Joel 2:21-29, Acts 2:1-16, 22-24
May 23, 2010 – Pentecost
Pentecost is many things. For the disciples, it was the great “Aha experience!” It was their great “epiphany” – not in the sense of the celebration at Christmas time, but in the actual sense of that word epiphany, which means “a sudden realization.” This is the time when the disciples finally “got it,” the time when they finally understood! And it shows what it finally took to get them to understand! It took a full-blown intervention of the Holy Spirit! In a way, this was their version of Paul being “knocked off of his donkey!”
Pentecost is the “Aha experience.” Pentecost is also thought of as the birthday of the Church. Some churches have even made it into a birthday party, complete with cake and candles and balloons and party hats! I’m not real big on that kind of thing. I do agree this should be a celebration, and perhaps even a party of sorts, but the whole “cake and candles thing” seems a little odd to me. Most churches have probably done that at one time or another, though. And I suppose that includes this one, too! So I’d better be careful of what I say!
So Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. And Pentecost is also the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus. He told his disciples about this. He told them that they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” And it’s no coincidence that the Spirit coming upon the disciples that day is described as just that. We’re told that “tongues of flame” divided and came to rest on their heads. If only we had a snapshot of that moment in time! I know that over the centuries, many artists have tried to give us their depiction of that scene, but I’m confident that none of them have really done justice to what took place that day!
Pentecost is those all things, and more. But what I want us to think about today is that Pentecost is the point where it became all about us. Now I don’t mean that in the self-centered way we use that expression today. Nowadays, when we say about someone that “it’s always all about them,” we usually mean that person is always thinking only of themselves. I don’t mean it that way. What I mean is that, at Pentecost, the story of Jesus now shifts the spotlight to our part of the story.
Think about that. Up until this time in the New Testament, it was all about what Jesus did. In reading up to this chapter, we read about his birth, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection. We read about his teachings, and about his clashes with the religious and the civil authorities. We read about the ways he touched people’s lives. And just last week we read about his Ascension. But after this point, it became all about… (what book are we reading?) the “Acts of the Apostles! That becomes the story.
Now, I know you’ve heard me say that this book of Acts might have been mis-named. I’ve said before (from this very pulpit) that the book of Acts seems to be more about the work of the God after the coming of the Holy Spirit. I’ve even suggested that a better name might be, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” But I’ve been rethinking that. Yes, the Holy Spirit was the driving force in all of this. God’s spirit was moving in the lives of many people, doing mighty deeds, spreading the good news, and establishing the Christian Church. The Spirit made the followers of Jesus into that group of people which had the greatest influence on the history of this planet – ever! And nothing else even comes close. But really, as I’ve thought about it this week, as much as this book is about the Spirit working in people’s lives, I’ve started to think that it’s still ultimately about what they did! They the Apostles, and then they the Church. So can put away your sharpies! You don’t have to go change the title in your Bibles! (Maybe you already have!)
Pentecost is the point where it became about us! It is the point where the story became our story! 2000+ years later, we at Eddington are part of that “Apostolic Succession,” we like to talk about in the Presbyterian Church. We’re part of them. A few weeks ago, we read in Paul’s letter to the Colossians that we are part of what he called the “mystery hidden for ages and generations” which is “Christ in you” – in us – “the hope of glory.” He would tell them, and us, that Church is all about God’s kingdom in our midst – just as Jesus said. It is about people being empowered by the Holy Spirit to live lives of joy, love, and service. And if you think about it, God has always worked that way, but no more so than in the early church. While the spirit was directing and guiding a lot of the events, it was still people, being empowered to do God’s work, that made the Church the Church! And that means us, too!
Now, that’s not to say “those people” always got it right. It’s not to say that they didn’t blow it at times, or that they weren’t confused sometimes, or even off track. You might remember the debate they had about the inclusion of the Gentiles. We talked about that a few weeks ago. From our perspective, we would have thought that was a no-brainer. But that was just an example of people struggling together, some getting it, some not. And that’s the way it has always been. God didn’t wipe everybody’s minds clean, and put only his thoughts there. But he has sought to guide people’s thoughts, and to lead them to a higher calling of grace, mercy, and peace.
It’s the same with us. I think it’s safe to say that we sometimes “struggle together” too, don’t we? I know we’d rather not think about it, but we do. And we sometimes fail one another, don’t we! I wonder… if they wrote a book called “The Acts of the Saints at Eddington” what would that look like? Would there be things in that book that would be difficult for us to read? Would there be paragraphs or even chapters that would show the humanness and shortcomings of our people? Of course there would! But still, as we will celebrate this coming year, the book would also be a glorious story of faithfulness and joy! It would be a story of people, with all their human frailties, being faithful to God for over a century!
That’s the same kind of story we have here in Acts. At Pentecost, the story became all about the people. It became this close interplay between them and God. Yes, their story did contain a higher level of the miraculous, but it was ultimately the same story as ours. At Pentecost, the operative word became “us!”
I have to think, “Wow, was God ever taking a chance!” Was God ever taking a risk, putting things in our hands? I was watching a video a couple of months ago, and the speaker offered a very interesting observation. He said that we people of faith often talk about how we believe in God. But did we ever stop to think that God believes in us? That’s an amazing thought! God believes in us? God trusts us with his ministry of grace and reconciliation? Holy cow! It seems to me, with that responsibility, we’d better have the Spirit in us!
Friends, I like that thought. God believes in us. God believes in you. He believes in you enough to put his spirit inside of you! That’s what Pentecost is about! And it that doesn’t shock you to the core, then you didn’t hear me or you didn’t understand what I said! God believes in you! (When I think that about myself, it shocks me to the core!!)
That’s what I want you to think about this day of Pentecost. The story of Jesus is no longer just about Jesus, no matter how important that is – and it’s so important! It’s now about us. Our faith isn’t some academic learning. It’s not just a belief in the existence of God the creator. It’s not about doctrine or theology. And don’t get me wrong. Those are good things. But it is now about the Spirit of God within us! The ministry of Jesus has been entrusted to us! Like I said last week, everything we do is a reflection – good or bad – on God’s kingdom. Let’s make it a good reflection. The spirit did great things through the people in Acts. He will in us too!
Eternal God, you have placed your Spirit within us. Help us to be aware of that more and more. Forgive us for the times we have quenched your spirit. Help us to look to you for our guidance and direction and inspiration, as we seek to live our lives as your people, chosen and holy. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.