May 20 2018 “Come Holy Spirit, Come: Change Our World” *Acts 2.1-21 Pastor Jacqueline Hines Humor -
Today we celebrate Pentecost. The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth” meaning 50 days after the Jewish holiday of Passover. [ slide # 1 fifty days] Passover is the time Christians know as Easter. Since our spiritual roots are both Judaic and Christian, the Jewish holidays and the Christian holidays have similar purposes and similar time schedules.
The Old Testament law requires [slide # 2 Bible scrolls] that men take the lead in making sure their family is represented in at least three yearly festivals. These are holidays on which one is to enjoy God, enjoy family and friends and neighbors and share a meal to celebrate the harvest that God has provided.
The first legal holiday celebration is the Passover. [slide # 3 Happy Passover- flowers] Passover is also called the Feast of unleavened bread which celebrates the rescue from slavery in Egypt, when they left town quickly. They planned to bring bread with them to eat on their journey because there were not many places to buy bread. They baked it in a hurry. They did not put yeast in the bread because they did not have time to let it rise. So their bread was more of a flatbread or matzo. [ slide # 4 flatbread] [slide # 5 matzo] Passover was also the night that acknowledges that the angel of death passed over their homes, for which they were grateful.
Christians celebrate the Passover, in a sense, every communion Sunday. For Christians, every Sunday is a celebration of God’s resurrection power, and deliverance and mercy. [slide # 6 Passover – wine] We celebrate Jesus delivering us from the slavery of sin. Passover is celebrated once a year by our Jewish brothers and sisters in March or April, often close to our Easter.
The second required celebration is [slide # 7 tabernacles] the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths or Tents which was a festival of thanksgiving for God’s provision of shelter as they wandered away from slavery toward the Promised Land. Our Jewish neighbors celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in September or October. [slide # 8 tent] For some, the celebration includes building tents and booths in fields and rooftops and spending the night in them to remember what it was like before God blessed them to settle in a land of their own.
The third celebration commanded is a harvest festival. We Christians call it Pentecost [slide # 9 Pentecost] In the Old Testament it is called the Feast of Weeks or in the Hebrew, Shavuot. There are 7 weeks or 49 days of preparing and waiting for the harvest. It was a time of prayerfully and gratefully anticipating God’s goodness and abundance. On the 50th day, there was a celebration.
These three festivals were designed by God that we might understand and appreciate God and God’s people as a source of blessing. It was a pleasant and good, to be with family and friends – well… for the most part. It was a joy to eat good food and share laughter with the neighbors near and far. God prescribes good fellowship because it is good for the mind, body, and soul.
Today, many Christians, not all, but many, are celebrating this day. My Baptist brother down the street is not celebrating Pentecost. Many Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Catholics often celebrate this day as Pentecost.
We Christians who celebrate are not celebrating just because it is a day to give thanks for the blessings of the harvest. We celebrate because of the extraordinary thing that God did on the particular day of Pentecost that is described in chapter 2 of the book of Acts of the Apostles that was read by our confirmands today. [slide # 10 the book of Acts]
Verse 1 of Acts 2 tells us that when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. [slide # 11 together in one place] The writer here is emphasizing togetherness and oneness for a reason. We can assume that they were together for good reasons, for the most part.
Committed couples know well [ slide # 12 cuddly cats] the value of unity, for unity and oneness lay a very strong foundation during their courtship as they deepen their covenant together. Committed Christians are united with one heart and mind. We are together as often as we possibly can be. Because our love is solid and true, problems may be solved, almost magically, or problems may cease to matter at all because the fruit of our love is so great.
And if by chance one should fail to love another, [slide # 13 couple back to back] God’s love never fails, so no one loses unless they choose to lose. God’s greatest blessings come when we are together as one.
Verse 2 tells us that as this group of God’s children were together in one place, suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.
Do you think God was frustrated that is why God snuck up on them with a sudden and loud noise? Could God have been fed up with his people because they had gotten so far off track from doing the right thing? We are made in God’s image and when we look within our hearts, our homes, our church, our neighborhood, our country, and our world, don’t we see things that are godless and grimy, too?
The noise God sent was loud enough to make their ears perk up. When we hear the wind howl, we too are on alert, recognizing that the next sound we hear may be a trash can crashing to the ground or a tree limb cracking. [slide # 14 trash can…] The scripture says they heard the sound of a violent wind; that is downright scary!
