many successful people lived their lives by the teachings of Jesus.
Soon he found himself reading the Gospels to learn more about these teachings. And thus LeSourd met his third Christ: the “teacher Christ.”
LeSourd met his fourth Christ while on retreat. The theme of the retreat was commitment to Jesus. During the course of the retreat, a young man got up and told the others how he had gone into the chapel, knelt down, and committed his life to Jesus.
LeSourd was embarrassed by the young man’s complete openness. But at the same time, he found himself wanting what that young man had found in that chapel.
So before the retreat ended, LeSourd went into the chapel, knelt down, and committed his life to Jesus. He recalls the unforgettable moment this way:
“I found myself in this chapel, on my knees before the altar, saying a simple prayer, ‘Lord, I don’t know how I happen to be here, but I want to give my life to you. I do so now.’ ”
And so LeSourd met his fourth Christ. It was the
“Savior Christ.” It was the Christ who lived him in a deep, personal way.
From that day on, Jesus became the center and focus of his life.
And so LeSourd’s understanding of Christ progressed from the “fanciful Christ” to the “historical Christ” to the
“teacher Christ” to the “Savior Christ.”
This brings us to the fifth and final Christ. LeSourd met this Christ in an unexpected way.
One day he found himself being severely tempted. It was the kind of major temptation that we all experience from time to time.
LeSourd felt himself falling. He reached out frantically for something to hold on to. He found it in the commitment he had made to Jesus years before on the retreat.
He found something else too. He found his most meaningful relationship yet with Jesus.
It was contact with the “indwelling Christ.”
It was contact with the Risen Christ,
who began to indwell his followers when the Holy Spirit descended upon them on Pentecost Sunday 2,000 years ago.
Now everything in the New Testament began to fit together.
LeSourd saw how the Apostles had always committed themselves to Jesus in a burst of fervor. But when severe temptation came to them, they too fell back into their old ways. Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied him, and the rest fled.
It wasn’t until Pentecost, when they received the Holy Spirit of Jesus, that the Apostles were really transformed.
On that first Pentecost 2,000 years ago, the spirit of the risen Jesus began to indwell his followers in a powerful way.
And that’s what we celebrate today. We celebrate that important day in the history of Christianity when, through the coming of the Holy Spirit, the risen Jesus began to indwell his followers with a personal presence.
We may compare LeSourd’s gradual growth in his understanding of Jesus to the five stages of a plant’s growth.
The first Christ, the “fanciful Christ” of his childhood, corresponds to the seed of the plant. It is just a beginning.
The second Christ, the “historical Christ,” corresponds to the green stem that emerges from the seed.
The third Christ, the “teacher Christ,” corresponds to the bud that eventually forms at the top of the stem.
The fourth Christ, the “Savior Christ,” corresponds to the flower that bursts from the bud.
The fifth Christ, the “indwelling Christ,” corresponds to the fruit that develops from the flower of the plant.
It is this fifth and final stage that we celebrate on Pentecost.
It is the presence of the “indwelling Christ” in the Church as a whole and in each one of us individually.
Acts of the Apostles 2:1–11; 1 Corinthians 12:3–7, 12–13;
Pentecost is the birthday of the Church and a new presence of God among us.
During World War II there were many American soldiers stationed on islands in the Pacific Ocean. In the early stages of the war, they lived in tent cities and ate in mess halls that had no refrigerators or luxuries like that.
Government nutrition experts wanted these soldiers to have food like milk and eggs. But this was impossible without refrigeration. If the soldiers were to have foods like this,
then these foods would have to be changed. They would have to be put into a form that required no refrigeration.
And so a new kind of food was born: powdered food.
Eggs and milk were powdered, put into packages, and sent to the fighting men in the Pacific.
By simply adding water to the powder, the men had eggs and milk in a new form—a form that could be served daily without refrigeration.
You’re probably wondering how all this relates to the feast of Pentecost, which we celebrate today.
The answer is that it illustrates an important point about Pentecost that we tend to forget.
