A young football player, in the last few minutes of the game, his team is down by 3 points, grabs the ball in the middle and goes racing off towards the goals, he bounces the ball a couple of times, he runs faster than his legs can carry him, and farther than he ever dreamed of running, he kicks without hesitation and scores a goal, a goal that is the winning one.
When the game is over, the coach says to him, “I didn’t know you had it in you.” The footballer replies, “I didn’t. I was picked up and carried by something outside myself.”
That is the experience that people have when they completely outreach and outdo themselves.
Taking a look at our Acts reading for today, Peter is the one who stood up and addressed the crowd, and when he began to speak, they all listened. He spoke with boldness and with power.
If anyone had said to Peter, “I didn’t know you had it in you,” he surely would have said, “I didn’t. It wasn’t me. It was the Spirit of the Lord speaking through me.” And we read that 3,000 people were saved and baptised that day.
Today is Pentecost, the birth of the Christian church. The birth that was predicted in the book of Joel, that Peter spoke of; the birth that Jesus spoke of with his disciples. I don’t think Jesus was speaking about creating a new church but a new way of church – the church of the Jews, his church. That still happens today in what is called the Fresh Expressions of church – not a new church but a new way of doing church and for us here at Drysdale is our mainly music, Friday School and Messy Church programs.
Celebrating Pentecost provides the opportunity for us to recognise God’s Holy Spirit at work in the life of the church and in the lives of individuals.
But what is this day? Where does it originate? The word Pentecost comes from the Greek word pentecoste, which means fiftieth; and on the Christian calendar, Pentecost is the fiftieth day after Christ’s resurrection. The Jewish festival of Pentecost is also called Shavu’ot, or “weeks,” because it follows Passover by seven complete weeks. The festival can be traced back to an agricultural celebration; the harvest of the first sheaves of barley, which brought joy to the people.
The Hebrew and Greek words for “Spirit” are ruakh and pneuma, both of which can also mean “breath,” “wind,” or “air.” One theologian says that the words are associated with a wide range of realities in the Bible: divine energy and presence, the human core or essence, the beginning and ending of life, and demonic and angelic beings. They frequently describe the divine energy that resides in all living and breathing human beings, which is the link between all of our lectionary readings today.
The Christian traditions surrounding Pentecost originate in Acts 2, as we heard earlier, where the gathered disciples experience the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit. The account speaks of a sound “like a strong wind” and something like “tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there”. The disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak”. In fulfillment of Christ’s promise in Acts 1:8, the disciples received power from the Holy Spirit to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. The Christian world views this empowerment as the birth of the church.
In the other readings set for today the Romans passage uses the metaphor of birth to describe the infant church awaiting guidance of the Spirit, while making the transition from old ways to a new life in Christ. John introduces the Advocate, or Spirit of Truth, as the guide for those who follow Christ. The Psalm proclaims that all creation rejoices at the touch of God’s hand. Ezekiel witnesses the recreation of life in the dry bones achieved by the breath of God. At Pentecost, the mission of the church, the mission for us, is to reach out to the world with the love of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is a difficult concept for us to grasp. Next week to hear that God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are all one and I will leave that Trinitarian doctrine for next week’s leaders to convince us about. But the Holy Spirit today is shown as the movement of God within us, the breath of God in us, the voice of God in us, the power of God in us.
Hispanic preacher, Roberto Gomez, compares the Holy Spirit to a god-parent. In Hispanic ancient tradition the god-parents, padrinos and madrinas, were a couple to provide financial support for that child especially if something happened to the parents. But the role of god-parent today is to provide mentoring, listening, support and prayer. Mentoring is providing wisdom, guidance, and experience to a child. Listening is having an unbiased and non-judgemental ear. Support is helping the child and parents when times are tough, when they are tired and exhausted, of providing a bit of prodding. Praying for a child as a loving caring approach to their spirituality.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that was the approach taken today by those who become god-parents instead of it just being seen as something that was part of the baptism ceremony.
