First Congregational Church
June 8, 2014
Acts 2:1-12, 14, 16-21, 22-24, and 41-42
“In the Beginning, After the First Beginning….”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
For over 300 years the church’s only holiday was Easter. In the fourth century the church began to celebrate two other events, Christmas and Pentecost. For some reason Christmas has caught on a lot better than Pentecost. To the best of my knowledge, Hallmark does not sell “Merry Pentecost” cards. You probably didn’t even get a very good Pentecost present this year, so the best I’ve got for everyone today is a little homegrown, homemade Pentecost rhubarb sauce for our fellowship time in the lower level.
We get the word “pentecost” from the Old English, where it came from a church latin term, via the Greek term for a Jewish word that meant 50th day - that day being the 50th day after the second day of Passover, which is, coincidentally, the Festival of Shavouth. Do not allow your eyes to glass over, because there will be a test after the sermon today - this day that celebrates the birth of the church.
To set the scene, last week we celebrated Jesus’ ascension back to heaven, the day when Jesus stopped making all those impromptu post-resurrection appearances, the day when he became spiritually present everywhere at the same time, the day when Christ’s ministry was passed on to the disciples - and ultimately to us. Just before Jesus ascended, he told the disciples to wait, and to do nothing, until the Spirit came. Taking his words quite literally, the disciples just stood there, looking up into the clouds until a couple of angels came along to say “He’s coming back, get on with it.”
So they went back to the same upper room where they had their last meal with Jesus, and after a good deal of praying, they finally succumbed to the Congregational temptation to form a committee. Peter mentioned that they couldn’t really be called the twelve disciples anymore because of that unfortunate incident with Judas. In perhaps the first of the most deadly words of the church, “But we have always been the twelve, so we have to find another disciple to fill this unexpired term.” They had a little election. It took two ballots, but finally the lot fell to Matthias. About the time the clerk was enrolling his name with the other eleven, the Spirit came.
Acts 2:1-12 The Message
1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.
5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?
Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs! “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” 12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”
Acts 2:14, 16-21 The Message
14-21 That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy. I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous; And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”
Acts 2:22-24, 41-42 The Message
22-24 “Fellow Israelites, listen carefully to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man thoroughly accredited by God to you—the miracles and wonders and signs that God did through him are common knowledge—this Jesus, following the deliberate and well-thought-out plan of God, was betrayed by men who took the law into their own hands, and was handed over to you. And you pinned him to a cross and killed him. But God untied the death ropes and raised him up.
41-42 That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
Thank you, Peyton, Kyah and Reagan. In giving the church life, just like then, the Holy Spirit blows individuals in to us that speak other languages: the language of youth and the language of age, the language of singles and that of those who are married, the language of conservatives and that of liberals, the language of those who are delightful and those who cause us to look beyond their language to their hearts. The Spirit blows a lot of folks in to us, and regardless of who they are, it’s our job to care for them.
So we learn to speak the gospel in lots of different languages: the language of the broken who come to church speaking words of lament and who sit right next to those with a new baby who just want to praise. We have to speak in the language of those who are in love with Jesus and find belief easy, as well as those who struggle with unbelief and doubt. We have to speak in the language of those who have always been here and cherish our traditions, but who sit next to those who wouldn’t know a Gloria Patri if it kissed them on the forehead.
It’s also right interesting that the Holy Spirit continues to blow open the doors of the church, not only so others can come in, speaking a variety of tongues, but also so that we can all go out to participate in Christ’s mission beyond the church doors. In spite of all of the fuss about maintaining the identity of the twelve after Pentecost, the term disciple is almost never heard again. Now they are called the apostles, which means those who are sent out.
This calling, mission and job we have as the church may not seem all that important on the surface, but once we begin to know the names of those to whom we are sent, it becomes way more personal. So we meet Anxious, Discouraged, Withdrawn, Left-Behind, Orphaned, Purposeless, Empty, Tired, Doubtful, Powerless, Afraid to Believe. Through the wind of the Holy Spirit, believers are filled, and then sent out, empowered, encouraged, accompanied, and enabled to speak of God’s mighty deeds so that they are miraculously understood by all.
There aren’t many folks who would belittle the importance of names. When we were growing up, I delighted in pointing out that my sister’s name, Barbara, meant “stranger.” She didn’t think my emphasis on the “strange” part was quite as funny.
The apostle Peter, once known as Bumbling, Permanently Puzzled, Denier, Coward, and Asleep on the Job, after that first Pentecost Day, became known as Bold, Confident, Eloquent, Inspired, Evangelist, Fisher of Men and Women.
Of all the millions of possibilities for such transformations and new starts to come about, God decided to use plain, old people, us, complete with warts and all, the honor to work along with the Holy Spirit, to bring about such transformations as Affirmed, Graced, Comforted, Safe, Forgiven, Valued, Familied, Healed, Found, Honored, Seen, Heard, Blessed, Joyful, Empowered, Encouraged, and Beloved.
Just so that we’re clear about what exactly was born on this day, it wasn’t just another institution or religion. What was born was the honor, privilege and power to be witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth. The apostles weren’t given any maps or directions, other than to be witnesses for Christ. We were never given the power to climb up to heaven and peer into the mind of God. We were given the power to discern what we will do - when what we thought would happen - does not happen - that we may have hope, that we may “be” and that our new names will surprise even our own selves. So ought we pray.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.