Joel 2:21-29, Acts 2:1-16, 22-24
May 24, 2015 – Pentecost
What were the disciples expecting? As I often say about these stories, they didn’t know what was about to happen to them. And it’s hard for us to imagine their state of mind – because we know the story! But for a moment, I’d like us to try.
Here it was, the day of Pentecost. Which, by the way, was a regular Jewish celebration. The word “Pentecost” meant “the fiftieth day,” and it commemorated the giving of the Law (The 10 Commandments) to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It continues in the Jewish tradition today as “Shavuot.” Sometimes we think Pentecost is what we called this day after this event. But no. There already was a Pentecost. And this all happened on that day.
The disciples were in Jerusalem. That’s where Jesus told them to wait, at the time of his ascension. And, as we sometimes forget, Jerusalem was a place that was not very safe for them to be!
So, they were still “laying low.” They were still worrying about what was going to happen to them, now that their leader had been executed. This wasn’t that many days after all of that. And yes, now he was back …sort of! And yes, he was telling them that it wasn’t all over – like I’m sure they thought it was on Good Friday. But, they were still living in fear that those who “silenced” Jesus, might now had them in their sights!
They were told to wait until the coming of the Holy Spirit. Could they even have imagined what that was going to be like? Can we even imagine that? And, did they have any idea how important this was going to be? They were told they were to going be “his witnesses” “…to the ends of the earth!” And as I said before, that was probably a very scary prospect to them!
I hope we can see all that. I hope we’re able to understand a little of their perspective, as we think about this celebration of Pentecost. Because that helps us to understand this event itself. Unlike the Ascension, which I talked about a couple of weeks ago, this is a story we read every year. This a the story we know to be very important! This is a story we often point to as being the “Birthday of the Church.” I’ve even known churches who celebrated this event with cake and ice-cream and balloons! But this, I think, is way more than that!
In addition to thinking about the disciples, I’d like you to think about the power of this story. There was “a sound like a mighty wind.” I suggested last year that it might have been similar to the sound of a tornado. That’s been described as being like the sound of a freight train.
There were a number of tornadoes this last week. I was in Kansas City. And yes, we were in a tornado warning on Saturday evening! And no, there were no tornados anywhere near us. In fact, I was there twenty years and I never saw one! But there was certainly the sound of a mighty wind several times during the evening! We can just imagine how mighty the sound was that day for the disciples.
Then there was the descending fire. Artists have tried for centuries to depict this. They’ve painted the disciples with anything from flames on their heads like big birthday candles, to halos, to fiery crowns. Again, we all have our mental images. And like most mental images, they probably fall short of what it was really like!
But in the end, those were not the most important things in this story. They were signs of the Spirit which came upon them. But it was the power of that Spirit which started the church. Whether or not those “tongues as of fire” have been seen since then, the power of that Spirit has worked on the earth ever since. That’s what we in the church have come to believe. It is the Spirit of God working through and moving among his people that gives the church its’ power
I would suggest to you today, that we need to be open to that power, ourselves. It’s far too easy to go about the business of the church under our own power, isn’t it? It’s far too easy just to do things ourselves, and then ask God to bless them! It’s far too easy to forget the power of God’s Spirit in our midst. We can’t imagine anyone not seeing that power on Pentecost. But we can sure miss it ourselves, can’t we.
So, what better day to think about that? What better day to focus on God’s spirit in our midst than Pentecost? Well, I want us to do that. I want us to think for a moment about God’s presence with us – right here in this place. So, take a moment now. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Concentrate on the Spirit of God. Ask God to make you aware of his presence… (pause) We don’t do that often enough, do we?
As we think about that, let us remember that this was the way the ministry of Jesus Christ was to go on from that point. This is the way his ministry would now continue – all the way down to us! This is how that “Apostolic Succession” I talked about last time, would happen. It wasn’t just the authority of the Apostles that would continue. The Spirit of God would be with his people. As the prophet Joel said, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Even on the “lowliest” among you will I pour out my spirit.
That’s how would now be! The “logistics” – the “way Jesus’ ministry would work” from then on was that it would not be Jesus anymore preaching and healing and telling of God’s love and Grace. It would be these disciples. It would be them! It would be the people who heard them and told others. It would be us!
That was what it was like in the first century. The church in those days has been described as growing “like wildfire.” And it wasn’t just because of these men. Yes, their role was important. They helped lead the Church. They helped clarify the faith. They founded churches. They wrote their epistles. But the Church grew because the good news of God’s love spread from person to person to person. And despite efforts of the religious leadership, and later the Romans, to stamp it out, it grew even stronger. Simply put, those people had the greatest of news to tell! And they couldn’t help telling!
One thing that I’ve always said, is that we always make time for that which is important to us. Isn’t that true? No matter how busy we are, we seem to find time for things that are important to us. So then, if we aren’t giving time to something, we need to ask ourselves, “how important is it to us?” If you’re not finding time for your faith, you need to ask yourself, how important is it to you? That’s a hugely important question!
Well, in thinking about the spread of the Good News in the early church, I need to make a similar observation. We tend to share with others that which is important to us. Is that not true? If you find a place that has a great price for gas, or if you discover a new restaurant you really like, don’t you tell others about it? Well, if your faith is important to you, won’t you say that to someone else? And again, if you find you’re not, maybe you need to ask again, how important it is to you!
“I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…” That means each of us. That happens when faith becomes real, and God becomes important to us. And the spirit is with us throughout our lives after that. Yes, there may be times we forget. Yes, we might lose perspective – in other words, we may not realize how important it is. But the fact remains that God has poured out his Spirit upon us.
So as you think about this story for today, think of it as not just a story, but as your story. This is now how God does things. His puts his Spirit in us. God is involved in his people’s lives because he is in his people’s lives! And his message is still that important.
May it be that important to us! May it be so important that we are “inspired” to talk with others about it. And that word “inspired” literally means “in-spirited,” or “having the spirit within.” May we be “in-spired.” And may we consider the words of Joel as we go from this place today – words that mean… us.
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”
Eternal God, help us indeed to feel your spirit within us. Help us to seek to know the peace and guidance of your Holy Spirit every day. May your spirit fill us, inspire us, and mold us as we seek to continue the ministry of Jesus Christ, our Lord. For this we pray in his name, Amen.