God is In: Celebrating Presence

Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost

2 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

5 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. 7 They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? 8 How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
18     Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

If you were going to describe Pentecost, how would you do it? You might talk about how it gets its name, for being 50 days after the resurrection. You probably would talk about the tongues of fire that come on each of the disciples. For most of us, we would use short hand like that to talk about this day: it is 50 days after Easter and it is the time the disciples receive the Holy Spirit.

For those who do not remember all the stories of the resurrection, one of the promises that Jesus gives the disciples before he ascends into Heaven is that he is going to give them to the Holy Spirit. It is thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit that the disciples are going to be able to live into the Great Commission that he gives them to make disciples of all nations.

It is only natural therefore that when we think about Pentecost we associate it first and foremost with this gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the day that Jesus’s promise is fulfilled, and the disciples receive the Holy Spirit that they have been needing. If that were all, then we only would have needed to read four verses today. The fact of the matter is that there is so much more to this story than just the fact that the disciples received the Holy Spirit. This gift is really only the beginning, not just of the story, but of the Church.

If the disciples had received the Holy Spirit but not done anything with it, the story would have ended right there. Instead, they took this gift of the Spirit and they shared it. They spoke in tongues and opened themselves up so that all those who had gathered from the ends of the world (well at least as far as they were concerned) were able to hear and understand the message they were conveying. The gift of the Holy Spirit was not something just for the disciples, but a gift that was meant to be shared.

I feel I would be remiss if I did not make an observation about the scope of the vision the disciples would have had for their task. They were charged by Christ to go and make disciples of all nations. Reading the list of the people gathered in the courtyard, it might have felt like they were well on their way to achieving their goal. Gathered around them were people from all parts of the Roman empire, which to them would effectively have felt like all the nations of the world. If they were really learned (something I am not sure we can say about the disciples) they might have been aware of regions outside the empire like Gaul and India. For them, all the world was the Mediterranean and that was who they were called to reach. God’s vision was so much greater and encompassed the tribes of Africa, the people of China, the aborigines of Australia as well as the tribes of North and South America. God’s vision was much greater than the disciples’ vision.

In the United Methodist Church, we talk about supporting the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. If we are honest, that last one is the one that makes us the most uncomfortable. Many of us would probably want more than just the gift of the Holy Spirit before we would be ready to start preaching and teaching in front of a crowd of strangers. I wish I could say that I was any better, but I find it really hard to share my faith outside of comfortable spaces like church gatherings.

I want us to realize that our witness can go far beyond the words that we say. We can bear witness to our faith in so many different ways. Our Sunday school teachers do it each week when they pass along our stories and help our children (and adults) to grow in their faith. Our musicians, like Becky Lippert, do it each week when they inspire us with songs that give praise to God. Even things like our offerings are a witness to our faith. We do not give our gifts because God needs our money. Our offerings are a testament to the faith we have in God and the transformative work that we want our money to do in the world.

We do not have to pull someone aside and tell them that Jesus died for them in order for them to know how much Jesus loves them. People need to hear that message, but they hear it when they see how we welcome people into our church and when people chose to spend the night here at church so that families who have no where else to stay can find safety and shelter here. Acts of kindness, like Meals on Wheels, are another way that we are preaching and teaching about God’s love without ever having to use words. The disciples are not the only ones who have been give the gift of the Holy Spirit. We all have been blessed by the Holy Spirit in our lives. The question is what are we going to do with it?

The disciples shared the gift of the Holy Spirit with all of those around them and I am not sure they could have done otherwise. Have you ever been around someone who is newly in love? You can tell by the grin they have, the gleam in their eye, and the way they cannot help but talk about this new person in their life and how great their affection is for them. They just have to share what they have experienced. They cannot hold it back. It reminds me of a hymn:

It only takes a spark to get a fire going and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love once you’ve experienced it; you spread his love to everyone; you want to pass it on.

What a wondrous time is spring, when all the trees are budding; the birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming. That’s how it is with God’s love once you’ve experienced it; you want to sing, it’s fresh like spring, you want to pass it on.

I wish you for you my friend, this happiness that I’ve found; you can depend on him, it matters not where you’re bound. I’ll shout it from the mountaintop; I want my world to know; the Lord of love had come to me, I want to pass it on.

Questions to Ponder:

What ways have you felt blessed or gifted with the Holy Spirit?

Who is someone you know who shares the Holy Spirit with people all around them?

When is a time that you have felt the Spirit stirring in your heart?

What is a vision or a dream you might have that God wants to enlarge?

Prayer:

God you have blessed us in so many ways, but most importantly with your presence in our lives. Fill us with your spirit and helps us to share that spirit with others. Give us the courage to pass along the blessings that you have given to us that others might come to know you through our witness. Amen