St. Mark's, we had a delightful time at a very special birthday party for a 90 year old member from St. Timothy's that included Swedish dancers and barber shoppers. In the morning, I preached from Acts 2:1-21.
On the day of Pentecost, the apostles in the upper room experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit. This filling equipped the apostles with inspired speech for ministry. It is the first fruits because the Holy Spirit's filling of believers did not end with the original followers of Jesus. The focus is a celebration of the Spirit of the risen Christ in the church.
Do you remember how last week's gospel described what the disciples did after Jesus' ascension? Luke recorded that they were praying and worshipping and waiting for Jesus' promise "and [the disciples] were continually in the temple blessing God" (Luke 24:53).. But then, God shows up and the Holy Spirit breaks in and shakes everything up. Noise like a violent, rushing wind and tongues of fire appeared upon each one. In the Old Testament, such a loud sound often accompanied, a manifestation or appearance of God.
On Pentecost, this was no quiet, gentle Spirit kind of moment. What the apostles were experiencing was an all encompassing divine presence.
It was so loud in the room, that a crowd began to gather outside. Now everyone was in on what the Spirit was doing. The disciples spoke in languages they had not learned as the Spirit gave them the ability. The ears of those outside perked up. They had come from all over the known world. The crowd could understand what was being said! It was as much a miracle of hearing as speaking.
Have any of you ever lived in or visited a place where the primary language spoken is something other than English? You might find yourself seated in a cafe and all around you everyone is speaking that foreign language. Then, you hear someone speaking English. You don't mean to eavesdrop, but you can't help but hear to the conversation. Your own language stands out in such an environment. On a much grander scale, that was the experience of the crowd.
All who heard the commotion were puzzled. Their reaction can also be translated as confused, in an uproar, beside themselves, undone, blown away, thoroughly disoriented, and completely uncomprehending. Some embraced the unsettling breaking in of the Spirit of God, while others simply accused the disciples of drunkenness.
The miraculous events that have been seen in the life of Jesus now occur in the early church. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit explains how a small group of frightened, puzzled and mostly uneducated men and women could so quickly become a force who were "turning the world upside down" (Acts 17:6).
The long list of people from so many places shows that God's grace and power are for all his children. No one that day was excluded. This is all part of God fulfilling his promises.
Peter quotes the vision of the prophet Joel to authenticate the power of God among the early leaders of the church. For the prophet Joel, the signs of the outpouring of the Spirit were a prelude to disaster, but for Peter, these wonders have been fulfilled in Jesus as the greatest of God's wonders.
God has fulfilled his promises for the people there at Pentecost and God has fulfilled his promises for us as well. Luther says, all Christians are Spirit-enabled to bear witness to the "knowledge of God through Christ which the Holy Spirit kindles and makes to burn through the word of the gospel" (Stott, The Message of Acts, 1990: 74). All followers of Jesus are graced with the Spirit's direct connection to the prophecies, visions and dreams of God.
Do we really believe this? Can we look around Bemus Point/Mayville, our country or the world and really say that the Spirit is working today? Are followers of Jesus performing the same kind of miracles that occurred in the time of the early church? The answer is, yes and no. We don't always hear about them or we don't always recognize miraculous events that happen as the miraculous. Not everything has to be stupendous to be a miracle.
But there is also a comfort to Pentecost. God has not abandoned his church. If he sent the Spirit in such dramatic fashion, he can do it again.
Like the crowd's initial reaction, God's powerful saving presence will always astonish us and challenge our understanding of him and his ways. With hearts open and turned toward God, we can move beyond curiosity and surprise to marveling at the greatness of God. Those that witnessed the first Pentecost questioned, "What does this mean?" (v. 12) There is nothing wrong with questioning. Theirs was faith-filled questioning because they were open to a divine answer.
We are called to "go and make disciples" and to care for those who are the least and to "love one another as Jesus ... loved [us]." And so, the Holy Spirit comes along side us to encourage, equip, strengthen provoke, and yes also to comfort us so that we can continue and do it all again.
Each one of us is a part of the work God wants to do here and elsewhere. By baptism God has joined us into a community of faith that looks for and expects the Holy Spirit to come along side us and shake us up, preparing and equipping each all of us to share the disruptive, surprising and life-giving word of grace of the God who will not rest until all people enjoy abundant life.
Are we willing to be led by the Spirit without knowing the destination?
What visions have you seen?
What dreams do you dream for this congregation?
Do we dare to proclaim the mighty acts of God in our midst?
"Without Pentecost, we'd just be people who tell Jesus' story." (Daniellie Shroyer, The Hardest Question Blog).
Because of Pentecost -- in Christ, we can make our dreams and visions reality. Amen.
The Intervarsity Press New Testament Commentary
David Lose, Davidlose.net
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone