Pentecost. Acts 2:1-21.
Pentecost is certainly an important day in the life of the church, as it is considered to be the birth of the church, so we join Christians everywhere celebrating this event and today, through our reading, just getting a taste of what that chaotic day must have felt like.
Pentecost literally means 50 and in Jesus’ day, Pentecost was the Greek term for the Jewish Feast of Weeks — shavuot — first fruits of the harvest. This ends tomorrow as night falls for our Jewish friends and started on Saturday, May 19th. So when Jesus and his disciples spoke about Pentecost in Scripture, it had a very different meaning for them than it does for us today. For that group of followers that event also marks the end of Jesus’ earthly life and the coming of the paraclete, the advocate, the comforter, the helper, or more commonly called, the Holy Spirit. Forty days after the resurrection of Jesus we observe Ascension Day where Jesus is finally separated from his disciples — this was observed on May 10th this year. Ten days later, 50 days after Easter, we observe Pentecost where the coming of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning of the early Christian church.
In Jesus’ day and even following his death there was nothing known as the Christian church and no one known as Christian. The earliest apprentices of Jesus only became known by this title later in the first century A.D. in the large, ethnically diverse, Syrian capital of Antioch (Acts 11:26). It’s even likely that the term “Christian” was used by Antioch’s general population as a derogatory name for these followers of Jesus. The title, Christ, was attached later to Jesus and is not a last name, but the word reflects the belief that Jesus is the anointed one — the messiah and known as Jesus the Christ.
If we look closely at the Gospels, we will find conflicting stories of the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Acts, Luke places the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost. He sees this as the feast of the promised gift of the Spirit and the birth of the universal or catholic church. However, neither Paul nor Mark nor Matthew seems to know anything about a Christian Pentecost. In the Gospel according to John, Easter and the coming of the Holy Spirit happened on the same day.
In spite of these conflicting stories, there is an awareness of a new inward power which completely transformed their whole outlook, and this they attributed to the Spirit of God, for only the Spirit of God can transform a person’s whole outlook.
Now unfortunately, the word Pentecost also tends to ring bells and raise flags for many of us. We think of the words Pentecostal and revivalism and we become a little uncomfortable. The Holy Spirit and feelings of enthusiasm and excitement tends to make us feel even a bit more uncomfortable. It is, unfortunately, not a tradition we are really exposed to — telling each other about the works of God’s Spirit in our lives and how our lives have been transformed. Rather than excitement, we tend to feel embarrassment.
As Christians, however, I cannot understand how we cannot become excited when we talk about God’s Spirit. How can we continue the mission of the early church of bringing people to the church, if we cannot or do not show some excitement or enthusiasm about that which we are doing? About that which is a major part of our lives — one we often keep to ourselves and don’t share with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. Here’s a challenge for you this week. Start sharing and simply invite others. Yes, I belong to First Christian Church. Come join us. I’ll meet you there or better yet, I’ll pick you up. You’ll love it and they will love you and accept you just as you are.
We are told in the Gospel according to John that Jesus left his disciples for their own good. That it was for their advantage that he departed from them. At the time it must have been hard for those followers to believe. After all, Jesus was the charismatic one. He was the one who got things done. Now what? In retrospect we can see the advantage and know that it was for their own good as they learned to develop their own processes of problem solving and figuring out how to share the good news.
We know the parallel story of pushing the fledglings out of the nest. The parent birds do so for the survival and safety of their young. It is not always easy to do so, but the truth is, it is the healthiest example of childrearing, and as the good teacher we see that Jesus would not overwhelm the disciples with things they were unable to understand. He met them where they were, even in their spiritual immaturity, maybe especially so, and they struggled to learn and grow and they did. Theologian Arthur Gossip points out that the Christian life should be a gradual growth and training, a wading deeper and deeper into the truth. He writes: “To walk with Christ ought to mean that every turn of the way opens up new views and vistas to us, vistas and views for which all our experience of him thus far has not prepared us. To be born again is very well — as a beginning. One must grow up and mature in spiritual things, and reach one’s full stature in Jesus Christ.” Are we still spiritual fledglings and need that push? I find in my own journey that I wake up to new understandings frequently. This to me is what it means to be born again, and again and again, and growing up in faith.
There is nothing magical about strengthening and deepening one’s spiritual life, but as with all things worthwhile in life, it does take time and effort and intentionality. It does take more than just one hour per week on Sunday morning to develop a full spiritual life. Each stage of our lives is an unfolding of the spiritual awareness in our lives. As the years go on and the awarenesses unfurl, we glimpse more and more deeply the meaning of God in our lives. And as each one of us goes through various stages of growth and understanding, so too has Christianity itself evolved. Christ leaves because even with his very presence among the disciples they could not see the whole picture. And as sure as we look at what they were unable to see, future generations looking back at us will wonder how we failed to see what will have grown obvious to them by then.
Again from Gossip: “It is a blasphemous delusion to assume that we have plumbed the deeps of the greatest and most characteristic thought of God. For each age as it passes is meant not only to appropriate what had been grasped before, but to make new discoveries in this inexhaustible Christ, and hand them on as henceforward part of the common possession in him.”
If we don’t continue to try to box God by our limited language and views then new astonishments will continue to keep breaking in on us in marvelous and unexpected places, people and events. For those who will listen, the Spirit will slowly, patiently, unendingly, and step by step, lead into all the truth. And here, through the Holy Spirit, we have discovered that the way of truth is letting go of our control, and letting God.
That’s risky business — this letting go and letting God. Are you willing to take a risk and try something different this again morning? If you like this activity, it’s my idea. If you don’t like it I’ll give you the name of the person who suggested it. Today, I invite you to take out your cell phones or any other electronic devices you have with you and turn them on. Go ahead. Now, you are encouraged to text, tweet, email, take photos for your Facebook page, talk or text with someone for the next few minutes who is not here. Let that person know where you are and what’s going on in this worship service. Go ahead and talk about what we’ve done this morning — taking Wayne into membership, reading Scripture as we did, and then I want you to proclaim the gospel’s message of love to that person. Maybe say something simply like, God loves you and so do I. Or First Christian Church is a place of great welcome, come and visit. We are all being pushed out of the nest — our comfort zone – this morning. OK? Go ahead and just do it.
Well, that was fun. This little bit of holy chaos is just another small taste of the chaos of the early church on that Pentecost Day. Technology can impact how we do ministry today and into the future. It is not necessarily a bad thing. Many of the visitors who find their way to us do so by using the Internet. Now we also see that other devices can help us share the old, old story for this new, new day. I encourage you to go to our website at least weekly. It’s a new source that replaces community bulletin board and where information can be accessed.
The Pentecost story reminds us there is something besides what we see. The material world verses the spiritual world. One should not be exclusive of the other. The church is the history holder of that first Pentecost and a reminder that the Holy Spirit is at work in and among us today and into the future. The church for many, maybe even especially today, means hope. Hope belongs to the realm of the unrealized. So now, fledglings, go out into the world and proclaim the good news. To use words from an Easter sermon: Those who know, tell those who don’t know. So be it. Amen.
Resources: Interpreter’s Bible RSV. Dr. Walter Smith; Christ of the Hills, UMC; Hot Springs Village.
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