Verse 2 continues recording the incident saying, [slide # 15 sound…filled…house] that sound filled the house. There was no way to escape? It was as if God had cornered them. The sound of a violent, rushing wind was inside! Fortunately for them, they were sitting down as verse 2 tells us, otherwise they might have fallen down. [slide # 16 …sitting…]
How intriguing that the writer of Acts of the Apostles would tell us that those celebrating Pentecost that day were sitting. It brings to mind how intentional the bible is with words. You may remember other places in the bible where people sat. Jesus sat at Jacob’s well and waited when the Samaritan woman came by and had a little life-saving talk with Jesus. A crowd following Jesus sat down to eat and a miracle happened, a miracle we talk about to this day. The prophet Isaiah tells us that on the day that King Uzziah died he saw a vision of God sitting on a throne, high and lifted up. The prophet got the clear and comforting message that God is in control, even when it seems that all is lost and terrible things are about to happen.
On this day of Pentecost, the people were sitting, resting in God’s presence, eating, drinking and making merry, and God shook them up something terrible.
They started speaking in other tongues. Maybe they liked their own tongue better than the one that the text says was coming out of their mouth. Maybe they did not want to be caught speaking like a proper Hebrew or Arab, but it was happening anyway. Maybe they heard their best friends on the other side of the room talking with the syntax and the enunciation and the accents of the same people they had all made fun of together.
Now when we read the story of the Tower of Babel back in Genesis, we get the idea that God did not like the idea of everyone speaking the same language inasmuch as they were conniving with each other to reach heaven.
In Acts, however, instead of God working to keep them from speaking the same language, a language that was evidently nonsense and babble to God, here God is, having his children speak the language of the other, of the people on the other side of town where you did not want to go, the other people whose ways and customs were other than their own.
The power came from Heaven and they had no control over it. The Holy Spirit was in control of them. The people who came running to hear and see what was going on thought God’s people were intoxicated with new wine, which according to New Testament scholar Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, was the wine with the strongest percent of alcohol.
Have you ever been so filled by the Holy Spirit that you were out of control? [slide # 17 Have you ever been filled I mean out of control in a good way. The tears start flowing and you can’t stop them to save your life. [slide # 18 tears] You start clapping your hands and you don’t even want to stop. You scream for joy until you lose your voice. [slide # 19 screaming] Have you ever been so filled by the Spirit that as you started telling a spectacular story of God’s goodness in your life your words stopped in midair and you were reduced to bowing your head and muttering “mmm, mmm, mmm?” [ slide 20 head down] Some blessings are simply inexpressible. Have you ever tried to pray about something and all you could get out were sigh after sigh after sigh, sighs that Romans 8 describes as too deep for words? [slide # 21 sigh]
We respond to God’s nudging in many different ways. Like the ancient church we may see things differently [slide # 22 two dresses] some see blue and black while others see white and gold. We hear things differently. Some here “Yanny” some hear “Laurel”. [slide # 23 Yanny/Laurel] But, if we sit together in one place, God will rush in to help us harmonize with each other’s voices and languages. God will help us see each other in ways that unite us and make us one!
On this day of Pentecost, their hearts were touched, their minds were blown, they were deeply moved, the words coming out of their mouth told of God’s wonderful deeds of power and praises to God. Their tongues were on fire with God’s love. [slide # 24 tongues of fire] There were no arguments, no negativity, no backbiting, no silent treatment, no fear …nothing…. but words that could do three things: (1) build someone up, (2) comfort them, and (3) encourage them in the ways of holiness, just like I Corinthians 14 instructs us to do.
The fire of Pentecost that day represented the persistently loving presence of God! This day the fire of God was neither contained in a warm, cozy fireplace or an inspiring altar candle. God was not in God’s usual box.
God was present, but we can imagine that not everyone was happy about God showing up at this celebration the way God chose to show up!
Perhaps they were more than satisfied to hear and say something other than words that build others up, comfort or encourage. From time to time, who among has not perked up an ear upon hearing some juicy gossip, especially if it is about someone who has hurt our feelings or made us mad? Who among us has not had to bite our tongue real hard to avoid saying cuss words or back-stabbing words that neither glorify God but rather discourage? Who among us has not consciously or unconsciously rubbed salt in another’s wounds or pushed someone away when God was ready to teach us how to comfort them? Who among us doesn’t want to be taught because we already know it all?
Certainly, we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. We are all a work in progress, but when we obey God and come together in one place, I guarantee you, God will show up and God will give us tongues of fire, full of words that change us, change our churches, and change our world for the better. [slide # 25 Acts 2 Church] Amen. [slide # 26 dog and cat]