A Sermon for The Eliot Church of Newton, UCC
May 24, 2015 – Pentecost Sunday
Text: Acts 2
Reebee Kavich Girash
THE WORD A Responsive Reading from Acts 2
One: A reading from The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2.
One: When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples and followers of Jesus were all together in one place.
Two: 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. 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.
One: Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
Two: And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in their own native language. Amazed and astonished, they asked,
All: “Are not all these who are speaking Galileeans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
Group A: Par-thi-ans, (Par-thie-ans)
Group B: Medes, (Meeds)
Group C: Elamites, (el-a-mites)
Group D: residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, (Mess-a-po-tame-ee-ah, Jew-day-ah and Cap-i-doe-sha)
Group E: people from Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, (Pon-shush, and Asia, Fry-gee-ah and Pam-fee-lee-ah)
Group F: visitors from Egypt and from parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene (sigh-reen), and also from Rome,
One: both Jews and proselytes (pra-sell-ites),
Two: Cretans and Arabs (Cree-tans and Arabs).
All: In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
Two: All were amazed and perplexed, saying,
All: “What does this mean?”
Two: But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,
Three: “People of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘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 (pra-fi-sigh), and your young shall see visions, and your old shall dream dreams.”
Two: So those who welcomed Peter’s message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
One: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Two: Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
There was a little boy wandering the hall.
I did not speak his language and he did not speak mine.
Someone went to find his mom and I pulled out the universal language of the two year old, the crayons and paper.
Colores, he asked?
Si, I said.
Verde, he asked?
Green! I said.
But what I was trying to say was:
You are safe, I will stay with you.
He sat with me and colored for a while. And then his Mama was found.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2nd Corinthians)
My friends, the apostle Peter himself could show up here, in this church, on this chancel, speaking our language, but we’d still have to open our minds and hearts and listen to understand the Holy Spirit’s message!
We trace the beginning of the Christian Church to a strange day - Pentecost, not too long after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Within these verses we discover how a ragtag group of followers of The Way, still confused about where their Teacher had gone, transformed into The Church. The followers became bold leaders.
The Holy Spirit came in wind and fire, primal forces like creation all over again,
- don’t you remember, in the very first chapter of Genesis, “1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind /Spirit/ breath/ Ruah from God swept over the face of the waters.”
- it was just like that, in the house where they were all staying, and these people received the power of prophecy. The Holy Spirit moved them from confusion to confidence, and they began to preach the message of Jesus and people began to listen and on that very day, 3000 converted, and gave up what they had, and lived together in common, breaking bread and praising God and serving those in need.
The church was off to a good start.
It all happened because Peter and the Twelve, and the rest of their circle were open to the Spirit. Jesus had told them he was sending them an advocate (John), power from on high (Luke 24). And because they trusted that the promise would be fulfilled, they were open to God’s surprises. So when the Spirit came in flames and wind, they let it wash over them and clothe them and work through them. They went out and spoke Spirit-filled words to travelers from across the known world.
Now some of those travelers thought the preachers were drunk.
But some of them were open to God’s surprises and they asked, “What does this mean?” And the Spirit spoke to them through the apostles and they were converted.
All these people were transformed by the Holy Spirit because they were willing to be changed. They were open to the Spirit.
One famous progressive theologian (Marcus Borg) said Pentecost was the Spirit undoing Babel and bringing back together a broken and divided human kind. On the other hand, Eric Barreto of the Narrative Lectionary Podcast, says it is not Babel reversed – if it were, everyone would speak the same language. Instead, here God in Spirit learns all our our languages and speaks to us in our our own heart language, meets us where we are, bridges language and culture to bring us good news. Barreto and his colleagues say that when we manage to connect with people who are very different from us – it is the Spirit connecting us. This interpretation won me over, at least this week. Language, you see, has the power to divide us. It's really easy to stick to your own language. We are divided by culture, we are divided by class, we are divided by language, whether we speak English or Spanish, whether we speak abstractly or concretely, whether we speak technically or artistically, whether we speak orthodoxy or orthopraxy, whether we tell a story or ask a question, whether we speak justice or comfort. What a gift that the Spirit might have a way to intervene when we do not have connecting words. What a gift that the divine divided tongues as of fire loosened and brightened the tongues of Peter and his companions. In the Pentecost moment, the Spirit helped the early church to find a way to share God's love with many different groups of people. How amazing, to suddenly be able to effectively communicate with one another? How amazing to bridge great divides?
Here is the other gift of the Holy Spirit that I would highlight for you: the Holy Spirit means we are not static. Pentecost gave the church the ability to adapt. “Until this moment in history, the faith known as the Way is an assemblage of eleven refugees from Galilee.” (Gary V, Simpson, African-American Lectionary Commentary) Until this moment the story, however dramatic, was history. The child was born, the man did preach, the teacher did heal, the prophet did die on the cross, Christ was resurrected. And only a small number of people knew it, and the lessons would have passed away with them. The Pentecost moment meant that Jesus' love and compassion, the hope of new life, the communion meal that he inaugurated, would spread across culture and language, would become new in each place and each era.
We like to be steady and stable. We are not always eager to change. “While I've never heard someone actually pray 'Come, Holy Spirit, that we might remain exactly as we are,' that's often how we act.” (David Lose, “Pentecost Change”) But the blessing of the Holy Spirit is that She made the story perpetual and dynamic. It is possible to share the good news with Parthians, Medes and Elamites, with folks from Watertown, Wellesley and Newton Lower Falls. It is possible that the Word is relevant to the justice questions of 1st Century Palestine and 21st Century Boston. It is possible, too, that this Holy Spirit can do a little translating in our own hearts. It is possible that the great Voice / Breath / Wind / Dove / Fire - Ruah in Hebrew, Pneuma in Greek - can provoke us and move us. Can comfort us when change is too hard and advocate for change when it is needed. Can make the Good News something new and good here in this place. Amen.
Benediction: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.