First Congregational Church
May 20, 2018
Pentecost Sunday and Heritage Day
“Amazed and Perplexed - Still”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It seems rather appropriate on this Pentecost Sunday and Heritage Day to take a glance over our history as God’s people. But before that, you all know, right, why the early days of history were called the dark ages? Because there were so many knights. And in homage to the royal wedding yesterday, you know why England is the wettest country in the world? Because the queen has reigned there for years. And just in case you ever make it to the Jeopardy show, how did the Vikings send secret messages? By norse code.
Back to the point, it was the Spirit that 1. hovered over the waters in Genesis 1:2, and just 24 verses later, God said, “Let us make mankind in our image.” We’re not sure whether that use of the plural “us” and “our” is about God and the Trinity or God and the other heavenly beings, but I think we can reasonably say that that “us” and “our” was not a human form - at least not as we understand humans to be.
God was speaking of the creation of the tabernacle to 2. Moses, when God said God had chosen 3. “Bezalel and had filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” (Ex. 31:1)
Then there was 4. Joseph, of whom the Pharaoh said, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” (Gen 41:37) There was Moses and that 5. pillar of fire leading God’s people (Ex. 13), and the “fire of the Lord” burning up 6. Elijah’s altar (1 Kings 18). A flame always burned in the tabernacle to remind people that God was present there (Lev. 6, 12,13).
In all of the 7. Old Testament, the word or name “Spirit” or “Spirit of God” is mentioned 193 times. If there is nothing else that comes out of this morning’s message, perhaps it is my own reminder that there is far more depth to the “Spirit” we celebrate this day.
Then there is this day. 8. Shavout is the Hebrew name, 9. Feast of Weeks is the English name and Pentecost is the ancient Greek name that represents part of today’s celebration. Shavout, according to Wikipedia, is the all-important 10. wheat harvest in the Land of Israel, as spelled out in the book of Exodus, chapter 34 - probably not so far from our own traditional Thanksgiving. Although there is no Biblical link between the two, Shavout also commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the 10.5 Torah (the first five books of the Bible) to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai.
Add into this mix the word 11. “ruach”, which is the Hebrew word for breath, wind and/or spirit. Except that it is not a word for a person, but a word for a force. It is invisible and like wind, because it can be felt or experienced, but not seen. The ancient Greek equivalent is 12. pneuma; which means to breathe or blow, primarily denoting the wind. It is Breath; the spirit which, like the wind, is invisible, immaterial, and powerful”. It is the word from which we get pneumonia, and as a number of folks can attest, pneumonia is a serious force with which to be reckoned.
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus said he would send another 13. Advocate, implying that Jesus was the first Advocate or 14. Helper, as in judicial terms, one who is “called alongside of”, originally meaning a 15. legal assistant. Sometimes translated as 16. Comforter, this kind of advocate, when your scared and unsure of procedures, is a familiar and consoling presence as the Dr. Bulls, Perry Masons, Olivia Bensons, Ben Matlocks and Atticus Finchs of the world and television fame.
One last item to enter into this conglomeration is the immediate setting: of a bewildered, grieving, hopeful, gathering of the eleven apostles plus Matthias, along with “certain women,” Jesus’ mother Mary, and his brothers - not so unlike the gathering forty days prior to that day, the day when Jesus first appeared after his death. They had moved from the setting of Jesus’ 17. ascension back to God, to the 18. temple and then to this 19. room in Jerusalem - a room that secluded the gathering away from the crowds that would have gathered for the Shavout celebration that day.
The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost
2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Thank you, Julie and Paul. In reference to the sermon title, it obviously came from the twelfth verse of our passage, and who among us wouldn’t also be amazed and perplexed? If you were there that day, having all this historic understanding and depth in your background, sort of like how we have our national historical heritage, how do you think you would have held that day?
Don’t forget that this event was perhaps the fulfillment - or at least against the backdrop of - the prophecy from 20. Joel - God pouring the Spirit on “all flesh,” making no distinctions according to rank, authority, or position. The Spirit crumbles all the walls of respectability: age, gender, and status alike. Children, male and female children, women and men, servants, all of them would - and did - receive the Spirit.
Don’t forget the sound of a 21. tornado-force wind filling the building followed by the spread of 22. tongues of flames on their heads, 23. diverse languages filling the air. In the chapter right before the one that Julie and Paul read, the apostle Luke wrote that while they were eating with Jesus, at a post-resurrection appearance, Jesus said that the disciples would receive 24. power - the Greek word from which we get dynamite. All of this comes together in the 25. birthing of the church universal and the beginning of the careers of disciples whose work would change the world forever. All these metaphors for the spirit -- power, tongues, fire, and wind -- all signify the radical nature of the Spirit’s freedom. This potential confusion has the power to divide them as much as it has the power to unite a huge crowd in its commitment to its new Savior and each other. And yet, once the Holy Spirit draws these new Christians together, that same Spirit sends them back out into the world.
My guess is that a good many of us tend to think about all this build up in historic terms, not necessarily relevant to us modern, post-modern even, followers of Christ. Except that the Spirit is still relevant, still working in powerful and dynamic ways, even when we don’t recognize those ways as such.
150 years, one little church in one little town, and if only we could add up all the pennies and nickels and quarters and dollars that have been sent to 26. missions throughout the world. And all the 27. weddings that have been celebrated here, and all the 28. lives celebrated and all the lives 29. baptized into the church universal and all the joys and concerns shared in the approximate 7,800 Sunday morning 30. worship services held right here. And that’s not including the 31. special Lenten services or the Sunday evening services that were held on and off over the years.
We don’t necessarily think of all these “numbers” as miracles or as great moments in the history of the world, but they are great moments in the history of many of our own little worlds, miracles and moving of the Spirit that can still amaze and perplex us in the way they touch our hearts and tear ducts, sometimes in the most unexpected of moments.
It might be easy, on a day that celebrates events that happened so long ago, to minimize the importance of what we do week-to-week. But each and every week, there are 32. hands to be held in consolation and understanding, 33. hugs of joy to be shared, cups of 34. coffee and goodies to be shared while getting to know someone you don’t yet know well. There are still moments and times and 35. conversations and expressions of appreciation that need to happen, because all of us have important pieces in the continuance of the work of the Holy Spirit. So let us get to the 36. praying.
Holy and Eternal God, we thank you for giving and sending your Spirit - again and again - continually, even. Thank you for the examples of the powerful and profound ways that your Spirit has moved in the past, giving us hope for future events of equal enormity. But thank you, even more so, for those little ways in which your Spirit has moved over the centuries, the little ways that are actually big ways, that are really reflections of your love and adoration of your people. Help us to continue to reach out to others in your name, to further your kingdom, in the large and small ways as they come about. Thank you for the gift of your Son, who changed the world, too, in all his great and small gestures and examples. More than anything, God, thank you for you and for creating us in such a way that we can still be amazed and perplexed and revel in all that you do - and will do - through us — and all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.