Joel 2:21-29, Acts 2:1-21
May 20, 2018
As I said last week, everything in the previous month for these disciples was not only unexpected, but it was beyond anything they could even have imagined! And this day – Pentecost – was no exception!
So, just a quick history. Pentecost was a Jewish celebration. It was also known as “The Feast of Weeks.” It was the day that commemorated the giving of the first fruits of the harvest in the Temple in Jerusalem. All the people brought their harvest offering to the Temple on that day. “Pentecost” sounds like it has to do with “five,” right? Pentagon? Well, it fell seven weeks and one day after “The Feast of the Unleavened Bread.” That’s Fifty days. So it was, essentially, a harvest celebration that came 50 days after Passover.
Well, as you may know, the Temple was destroyed in the year 70AD. The Jews had finally started the revolution they wanted Jesus to start. And it did not go well! Titus and the Roman legions came down upon them and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. So after that, there was no Temple to bring their harvest gifts to. The So the festival of Pentecost started to take on a different focus. It became the commemoration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.
I say that so that your remember that Pentecost was a regular Jewish festival. And like all Jewish festivals, it brought many pilgrims to Jerusalem. So when this event took place in Acts, there were many people there to witness it. There were indeed people from all these places we read, which have become the bane of every Lay Reader ever since!
So, the tongues of fire, the speaking in many languages, and Peter’s first Christian sermon. The Holy Spirit – the promise of God has now come! And from this point on, Pentecost would also be seen as a Christian event. In fact, a lot of people today don’t even know it’s Jewish background. They think it’s just a name given to this Christian holiday! (Aren’t you glad you know the real story?!)
We have now come to think of Pentecost as the beginning day of the Christian Church. Some have referred to it as “The Birthday of the Church!” I think I told you before, but I’ve known churches that had a Birthday celebration each year on this day. Some have even had a party, complete with balloons, decorations, and of course, a big birthday cake! I always thought that to be a bit “trivializing” of what is an amazing, history changing event. (Not that I’m against cake, mind you! Especially the cake we had at the banquet!!!)
This was indeed a miraculous, history changing event. This was an event like Christmas! Think about it. Christmas was the coming of the Son of God into the world! It was the day God stepped into history! It was the day the “Word became flesh!” It was the moment of “The Incarnation!” It was a turning point in all of history.
Well, this day, Pentecost, is the coming of the Spirit of God into the world. Actually, I believe the Spirit was always around. It didn’t just come into being on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was seen in the face of Moses in the wilderness when it shown with a heavenly light. It was seen in the shekinah glory in the Temple when the Ark of the Covenant was present. But now the Holy Spirit has come in a new and powerful way. It has come and empowered God’s people – just as Jesus had promised.
And this was quite an event! It was the beginning of the Christian Church. And as I’ve often said, “When God starts something, he really starts something!” God makes liberal use of the exclamation point!! You’ve heard me say that God has a great “flair for the dramatic.” And one of the reasons for that is, as I’ve also said before, he doesn’t just want to show us things to help us remember. He doesn’t want just to teach our minds. He wants to inspire our hearts!
It’s like that quote, I’m sure you’ve heard. “Life is not measured in the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away!” That’s one of my favorites! And it speaks to how God works in the world! He wants to inspire people’s hearts. He wants to show his people his power and majesty! He wants to take our breath away! And that’s the way he began his Church on the day of Pentecost!
So then, this day, this celebration, calls us to ask, “How are we touched by the Holy Spirit?” Is our heart inspired by this story? Are we jazzed? Are we “blown away” by the Spirit? (A bit of a spiritual metaphor there!) Do we just know about this? Or do we feel it in our hearts? That’s the important thing!
However, as Harold said a couple of months ago, this is the part of our lives that we are the most uncomfortable with. We are more comfortable with those parts of us we can control – the physical and the mental, the body and the mind. The Spiritual, on the other hand, that’s the tough one! The Spirit is harder to “get a handle on.”
Think about how Jesus himself described the Spirit. In John’s Gospel, chapter three, he was speaking to Nicodemas, in what was a very uncomfortable conversation! He told Nicodemas, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) And then he told him that “The Spirit is like the wind. It blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you cannot control it.” And then he said, “So it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” (Jon 3:8)
Everyone! That puts us into this! Because we too are “born of the spirit.” As uncomfortable as it might be to us, the Holy Spirit is part of the picture. It’s the part of God that dwells within us. In Baptism, we say that, “God puts his sign on us to show that we belong to him, and gives us the Holy Spirit, as a guarantee that, sharing Christ’s reconciling work, we will also share his victory; that, dying with Christ to sin, we will be raised with him to new life.”
That’s what we say. I want you to think about that – especially today! You have theHoly Spirit within you! That’s what Baptism tells us. That’s what Pentecost tells us. The question is, do you know it? Are you aware of it? Are you “in tune with the Holy Spirit?” And, who’s in the position of power? Is it you or the Spirit? You see, we can have the spirit in us, and yet be completely in control ourselves. God rarely forces himself on us! (Not that he couldn’t!)
My experience over the years is that, if we truly want the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, we have to get ourselves out of the way. It’s like we said last week about “waiting on the Lord.” It’s a matter of listening and allowing God’s Spirit to lead us. And that’s not easy to do! It takes being intentional. It takes some concentration. It takes some effort!
So then, Pentecost. It could just be date in history. Or it can be something that is part of our lives, something that reminds us that God is part of our lives, that his Holy Spirit is in our hearts. It’s up to us. Which is it going to be?
Eternal God, thank you for Pentecost. Thank you for the coming of the promise. Thank you that you dwell within us. Help us indeed to listen and to allow your Spirit to empower us and to lead us, that we may be the people you have called us to be, through Jesus Christ, our Lord we pray, Amen.