by the power of your Holy Spirit, speak to us in the language of our hearts, that we may hear your Word with understanding and answer your call with confidence. Amen.
Before we really get into this, we need a little bit of history – what exactly is Pentecost? We might think of it as a Christian tradition, but it started out as a Jewish one – it is the celebration 50 days after Passover that marked the giving of the Torah – the law of God revealed to Moses, and specifically the Ten Commandments. It was also the time the Jewish people gathered and offered their first fruits at the temple. Today’s reading in the book of Acts tells us that Pentecost had come and so they were all together in one place. What that means is these Jewish Jesus followers were gathered together for this Jewish festival celebrating God’s gifts to them, and Surprise! God gave them a new gift!
And like I demonstrated with the children earlier – suddenly, and with great gusto, the Holy Spirit filled that place to the brim! And while this might seem like a separate celebration, for us it is the continuation of the Easter story – at Pentecost, the power of God – made manifest at the resurrection and ascension of Christ, is bestowed upon the People of God. Both the ascension of Christ and the descent of the Spirit are a continued witness to the breadth of the wonder of Easter. And for those of us who have hung out around church for a little while, this wild and wonderful and weird story can get a bit routine – yay, wear red, hang the banners, let the kids run around a tad more than usual, sing those great songs…so maybe we can pause for a moment to recall that we are listening to the account of something strange, beyond the bounds of imagination – miraculous, inscrutable. Let’s jump into the text.
Qu’est-ce que c’est d’exister dans un endroit où votre langue première n’est jamais parlée? Quelqu’un a-t-il déjà vécu dans un endroit où sa langue maternelle n’est jamais entendue? Avez-vous déjà visité un endroit où l’anglais n’est jamais utilisé? Ici en Occident, nous sommes tellement habitués d’entendre de l’anglais, même en voyageant à l’international, que la majorité d’entre nous n’a jamais vécu le malaise et l’inconfort d’être isolé auditivement.
For those of you who don’t speak French, what I said was What does it mean to exist in a place where your first language is never spoken? Has anyone ever lived in a place where their native language is never heard? Have you visited a place where English isn’t spoken? We here in the West are so accustomed to hearing English even when we travel internationally, most of us have never experienced the discomfort and disconnect of being aurally isolated.
Now this question isn’t rhetorical, I am actually asking, who has had the experience of being immersed in a language not their own?
(personal stories, examples from the congregation)
And what about when we hear our first language in that situation? There we are, standing in a sea of unfamiliarity, that sound becomes like a homing beacon, we find ourselves sharpening our senses to its signal. It is as though every molecule in our body relaxes as we tune-in on that voice and understand the words. Like coming home.
We hear this Pentecost story, and we might not quite grasp the visceral impact of hearing one’s own language, living as a foreigner, an immigrant, a refugee in a strange land. These folks were in Jerusalem but not from Jerusalem. Maybe we haven’t experienced this linguistically, maybe we have never been language isolated but I will warrant a guess that most of us have felt sequestered, alone, remote, even when surrounded by people. We have felt on the outside. And then something catches our ear, our eye, our attention. Something that resonates in deep place and that draws us in, towards. These outsiders, who maybe hadn’t heard their mother tongue in years, heard the beautiful and life-changing message of Jesus in their own language of comfort and care, not the language of the Empire under which they were living.
The Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples in this way not for their own comfort, but for the resonance of the Jesus message for those who were on the margins nearby. It makes me think of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, where he freely shares of how the Holy Spirit gives him what he needs to connect with those who haven’t received entry into the blessed community (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
This, my friends, is a miracle. A miracle of welcome, a miracle of hospitality beyond anything we could muster, a miracle to spark belonging. And I bet it was as surprising for the ones hearing their language as it was for those from whose lips those languages emerged. God promises over and over in our Scriptural witness to give us words, and the Holy Spirit delivers. I wonder what the language of comfort is to those on the margins of our neighbourhood?
Now – what happens next?
Everyone immediately drops to their knees in praise and reverence to God! NO! Some folks nearby are like WHAT? And others are like they are DRUNK! Which is basically everyone’s response God’s unexpected revelation – we see a miracle, something incredible, something powerful and we either are ‘amazed and perplexed’ (v.12) or sneering (v. 13) and dismissive. Happened in year 35, happens in 2019. And its ok, its ok, because miracles, big or small throw us off – we don’t get them or we get mad at them for some reason. But the very next thing that happens is key – Peter is there to explain it. And I will guarantee that every time something happens that is God (which actually, by the way, is all the time if we are ready to notice), every time God happens and we don’t understand, some who gets it is nearby.
Remember, these are Jews from all over living in Jerusalem, having this experience. Peter, a Jew, jumps up and links the story of Jesus with the Scriptures of the Jewish people. His listeners would know what the prophet Joel said, which Peter recites here. He says, hey pay attention – remember Joel? Remember, he promised that God would pour our God’s Spirit on all people? That God’s spirit would flow regardless of a person’s gender or social status? Remember? Joel told us that we would ALL be filled with God’s Spirit and God would give us good things to do! Remember? ITS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!
This Pentecost event doesn’t work without these things all at play:
Rooted in tradition, the new Jesus followers are gathered in one place. The Holy Spirit floods in to that place in a surprising, astonishing, remarkable, overwhelming way that includes everyone – inside and outside the community. Nobody knows how to handle it, and Peter jumps up, reminding them of their Scriptural witness, and proclaiming boldly God’s work in that moment and all of their transformation in it.
The day of Pentecost occurred just seven weeks after those who were opposed to Jesus had ended his “nonsense” by crucifying him. But now, for some, their worst nightmare was coming true. This broadening understanding of God’s love was no longer contained to one man’s message. They thought that they had put out the light of the world in Jesus. Instead, the same Spirit that enlivened Jesus, exploded like fireworks in a hundred different directions. You see, God didn’t stop showing up in Jesus – God didn’t raise Jesus from the grave, bring him home and stand back to see what would happen..
No! The message of Pentecost is that God shows up! God shows up, God meets us where we are and uses tremendous, ridiculous, miraculous means to catch our attention and tell us of love, grace, mercy, freedom, salvation. And then in our doubts, our dismissals, our explanations and excuses, God sends us prophets, preachers, teachers, dentists, contractors, children, baristas, accountants, neighbours, friends, enemies to help us understand, to spell it out.
To get it through our sometimes very thick skulls, that God is here. That God has given each one of us – all genders, all ages, all races, all expressions of humanity, even me, even you, the gift of God’s unending presence. God is HERE (the world). God is Here (the church). God is here (our hearts).
And you know what the very next thing they asked Peter? What do we do now? And that is our question too, isn’t it? What do we do now? We hear of Gods love, we hear that God is with and for us – maybe we even feel that love, that grace, that hospitality in this place – what do we do now?
Peter says, get baptized! Let the Holy Spirit all the way in, be encouraged, and then – become an encourager. One who loves and gives and forgives with the same reckless abandon as our God. And so they did. They taught and shared and loved and forgave (and messed up, and got back up, forgiven, to try again). And miracles happened, and happened, and happened, and this Jesus thing didn’t go away, the Holy Spirit didn’t fade, God went right on creating….and so here we are – what a legacy to inherit. What do we do now? We throw our lives at God, in God’s service, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is here, here, here.
Who is with me? Can I get an Amen?