Acts 2:1-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will
be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your
sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
I love Pentecost because it reminds me of the sense of confusion in those early days of those following “The Way” and trying to make sense out of the uncertainty and chaos they experienced. It is such a contrast to the way I grew up in the church with a humorless rigidity, formality, a children shall be seen and not heard mentality, that the male priests and ministers were the guides and protectors of the faith and that what they told us about God, Jesus, tradition, beliefs in creeds and dogmas and anything else was to be accepted on faith (and it was their faith – not our own). Anything else was just not acceptable and we would burn in hell. Right? Contrast that to the story we heard this morning of God birthing something new in the world. Over the years even Pentecost has unfortunately been tamed in the church, but the reality is that we cannot tame God – thank God!
So, a little refresher course for us this morning. Pentecost literally means 50 and in Jesus’ day, Pentecost was the Greek term for the Jewish Feast of Weeks – Shavuot which is the first fruits of the wheat harvest. 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 Thursday, May 30th 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 in the large, ethically 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. And by the way, 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. And it’s also not meant to be a curse word.
If we look closely at the gospels, we’ll 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 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 an inward power which completely transformed their whole outlook and this they attributed to the Spirit of God.
The Spirit of God works in and through and among us. The common understanding of Pentecost within the life of the Christian church is that this event so many years ago birthed the Christian church. And over time that birthing has led to many different understandings and realities of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and who Jesus is. And by no means, are any of these realities perfect, or the truth – although, I suspect, each has an aspect of truth.
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. Today the decline of church membership is worrying, yet I feel there is a new understanding of church that God is birthing if we can stop and listen to that still small voice we may hear it and rejoice, and understand that God’s concept of what church is may challenge any understanding we may have.
I was struck recently by Molly Baskette’s UCC Daily Devotional (5/11/2019) about the church, based on Rev. 21:4.
God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away. – Revelation 21:4
Bassett wrote: “I took my daughter to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for her birthday last month. Theme parks are not really my thing, but my girl was turning 13, and it seemed like parental malpractice not to give her an experience of the Disney phenomenon before she disappeared into the adolescent quicksand of boredom and cynicism.
Confession: I didn’t want to love it, but I did. It was heaven on earth. Feats of engineering and art, worlds of wonder and participatory transcendence for all for the bargain price of $129 plus tax.
Disney theme parks have a series of underground tunnels used to whisk trash away and allow characters to move across the park unseen, preserving the illusion of each distinct and perfect world. I can’t help but wonder what Disney’s Imagineers could do if they applied their considerable skills to, say, late-stage mainline Protestantism.
Because church is so not perfect. Our messes are often on grand display. We try to give expression to other possibilities, beautiful imaginings, but we fall short.
Still there is something to church, however human and wonky, that won’t let me go—because it is real, and not an illusion. There’s something about the sweaty realness of Here that is preparation for There.
I walked through the fake Disney African village five times that day. Every time they were playing the same song, for the same “impromptu flash mob.” It felt like a glitch in the Matrix. I was glad to go back to the imperfect Here at the end of the day.
Prayer God, thank you the fantastical imagineering of human beings who you have made a little lower than yourself. And thank you for the messy maze of fallible human community, in church and outside of it, where real life is lived. Amen.”
Church – we are still trying to figure it out – it is not perfect and neither are we, but I believe, even with its imperfections, we can drink deeply at its wells, nourish and strengthen our faith and our mission. And as room is made for us, there is room for all. Pentecost – a time to rejoice and renew and celebrate the gift of joy and wonder even in the midst of what is happening in our own world and the world around us. I close with a wonderful poem written by Ann Weems:
The church of Jesus Christ is where a child brings a balloon…
is where old women come to dance . . .is where young men see visions and old men dream dreams.
The church of Jesus Christ is where lepers come to be touched…is where the blind see and the deaf hear . . .is where the lame run and the dying live.
The church of Jesus Christ is where daisies bloom out of barren land . . .is where children lead and wise men follow . . .is where mountains are moved and walls come tumbling down.
The church of Jesus Christ is where loaves of bread are stacked in the sanctuary to feed the hungry . . .is where coats are taken off and put on the backs of the naked . . .is where shackles are discarded and kings and shepherds sit down to life together.
The church of Jesus Christ is where barefoot children run giggling in procession. . .is where the minister is ministered unto . . .is where the anthem is the laughter of the congregation and the offering plates are full of people.
The church of Jesus Christ is where people go when they skin their knees or their hearts . . .is where frogs become princes and Cinderella dances beyond midnight . . . is where judges don’t judge and each child of God is beautiful and precious.
The church of Jesus Christ is where the sea divides for the exiles . . .is where the ark floats and the lamb lies down with the lion . . .is where people can disagree and hold hands at the same time.
The church of Jesus Christ is where night is day . . .is where trumpets and drums and tambourines declare God’s goodness…is where lost lambs are found.
The church of Jesus Christ is where people write thank-you notes to God . . . is where work is a holiday . . .is where seeds are scattered and miracles grown.
The church of Jesus Christ is where home is . . .is where heaven is . . .is where a picnic is communion and people break bread together on their knees.
The church of Jesus Christ is where we live responsively to God’s coming . . .even on Monday morning the world will hear . . .an abundance of alleluias! —Ann Weems
Alleluia! And let the people say AMEN!
Copyright DMC 2019