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Scripture Reading: Acts 2:1-8, 12-21
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All 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. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
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. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, 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.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Sermon: “Pentecost Puzzles”
Jesus’ followers had gathered in Jerusalem, along with Jews from across the then-known world, to celebrate Pentecost, which falls fifty days after Passover.
Pentecost gives thanks for the grain harvest while also celebrating God’s law handed down at Sinai. It was one of only three festivals during the year that all Jews came together in Jerusalem to observe.
Jesus’ followers remembered his promise that they’d share the good news in “Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They must have thought that Jesus had been mighty long on promising, but mighty short on details.
How could a handful of people with no money and even fewer plans testify to the ends of the earth in a world that didn’t want to hear what they had to say in the first place? They got their answer all right, and, when it came, it was hard to miss.
Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
God could have had everyone miraculously speak and understand some new, heavenly language. But God didn’t erase our diversity. God embraced it, rejoicing that we’re all so wondrously different.
We aren’t quite on that same page yet. Dr. Monica Williams, in last December’s issue of Psychology Today, broke down how we deal with diversity in a way that I found helpful.
- The first step, she said, is just being aware of it. Education, however, only goes so far.
- Tolerating diversity is next, recognizing and respecting other people’s values and differences. “Tolerate” isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement, though. We “tolerate” getting a root canal or paying our taxes. We shouldn’t just “tolerate” those different from us.
- Celebrating diversity is far better, but it still waters down and fails to appreciate other people’s cultures. Think of the food stands and costumes at different multicultural events. They’re nice enough, but celebration by itself just doesn’t cut it.
- When we leverage diversity, Dr. William says, we recognize that our differences are a valuable resource to use, not a liability to avoid. Late Night, a new movie starring Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson, makes that same point. Here’s a trailer.
- Embracing diversity meets others openly and honestly, focusing on what we have in common. At the same time, it also accepts differences in the way we look, the culture we live in, the values we have, and the experiences we share.
- A 180° turn from simply tolerating diversity is demanding and expecting it as something important and necessary. When we reach that point, Dr. William says, we can truly change the world.
God created and, at Pentecost, demanded a diverse world and church. That’s why those pilgrims in Jerusalem heard the disciples proclaiming what Luke called “God’s deeds of power” in Galilean accents.
Some called it a miracle. Others wrote it off as the ravings of early-morning drunks. The hairline cracks that started at Pentecost are now Grand Canyon sized disagreements still splitting the church.
Because of that, some people today, like the first scoffers at Pentecost, dismiss Christians with a sneer, calling us hypocrites or worse.
Here’s the thing. The church is made up of flesh and blood people, not plaster of Paris saints. I say that, not as an excuse, but as a fact.
Scattered and divided as we are, though, we Christians keep right on praying, “Your kingdom come,” inviting the holy chaos of that first Pentecost into our world, our churches, and our lives.
Because the Holy Spirit is the presence of the crucified and risen Christ, we shouldn’t expect our path as people of faith to be smooth or our journey easy.
In the cross of Christ we see God’s strength perfected through suffering, God’s victory achieved through defeat, and new life given through death. Pentecost doesn’t solve problems. It makes them.
Think about it: if the Holy Spirit hadn’t descended on the disciples, they could’ve gone back to fishing. They might have looked back and said, “Boy, it sure was a wild ride! Jesus was a heckuva guy. Maybe we needed to get all that out of our system before we could settle down and take over the family business.”
Once the Spirit came, there was no going back. It sent the disciples out proclaiming the unlikely message that God had redeemed the world through a wandering preacher, teacher, and healer from backwoods Palestine. The Romans crucified him for treason and blasphemy, and he then rose from the dead, God’s Son and the world’s Savior.
No, Pentecost didn’t solve the disciples’ problems. It made them, lots of them.
The Holy Spirit does more than just complicate our lives. It also tells us to find fulfillment in and victory through our setbacks and our failures. That’s not the way most folks see things.
We all know people who blame their failures on everything and everyone but themselves. They were fired because their supervisor was jealous of them. They flunked a test because the questions were too hard. The significant other who dumped them wasn’t good enough for them in the first place. People like this just don’t say the dog ate their homework—it gobbled up their life.
No matter how often we blame others, though, the truth of the matter is that we’re all going to fail. The question is, can we grow through our failures rather than just grieve them? I think we can.
- Failure can pop an overinflated ego and leave us more compassionate.
- When the bottom falls out, we’re often better able to see and appreciate small blessings that we ignored before.
- It’s hard to go through failure alone. It often brings us closer to others who walk with us through the pain.
Those who fail discover something about themselves that most winners never know, that they’re loved and wanted just because of who they are, not because of what they have or accomplish.
They learn the lesson of Pentecost, that God revels in the chaos of a diverse humanity, one worthy of love. Pentecost is a celebration of the sure and certain promise that wherever the fire burns, wherever the wind blows, there at the intersection of chaos and life, God’s Spirit is with us, driving God’s people into the heart of God’s mission.
Might we embrace that mission, you and I—demanding diversity rather than just tolerating it, embracing the challenges of our faith rather than running from them, and discovering, by God’s grace, opportunities for resurrection and new life even in failure, heartbreak, and loss.