Acts 2:1-21 Pentecost
Elizabeth M. Deibert 24 May 2015
Hear and watch this Pentecost prayer by Kelly Ann Hall. (video from The Work of the People) And now hear the story Pentecost from Acts chapter two.
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. 5 At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. 7 They were completely amazed. "How can this be?" they exclaimed. "These people are all from Galilee, 8 and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! 9 Here we are-- Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!" 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. "What can this mean?" they asked each other. 13 But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, "They're just drunk, that's all!" 14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, "Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. 15 These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o'clock in the morning is much too early for that. 16 No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: 17 'In the last days,' God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants-- men and women alike-- and they will prophesy. 19 And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below-- blood and fire and clouds of smoke. 20 The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and glorious day of the LORD arrives. 21 But everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.' (NLT)
In John’s Gospel, the Spirit is promised to be the Comforter. But watch out. This one who comes seems to be a Mover and Shaker, more than a Soother and Comforter. Jesus promised the Spirit would come. As we discussed last week on Ascension Sunday, Jesus instructed his followers to wait for the Spirit. He said the Spirit would give them power and lead them in truth. But did they know how overwhelming the Spirit would be? There’s nothing particularly comforting about the rush of a “violent wind,” let alone descending tongues of fire. And once the disciples take their new multi-lingual ability into the streets of Jerusalem, pretty much everyone who witnesses their activity is described as “bewildered,” “amazed” and “astonished.” (David Lose, In the Meantime blog)
What an awesome, frightening experience! Is this the Comforter? The word Spirit means breath, wind. The word, Paraclete, which we translate comforter or advocate, literally means one who comes alongside. So what we see here is the effects of the Spirit coming alongside us.
Yet some doubted it. Some claimed they were drunk. Yes, there is always someone mean-spirited or excessively skeptical trying to rain on the parade or dampen the Spirit’s power. How could one claim that drunkenness would lead people to speak other people’s languages? Getting drunk might make a person say a lot of things, but to speak fluently in another language is probably not among them. And what was the miracle – was it the spoken or receptive language? I like to think the miracle was on the receptive side. For it is truly miraculous when we listen so well we cross over borders, language and cultural barriers, and truly understand another person.
We heard something of that last week in the Wired Word as Ramzi Al Massou, our Palestinian Christian guest, who recently became a US citizen, spoke of learning to humanize and befriend Israeli Jews, whom he had grown up mistrusting because of violence.
Thomas Merton, the well–known monk, author and spiritual mentor, said of this the spiritual saturation, “The true Christian rebirth is a renewed transformation, a ‘passover’ in which we are progressively liberated from selfishness and not only grow in love but in some sense ‘become love.’ The perfection of this new birth is reached everywhere there is no more selfishness, [everywhere] there is only love.”
Peter steps forward to explains to all who were mystified by the Pentecost experience. He says, “This is fulfilling the words of the prophet Joel.” Joel’s vision is remarkable, in that he announces the breaking down of barriers of gender, age, and social class. The Spirit did not just come to the powerful men, who were at the top of the social ladder. No, even the servant girls have the Spirit.
What happened on Pentecost is that the Spirit of Christ permeated all of creation. The Spirit was poured out on all flesh. Not just some flesh. All flesh. And what happened? The nervous group of Jesus followers stopped hiding inside. They took their message out beyond walls. They started sharing what they had. They became radically generous, and compassionate beyond reason. They went out to the people to share the good news. They were empowered to be witnesses as Christ had told them.
The Spirit comes along side of us to encourage and equip us for the task of ministry. But take note, as in the readings today, so also in our world: if we heed the word and work of the coming-along-side Holy Spirit, we will inevitably be pushed beyond what we imagine and end up stirring things up.
We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as the answer to a problem, but what if the Spirit’s work is to create for us a new problem: that we have a story to tell, mercy to share, love to spread, a church to develop, kids to teach, a sanctuary to build, and we just can’t rest until we’ve done so!
So it is good that the Spirit is poured out on all flesh, including us. Because it is easy to feel like this old dry sponge. Let’s talk about what happens with a very dry sponge when water runs over it. It’s kind of like the dry bones that Ezekiel speaks of in chapter 37, the Old Testament lesson for today. The valley of dry bones is lifeless. The bones have no hope until the breath of God comes upon them. Ezekiel challenges the bones to live. Like this sponge when it’s dry. Water can be poured over it and at first, the water just runs off, but if you keep pouring water, then the sponge begins to absorb the water and the sponge becomes what a sponge should be – spongy instead of stiff. And then the sponge becomes so saturated with water, it has to share water. It spills out water. So with us and the Spirit.
In the last hundred years, the Church Universal has started paying more attention to the Spirit. Now the mistake the church has made is to divide into camps over the Spirit. The conservative churches of the 20th century tended to think of the Holy Spirit as a privatized Spirit who dwells in you and creates personal, individual transformation in you – the Spirit of comfort and peace. Liberal churches of the 20th century tended to associate the Spirit with social justice changes in institutions and the way people relate – the Spirit of justice and peace. It is only when we pull those two together understandings of the Spirit’s power into harmony that we are really attuned to the fullness of the Holy Spirit. When we take it to a new level, we recognize that the Spirit is at work in places and in people and in ways we do not even know. Perhaps we will grow in our appreciation in the 21st century that the Spirit is not ours to control or contain or even understand.
To be saturated with the Spirit is to be both humble and bold at the same time. It is to be powerfully weak. To be saturated with Holy Spirit is to be quick to listen, slow to speak yet full of truthful proclamation. To be saturated with Holy Spirit is to have high expectations and an equally high willingness to forgive faults – yours and others. It is to be contemplative and active, working hard and resting well – in perfect balance. It is to be in this world and not of this world, to be able to lead and follow, to value worship and service, to balance acts of compassion with work for social change. To dwell in the Spirit is to be like Christ – one with God and one with humanity – always bringing out the best in others by challenge and by comfort.
The Spirit proves that God intends unity, and gets it by disrupting us from our madness and fear. Whereas the Tower of Babel divided, whereas we still divide ourselves, cutting this world and define ourselves according to lines drawn between us, and anxieties that stir us, God’s Spirit enters and says, people can come together from all over and understand one another as unified human beings created in the image of God.
Some will mock. They will be stifled by an inability to see new possibilities, some will be stuck in their determination to entrench the status quo, some will have a strange desire to let all the bad momentum of history gather speed and just go on and on and on. (Scott Hoezee, Calvin Seminary)
Even so, God steps in to saturate the world with the powerful spiritual force of wind and fire and a common language of unity. God sent the Spirit as promised, and those often clueless, frequently timid followers found a voice and a power they never knew could be theirs. Pentecost changed the world. It still does. Soak up the Spirit! Be melted and molded and filled by the Spirit until you drip with goodness because you cannot contain it anymore.