Pentecost is a day in the Jewish calendar to pause, gather and remember the great acts of God. “Pentecost” because it is 50 days after Passover. It is not too surprising that this good-sized group of Jesus’ disciples had gathered in one place. Jesus left them ten days before and they had this brief time to try to absorb what had happened. I don’t know if they expected something momentous to happen on this day but it certainly did. Like the resurrection of Jesus, it was something that was experienced far better than it could be explained or even understood by those who were gathered there.
It was such a remarkable experience that passersby on the street stopped to share in it. Those who heard the message were even more startled to hear these Galilean fishermen speaking in all these languages. Every sort of person on the street stopped and was amazed at what they heard.
Joy J. Moore [Sojourners June 2014] got me thinking about this story. She noted the purpose of Pentecost: a day to pause, gather, and remember the great acts of God. So, I thought about that.
All these years I have been reading the Jewish texts of our Bible, I have been impressed with the frequency that the writers mention the things God has done for them. Once the Jews leave Egypt, every leader and prophet seems to remind them of their bondage there and how God helped them by sending Moses. How God helped them become a nation while they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. How God made sure they had food and water and gave them a law to live by and leaders, like Moses, who could help them determine how to apply those laws. It seems every few pages the story is repeated so the Jewish people will not forget it, will not forget what God has done for them.
When we hear this story in Acts, I think we often lose sight of why this group had gathered in the first place. They were there to remember what God had done for them. I imagine they would discuss the story of Moses and the release from bondage and all the other things God had done for the Jews over the centuries.
But, surely, they would eventually get to the remarkable time they had with Jesus before and after his death. Jesus had time with them after his resurrection to explain some of what he had been trying to tell them by living and traveling with them. We are told he explained very much about old Jewish prophesies and how they applied to him when he walked with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. The people gathered in Jerusalem to pause and reflect on God’s gifts would have received similar instruction from Jesus.
While the Pentecost story is truly remarkable-the tongues of fire, the speaking in tongues, and the Galileans impressing the masses-perhaps Luke who wrote this account has buried the lead. Or, we get so excited about being included in this outreach to Gentiles, that we bury the lead. Maybe this story isn’t about the mighty wind or the speaking in tongues but about the message the passersby hear. This message about what God has done for the Jews, the disciples, the people on the streets of Jerusalem, for us, and for the whole world.
Peter quotes the prophet Joel, “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. … Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And we have a quote from Paul in the letter to the Corinthian Church, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” Paul, too, is talking about all the things God has done for us. Then we have Jesus talking about living water that flows directly from him for those who are thirsty.
It seems/ God has a lot to offer to us. The Holy Spirit is powerful and helps us to do so much we wouldn’t have been able to do. The Holy Spirit helped these folks gathered in Jerusalem to do so much they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams. Well, Peter reminds them that even old men will dream dreams! There is much hope in these lines. The Holy Spirit is here and great things will happen!
These people gathered in the room to talk about what God had done for them and what God had done for Jesus, found that God was not something in the past to remember but something in the present that they could not ignore. Suddenly they can speak-or at the least be heard-in all the languages of the known world. Peter knows just what to say. The Holy Spirit will be poured out on everyone and even people you wouldn’t expect: male and female, slave and free, and Jew and Gentile will receive the Holy Spirit.
No one is looking up in the sky for Jesus. They are primed and ready to represent God’s kingdom right now.
There is so much the Holy Spirit does for me. Instead of seeing people as scary or wounded or dirty, I see people as people-as beloved by God. That comes from the Holy Spirit when I don’t get in the way. When I look someone in the eye and can see what I have in common with them even when we really have nothing in common but our humanity, that is the Holy Spirit-not me. When I can stand up here and speak without losing my voice to paralyzing fear, that is the Holy Spirit, not me.
We probably won’t have a mighty wind blow through here-maybe we should open the windows and turn on the ceiling fans. Let’s spend this Pentecost day remembering all the great things God has done for us. Let’s lift our voices in praise and thanksgiving! I mean, really, only the Holy Spirit could have prodded Rev. Nevius to come out to these hinterlands and plant churches in true backwater places. God did that for us. Think of all the generations of people who have sat in this room breathing in and breathing out and praying for their families and their town. Gathering to remember what God had done for them in the hope that one day they would have more people here. And, here we are much as they were, a small group taking care of one another on our own. And yet, because of that Holy Spirit, we can dream dreams. We can live out there and bring the hope of the Holy Spirit to those we meet. We can take our gratitude for all God has done for us out into the world. Let’s have a true Pentecost and worship the God who has put faces on the clay of the earth to give us life and breath and the Holy Spirit.