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.
~ Acts 2:1-4 (NRSV)
Every year at Pentecost, we have a big celebration to remember the coming of the Holy Spirit and to honor the birthday of the Church. After all, it was on Pentecost that the Christian church first began. For us, it’s a day filled with utter joy and excitement, though I am sure that first Pentecost was more than a little bit scary for the disciples and the crowd that had gathered. Because no one really understood what was happening, I am sure that some of them wondered if it was the end, when it was actually just the beginning.
There are lots of things to talk about in the story of Pentecost. There’s the wind, the crowd that was gathered, and the tongues of fire. But because we have been talking about the importance of words and communication since Easter Sunday, it seems appropriate to talk about how language and communication were changed on the day of Pentecost.
First, I think it’s important for us to understand that it was very crowded in Jerusalem that day, not because of Pentecost but because of the Festival of Weeks, which was a harvest festival that was celebrated seven weeks and one day after the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. During the Festival of Weeks, the Jews remembered and celebrated how God gave Moses the gift of the Law. People came from far and wide to celebrate the festival, so the city was filled with people from different places who were obviously speaking different languages.
I wonder, do any of you remember the story of the tower of Babel? It’s a story that goes back the book of Genesis, the beginning of the Bible—it’s in Genesis, chapter 11 if you want to check it out. In the story of the tower of Babel, the people came together to build a tower that would reach all the way to heaven. “Come, let us make ourselves a city and a tower with it’s top in the heavens and make a name for ourselves.” As the story goes, they worked to build this tower in order to make themselves famous. Do you think God liked that? No, not at all. The story goes on to say that God confused their language so that they couldn’t understand each other. So this nation that had been one people with one language became divided and was scattered all over the earth.
Today’s story of Pentecost tells just the opposite story. As scripture tells us, on Pentecost there were many Jews staying in Jerusalem, devout pilgrims from all over the world. Jesus’ disciples were also there, and I’m sure they were filled with excitement and fear at the same time, as they often were. Because as they were remembering the story of Moses and the ten commandments, I’m sure that they were also thinking about the promise that Jesus had made, telling them that he was going to send them a gift. I’m sure they were excited, wondering just what Jesus was going to do. What would this gift be? When it would come? How they would recognize it? But they were also afraid because the people that didn’t like Jesus were still out there, so they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. They quietly stayed inside with the doors locked, as they did on many occasions, so that they might be safe.
Suddenly, the whole house was filled with the sound of rushing wind, and then came the fire. But it wasn’t like any fire that they had ever seen before. It wasn’t a fire that physically burned, but it hovered over their heads, making them feel like their hearts were on fire. Their hearts and minds were suddenly filled with so many words. Words about Jesus and God and the good news! And even though they were afraid, the disciples were suddenly so inspired and filled with passion that they couldn’t stay locked in the house anymore. They couldn’t keep quiet. So, they ran out into the street and told people about Jesus. And the more they said, the more their hearts were filled with new and exciting words to share.
And if that doesn’t sound crazy enough, this is the next crazy part. There were people there from all different places: visitors from Mesopotamia and Judea, from Cappadocia, Asia, Phrygia, and Egypt, and parts of Libya. There were immigrants from Rome and even Crete and Arabia. And they all understood what the disciples were saying. It was like the Story of Babel was happening in reverse! Instead of people being separated and scattered, everyone was coming together. Instead of being confused, everyone was understanding. Instead of one language being broken into many pieces, there were many languages telling one story. And Peter, he was in the middle of all of it. He was sharing stories and inspiring and encouraging others, and the words just kept coming out of his mouth, even though he didn’t really understand where they were coming from.
He told everyone the story of Jesus, and he explained that long ago, God gave Moses the Law and the Law was supposed to help people live in God’s way but that ended up just not being enough. So, God was sending everyone a new gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit, that we might all be guided and inspired to be the people that God created us to be. Peter told everyone, “Open your hearts! Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit! Change your ways, be baptized if you haven’t already, and start again, knowing that God loves you just the way you are!”
This story of Pentecost happened almost two thousand years ago. So, what does it say to us, in the church today? We all speak the same language, and we all understand each other, right? Well, I would say “yes,” and “no.” Yes, we all speak English here in Oldtown, but sometimes we don’t “speak the same language.” Let me explain. We can all use the same words, but our understanding of what those words mean can be very different because our understanding of God and the world around us can be very different. We also sometimes use words that we understand as a church family, words that comfort us and bring us hope, that people outside our doors may not hear the same way that we do. When we talk of welcome and hospitality, of worship and family and love, we look at those words through our Oldtown lens—the way we do things here. But people outside our doors may not understand them the same way. And to be honest, we don’t all understand them exactly the same way inside of our walls either. But Pentecost reminds us that we need to put our fears aside, that we need to stand firm in our faith and on the foundation of who and whose we are.
Friends, I encourage you all, over the next few weeks, to think about who we are as a church. What is import to us? And what is it that we feel called to model and teach to our community and the word? I personally feel very strongly as a pastor that my job, more than anything else in the world, is to love others no matter who they are and to teach them how to be in good relationships with one another, not through judgment but by example. Because of that, it’s important to me, that everyone receives a warm welcome and everyone is always included in everything we do here in Oldtown.
How exciting it was to welcome little Adriana into the family of God today! And if she knows just how much she is loved—not only by her mom and her Godmother and her grandparents but also by God and by this entire congregation—the possibilities for Adriana are endless! And by the grace of God, she will be filled with gifts to share with others as she grows into the amazing person God has created her to be.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, think about the excitement on that first Pentecost Day, and how the disciples put their fear aside to do the work that Jesus called them to do. Remember that not everyone understands things the same way that you do, but if you open your heart and your mind, the Holy Spirit will always be with you, guiding you and encouraging you on our way. And if that’s not enough, think of little Adriana and the amazing gifts and possibilities that God has placed within her, being assured that God has placed them within you too!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God! Amen!