Joel 2:21-29, Acts 2, 1-16, 22-24
June 8, 2014
Today is Pentecost. This is the day often referred to as “The Birthday of the Church.” I remember there were a few years in my home church where they actually held a birthday party for the Church – complete with cake and ice cream and balloons and party hats! (I kid you not!) And by the way, I was never crazy about that, so don’t get any ideas! To me it seems like this event is way above cake and ice cream! This is the day the world changed!
Certainly, as we’ve said, Easter – the Resurrection of our Lord changed a lot of things. That was the pivotal moment in history. That’s the moment the Atonement took place. That’s the moment the victory over sin and death was complete. And then, as the news of Easter spread, people finally began to realize what the Kingdom of God was really about. But, as I also said at Easter time, if that event does nothing to change your life, then that could be worse than not believing it in the first place!
Well, the more I think about it, the more it’s apparent to me that Pentecost is the world’s version of that very thing! If Jesus came, died, rose from the dead, appeared, and ascended, and nothing changed in the world after that, that would have been like our “remaining the same” after Easter.
But that didn’t happen! Pentecost is the day the world changed. These events we’ve been looking at in the life of Jesus, events that took him to the cross, and the empty tomb, and to the skies, are all part of what we have come to call “The Year of our Lord.” We noted that a few weeks ago. This was such an important year that we started counting time all over again from that year. Well, Pentecost is the culmination of that year! Pentecost was the time when the world reacted to the news told by a handful of men in a dramatic way. We can point to the things that happened in the Year of Our Lord. But this is what happened because of the Year of Our Lord!
So, here the disciples were waiting. And as I’ve been saying for a couple of weeks now, they really didn’t know what they were waiting for. (Even though we do!) Jesus told them to “wait in Jerusalem ‘for the promise of the Father.’” And he said that they “would receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon them.” Even so, they didn’t have any idea what that would look like.
Well, the Spirit indeed descended upon them in power! And Luke tries to describe that in a number of ways. First it was audible. He tells us it was “like the sound of a mighty wind.” Do you remember what it was like a couple of years ago during Hurricane Sandy? That was a mighty wind, wasn’t it! Was this like that sound? Oddly enough, living in Kansas for 20 years I never actually saw or heard a tornado, except for films on television. But I’m sure that doesn’t do them justice. It’s said that you can hear a tornado approaching because it sounds like a freight train. Maybe that’s what the disciples heard.
The spirit was audible that day. It was also visible. I think Luke describes this part as best he could. And by the way, was he there, or was he told about this? Probably the latter, unless he was part of the company who were gathered. At any rate, as the spirit came upon them, something like tongues of fire “came down, divided, and rested on each of them.” So there was no mistaking this. It wasn’t just a wind storm! They were being touched by God!
Well, the next part of this is what happened to the disciples after the Spirit touched them. They began to speak in other languages. Now, just imagine if you started speaking another language you never studied before! And please note, this “speaking in tongues” is not quite the same as that of the Pentecostal Church. Has anyone had any experience in that tradition? I’ve had a little. And my understanding is that the “speaking in tongues” in that tradition is more of an “ecstatic utterance.” In other words, they say syllables which are expressed in praise, but they’re not necessarily an actual language. It’s kind of like what the Psalmist described as “making a joyful noise” to the Lord. There aren’t necessarily words there, but voices expressing euphoric, jubilant praise.
Well again, there’s nothing wrong with that – as long as it’s done, as Paul said, and as we Presbyterians have picked up on over the years – as long as it’s done “decently and in order.” But again, these were not just “ecstatic utterances” on Pentecost! These guys spoke in actual foreign languages that day – much to the chagrin of lay readers ever since! Today I got to read the names of all those people from all those countries, all of whom heard the mighty works of God spoken in their own languages. This was the Spirit of God flowing and acting in a dramatic way!
So then, Peter “and the boys” (and probably the girls!) spoke to the crowd, and convinced them first that they were not drunk! And they told them they were all “part of something big” – just like they, the disciples, had been part of something big. And then the second miracle took place. Over three thousand people responded to what was the first Christian sermon! And then Luke describes what happened afterwards in this way. “And fear came upon every soul.” And I believe that’s a positive version of the word. Maybe add to it a sense of “intense astonishment.” “Fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.”
So, we can only imagine what it was like in those days. We can read about it, though we probably don’t do so often enough. But this was definitely the day the world changed! “Something big” – something very big was happening. Pentecost was the culmination of the amazing events in “The Year of our Lord.” And I hope we’ll all agree that we are part of that!
So then, where do we fit into this picture? How do we react to these amazing events? When we place ourselves in the position where God can work in our lives – as we said last week, and as these disciples were doing that day – do we really have any idea what that will look like, either?
You see, if we forget the amazing events in “The Year of our Lord,” if we forget what happened this day the church began, and more importantly, if we forget the magnitude of those events, we can easily forget what those events mean to us and what they do to us! Again, we can talk about all this all day long, but it’s when we live this event that we see the glory of God!
As I’ve often said, God has a wonderful flair for the dramatic! Well, he certainly showed it this day! Let it be so for you! Let it remind you that you, too, are part of something big! You too, will never be the same again!
Eternal God, as we read and think about the fire of Pentecost, help us to know some of that fire ourselves. As we think about what happened so long ago, help us to know that, as the world changed, so we are changed, too. Help us to praise you, to serve you, and to be witnesses to your love, wherever we are, and whatever we are doing. Increase in us the power and strength of your Holy Spirit. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.