The Coming of the Holy SpiritActs 2:1-13 (NRSVUE)
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 people 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? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
If I were to ask you to describe God, I wonder what kinds of words you would use. Now some picture God as an old man with a white beard sitting up on a cloud watching over us to see if we’re making good choices. Some experience God as an energy or a good feeling. Some feel God in the beauty of nature or look to God as the Architect or Creator that made not only the world but everything in it. And the early Christians believed that God was the “Ruach,” or the very breath and spirit that we hold within our bodies.
Now friends, please know that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to the divine because we all experience the holy and the mystery of the sacred in our own way. Scripture tells us that God came to us in Jesus. Remember? Emmanuel, meaning God with us? And on Pentecost, we learn that God comes to us again, through the Holy Spirit. The Trinity, or the idea that God comes to us in three ways as God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, is a human attempt to explain something that’s unexplainable. The truth is, no one really knows who God is, how God acts, or what God will do next. But as people of faith, I think it’s important for us to simply know that God is always with us in one way or another. And the good news is that we are able to experience God in lots of different ways: through scripture and prayer, individually and as a community, in the sacredness of a sanctuary, and in midst of the hustle and bustle of a city. You see, our words, definitions, and descriptions are not nearly as important as allowing ourselves to be drawn into the mystery and the beauty of the Divine.
Now I know that this may be uncomfortable for some of you because many people like to have a list of beliefs. They like to know exactly how things work, and they like to be able to explain what they believe and why they believe it. But when we truly live by faith, it’s not about being comfortable and having all the answers. It’s about living and loving and having our being in the midst of questions. Now don’t get me wrong, we all like to be comfortable at one point or another. But when we allow God to guide us, and we allow ourselves to step out of our comfort zones and try something new, many times we find ourselves amazed at the things that were right in front of us, that we hadn’t seen and experienced before. Friends, when we truly live by faith, it’s not just about checking off a list of rules and beliefs. It’s about experiencing the world around us, seeing beauty and awe as our eyes are opened to holy moments and glimpses of grace, not because we can explain them but because we allow ourselves to experience and see the things that we can’t explain. As I said earlier, we like to do what keeps us comfortable, but Pentecost is all about the Holy Spirit blowing us into new, exciting, and sometimes uncomfortable places.
Okay, I must come clean with you all of you for a minute. For years here in Oldtown, when we read the Pentecost story, we read Acts Chapter 2, verses 1 to 4, and then I would skip to verses 12 to 18. After all, no one wants to read scripture aloud when there’s hard to pronounce names, right? But do we still get the whole story when we skip the hard-to-pronounce parts? Maybe, but maybe not.
Let’s try something. I want you to help me by repeating the names after me as we learn who these people in the story of Pentecost really were. Are you ready? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites: those were people who lived in what is now Iran. and residents of Mesopotamia. They all now live in Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, and part of Turkey. Judea: that is the southern part of Israel and part of the West Bank. Cappadocia: which is the center of present-day Turkey. Pontus: which is the Black Sea region of Turkey. Asia: which was a Roman province that is now Greece. Phrygia and Pamphylia: which are both present-day southern Turkey. And Egypt: is where Egypt still is today.
But why were all these people from so far away gathered in Jerusalem? Well, it happened to be the Jewish festival known as Shavuot, also known as–get this–Pentecost! Which came fifty days after Passover. Remember, Jewish Passover and Christian Holy Week often fall about the same time. Well, for the Jewish festival, Jews came to Jerusalem to celebrate the good fruits of the harvest and the Ten Commandments, which were given to Moses at Mt Sinai. Pretty crazy, huh?
Well, the important part about the Christian Pentecost story is that at that same time, when the city was crowded, the spirit blew the disciples out of their comfort zone. In other words, She made them uncomfortable. You see, the disciples had been hiding for fifty days after losing their friend Jesus, out of fear of the authorities. But on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit arrives and calls them out of their fear and hiding to go out into the world to share the good news of Jesus! The Holy Spirit filled them with gifts and inspired them to do what they’ve never done before. The wind blew them out the door. The fire gave them courage. And they were suddenly able to understand people who were from many different places and who they had never tried to talk to before.
Friends, during the Great Fifty Days, similar things happened here in Oldtown. You all stepped out beyond your comfort zones, leading worship and sharing faith stories, planning and working together, and, I’m sure, doing things you may have never imagined doing in the past. I, too, stretched my normal boundaries, letting go of control and worry, and in so doing, I got some rest while you all learned amazing lessons about the gifts and abilities you hold within yourself.
Now during our sharing time, we heard about many of the wonderful things that you experienced during the Great Fifty Days, but let’s take a minute to share a word or a phrase about the things that may have been uncomfortable or caused struggle.
Because you all so graciously shared the joys and lessons that you learned during the Great Fifty Days, here are a few things that I learned: It’s important to wonder, dream and imagine, but don’t expect the world to magically change; real-life never does. Life is not a fairy tale but a collection of moments, some inspiring, some depressing, some unexpected, and some that fill your heart to overflowing. Know that sometimes what you expect to happen, doesn’t, but don’t worry, because it’s in moments like that when the wind is blowing, and change is all around, that the Holy Spirit is at work. So even if you feel frustrated and far from God, be patient and wait because those moments are many times ripe for unexpected gifts. Be yourself. Don’t worry about perfection. Enjoy life, and love what you do. When you are tired, rest. Be gentle with yourself. It’s not your job to be the Savior or the Creator; we already have those already. When you experience something that brings you joy, cherish it for a moment, then share it with someone else. Enjoy the little things in life and be grateful. Spend time with friends, and time alone. Read a little and write a little. Watch a little silly TV. Listen to the wind and to your heart. When sickness comes, be patient and take care of yourself until it passes. When your friends and family are sick, take care of them. Step out of your comfort zone every once in a while and try something new. Eat fresh healthy foods, but also eat chocolate cake every once in a while. And most importantly, breathe, pay attention to your heart, listen to the sounds of nature, and don’t worry, because wherever you are, is right where you are supposed to be.
Folks, as we move forward into a new season, the Holy Spirit goes with us. And it’s my hope and my prayer that we all take with us the lessons we’ve learned during the Great Fifty Days, as we begin to understand worship and our faith in new and exciting ways.
On that first Christian Pentecost so long ago, the Holy Spirit gave the people of God the courage and the inspiration to start a brand-new church. That’s why we celebrate the birthday of the church on Pentecost Sunday. So, I wonder: what new and exciting things might the Holy Spirit be calling us to do here in Oldtown? How is She challenging us and calling us to stretch our boundaries? What amazing and awe-inspiring new beginnings are we about to step into? Sound Exciting? Yes! And a little scary? Maybe. But remember, the possibilities are endless, the gifts are many, and the excitement is palpable.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope you will join me on this new journey as we listen to the calling of our hearts as we work together for the good of our community and the world, and as we allow the Holy Spirit to continue to guide us and inspire us, blowing us in beautiful and unexpected directions.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!