We tend to forget that Pentecost marks the moment when God began to dwell among God’s people in a totally new form.
For 30 years God dwelt among God’s people in the form and in the person of Jesus. But because Jesus was truly human,
his presence among God’s people was limited to a human life span.
Thus if God were to continue to dwell among us after the life span of Jesus, it would have to be in a new form—a form different from a human body.
Pentecost marks the moment when God began to dwell among us in a totally new way—not in the physical person of Jesus, but in the spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit.
And so the story of the change of the form of eggs and milk gives us a way of looking at the change in the form of God’s presence among us, which began on Pentecost.
But Pentecost marks more than the change in the form of God’s presence among us. It also marks the change in the form of Jesus’ presence among us. Jesus now dwells among us in a new way also.
He now resides among us, not as someone dwelling alongside us, but as someone dwelling inside us.
That’s what Jesus meant when he told his disciples,
“It is better for you that I go away.” John 16:7
And again when he told them, “When I go, you will not be left all alone; I will come back to you.” John 14:18
And so Pentecost marks the moment when God and Jesus begin to dwell among us in a totally new way.
This brings us to a second point about Pentecost.
Besides being the birthday of God’s new presence among us individually, it is also the birthday of God’s new presence among us collectively.
Because Jesus dwells inside us, we are united with him in a new way. Jesus said in his farewell talk to his disciples:
“When that day comes [when the Holy Spirit comes], you will know that I am in my Father and that you are in me, just as I am in you.” John 14:20
And so through our new unity with Jesus, we now form one body with him. The Holy Spirit forms us into what Paul calls the Body of Christ.
Thus Pentecost is not only the birthday of God’s new presence among us individually, but also the birthday of God’s new presence among us collectively.
It is the birthday of Christ’s Body, the Church.
It is the birthday of God’s new family.
Astory will illustrate in a concrete way what all this means.
Some years ago an artist was commissioned to do a painting
illustrating the point that through the Church, God calls all nations to be one family.
The artist decided to model his painting after the lines of an old hymn that read, “Around the throne of God in heaven thousands of children stand.’’
Late one night, after weeks of work, the artist finished the painting. Shortly after falling asleep, he seemed to hear a noise in his studio.
When he went to investigate, he found a stranger changing his painting. The stranger was changing the color of the faces of the children.
One was now red, another brown, another black, and another yellow.
“What are you doing?’’ shouted the artist.
“I’m correcting your painting,’’ said the stranger.
“You’ve painted only white faces answering my call.’’
“Your call!’’ said the painter.
“Yes,’’ said the stranger.
“I said to my disciples,
‘Let the children come to me, and do not stop them,
because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ Mark 10:14
“That’s what I told my disciples in gospel times, and that’s what I’m still telling them.’’
Then the artist awoke, and he realized that he had been dreaming.
The next morning he revised his painting in line with his dream. The Church is the vehicle through which God is saying to us, “Let the children of all nations come to me
and become one family.’’
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord, help us realize that Pentecost marks the end of an old relationship with you and the beginning of a new one.
Help us realize that this new relationship places upon us a new responsibility. It is the responsibility of working for the spread of the Gospel not just in our own parish but also throughout our world.
This is what the Holy Spirit calls us to do, both individually and collectively.
Help us carry out our calling with confidence, with courage, and with commitment.
Acts of the Apostles 2:1–11; 1 Corinthians 12:3–7, 12–13;
Mystery of Pentecost
The Holy Spirit is with us individually and collectively.
Tongues of fire . . . spread out and touched each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts of the Apostles 2:3–4
In the movie Network, Peter Finch plays a television commentator. He craves popularity and acceptance, so he tells people only what they like to hear.
One day he hears a voice say, “It’s time to tell the truth.”
He is shocked, but the voice has the ring of someone he knows he must obey. And so he goes before his TV audience and explains everything to them, saying:
This voice told me, “It’s time to tell people the truth. This won’t be easy for you, because most of them don’t want to hear the truth.”
