A Pentecost sermon preached June 12, 2011 at Southminster Presbyterian Church, Boise, ID
If you recall, last week we left our disciples standing there, jaws agape, staring into Heaven as Jesus ascended up to God. But before Jesus ascended, he told them to go and wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them.
Now, I don’t know about you, but patience is not my favorite virtue. And I wonder what that waiting was like for the followers of Jesus.
For some of them, they were probably like kids before Christmas. “Is Santa coming tonight, Mommy????!!!” Come Holy Spirit, Come! I’m sure some of the Disciples were ready to be Spirit filled and Spirit led!
But for some of them, I wonder if the waiting was more like the way you wait for “the call” from the doctor’s office with test results. It might be good news, it might be bad news, but you both dread the call and wish it would happen sooner at the same time. Because for some of them, perhaps they were wondering if they really wanted God’s Spirit to come upon them. It sounds great and all, but the Spirit can’t really be contained or controlled. So perhaps there was some trepidation about the unknown and the uncontrollable. Maybe the Spirit will be a great thing. But maybe it will push me way beyond my comfort level.
So they wait. Some with excitement and anticipation. Some with fear.
But while they wait, they keep living their lives. The text tells us they are celebrating Pentecost. While Pentecost for the church is about this passage in Acts, Pentecost for the Jewish community was a different celebration. It marked the day Moses received the 10 Commandments on Mt Sinai, 50 days after the Passover flight from Egypt. The word “Pentecost” translates as “fifty”.
Talk about another time when the waiting didn’t go so well….
Remember what the Hebrew people did while they waited for Moses when he was on Mt Sinai, receiving those commandments? They melted down their jewelry and made a golden calf to worship.
Luckily, there’s no indication that the disciples got into that kind of trouble as they waited for the Spirit.
But you know how it is while you wait for something? It can sometimes take on a life of its own. “As soon as the Spirit comes….it is going to be awesome! I’ll have all kinds of faith and I’ll be able to heal everyone and people will like me and I’ll get that promotion at work and….”
But, often, the reality doesn’t match our dreams.
We don’t know what the disciples felt as they waited for this new thing, but we can bet that they weren’t expecting it to be like this.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Jews from all over the world, every nation under heaven, were gathered together, and suddenly, they were able to understand what was being said. The Spirit came and brought communication and understanding.
Today we might think, “there’s an app for that” and some way to use technology to translate all of those languages. At the UN, they have those headsets that everyone wears so they can hear what is being said in their own languages. Maybe we aren’t as impressed at this story today because our world seems smaller.
But I think we still need to pray for the Holy Spirit to return as she did that day. I still think there are plenty of conversations in our world that need Divine clarity. Perhaps it is parents and children who need translation. What if the Spirit came and Republicans and Democrats were able to understand each other? What if we could truly hear what the other person is saying? How different would our political landscape be if that were the case?
But this clarity and understanding brought by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is not universally appreciated.
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
You wonder if some people wanted the Holy Spirit to come upon a more impressive group of people, rather than a bunch of fishermen from Galilee.
Because if you’re still hoping that maybe God might just somehow over throw the Romans, even though Jesus didn’t really encourage that idea, but if you’re still hoping for that, then you need the Spirit to do something that would be more impressive to the Roman leaders. I’m thinking plagues of Egypt kind of impressive—Let my people go!
But the Spirit brings understanding and clarity of language, not locusts and frogs.
And this story marks the beginning of the church. Peter hears the grumblings and the complaining and delivers a sermon that connects the work of the Spirit with the prophecies of Joel.
I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
And the church, empowered by the Spirit, goes out and witnesses—to the ends of the earth. From a gathering of people from all over the world on Pentecost, they are sent out to take that glimpse of God’s kingdom to everyone else. A glimpse of a world where we understand each other. A glimpse of a world where we come together despite our differences and worship together.
The prayer of the church is “come, Holy Spirit, come.”
But we need to remember that on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit showed up as a rush of violent wind. She didn’t follow our script. We can’t harness the Holy Spirit on a holy wind farm. When we pray for the Holy Spirit to come, we need to expect the rush of a violent wind.
We need to expect the Holy Spirit to land on people we wouldn’t necessarily endorse.
And even with our reservations, and our control issues, we still pray for the Holy Spirit to show up, to blow through our lives and our work here together.
Because even if we are a little leery about things we can’t control, the truth is, we can’t do it by ourselves. No matter how many wonderful committees we have, we have to pray for the Spirit to work through us. No matter how much money we give to the budget, we have to pray that the Spirit will use our gifts. No matter how super awesome we are, we need to pray that the Spirit will focus our gifts and combine our strengths with another’s weakness. We need to pray the Spirit will take our weaknesses and combine them with another’s strength. Because without the Holy Spirit, we are just a group of people gathered in a room. Waiting.
And so we pray, come Holy Spirit. Because we’re done waiting. We want a rush of violent wind to blow through us, because we need a glimpse of God’s kingdom in our own lives. And we know that we have work to do so that people outside of these walls will also know how much God loves them.
So, come Holy Spirit. Help us to become the dreamers mentioned in Joel’s prophecy—people able to dream that God’s kingdom might happen here. Now. People who are able to dream that understanding is possible. People who are able to dream that God’s radical message of Love is exactly what the world needs to hear today. I’m thrilled to be here, dreaming, with you. So let’s put on our seatbelts, because it might be a bumpy ride. But come, Holy Spirit, with all of your violent wind, and with all of the life you bring to the church.