“Everyone shall Receive!”
Acts 2:1-21, 5-20-18
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these ancient words from the book of Acts, chapter two, verses one thru twenty-one.”
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 heard our lesson for today, let us now open our hearts to its meaning.”
“Everyone shall Receive!”
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” /Acts 2:1/ They were all together! Such a powerful statement! We also are all together, sitting here in this our place of communal worship! These early followers were gathered together. “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.” /2Acts: 5-6/ The disciples were there, and this large crowd gathered as well. Not just the remaining eleven disciples, but people from all around Jerusalem had gathered. So many different people, of which we often struggle to pronounce all the different groups of people whom were represented in this reading. The main point is that we are told that there was a large group of witnesses whom had gathered together. This in of itself is a dramatic, major and very important point! We live in and at a time, here in these United States, where people are polarized, secularized, marginalized and profiled for the color of their skin or pushed aside because of where they come from or their orientation. Bearing these realities in mind, this diverse group whom had gathered so long ago was nothing short of amazing! Together, they witnessed to what the Disciples were experiencing.
“Many readers of this story focus their attention on the spooky details of wind, fire, and amazing speech, and miss the real story Luke is trying to tell.” /John C. Holbert/ I did not misread this quote. Luke is believed to be the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, from which comes today’s lesson. Furthermore, we simple must not allow ourselves to get lost in the “spooky details of wind and fire.” The central point of this writing is indeed, that everyone, all people, were welcomed to witness to – and were invited to – receive the Living Holy Spirit! The drama here is that the Spirit moved amongst a diverse group of people to begin the mobilization of the movement we now refer to as Christianity! At the same time, we must recognize that the Spirit was color blind, had no sense of ethnic origin, and no sense of whether people were rich or poor, gay or straight. No, the Spirit was bestowed upon all people, whom were praying to receiving it! It does not matter if you speak English, French German or Russian… the Spirit will reach out and touch your heart! The Spirt came, crossing all boundaries, overcoming all and any man-made walls or barriers to bestow the gifts of the Spirit!
Author and Theologian, Matthew L. Skinner, tells us how: “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.” First the Spirit rallies and brings people together. Then the Spirit organizes the many facets of communities together so that, as an assemble of diverse people, with different gifts, a community of faith is formed which can act as one – in the name of the Living God! This is what the day of Pentecost is all about! We wear red to remember that the very breathe of God has breathed upon us, giving us the tenacity, the strength and the courage to come together as one. And as a united group of followers, the Spirit is driving us to do the will of God, in and around the community we live in and beyond!
A misconception of the coming of the Spirit of God, into our lives, is that we will feel peace and find comfort and live happily ever after. No, gosh no! As one author states it: “The Holy Spirit is as much agitator as advocate, as much provocateur as comforter.” /David Lose/ I know the Spirit has touched me, from head to toe, but the Spirit still wakes me up in the night; the Spirit still pushes me to do way more than I believe I can do! No, no Pentecost is not a day of rest and relaxation, that comes later, today is the day we remember that God, through the Living Spirit, has called us to unit together, despite our differences. Not just with each other here either. This is, however, a good place to start. Consequentially, we must unit with our neighbors, even the ones we don’t understand at all. The promise of the Spirit is that we can come to know others, if we pick up the tools which we have been given and use them. Tools, gifts whatever we feel comfortable calling them. Some of us reference to our attributes which are also God given, to understand our gifts. The point is, the coming of the Spirit is just the beginning.
It is important to realize: there was a lot of confusion that day! They appeared to others to be drunk or confused or possibly just insane. Peter is forced to speak out reassuring them that this is not the case! Sometimes, people say things that we just don’t understand. From time to time it is up to us, and we may need to take a moment and stop; to be sure we have heard correctly. Although “We might all hear the same words – each in our own language – ‘yet’ we will not all hear and understand exactly the same meaning.” /David Ewart/ The problem that us humans have is we don’t all understand the meaning of our words the same. Therefore, we need to take time to allow the Spirit of God to be with us as we listen to one another. Hearing each other is one thing, understanding is a whole different thing. We each have a responsibility, to take time, every day, not just on Sundays, not just when it is convenient to listen with our hearts, taking time to take notice of all that is being shared. We need to pay attention to all that is being communicated. It is our task to pick up on everything that others are sharing with us.
Pentecost is not the ‘only day’ when things can get confusing. Today, is not the only time we may not perceive things the same way in which someone else perceives the same thing. It is assumed, by many, that receiving the Spirit, welcoming the Holy Spirit into our lives will allow us to understand and do everything that Jesus would want us to grasp and value. The problem is… “The problem with life, and faith, and following Jesus is always: What does this mean?” /David Ewart/ This question, put forth for us to ponder, is not always easy to answer. Just like our scripture passage today, people were observing the Disciples and they thought they were probably drunk, because they could not understand them. They did not perceive the event the same as the Disciples did. It was not until Peter began to explain it to them, then they began to realize something awesome had occurred! The challenge is to decide when we ought to speak up and explain to others what is happening or what is meant by what has been said. Every Sunday, I am challenged to do exactly this. I stand up here and do my best to help you grasp and appreciate what I have come to believe our scripture lesson is saying to us. The problem is, there are numerous pastors doing the same thing every Sunday. And I am fairly certain, we are not all preaching the same message! Just to be clear about this, I have preached on this passage of scripture a few times over the years, yet, I have not preached this message before! Trust me on this next thought. Those pastor’s that do not get fresh insights from scripture on Sunday mornings, there are folks whom are falling asleep during their sermons.
Pastor Nancy Rockwell speaks of the promise of Pentecost. She tells us “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.” She is saying: now that the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God has been bestowed upon us, we shall have greater understandings of God’s word. Also, we shall be able to grasp things that we did not understand before. This is why we celebrate today! Today, we remember that Jesus kept his word. He told his Disciples that after he was gone he would send an advocate; Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit! The day of Pentecost is that day; the day the promise was fulfilled!
The Spirit is in our midst to empower us to do the will of God and unite together, utilizing the language of the heart. Our lesson illustrates how we are meant to come together, dropping any biases that have separated us. The Spirit is here to open our hearts, opening our hearts and the language of understanding, one to another. This may not be easy, nor convenient, yet, the Spirit is in our midst to push and propel us do what it takes to come together. The Spirit is available to everyone who desires to have the Living Spirit of God in their lives. Open your hearts to this outpouring of God’s love! Amen.