The story told in the first reading from Acts today is what this Sunday of Pentecost, and our lives as Christians, is all about. It explains how the Holy Spirit is to help us in our lives to be Christ’s people of faith and hope.
The term Pentecost means “fiftieth day”; this celebration occurs 50 days after Easter. As you can see, the color of this day is RED!!! This IS the color of the church! Red symbolizes both the fire of the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost, and it is for the apostles and the early followers of Jesus gathered for the empowerment from God to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world. (Of course, it’s not that clear that they all were actually gathered together waiting for this to happen; there were about 120 of them gathered at that time and place.)
Many Jews gathered together each year at that time in Jerusalem for Pentecost, or the Festival of Weeks, which in the Jewish tradition was a spring agricultural celebration. The Jewish community would gather to offer thanksgiving for God’s bounty of the first grain harvest. By the time of Jesus, however, this festival had become more about commemorating the giving of the Torah. This specific group of people gathered with the Apostles were devout Jews, but had been learning from Peter and the others about Jesus, and all were “ready” for the Holy Spirit to come to them. Earlier, Jesus had told the Apostles as we heard in the Gospel reading today from John, that the Advocate (the Holy Spirit) would come to them, but not until he had left them. Jesus had just left them about 10 days before to ascend to the Father, so it was now time for the Spirit to come upon them.
Let’s look at some of the aspects of the Holy Spirit as it showed itself to these people. It had a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire room where they were sitting. It divided itself as tongues of fire, resting on each of them. They were all filled with this Spirit and they began speaking in other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability. Even more interesting, each of the people heard the others speaking in their native language. Yes, these people were all Jews but had come from all parts of the Middle East and southern Europe—I won’t re name that full list of where they were from but it is extensive, and they clearly had many different languages. And, what were they all speaking about in their won languages—God’s deeds of power!
The people receiving this Holy Spirit all were amazed but also very confused. There were some watching this happen who thought they were all drunk. But Peter told everyone boldly that “these people are not drunk, for it is early, only 9 o’clock in the morning.” He reminds them of what was spoken through the prophet Joel—“In the last days I will pour out my Spirit upon everyone, and some will prophesy, some will have visions, and some will have dreams. Even upon the slaves, this will occur. Finally, at the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The Holy Spirit had come to everyone there, not just a chosen few. This is also how it is now—the Spirit is here for all who believe; everyone can receive a share of God’s gift. This event foretells the universal mission of the Church—to bring the message of Christ to everyone, regardless of race, class, gender, or whatever.
In the verses that follow this Acts reading it says that three thousand people were converted that day. That is almost as many as there are living in Montesano now. Wow! Wouldn’t that be something to see?
Have you ever been in any setting in the church or anywhere else where something like this occurred? I suspect not, at least not at this level of power and excitement. Once upon a time, in my earlier life as a Christian, I tried to “find the Holy Spirit”, I took a class related to learning about the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, and I even prayed for a long time for a real tangible show of the Spirit, the gift of speaking in tongues. I somehow thought that was something that made you a full Christian. At this retreat we all prayed for our desires and had hands laid on by others there. At some point I felt really weak and fell over (like fainting only more intense). After I was helped up after a few minutes I was told by some of the other leaders that I had received the Spirit, but not how I had asked for it. It was called “slain in the Spirit”. They thought that God had a sense of humor in doing this manifestation of the Spirit in me, when what I wanted was something to show off. Maybe my praying or faith was not strong enough—I now know that is not correct, although I know I can do better with my prayer life and such. What I learned from this is that the Spirit is not something you simply just call to and expect to receive whatever you want. The Holy Spirit is with us in our daily walk to help us find the real truth about God’s full revelation, and to be Christ’s witness to this to the world. That is different than calling upon the Holy Spirit to help you finish a project, or get an item you want, or even just to do better with your worship service or in singing hymns better.
The Spirit within us is to lead us in hope, for what is not actually seen but what is anticipated. That implies looking ahead to the future, not living in or with the past. I have been ill with some type of cold or flu the past two weeks, and I had a lot of time to think about and work on various things on the internet, because I couldn’t go out and see anyone. So, I decided to work again on all of our families genealogies, something I had not spent time on in at least 2 but more like 5 years. I’m still working on some parts of things with Bonnie’s family, but at some point this week I realized that as interesting as this is and how much it is neat to find out about your family’s past, it is indeed that—looking at the past. Being a faithful Christian is about living with hope into the future, and what a future it can be! There is a great big world out there of those people who yearn for something they are struggling to find! We have that something for them—Jesus Christ and His message of Hope and Love! The Holy Spirit is with us to bring others to Christ, and the Spirit can help us redeem this world to God.
This day is one to celebrate hope, knowing that God through his Holy Spirit is at work in his people. It is a celebration of newness, a renewal of purpose, mission and calling as God’s people.
So, what do we do now? Follow the Spirit. Walk in the rhythm of the Spirit. Sing in the Spirit. Pray in the Spirit. Be filled with the Spirit. Get the Spirit. AMEN