The First Pentecost
The story of Pentecost from the Book of Acts has so much going on, that it’s hard to pick a highlight for our attention. Still, here’s what hits home for me, right now, from this great story of the Holy Spirit’s grand stirring in the lives of those who came to believe in Jesus Christ on this day so long ago.
My ears, probably like yours, initially cling to the words “they were all together in one place”. For the first time in history, Christians this year are not all back gathered in one place, in our various church buildings throughout the world on this day or any Sunday.
In our congregation, we are not yet ready for the influx of togetherness, in either of our two buildings, that might leave any one of us vulnerable to the coronavirus. We are a large congregation and I know there are all sorts of opinions about this decision right now as things begin to open a little bit around us. But we are trusting our church leaders and health advisors for our particular community.
I do know, however, there’s one thing we all agree on – I know we’re all missing being together in one place. We long for this day, like Pentecost, when the remaining disciples of Jesus gathered together.
This was a festival time. A great number of faithful people –from the disciples and beyond – gathered overflowing out into the lobby and the parking lot with fellowship and food and festivity. We all miss that right now. I miss seeing all of you in person. I know you feel the same about me and one another. This isn’t what we’re used to. And as time goes by, those of us who are especially used to gathering each Sunday for worship in person, we miss it more and more.
But please hear along with me this morning – that the story of the first Pentecost spends very little time focusing on the initial group of believers who gathered inside in one place on that first Pentecost Day.
For you see, even on this first Pentecost, it quickly becomes abundantly clear that the holy spirit has left the building. This is as true a statement about the very first Pentecost – as it is today.
The Holy Spirit has Left the Building
In today’s famous Bible Story, the Holy Spirit descends dramatically in wind and flame. It descends on this small band of Jesus’ remaining disciples gathered in one place. But as quickly as the Spirit’s wind and flame spread rapidly among this tiny group, this tiny group begins speaking in other languages, each as the Spirit gave them ability.
And here’s where everything takes off! It’s as though the windows blow wide open and the doors of the gathering place become unhinged, and a whole variety of people outside suddenly hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, each in their own language. There are crowds of people from all sorts of countries out on the streets everywhere. Such diversity! Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome. The Spirit has no time to stay only among a few people who initially gathered in one small place. The Spirit pours out through this little group and spills out right into the hearts of thousands that day. Starting from the gathered ones, the Spirit, in one miraculous move, blasts out into the public. God’s Spirit is on the loose with the news of Jesus Christ in ways that everyone can hear. Each in their own language. They hear, for themselves, the unified message of God’s deeds of power. And all were amazed and perplexed, asking “what does this mean?”
It is to these ones, this crowd, that the apostle Peter begins to preach his sermon about the risen Jesus Christ. Using the words of the prophet Joel, he tries to explain what is happening as the Spirit of God fills young and old. Peter names that whatever God is beginning to do right in this moment, has been foretold by the prophets. God’s promises of the past are now coming into reality. They are arriving as a new thing – exciting, unstoppable, expanding — God’s Holy Spirit is blowing and ablaze, catching new people up in the salvation of God!
So, let’s hit the Pentecost Bible story pause button right here. Because, this part of the Pentecost story rings as true as it ever has right in this moment in our time. The Holy Spirit has left the building.
A Different Surge of Wind and Flame
In heart-wrenching detail we’ve witnessed a different surge of wind and flame rush through a city not far from us, in Minneapolis, in these last days, and now in numerous cities throughout the country, including our own city. Emotions too numerous to name have erupted in response to the unjust, deplorable death of George Floyd. The breath and spirit of that man’s life ended with the words “I can’t breathe”. Those final words have blown us all apart at the seams. George Floyd’s death, on the heels of several other wrongful deaths, has caused the rush of a different form of a mighty wind and ignited a firestorm of fury and frustration which has gushed out this week from places in people’s hearts where pain and anger has festered from generation to generation. Some actions now taken by crowds and individuals are not to be condoned necessarily. But the pain and anger expressed needs to be heard and respected.
So, Christians friends, on this Pentecost Day, I’d invite us again to consider that the Holy Spirit has opened the doors and windows of our current gathering places and has called us into the streets. And as we stand outside, we’re invited to look around us and within us and ask ourselves all sorts of questions in light of these past days. How do we take in the pain and anger of those in our own communities whose voices need to be heard? How do we listen? How do we learn? How do we grieve alongside? How do we demand justice? How do we reconcile with one another? How do we strive to chip away at the gulf of a variety of divisions among us?
