Acts 2:1-13 New International Version (NIV)
The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost
2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Many of you would remember the celebration of Harvest Festival in the church in days gone by. A time when the community brought their produce in thankfulness to God for his bounty and provision. So, you will remember bringing carrots, spinach, potatoes and the like to the table and a little later on you may have seen a lump of coal, a hammer and wood etc. and I guess today we would bring our computer and mobile phone programs like ZOOM.
Pentecost takes place at the time of the Jewish feast of Harvest Festival, 50 days after Passover. So, Jerusalem was full of Jews and non-Jews ready to celebrate the Harvest Feast.
Harvest Festival occurred at the beginning of the harvest. The first fruits of the harvest were brought forward in faith, recognizing that more would follow; the first fruits of the total harvest.
Pentecost occurred at Harvest Festival, as the first fruits of the Spirit, there would be more to come. The gift of the Spirit would be a continuous gift to God’s people provided the branches stay attached to the vine. The Spirit is the fuel for the church; the gift of power, comfort, the advocate between us and God and the One who leads into all truth.
When we examine power and energy, power can be used in two ways. At Pentecost the Spirit exploded onto the scene in “tongues of fire” and “a rush of violent wind”; explosive energy! But power can also be channelled through an engine to run and achieve its purpose for the long haul. God now sends his Spirit to empower the church. That is, people like you and I have the gift of the Spirit for the long haul of his mission; God’s mission in this time and place.
When the Spirit comes and the disciples move from inside to outside proclaiming the message of Jesus the risen Lord in many languages as the “Spirit enabled them”. The crowd was “bewildered”, amazed and astonished”. “What does this mean?” they asked. Of course, others declared that they must be drunk, a likely explanation for something not understood.
Peter answered the question by linking what was familiar and known to the new experience; you see God was doing a new thing here. Peter uses the quote from Joel with some very minor changes to show the new thing God is doing. God’s church would be made up of all peoples, even the most unlikely. Certainly, unlikely for the culture in which Peter delivers his message, not only males but females, old and young, even slaves. “Ordinary people will prophesy, see visions and dream.” Ordinary people like you and me would be able to hear God’s voice, know his will and be able to share with others; all because of the gift of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit results in a new Spirit-filled community. The church is truly born and anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
The question, what does this mean? is still being asked today, as it has been and will be in every era. Of course, the question comes in many forms. Why do you go to church? Is there a God? How can God allow…? What do you believe about…..? Why covid-19? And so on….. Because the Spirit is with us, we are empowered with appropriate answers. This is the mission of the followers of Christ; this is what the Church is empowered for, BUT can the church be the church if it stays indoors?
One of the themes running through the lectionary readings in recent weeks has been that of the church as a community. One of the important understandings relating to Pentecost is that we understand that the gift of the Spirit is a gift for the community of believers; the church of Jesus Christ. Note that the believers were all together waiting for the Spirit, just as Jesus had asked them to. “They were all together in one place”, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” as “a tongue rested on each of them” The gift of the Spirit is given first and foremost to the community as a whole – the church and then to the individual. For the first time not only does the church have a mission, but God’s mission has a church.
There is an interplay between the community and the individual. Each disciple has the gift to speak in another language. In the power of the Spirit each disciple and follower spoke in a different language about ”God’s deeds and power”. If you count the languages named there were more than twelve. It took the collective group, the church, to proclaim the Good News. Even as Peter delivers his sermon the other eleven stand with him; truly a team is needed.
As Jesus’ disciples, we too, experience the gift of the Spirit. Each one of us has individual spiritual gifts for the use in God’s mission. These gifts allow the church to function as Christ intended, into the fullness of Christ. Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle we make a real picture. If there is a piece missing the body is not complete and the picture is lacking.
The gift and challenge of Pentecost is the gift to communicate in ways that others can understand. The diverse crowd ask, “How is it we hear, each of us in our own native language?”. This is the challenge for us in this era. How to communicate the reality of God’s saving grace and love in such a way that it is heard and understood. Preaching in the market place may not be the best way, in our context. What is the language of the market place? Many people seek answers on-line. After all, Mr. Google has the answer to everything – well almost. Seriously though, many who are time poor do search, inquire, read and learn of Christianity on-line. I understand after listening to each congregation share at the last Presbytery meeting that there are more people participating in the on-line services than there would be normally attending worship. Is it that one can participate in one’s pyjamas or is it that in this time of uncertainty people are looking for a power beyond themselves?
What is the language of the market place? Sometimes just being with someone in need through difficult circumstances can exhibit God’s love and reality. Sometimes faith is caught rather than taught. At other times patience is important as we pray for those close to us to come into the Kingdom of God.
It’s unfortunate that our Community Dinner has had to cease operating as a community meal and change modes, but even so the language of the market place can still be observed. One of the women cooks at home and supplies some of the desserts. I have said to her, “God is really using your generosity” and we have been able to have a conversation about God within her. I see her smile as she contemplates this. Another man who attends the Community Dinner regularly, and is very competent by the world’s standards, has found great delight in delivering meals for us. Just last week a young woman who regularly attends the Community Meal was in a state of heavy grief. Where did she choose to go at this time? To the church where she knew she would find love, listening and prayer for her situation and of course follow up. These are only people from my experience in the last week. Each week after the meal Bob sits in the heritage church and people bring their questions, request prayer or communion. What is the language of the market place? The language of love is availability and the willingness to share God’s Spirit as a situation arises.
With the Spiritual group which is one of the satellite groups within our church, it is encouraging to see God’s Spirit at work over time as individuals discover from their spiritual need and come to experience that God is real.
Let me finish with this illustration. There was a village church that wanted the power of the Spirit, so they asked for the Holy Spirit to give them what was needed to mission within the village. They opened the doors and windows to allow the Spirit to come in (even though the Spirit is quite capable of coming through locked doors). The wind of the Spirit blew, papers were dislodged from their place, chairs were up turned and flowers were blown over. The whole place looked a bit messy. Well, the church leaders didn’t like the mess, so they shut the windows and doors and put everything back to where it had been and nothing changed within that church. The mission of the village church stood still. One of the church members declared that he was leaving because the church had become spiritually dead.
Sometime later the church building caught fire. Everyone in the village ran to help put out the flames including the man who had left. Someone said to that man, “this is the first time I’ve seen you running to the church for a very long time.” To which the man replied, “this is the first time I’ve seen the church on fire!”
Although this story puts a smile on our face, there is truth to heed. We want and need the power of the Spirit, but the Spirit blows where it will, the flames burn the unproductive. We are not always in control. We are not prone to change and uncertainty. It makes us feel unsure, even inadequate when we face the different. One sure thing: we cannot be the church without the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost is more than a celebration of the birth of the church, it’s a celebration that wherever the fire burns, wherever the wind blows, wherever chaos and life interact, the Spirit of God is driving God’s people into the heart of God’s mission.
Are we prepared to pray, Come Holy Spirit?