Acts 2:1-21, June 9th, 2019
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Read Statement of Faith, Pentecost Sunday – Wear Red!
“Today’s reading continues our journey into the Acts of the Apostles, chapter two, verses one thru twenty-one. May the Spirit open your ears and your heart to this ancient writing.”
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 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. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘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. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“Having listened to this accounting of the coming of the Holy Spirit, let us be open to understanding what this narrative means to us today.”
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” /Acts 2:1/ Who were they? Was it the group of believers spoken of in Acts, chapter one verse fifteen? “In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons.) Or was it just the inner circle of disciples? Or was it the whole crowd that gathered that day? The question then is this: who shall receive the Holy Spirit; or whom has already received it? The Apostle Peter proclaims, “God declares, that I (God) 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.” /Acts2:17-18a/ The scripture states that “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” /Acts2:4a/ Regardless of how we interpret the count of whom was bestowed the Holy Spirit that day, this passage of scripture tells us, through the words of the Apostle Peter, that all whom call upon the name Of God, through Christ shall be saved! /Acts 2:21/
A theologian named Matthew L. Skinner clarifies for us the believed intent here. “Acts does not regard Pentecost as an entirely singular occurrence. This scene introduces a sequence of occasions in which the Spirit mobilizes Jesus’ followers and inaugurates new directions for ministry and community.” His thoughts put forth a very important aspect of the occasions upon which the Living Spirit of Christ is acknowledged. First, we need to recognize and accept that this scripture, our reading for today, does indeed mark a major introduction of the Spirit into the newly developing Christian community – which is in its beginning and early stages. This is crucial, as they were weak and afraid when Jesus left them, but now as promised by Jesus, they are not alone; neither are we! Jesus proclaimed to the disciples that after he was gone, he would send an Advocate to be with them. “I will send him to you.” We find Jesus saying this in a prayer, found in the sixteenth chapter of the gospel according to John, verse seven. He was speaking about the Holy Spirit, the third personality of the Trinity; God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit being the promised Advocate.
This is vital to all Christians, as without the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, we too would be helpless, weak and afraid as were the early disciples. “Many Christians, us included, don’t seem to take this seriously.” /Danielle Shoyer/ Somehow, many of us, we don’t seek out the strength and inspiration of God’s Living Spirit as we seek to do the will of God. As we continue our journeys, we shall need to seek out the Living God in our doings or we shall surely fail! The preacher proclaims to the gathered crowd: “Have a little faith.” But what is the response of those gathered? (pause) You have all heard the account, I am sure, do I really need to share it again? Ah… indeed I must.
See if you can find yourself in this simple dialog. “There was a man hiking along a cliff and he got too close to the edge and fell. He was able to grasp onto a small outgrowth as he descended, breaking his fall. It was the branch of a small bush to which he grasped, hanging on in desperation. He yelled out: “If there is anyone up there, please help me!” A loud voice from heaven replied: “It is I, your God. Just let go of the bush.” The man looked down into the cavern below, unable to see the bottom and shock his head. Looking back up into the heavens, he cried out: “Help, is there anyone else up there?” /Original Author Unknown/ (pause) We must seriously seek the Living Spirit of God to help us with the seemingly impossible tasks. And we need to be willing to follow the pathways which are set before us, trusting in the direction of God. If we cannot trust the Spirit of God, we will fail to achieve the goals God has set before us.
We could spend the next minutes discussing the flamboyant, colorful and loud entrance of the Spirit into this lesson, yet to what purpose? The only point of value is to recognize that the Spirit did indeed enter the community of early believers. The Holy Spirit gave them new courage, new abilities and a new depth of understanding of their fellows, the men and women of all types all around them! If we as a community can do the same – then we too shall greatly expand our ministry to those whom live here in our local community. Yet in the so doing we need to remember, as David Lose has said, “The Holy Spirit is as much agitator as advocate, as much provocateur as comforter.” /David Lose/ We all want the Living Spirit on our side. We clearly need the courage, the motivation and the support which the Spirit offers to us. But we don’t really need a provocateur, or do we?
What is meant by a provocateur? The word comes from Latin and can mean “to call forth.” Frequently, we hear of the Holy Spirit ‘calling’ folks to ‘go forth’ and to do various tasks and deeds; which often seem impossible, hopeless even, or at the very least very difficult. Shall we let go and let God carry us ever forward? Or shall we, like the man stranded on the side of the cliff hang on in desperation, unwilling to trust that God has a new plan in mind? Before you decide, let us consider what the consequences of not trusting in following a new set of instructions might mean. If you are clinging on to an old idea, an old methodology, trying to starve off the inevitable, like the man hanging on to the frail branch on the side of a cliff, you will ultimately fall and that to which you have clung to, will inevitably be lost as well. Even as we bewail the agitator, the activist or campaigner for a new way, in our midst, we need to also acknowledge that the Spirit that now stirs things up is also the comforter. The Spirit of God will give us the courage needed, the motivation to see things through, the support and comfort that will surely be needed. Don’t give up before the miracle happens!
Let us look again to our scripture lesson. Consider these words from a theologian named David N. Mosser. “On Pentecost, God takes a group of haphazard, diverse believers and unites us with the precious gift of spirit-language.” Our local church is made up of a diverse group of folks for sure. Many, outside our fellowship probably can easily make this observation. Most of us are truly proud of our diversity as it fits our message regarding “all are welcome here!” The key here, for us, is that we take note of how the Holy Spirit is also the unifier, the one whom brings us together as a community. Herein lies our future abilities to be of true value to the community we strive to be a part of! The Spirit is also that energy which keeps nudging and pushing us in the right direction. It may seem provoking to some, especially when we strive to do or seek to do something new. Yet, it ought to be comforting to know it is the Spirit of God whom is prompting us to go forward.
Nancy Rockwell urges us ever forward, reminding us of the promise which the day of the Spirit proclaims! “This is the promise of Pentecost: now we no longer depend solely on Jesus to be the one who understands. Now we, too, understand. And now we, too, can speak and our voices can spread the Spirit of understanding.” Wow! I wasn’t expecting that, were you? Now this is a twist. Most of us believe that God, the Holy Spirit, is the one responsible for getting the work of ministry done. But in this analogy from Nancy Rockwell, it sounds like we have been gifted with understanding through the work of the Spirit, thereby making us responsible for using that gift as we reach out and work with others. Didn’t we kick this responsibility thing around last week? Yes, we did and here it is again. God impowers us with what it takes to work with others; in this case, understanding. It is our job to use this gift to make a difference in the lives of those we are called to serve.
As we begin to come to closure with this discussion lets us again consider what the scripture is saying to us. A diverse group of folks were able to come together and understand one another. Language and cultural barriers were broken down. As we consider the implications of this event and how it affects our lives today listen to these probing questions. Dr. Janet H. Hunt asks us several rhetorical questions. “Can you think of a time in your experience when language separated people from one another?” This statement sadly demands a resounding yes! Frequently people miscommunicate or are separated from others because language has separated them. This is, of course, true even when individuals are speaking the same language. All too often we allow unnecessary barriers or walls to separate us and keep us apart from others. The Spirit works at breaking down those barriers and those walls so that we can hear and listen to one another, understanding each other in a new way! Her second question causes my heart to skip a bit with joy at its center. “Can you think of a time when that division was overcome?” /Dr. Janet H. Hunt/ For me the answer is again, a resounding yes! Our scripture is clearly saying to us that the Spirit of God can help us cross these barriers, figuratively and even literally at times! Let us all come together, as the Spirit prepares us to do a new thing!