The Coming of the Holy Spirit
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”Acts 2:1-8, 12-18 (NRSV)
Peter Addresses the Crowd
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
Friends, every year, we celebrate Pentecost. It is a day of celebration and excitement because it marks the official beginning–or birthday–of the Christian Church. We often wear red to celebrate the day and decorate our space with flames and wind and doves to accentuate the celebration of Pentecost. Pentecost comes exactly fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, and it is the day when the advocate–or the Holy Spirit–comes to help guide and inspire the followers of Jesus.
Now I know that the reading from Acts that we heard today sounds a little strange with rushing winds, tongues of fire resting on people, and everyone speaking in languages other than their own, and yet they can all understand each other. But believe it or not, what the Holy Spirit really brought amid all that confusion was hope and inspiration. The Holy Spirit filled the early disciples–and fills us still today–with passion and excitement to go out into the world and to spread the good news.
But I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about what it must have been like on that first Pentecost. Now let’s put the rushing winds, the tongues of fire, and the people speaking different languages aside for just a moment. And let’s think about the awesome responsibility that was given to the early followers of Jesus–to start and to build the Christian Church. It had to have been overwhelming!
In the chaos of Covid-19 that we have been living in, just like the disciples, we too have learned more about what the church really is, as we have tried to find new ways to worship and to be the church in the world. Now the disciples learned that the church was not a place or even an organized entity, but it was something completely new–something that was building from the ground up, something that was coming on the horizon, something that brought with it a sense of hope and possibility for a people that lived in loneliness, struggle, injustice, desperation, and doubt. And to be honest, I think that must have been very exciting and yet simply terrifying at the same time. What made it even more difficult is that there was no model for the early disciples to follow. The New Testament hadn’t been written yet, and there was no structure in place–or even discussed–as to what the church should resemble or should be. A few days earlier, Jesus had simply said to his disciples before leaving them and ascending into heaven, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NRSV)
So their job, as the church, was to witness, a word that we are not usually very comfortable with here in Oldtown. But what that really meant was that it was their job to tell the story of Jesus to tell others, to tell the story of what they had seen and heard and experienced. And that is exactly what they did.
Did they all tell the same exact story? No. They told the stories of their own experiences and the stories that they had been told by others. Did they immediately build a building hoping that people would come and listen to their stories on Sunday mornings? No. They told their stories to people they met on the road and in the town square. They shared their stories over dinner and as they helped others. And while they told their stories, they showed hospitality and reached out to help those who needed it. So they not only witnessed and preached about the good news but they taught it by example, through their everyday actions. And little by little, the church began to sprout and grow as the disciples traveled and shared the good news of Jesus, in word and in deed with others.
Friends, I wonder, as we are presently celebrating worship from home, have you used the gift of technology that we have been given? Have you visited online worship from other churches to see what they are doing? If you haven’t, I would encourage you to do so! Because there are some amazing new ideas out there, and the gifts of creativity and inspiration that are being shared online are absolutely amazing. Many church leaders are stepping away from formal worship and witnessing and preaching in new and exciting ways. And while the differences between us are really being accentuated, that’s a good thing! Because just as the disciples went out and told stories of their own experiences, worship leaders are doing the same.
Friends, it’s raw, it’s real, it’s exciting, and I personally think that it is just what the church needed. Because as followers of Jesus, we sometimes forget that the church is not about a building. It’s not about a denomination, or a title, or a name, or a particular preacher, or a set of rules. The church is about the followers of Jesus. It’s about you and me. It’s about the stories that we share, the things that we do, and the way that we teach others by our own example. It’s about finding hope in the midst of chaos, always standing firmly in our beliefs, but also being flexible in the way we carry out our faith.
From the very beginning, this was God’s plan. God came to Earth as Jesus to teach by his own example how to act and what to do, how to treat others, and how to allow our faith to center us and guide us on our journey. Then, God made each one of us in God’s image, placing within us special gifts and passions to carry on that work. Do we all do it the same way? No! But let’s think back to that first Pentecost for just a minute. As the Holy Spirit moved through, even though many languages were spoken, everyone understood one another. Many times we get caught up in the flames and the wind and the chaos of Pentecost, and we lose sight of the real message. Because even in chaos–especially in chaos–God sends the Holy Spirit to teach us to celebrate unity in our diversity, a way of celebrating the goodness in all. Because folks, we all have our own opinions and understanding and ways of things. But deep down inside, we all do what we think is best for our communities.
On Pentecost, we are reminded that even when–especially when–we have differing opinions and understandings, the Holy Spirit calls us to listen to one another and to try to understand, always offering compassion, mercy, and a love that is (as 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us) is patient and kind, never boastful or rude.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we all go out into the week ahead, stay open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life. Don’t be afraid to be the person who God made you to be. And instead of judging those around you for being different, try to listen first, because you just might be surprised at what you hear. Remember that the Holy Spirit came with hope in the midst of chaos and confusion urging us to a unity in our diversity, that we might work together, each of us sharing God’s love with the world in our own way.
May it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.