In the Gospel of Luke, during Jesus’ final farewell to his disciples up on the Mount of Olives, he instructs them: “Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” They probably didn’t understand what that meant, but we’re told in Acts that his disciples, along with some women, including Mary, his mother, and his brothers, returned to an upper room in Jerusalem where they were staying, and they prayed.
Barbara Brown Taylor describes them as “dense, timid bumblers who fled at the least sign of trouble.” Jesus must have recognized this. They weren’t ready for the streets - or the pulpit.
So this is where we find them 50 days after Passover, when Jews from all over have poured into Jerusalem for the harvest festival of Shavout, called Pentecost by Greek speaking Jews.
Acts 2: 1-21 Pastor Susan and Jim Jordan
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them:
Jim: ‘Men 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,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Tongues of fire, the symbol of divine presence, resting on each of them. The sound of a violent wind filled that room - the breath of God, described in Genesis when God “formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” - described in the Gospel of John when Jesus appeared to them as they cowered in fear, saying: “Peace be with you. As the father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
It’s that breath of God, that Spirit that resides in each of us, sometimes lying dormant, sometimes coming alive as it did in Jesus’ followers that day. They were filled with God’s Spirit, transforming them from fearful, bumblers into fearless leaders, able to inspire others and communicate in a way that was understood by all those present. It was a universal message they had to share.
The arrival of the Holy Spirit that day didn’t remove the challenges, hardship, even persecution that lay ahead. It wasn’t a message “I’m here to rescue you. Relax. Everything is going to be alright.” No, it wasn’t that kind of message.
The Spirit arrived to equip them, to encourage them, to give them the strength and courage to walk out those doors and meet the needs of their community - to inspire others with the message Jesus had instilled in them.
In John’s gospel the “Spirit” is described as “parakletos” - “the one who comes along side of us” - the one who advocates for us, remains with us, guiding and strengthening us, so that God can work through us for the common good.
This is the pivotal event we describe as the birthday of the church. Peter emerges as the one Jesus names as “The Rock” upon whose shoulders the church would be built. He preaches his first sermon, drawing from the prophet Joel, to inspire us to prophesy, and see visions of what the future could look like, and dream dreams of the kingdom Jesus talked about.
The Spirit that set them on fire, transformed their lives and turned the world upside down. The list of nations foreshadowed the spread of Christianity throughout the world. Over and over again, throughout the 2,000 years since that first Pentecost, people have been filled with the Spirit in the face of challenges and adversity - in their own lives, in the life of the church, and in our world. It’s that Spirit that keeps the Body of Christ alive.
Howard Thurman once wrote, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” The disciples in that upper room came alive that day. It’s what the church needs today as we face so many challenges ahead.
If those in the church don’t turn the world upside down, who will? We need to speak in a language that can be understood by all: the unchurched, the atheists, the spiritual but not religious, those on both sides of the political equation. Jesus set the example. It’s a language of love and compassion, of justice and peace.
And we need to take that message outside the walls of the church, like those disciples did on that first Pentecost. 3,000 were baptized that day. To do that we need people who are filled with the Spirit. What brings you alive? What inspires you to walk out these doors and set the world on fire?
The Spirit has touched the lives of 6 people who have decided to join Eliot today. Two more will be joining in the fall. Maybe even more will decide by then.
WELCOMING NEW MEMBERS