I heard a legend about Budweiser (the King of Beers®). Legend has it that from the founders on down, immediately after the birth of the first born son in each new generation of the Anheuser and Busch families, even before they have their first taste of their mother’s milk, they receive a few drops of ice cold Budweiser on their tongue.
I like the tradition. It’s just a shame they couldn’t be baptized in a better beer.
I mention this because while many have come to regard Pentecost as the birthday of the church, I actually think it’s something more like what’s done to these budweiser babies.
Right before Pentecost, just like right before Jesus’ birth, and right before Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist makes an appearance. John is an Old Testament prophet born in New Testament times, the forerunner of Christ who said of his cousin “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I baptize you with water; but he, he will baptize you Budweiser” (no that’s not what he said).
John said, “I baptize you with water but one who is more powerful than I is coming, and he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
See, there’s a clue in our communion liturgy about when the birthday of the church actually happened. In the Eucharistic prayers, as on Pentecost, we declare all the mighty deeds of God. Among them we give thanks for Jesus, saying that “by the baptism of his suffering death and resurrection, God gave birth to the church.”
That makes Good Friday and Easter the church’s birthday, because that is where God, through the suffering of Christ, gave birth to the gospel of our redemption and the rectification of all things.
Now, before you call Fox News and tell them I’m launching a war on Pentecost, hear me out. If you still want to call it the church’s birthday, go for it. In fact, I kind of like thinking of the tongues of fire like little trick candles on a birthday cake that no matter how hard you try to snuff them out just keep coming back.
My point is, it’s one thing to celebrate a birthday. It’s another thing to be given the Spirit of God, to have it poured out, dripped onto your tongue, making you a part of God’s action in the world.
The commotion of the moment drew a crowd. As always, some doubted it. They scoffed, “Sounds to me like those boys got into the Budweiser before breakfast!”
“No,” says Peter “They are not drunk, but they are under the influence, caught up in an act of God.”
Hear the good news. This story we’ve been baptized into, this Spirit that has been poured out on and in our tongues, this Hope that lies before us, it’s all better than Budweiser, and bigger than a birthday. It’s an act of God.
The good news of Pentecost is not about us. It’s about God. What we celebrate this day was not accomplished by our own doing, nor does the Spirit come according to our own deserving. No. We have about as much to contribute to our place in God’s story as a newborn Budweiser baby has to contribute to their inheritance. Nevertheless, this, an open mouth, it is all we need in order to receive the Spirit, to inherit and be incorporated into the life of the Living God.
Hear this Good News, our God acts, and the same Spirit that acted in raising Jesus Christ from the dead is the same Spirit being poured out on all flesh. Yours too. All this is offered to us without price.
Give thanks, and receive the Holy Spirit.