A Spirit-Filled Revelry
Grace United Methodist Church
May 23, 2010
Acts 2: 1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they 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.
5 Now 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.’ <!– 14 –>
14 But 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.”
Pentecost is a kind of funny word. And when we hear this word, there’s probably a variety of different images that come to mind. Our eyes fill with the red blaze of fire. We might think of a crowd of people packed together like sardines. Or maybe what we see is the image of flames falling from the sky. Perhaps we can hear in our mind’s ear the sound of a heavy wind. Or maybe what we hear is the cacophony of hundreds of people speaking in various languages as wind and fire rush in the background. Today, when we think about Pentecost, we remember the beginning of the Christian church, its birthday. But for the Jews living just after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, Pentecost meant something entirely different.
Pentecost literally means, “the fiftieth,” and it marked the fiftieth day after the Passover. In Jesus’ time, Pentecost was an agricultural festival. It was the day when the farmer’s brought the first sheaf of wheat from the crop, and offered it to God, partly as a sign of gratitude and partly as a prayer that all the rest of the crop, too, would be safely gathered in. But, like Passover, Pentecost was also a reminder of God’s fulfillment of promises as the people were delivered from exile and slavery in Egypt. It was 50 days after God passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt that they arrived at Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments. In other words, Pentecost, the fiftieth day, isn’t just about the “first fruits,” the sheaf which says the harvest has begun. It’s all about God fulfilling God’s promises, and it’s about God giving to his redeemed people the way of life, the Holy Spirit, by which they must now carry out God’s purposes.
If you all are like me, then you love a good trip or vacation. Sometimes we just say, “I’m going to take a week off and go to the beach.” Then, we rent a house, or a condo, or a hotel room, and we hop in the car and take off for a week of relaxation – no schedule, no deadlines, nothing that has to be done; just relaxing on the beach, or next to the pool, or at the local coffeehouse. There are other vacations of course which require more in depth planning: plane tickets, rental cars, an in-depth itinerary for taking in all the great sights. And of course, once you set off on a journey involving planes, trains, buses, cars, and detailed itineraries, something is bound to go wrong. We’ve all experienced it at some point!
A few years ago, my Mom was returning from a mission trip to Sudan. The team’s flight was delayed out of Uganda, which means they missed their connection in Dubai. Several hours later, the team made it out of Dubai, only to get to New York, where flights were delayed because of bad winter weather. From New York, my Mom called me in Washington D.C., where I was in seminary at the time. She told me the team was catching a train to D.C., and she needed me to rent two vans at the airport and meet them at Union Station so they could drive the rest of the way home. I did as asked with the help of a friend, and we picked up a travel-weary team at Washington’s Union Station at 2 o’clock in the morning. By then, they had already been traveling for two days and they were beginning to lose hope that they would ever get back to East Tennessee.
But then, about five hours later, around seven or eight in the morning, I got a text from my Mom; they had crossed into the bounds of the Holston Conference and were getting ready to drop off some of the members of the team who lived in Southern Virginia. They would be in Knoxville before lunch time! They had arrived. It was the end of the journey; the promises had come true; a successful mission trip was complete, they were back home, and everyone could relax for a few days.
Now, let’s think about such a journey on a larger scale, 2,000 years ago. And instead of a mission trip, imagine a moment, long promised, dreamed of, planned for, prayed for, even ached for and agonized over: a moment when things would work out right at last, when hopes would be realized and good times would begin; when suddenly, a huge sigh of relief would give way to a huge sense of new possibilities. At last, things could really start. This was what Peter was trying to explain to the crowd gathered around for the festival in Jerusalem. These things that are happening are all signs; all that they had been hoping for, all that they had been looking for and waiting for was at last starting to come true! And the new creation, which began with Jesus Christ himself, would continue with God’s own people! Through the community of believers, the whole human race is going to be addressed with the good news of all that has happened in and through Jesus Christ!
As the people gathered for that first Pentecost felt the rush of wind and listened to the voices rising around them, what surrounded them was a complete and overpowering love: the love of God in Jesus Christ, the love that is sovereign and faithful to all people, the love that knows no boundaries, and the love that fulfills all our deepest hopes. If the celebration of Pentecost means anything, it calls the church to a universal witness; to extend the hope of forgiveness to all the nations, even as it has been extended to us. I think we all know the feeling of hopelessness. I believe we have all prayed for pain, sorrow, and difficulty to be taken away. I think we have all yearned for deeper love. Everywhere people are struggling with these same feelings, and the answer, the cure is Christ. There are people all over the world who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, who need to feel his love. And the witness of Pentecost is this: even if we walk different paths, even if we mingle in different circles, even if we talk different languages, we can still share the love of Christ with those people, with all people, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
You see, the aim of the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost is not to give people a “spirituality” which will make the things of earth irrelevant. The point is to transform earth with the power of heaven and the love of Christ, beginning with the followers of Jesus, the Christian community. Through the Holy Spirit, some of the creative power of God himself comes from heaven to earth and does its work there. But always the witness of the Holy Spirit is most effective when we tap into its power.
The largest subway in the world is in New York City. As you are certainly aware, subways like the one in New York are electric-powered underground railway systems. Every day, the system’s 6,200 cars carry 3.5 million people to their destinations. Each year, more than a billion people use the subway. The subway trains get their power through a “third rail,” which runs alongside all 723 miles of the subway tracks and supplies 600 volts of electricity to each train. Without the third rail’s power, the whole system would fail, and millions of people would be stranded. At all times, the successful operation of the subway system depends on the power of the third rail. Like the third rail is the subway’s source of power, the Holy Spirit is the source of power for Christians. As we connect with the Spirit, we are brought into Christ’s saving love, and we have the power we need to live the Christian life and to serve in fulfilling God’s purposes in the world. And as we tap into the power of the Holy Spirit, people will turn their heads aside, they will take notice of what is happening! Part of the challenge of this Pentecost passage, this story, is the question: have our churches today got enough power, enough spirit-driven new life, to make onlookers offer any comment at all?
When the Holy Spirit was poured over the believers at Pentecost, it did not knock them to their feet and it did not strike them dumb. To the uninformed observer, it looked like a drunken revelry, brought about by too much drinking of the spirits. But that was not what was happening at all. Rather, it was a Holy Spirit-filled revelry as words poured from the mouths of everyone present. The good news of Jesus Christ was being shared by all, heard and understood by all. And as we learn just a little later in Acts, that very Pentecost day, about 3,000 were added to their number. About 3,000 felt power and hope. About 3,000 knew love and forgiveness. About 3,000 called on the name of the Lord. What if we allowed the power of the Holy Spirit to speak through us? How many more might call on the name of the Lord?
Recently, I shared in the celebration of a child’s fifth birthday. It was a momentous and exciting occasion. As we celebrated, I remembered all the exciting birthdays I had as a child, how much I looked forward to growing a year older. Then I started to think about how the celebrations waned with each passing year, and about how we all reach a point where we sort of dread the next birthday. On Pentecost, we celebrate the birthday of the church. And I can easily see how it might be a dreaded occasion, how with a feeling of guilt, we might look at the Christian church in the world and think to ourselves, “Another year older and nothing to really show for it.” But if this is our attitude, we forget what Pentecost is all about; a Spirit-filled revelry celebrating the saving work of Jesus Christ. Indeed, God is faithful and sovereign. God in Jesus Christ loves us and cares for us. Let’s tap into the power of the Holy Spirit and share that good news in this world! There is SO much to celebrate!!!