Sermon preached Pentecost Sunday May 27, 2012
Texts: Acts 2:1-21
Today is Pentecost Sunday. We read the classic Christian text for the day from Acts 2, which begins, “When the day of Pentecost had come.” Pentecost is a Greek word meaning “fiftieth” which had something to do with the timing of this Jewish festival, which in Hebrew was known as Shavout – the Feast of Weeks. The festival marked the beginning of the wheat harvest (Exod 34:22 Exod 34:22 ) and was to be the occasion for a number of offerings (Lev 23:17-19 Lev 23:17 Lev 23:18 Lev 23:19; Num 28:26-31 Num 28:26 Num 28:27 Num 28:28 Num 28:29 Num 28:30 Num 28:31), including two loaves made from wheat flour and “baked with leaven” (Lev 23:17 Lev 23:17 ). It was a day for a holy convocation and labor was prohibited (Lev 23:21 Lev 23:21 ; Num 28:26 Num 28:26 ) (New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible). Later Jewish tradition identified this as the time when Moses received the Torah (Jewish Annotated New Testament).
The story from Acts is remarkable. The disciples are all together in one place when there is a sound “like the rush of a violent wind.” Tongues like fire appear and rest on each of the disciples. The Spirit gives each an ability to speak in another language. Jews from every nation hear these languages and are amazed and perplexed, though some are a little incredulous – “they are filled with new wine.” Peter offers a long interpretive word about what is happening and how it is related to Jesus.
The story is remarkable, and has little to do with the wheat harvest or offerings of bread. God’s Spirit shows up and incredible things happen. There are those in the Christian tradition who argue that exactly these kind of amazing things are still the sure sign that God’s Spirit is present. We call them “Pentecostals.” Some have, from time to time, called them “holy rollers.” They are Christians known for emotional displays, for their openness to “speaking in tongues,” and for their willingness to entertain the strange – barking or laughing hysterically. How many Pentecostals does it take to change a light bulb? One, and they can do it quickly because their hands are already in the air. Lest we feel too smug, Pentecostals might sometime refer to us as the “frozen chosen.”
We in mainline Christian churches have often been leery of Pentecostals – their emotionalism and frequently accompanying anti-intellectualism. While I think we can learn from our Pentecostal sisters and brothers, especially about being less afraid of emotional expression, which does not have to preclude intellectual rigor in our faith, we do not need to concede that it is only when the amazing happens that the Spirit is present. We can claim that “we’ve got Spirit, yes we do.”
We’ve got Spirit, yes we do. When God’s Spirit shows up it is not about jumping and shouting and strange languages. It is about being transformed, made different.
When God’s Spirit shows up there is assurance for our lives. The disciples had been through a difficult time. Jesus had been crucified, and though they had experienced the resurrected Jesus as the Christ, they remained a bit confused and uncertain. Pentecost was a time of assurance. There is an experience here that they are on the right path in following Jesus. They are assured that God is with them, and that they are a part of God’s on-going powerful work in the world.
Where do you need assurance in your life? Where do you need to know that God is still with you? Where do we as a church need to be assured that we are part of God’s deeds of power? Come, Spirit, come.
When God’s Spirit shows up there is encouragement. Not only are the disciples assured that following Jesus is a right path, they are encouraged to keep on keeping on. Things may get rough – fire, smoky mist, the sun turning to darkness – but keep on. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved – everyone.
Where do you need encouragement in your life? Where do you need to feel God forward-moving presence? Where might we as a church need encouragement to keep on with the work of Jesus in the world? Come, Spirit, come.
When God’s Spirit shows up, differences are bridged and connections are made. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, Romans, Cretans, Arabs are all connected by God’s Spirit, by the Spirit of Jesus.
What differences does God want to bridge here in our church, or here in Duluth? Soon we will be a new congregation – former Firsters and former Chester Parkers. Part of the Spirits work in our midst will be helping make us one. Where do you need to find reconciliation with the other in your life? Come, Spirit, come.
And yes, when God’s Spirit shows up things are shaken up. People are amazed and perplexed, and some might confuse the joy and wonder with new wine. That few confuse the typical church service with a party may not always speak well for the church. The Pentecostals are wrong to assume that speaking in tongues is the primary way God’s Spirit shakes things up. God’s Spirit shakes things up when we become too complacent, when we fail to recognize our need for continued growth, when we stop hearing the cries of a hungry and hurting world.
Where do you need to be shaken a bit, moved from apathy or complacency? Where do we need to be shaken a bit, moved from apathy or complacency? Come, Spirit, come.
And when God’s Spirit shows up there is a story to be told, and we need the courage to tell it.
Where have we been too quiet about the work of God’s love in our lives, and in our life together? Come, Spirit, come.
We pray for God’s Spirit to come, and it seems as if the Spirit of God can come in surprising ways, at unexpected moments. “Suddenly for heaven there came a sound.” Are we simply at the whim of a God who only arrives suddenly and unexpectedly? Two Rabbis are talking. The first Rabbi says, “Full experiences of God can never be planned or achieved. They are spontaneous moments of grace, almost accidental.” The second Rabbi answers, “Rabbi, if knowing God is just accidental, why do we work so hard doing all these spiritual practices?” The first Rabbi says, “To be as accident-prone as possible.” We pray, read the Bible, worship, meditate, engage in acts of compassion and justice, trusting God’s Spirit will come.
Come, Spirit, come.
I am going to end this morning’s sermon with a few moments of a song that is a prayer for God’s Spirit – “Veni, Sancte, Spiritus” – Come Holy Spirit. It is a very unpentecostal Pentecostal moment!
Taize, "Veni Sancte Spiritus"
We’ve got Spirit, yes we do. Come, Spirit, come. Veni, Sancte, Spiritus. Then, when God’s Spirit comes, watch out, because we are going to be changed even as we are encouraged and assured. Come, Spirit, come. Amen.