May 23, 2021 Day of Pentecost The text is Acts 2:1-21.
1When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But 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. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, 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.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In this morning’s reading from Acts we hear that the disciples were speaking aloud about God’s deeds of power, and that people of many different ethnicities understood what they were saying, because they each heard the proclamations in their own language. Imagine if that were to happen here today and when my first words were spoken that everyone who might be visiting with us would understand them. Someone who spoke Swahili would have heard, “mungu ni mwema”; a Hawaiian, “maika’i ke Auka”; a French-speaker, “Dieu est bon”. A Swede, “gud ar̈ god”; A Spaniard, “Dios es bueno”. And each would have heard these words; say them with me…God is good. Jesus’ promise that he would send an Advocate to serve as the conduit between humanity and the Divine was realized on the day of Pentecost; and the message was, and is meant for all God’s children. Why else would the outpouring of the Holy Spirit happen in the way that it did; when people from all over the known world were congregated within earshot of the disciples in Jerusalem?
It’s interesting also, that the Greek word, “Paraclete” is translated as “Advocate” in the NRSV version of the bible that Lutherans use. As is the case of many words in biblical Greek, Paraclete may be thought of in quite a few different ways. These include several names and with them, somewhat differing roles. Advocate, Helper, Comforter, Teacher, Guide, Assistant, Intercessor, Companion. And in keeping in the vein of assuring that all people are recipients of these many names of the Holy Spirit, Scripture tells us that our Jewish ancestors referred to the Spirit of God as “Ruach”; while the Greeks often used, “pneuma”. Both these refer to “wind”, “spirit”, or “breath”. My personal favorite is, “breath”, which reminds me that the Holy Spirit is as necessary to my life as the act of breathing. That, and the fact that since we all share the same air to breathe, so also have we been blessed with the promise of the Spirit, this Advocate whom Jesus has called forth to be poured out upon us all. Peter reaffirms this all-inclusive nature of the “Spiritus Sancti” (for our Latin speakers), by recounting the words of the prophet Joel, who proclaimed God’s declaration that he would pour God’s Spirit upon all the world.
It’s quite obvious that I have taken great pains to get the point across that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was a pivotal event in the story of the people of God; and meant to bring about unity in all the world. Pentecost itself was already celebrated by our Jewish forbears in Jesus’ time. It was called the Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot, which took place seven weeks, or fifty days after Passover. Originally an agricultural festival commemorating the harvest, it later became celebrated as a reminder of God giving the Torah to Moses. Included in this imparting of the Law were the Ten Commandments, and this served as the beginning of God’s covenant with the people. It makes sense therefor, that the Holy Spirit being sent as the Helper that Jesus promised would occur on this same holy day, many generations later. Pentecost now represents the fulfilment of God’s promise to the world. In a sense, today we gather to witness the celebration of the institution of Christ’s church. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples established the means for all who followed to be connected to the Father and the Son through the action of the promised Advocate.
Just what does this connectedness look like for us; what shape does it take, and what part does it play? Well, the roles that the Spirit plays which we listed earlier didn’t include one that may be the most important. And that is one that I call the “Inspirer”; that which encourages us to conduct ourselves in the ways that the One who sent the Advocate would have us act toward one another. We are inheritors of what are called the “fruits of the Spirit” in Galatians 5. These include “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and gentleness”. And having been blessed with these Spirit-borne fruits, we ought also to be inspired to share them with those around us. I’ve never personally had a divided tongue of fire descend upon me to let me know that the Holy Spirit is present, inspiring me to act as Jesus commanded. But I have often noticed that little voice in the back of my head letting me know whether my plan of action in any moment is in line with God’s intention or not. It’s then that I take note of whether what I’m about to say or do is based on the gifts the Spirit has bestowed. Do my planned words or actions inspire love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, or gentleness in, or toward others?
In effect, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in each of us is what keeps us in contact with our Creator and Redeemer; and serves as the means by which we maintain our faith and are inspired to live our lives. But it’s up to us to make sure we pay attention to that little voice that strives to be in contact with us. I once heard a sermon preached by a pastor whom I very much admire. He held a prop in his hands as he spoke about the availability of the Holy Spirit to us and the way we either accept the inspiration or ignore it. He said that God is continually reaching out to God’s people through the action of the Spirit. The electrical receptacle he held had these child-proof plastic outlet covers installed so that it wouldn’t be possible to tap into the power that was available. It is only when the covers are removed that we are able to take advantage of the electricity waiting to be transmitted. We can’t “plug-in” to the Holy Spirit unless we are willing to open up our hearts and minds to hear what is being said to us.
And in the final four verses of John’s gospel this morning Jesus proclaims just what it is the Spirit is imparting to us. Allow me to paraphrase; the Spirit will guide us all into truth, speaking on behalf of God. Those things that are to come will be revealed to us. The Spirit will glorify Jesus through the truth he tells. All that is Christ’s will be declared to us. All this is ours to hear and be blessed by; just as long as we remember to keep the covers off the outlet. In this way we are guided to act in a manner that expresses the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and gentleness which are the fruits of the Spirit that we are promised.
It appears that the world is finally emerging from the long period of darkness that is the pandemic. God’s people have sacrificed much; from the discomfort of masks, social isolation, fear, and worry for everyone, to severe illness and death for far too many. Emanuel Lutheran has been guided by the Spirit as we have strived to gather for worship in ways that have made the health and safety of our brothers and sisters our foremost concern. As governmental mandates are relaxed and replaced with rather vague suggestions for behavior, we should continue to listen for the wisdom the Spirit is imparting to us.
There are many factors still in play, even as things are looking brighter. Over 70% of Massachusetts residents have been vaccinated, yet immunocompromised people are unable to take advantage of the vaccine; some of our members or visitors may choose not to be vaccinated; and children under 12 are not yet approved for the prevention the vaccine provides. Jesus instructs us to care for what he calls “the least of these”, this is our responsibility to the most vulnerable of those among us. As we move toward a return to normal may we keep the covers off the outlet and listen to what the Spirit has to say to us. Let us make choices as a congregation of God’s people who desire to express love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and gentleness; those traits which are the fruits of the Spirit with which we are blessed and called to share with others.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, keep us always expectant to hear your will expressed through your Spirit. Remind us that we are truly blessed with the Spirit-given fruits that you bestow upon us. Guide us as we discern how we are to use these blessings in ways that benefit all your children. And we pray these things in the name of the risen Jesus, who sent the Holy Spirit, the Advocate to guide us in the ways that bestow abundant life on all. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.