Gomez says that this particular relates to the Romans reading with the Spirit being there for us in our weakness and by interceding for us through prayer. The breath of God surrounding us at all times. It just makes me think of the footsteps in the sand story with God carrying us in our times of need.
If I go back to the Acts reading there are some special points to make.
- They were all gathered together. The “all” presumably refers to the 120 believers mentioned in Acts 1: 15. Why were they all together? As believers who had known Jesus they had become a community. As it was Pentecost they were celebrating this festival. The community included the eleven apostles so they had the experience and the authority of Jesus to work together. We read in chapter 1 that they prayed for guidance from God about adding a new apostle in place of Judas, and then drew lots selecting Matthias. The important thing is that they prayed; they still knew that this was the way to make decisions, to be led. So gathering together would be like us gathering together today to share our love of God.
- Everyone heard them in their own language. Everyone was able to hear the good news; the news of the great things done by God. They had gathered in one place, one house, but with the excitement must have gone outside for the crowd to gather around them. This was an important “miracle” if that is what we can call it. It meant that everyone, irrespective of language, of culture, of experience was allowed to hear. If this was the birth of the church it was certainly the birth of a different church, a church that was open to all, to all who would believe. This was the first group of evangelists who because of their noise was able to attract a crowd who were able to hear and understand them. Do we do that? I don’t mean standing on the corner or in the mall and witnessing of the good of Jesus; I mean do we take the opportunity to talk to anyone who is prepared to listen to us. For some talking to others is easy, for others it is jolly hard and if it is talking about our faith is extremely hard. But it was this experience that gave us the chance to do so.
- The third aspect I would like to point out is that Peter spoke to the crowd. Our connection with Peter starts when he was just an ordinary fisherman who was prepared to leave his nets and follow Jesus, to be one of his disciples. He develops in his knowledge and friendship with Jesus and becomes a trusted companion. He works well with Jesus but in Jesus’ last moments betrays him. Now we see Peter take control. His companions are because accused of being drunk and he reacts; not in a bad way but in a way to draw the people to together. His Jewish background enables him to quote from the prophet Joel and to speak the truth about Jesus – in other words he draws old and new together. Go home and read the rest of the chapter for the rest of Peter’s sermon that sets Jesus as the basis of our witness. Peter was able to settle the community and the crowd so that they could speak confidently.
Let me finish with another story:
At a church conference, a preacher noticed a young man who listened attentively to the lectures. He wondered who he was. He took the opportunity to speak to him and was told he was from Nepal, the tiny country on whose border with Tibet sits Mount Everest. He once was a Hindu and believed in many gods. While he was attending college, a student gave him a tract about Jesus. He was so intrigued reading about Jesus that he got a Bible to read more about Jesus. Soon, he encountered the living Christ and became a Christian. He joined a Christian fellowship.
For the first time in his life, he felt forgiven and redeemed. He left a life of confusion and uncertainty for a life of assurance, hope, faith, and love. He began living a new life, a life based on the living Christ. It was a dangerous time for him. At that time, Nepal did not allow Christians to worship openly. His family, all Hindus, ostracized him. Yet his faith in Jesus Christ grew stronger. Several years later, the government changed and Christians could worship openly. Then his family became Christian. Now, as headmaster of a small Christian college, he joyfully serves the Lord Jesus Christ.
How could it be that a young man from Nepal read a tract about Jesus, became a convert to the Christian faith, and now directs a Christian training school? A small beginning. It happened because of the movement and power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired someone to write that tract, someone else to give away the tract, and that Nepalese man to read it and be touched by its message about the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit’s power still works in believers and empowers us to be living witnesses of Christ by the testimony of our words and our lives. We must never look upon Pentecost Sunday as celebrating an ancient, one-time-only event. A believer is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit at baptism or confirmation, and it is a daily Pentecostal event and cause for celebration. The Lord is still adding daily to the church those who are being saved and subsequently empowered by the Holy Spirit. Let us make sure that we are one of them. Amen.
Rev Kenneth Sauer, East Ridge United Methodist Church, Tennessee – Vision and Dreams:
Seasons of the Spirit