The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer

Interfaith Connections and Background to the Readings for Pentecost and Baptism

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Festival of Shavuot: In the living out of everyday life, Shavuot, one of the three pilgrimage festivals in Jewish culture, often takes second place to its more well know sibling festivals, Passover and Sukkot.  The origins of all three festivals have their roots reaching back to agrarian times, the ebb and flow of the seasons, and ancient pilgrimages to the Holy City, Jerusalem. 

While Sukkot celebrates the offering of the fall harvest, Passover celebrates the offering of barley and wheat gleaned in Israel in the springtime. 

Shavuot, on the other hand, celebrates the offerings of the first fruits or the summer harvest, fifty days after the second day of Passover.  

Shavuot is also very important in Jewish culture for another reason-it celebrates the pivotal story of God’s giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai to Moses and his people whose exodus from Egypt and flight into the wilderness eventually leads them to the Promised Land.

Equally important to this story is another biblical story for our listening ears this morning and that is the story about another wandering family, the family of Naomi and her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. 

While Orpah is described as being content to turn back from the women’s shared journey, we know that God has other plans for Ruth, who will not hear of being separated from Naomi. 

Ruth’s commitment to her new life in Israel is important in Jewish culture because it results in the birth of Jesse, from whose lineage is thought to come such leaders as King David, and our own model for living and dying, Jesus, the Christ.

Listen with fresh ears to how this story of pilgrimage, commitment, and openness to new life traditionally read on the occasion of Shavuot might also connect with the new beginnings we are about to experience here now this day.

Reading from the THE CHILDREN’S ILLUSTRATED BIBLE, STORIES RETOLD BY SELINA HASTINGS AND ILLUSTRATED BY ERIC THOMAS AND AMY BURCH, (Dorling Kindersley Ltd. London, New York, Munich, Melbourne and New Delhi, 1994, 2003, p. 106-107), the Book of Ruth, chapters 1-4, the story of Ruth and Naomi:

“FOR MANY YEARS the widow Naomi had made her home in Moab.  Her husband had died there, and so had her two sons.  Their wives, Orpah and Ruth, lived with her.  During a time of famine, Naomi decided to return to her own country, to Bethlehem.  “We will come with you,” said her daughters-in-law. 

“No,” said Naomi.  “Your place is not with me, an old woman.  You must stay in Moab where you belong.”

Orpah was content with this, but Ruth loved Naomi and would not be parted from her.  “Where you go, there shall I follow,” she said.  “Your home shall be mine; your people my people, your God, my God.”  And so Ruth and Naomi journeyed together to Bethlehem.

They arrived at harvest time, and Ruth went into the fields to gather the left over barley.  Boaz, a cousin of Naomi’s, who owned the fields, noticed the  young woman and asked who she was.  He was touched to hear about her kindness to Naomi, and went over to her.  “Come and eat with us.  You are safe here with my people….”   

Here ends but a snippet of the larger story of Ruth and Boaz that ultimately will lead to the story of Jesus.

Introducing the Celebration of Pentecost:  On Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the transforming nature of God’s Spirit at work-always and everywhere.  This is also the day that many Christians celebrate as the birthday of the church.  Living in the presence of the Holy Spirit, the community that began at Easter season behind closed doors, is reborn and moves out to the ends of the earth!

To set the scene for our reading this morning, we might imagine ourselves gathered with those who knew Jesus to be alive in a new way. 

They are but a smallish crowd of 150 or so surrounded by others making the festival pilgrimage to Jerusalem from as far away as Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia, and other places with exotic and complicated names. 

This is the context in which those first followers in the Way arrive, bringing with them strong memories of everything that Jesus had said and done before he was crucified. 

They also bring with them their powerful experiences and stories of his presence and his promises in the forty day season we now know as the season of Easter or Eastertide.

Whatever expectations those first followers might have brought to the occasion, when they were all together on the day of Pentecost, the culmination of the festival of Shavuot, something most unusual did happen! 

In your mind’s eye, imagine you are there, with the disciples and all their followers gathered together:

Reading again from The CHILDREN’S ILLUSTRATED BIBLE, we hear a re-telling of the story entitled ‘Tongues of Fire’ adapted from chapters one and two of the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 1 & 2 (p. 285)

“THE DISCIPLES, as they continued in their work of spreading God’s word, also became known as the apostles.”

“Later, on the day of the Jewish harvest festival of Pentecost, the apostles were gathered in one room.  Suddenly, the sound of a mighty wind was heard rushing through the house, and over the head of each person flickered a small flame, a sign that the Holy Spirit was with them.  As they turned in amazement and began to talk, they found they were able to speak in many different languages.

As the disciples walked through the streets of Jerusalem, news of their astonishing gift spread far and wide.  Jewish people from many different countries had come to stay in Jerusalem for Pentecost.  They came up to talk with the apostles, and were amazed because the apostles could speak and understand any language from any part of the world.

Eventually Peter started to preach to the crowd.  He told them of Jesus of Nazareth and the miracles he had worked in God’s name….”

Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church!  Thanks be to God!