I said to the voice: “Why did you pick me for this! What do I know about the truth?” Then the voice said, “Don’t worry about what is truth. I will teach you what is truth. I will put the truth in your mouth.” I said to the voice, “Hey! This isn’t the burning bush and I’m not Moses. This is TV and I’m just a commentator.” (Adapted)
After reading that passage from the movie, I thought to myself, That’s probably the way the disciples must have felt when Jesus told them one day:
“I shall not be with you very much longer. . . .
I will ask the Father, and he will give you . . . the Spirit. . . .
He will lead you into all truth.” John 13:33, 14:16–17, 16:13
And just before ascending to heaven, Jesus gave his disciples this order: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift . . . my Father promised . . . the Holy Spirit.” Acts of the Apostles 1:4–5
So they returned to Jerusalem and waited and prayed.
Then came the day of Pentecost.
Suddenly there was a noise . . .
like a strong wind blowing. . . .
Tongues of fire . . .
spread out . . .
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
There were Jews living in Jerusalem . . . who had come from every country in the world. When they heard this noise, a large crowd gathered. They were all excited, because all of them heard the believers talking in their own languages.
Acts of the Apostles 2:2–6
Then Peter explained to the crowd what had happened. They asked Peter, “What shall we do?” Peter said:
“You must turn away from your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive God’s gift, the Holy Spirit. . . .”
About three thousand people were added to the group that day.
Acts of the Apostles 2:38, 41
That brings us to the feast of Pentecost: the coming of the Holy Spirit. This great event transforms the disciples of Jesus
into the Church, the Body of Christ.
It is into this same Body that we have been baptized and confirmed. Through Baptism and Confirmation we received the Holy Spirit as fully as did the disciples on the first Pentecost.
Like them, along with receiving the Holy Spirit,
we received the mission to participate in the work of spreading the Kingdom of God on earth.
For every serious Christian, this poses a critical question in terms of action. When we look at our limited talents,
we wonder where to begin and how to begin.
For example, we see the millions of people homeless and hungry in the world. We think, “I can barely make ends meet in my own family. How can I begin to address this enormous world problem?”
We see age-old hatreds between nations threatening to boil into war, and we say, “I can hardly keep my own anger down at times. How can I do anything about this anger between nations?”
We see the apathy of Christians who no longer practice their faith, and we say, “I’m struggling with my own faith.
What can I do about their loss of faith?”
It is right here that Pentecost takes on a down-to-earth, practical meaning for us. It is right here that we have the answer to our question, Where to begin and what to do?
Jesus promised his followers that he would send the Spirit and that the Spirit would guide and inspire our every action.
It would be the Holy Spirit who would support and strengthen them in their mission of spreading God’s Kingdom.
This leads us to the answer to “Where and how should we begin?” It tells us, first of all, that we should begin by believing that the Holy Spirit is with each one of us individually and in the Church collectively.
That means we must listen prayerfully with and in our hearts to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Second, we must keep in mind that we are part of the Church, the Body of Christ. We are not alone. The Holy Spirit formed us into one Body and intends us to work, pray, and worship together as a one Body
Third, we must keep in mind that Christ is the head of the Body. We are united to him as vines are united to a branch. Separated from Christ we can do nothing. United with him, we can do anything.
And so this is the good news we celebrate on this feast of Pentecost.
We are not alone. The Holy Spirit is with us, individually and collectively.
The Holy Spirit wants to take our human talents—small as they may seem—and transform them into something beautiful and magnificent—something we never dreamed possible.
This is where Pentecost takes on a practical here-and-now meaning in our lives.
This is why we return to the altar now to celebrate and give thanks.
Let us close with a poem adapted from the Mexican poet and mystic Armado Nervo. It sums up in a beautiful way what we have been trying to say. It reads:
Alone we are only a spark, but in the Spirit we are a raging fire.
Alone we are only an anthill, but in the Spirit we are a soaring mountain.
Alone we are a drop of water, but in the Spirit we are a roaring fountain.
Alone we are only a beggar, but in the Spirit we are a king.