Rev. Drew Stockstill - May 23, 2021
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? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
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.” 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.’
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples of Jesus were all together in one place. It’s good to be together in one place again. Isn’t it? Last Pentecost we weren’t. We were keeping our distance, staying home. We weren’t all together like the disciples, that’s for sure. We weren’t in one place.
The disciples gathered in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost were all together in one place. They shared a lot in common. They’d all spent their whole lives in the same small region, no bigger than Dauphin and Cumberland counties. They’d all witnessed Jesus die. And then they saw him resurrected. They saw him ascend into heaven. So that’s a lot. Most of all, they were all committed to continuing to follow Jesus even though he was no longer physically with them. They were charged to carry on his mission, to tell his story. But they had not yet begun that work when the Spirit blew onto the scene.
The Holy Spirit had shown up in the gospel before, but not like this. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and began his ministry, the Holy Spirit was there, fluttering down from heaven like a dove and landing gently on Jesus. But on the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit does not come gently but lands on each disciple like a tongue of fire.
Pentecost mosaic Image by Holger Schué
She makes a scene – the sound of violent winds and the furry of roaring flames. The disciples, too, were beginning their ministries, but apparently, they needed a bit more of a push. A dove wouldn’t have been enough to inspire the courage, hope, radical vision, and commitment they would need. Don’t forget, not very long ago, these same disciples abandoned Jesus in his hour of need. Peter denied he even knew the man. So, we can forgive the Spirit for being a little bit more hands on this time. We tend to need less subtle encouragement sometimes, don’t we, when we are called to bold action and deep faith? So, the Spirit shows up to make sure the disciples get off on right foot.
These disciples were charged with living out the way Jesus taught them, and continuing the work of teaching about grace, building beloved community, feeding the hungry and healing the sick. Pentecost is day-one of their mission of being the church. Before they started drafting their mission statement and casting their vision; before they could start to argue and splinter into the Peter faction and the John camp, the Spirit made herself fully known and took the reins.
If left to their own devices, do you think the twelve disciples would have started day one of being the church by reaching out to those completely different from themselves, folks who didn’t even speak each other’s languages? I don’t think so. We tend to look for those most like us and seek belonging there. When folks go looking for a new church, many look for the things they are used to, people who look like them, buildings that are familiar, worship styles they are comfortable with. Part of the polarization in our country today is because we often seek out people who tend to agree with us on things and so we become more divided. But the Jesus mission involved calling together a community of disciples from different cultures and walks of life. The twelve would need to keep Jesus’ movement diversifying, not staying in their comfort zone. Jesus called them to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. So, the Spirit brought the ends of the earth to them, to make sure all the people longing to hear the good news, and the disciples, got the message.
The Spirit showed up and said, “Here’s the deal, this gospel is going to be for everybody, so open your hearts and mouths because I’ve got a message for the Elamites and Mesopotamians and Egyptians, and Libyans and Romans. I know you don’t know them, but I do so get to preaching, they’re coming too.”
Do you remember several weeks ago when we were talking about Psalm 23 and Jesus as the good shepherd, Jesus told his disciples, his flock, the ones now gathered in one place, that “he had other sheep too, which were not of this fold. And he said, “I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” Well, he’s called them, they’ve heard his voice, and they’re here. There were folks from all over the known world, Jews from every nation, Egyptians and Arabs and Asians, and Cretans, visitors from Rome, all different cultures and colors and languages, different tribes, different flocks, but at the sound of Jesus’ voice, now coming through the disciples by the power of the Spirit, they were coming together.
That is what the Holy Spirit does, draws us all together, all the children of God, because that is what Jesus came and showed us was God’s dream for creation: to be one community, celebrating and enjoying God from now to eternity. We were created for that kind of community, the kind of community Jesus drew around himself where people who were in any kind of need were served regardless of their backgrounds and found the grace they were longing for and a community covenanted to living out God’s dream in a world that does not value such love, and in systems that actively oppose such mutual commitment. We were created for beloved community consisting of every kind of person, welcomed in their own tongue, celebrated for who God made them to be. But sin gets in the way – greed fuels massive inequality, conflict, and consumerism; fear and hatred create the many isms that plague us. We cannot be left to our own plans and devices to carry on the work of God, we need the Holy Spirit to make a scene, to force us out of our comfort zones, to liberate us from sin, so God’s dream for our community and for the world can come to bear. When the Holy Spirit takes the reigns, God’s mission through us become very apparent, it is right outside our door, like those who gathered to hear the disciples that first Pentecost.
We know the need, don’t we, Christ Church? Our call to be the body of Christ is not for our own sake but for a world waiting to hope again, in desperate need to come together. The Holy Spirit brings her fire to us to bless us with the gifts required for such a time as this. We are gifted, not for our own pleasure, but as Peter preached from the prophet Joel, for the young of Harrisburg, in search for new visions of life, and pathways to achieve them. We have been blessed for the sake of the elderly in our city and in our church dreaming dreams and longing for a community to carry them forward. That is the work of the Spirit when she shows up at church, this church: to gift us with the courage, humility, and passion to welcome completely those whom God sends us from the ends of the earth and from right around the corner.
Pentecost encourages us to hope beyond the pressing reality, and to dream beyond our best laid plans. I pray we hope what happens here is what happened that first Pentecost, because we’re all in need of hearing the good news that there’s a place where we can belong just as we are. People are longing for the message of grace. People need to know it’s true what we’ve been saying about Jesus, that he really does love and forgive and inspire and save and welcome into beloved community and give us a purpose to share that with others. I pray we are willing to receive the gifts of the Spirit, today, to be flexible and open to what newness God will bring us, and the changes God will call us to make, and gifts God will give us to make possible what is to come, even if it means turning all we have known and expected on its head.
Because, ‘In these last days God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
And that’s some bewildering, amazing, astonishing, perplexing, good news.