I don’t have good answers to any of those questions. But I do know that we re–commit ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s work in, through and among us to live guided in such a way that together we earnestly search for and find those answers together. And I do believe that on that first Pentecost, just as I believe now – that the Holy Spirit crosses all divisions, to move each person to hear in their own language the loving, reconciling, forgiving, life-changing, community changing, power of God. I believe, along with you, that the Spirit’s power aids our sons and daughters to prophesy and our young men to see visions and our old men to dream dreams. And all people, moved by the Holy Spirit, have the ability to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, who brings new, changed, and eternal life to all.
God’s Holy Spirit will blow wherever it will. I sometimes think of our current situation as Christians from my nature-loving perspective. We traditional Christians have been forced into a different circumstance in these past many weeks. We’re rather like young fledglings, who’ve been forced out of our safe little building nests of church facilities to move out into the world all the more. We’ve been pushed out into the streets – to overflow with the Holy Spirit’s work of sharing the gospel in ever more creative ways to those who long to hear it. We’re learning from our experience, as did the disciples, that God will do new things!
This is the time to have new courage to let the Holy Spirit work through you and me. Let the Holy Spirit stir you to think differently on how you show and speak of your faith.
How do you speak and show your new and hopeful life to others? What does that look like?
Weeks ago, if anyone would have told our little remnant of church staff gathered this morning that we’d have as many or sometimes more people attending church on Sunday by shutting down our building and going online, we’d have never believed them! OK, maybe our media staff member Eric would have believed it. But really??!! Thank you, Holy Spirit!
Weeks ago, if anyone would have told you that by all the restrictions put on our lives right now, many of us would find more time to talk with our neighbors. Our friends. Our family. Who would have believed it, right?! More than ever before, our words and actions with those we know are means through which the Holy Spirit’s power connects our witness to the gospel to the people closest to us. In your love, in your care, in your time and attentiveness, who knew you and I would rise to the occasion to become more intentional in our relationships? Thank you, Holy Spirit!
Blowing us in New Directions
You see, the wind of the Spirit blows where it will. It’s a powerful force. It’s a remarkable reality to be caught up in the Spirit. This is the perfect time as a church to let that Spirit blow us in new directions that we never even thought of before. Together and individually in our faith – this is actually a very exciting time!
So, a couple weeks ago, I took off in the car to go to the grocery store. I had the car window open. As I was driving literally to the end of our block, I heard a loud sound. It took me just a moment to recognize it. It was the sound of a bagpipe.
I glanced around trying to figure if some sort of funeral procession was about to come past my street. I tried to see what on earth was happening, as it was a disorienting sound. The sound stopped — just as I arrived at the stop sign at the end of our cul-de-sac. But it gave me time to see the source of the sound.
Literally, across the street, standing on the sidewalk, was an older man, in full Scottish garb, with a bagpipe. He was facing one house. The family of the household had 2 young children. The parents and children were standing just off their front step, talking from a distance to this man. Laughing and smiling, they chatted. The bagpiper’s car was parked across the street. Another family in our neighborhood was distanced and had their phones out filming. I had no idea what was going on except —- it was clear that this bagpiper had made a surprise, in–person visit to play songs for this family. Was this a friend? Was this to cheer them up? Had someone requested he come and play? I don’t know.
But I sat at our stop sign, pulled out my phone and called my husband and daughter. I said, “If you have a moment, you’ve got to come see and hear this! There’s a guy dressed in his full Scottish garb playing the bagpipes at the corner of our street for a family. He’ll possibly play another song. And believe me, we’re never going to see something like this in our neighborhood again.
I went off to the grocery store. My family walked down to the corner. They arrived just in time to hear and watch the bagpiper play “Amazing Grace”.
I still have no idea what any of that was about. But I do know that wind – and spirit – and music – and witness – and love for neighbor was all bundled up in that moment. It was something that – in any other time – likely would have never happened. Yet, this is exactly the time when our usual ways of doing things – can become totally different. And the Spirit pushes us out – the Holy Spirit has left the building – taking us along into new and unusual ways to witness.
Thanks be to God! Amen.