Acts 2:1-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
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.’
Happy Pentecost! This is the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the preceding weeks the texts have been hinting at this Spirit or Advocate, Helper or Counselor that would come and help the disciples in their times of need after Jesus was crucified, resurrected and then ascended into heaven. Often times it is referred to the birthday of the Christian church. Today as we celebrate this “holy day” of the gift of the Spirit, I would like for us to think about where we encounter the Spirit? What things run around in our mind as you answer that question? In todays world it seems like that answer would be different than it was just a few months ago. I was caught up in the opening line of that passage from Acts which reads, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” I actually laughed out loud as I thought of what that would take to happen today. There would have to be an exception made because it was more than 10 people. I wondered if they had to wear a mask? Were they socially distanced? Did they have to answer questions about where they had been and then have their temperature taken? Did they sing or have communion? Those are all questions we will have to ask ourselves when we come back together? And how we navigate these waters will be very important.
Where do we encounter the Holy Spirit? This building was one of the first places that I encountered the Holy Spirit. I became a member of the PCUSA in this sanctuary here at United Presbyterian Church. Since Middle School back in the 70s I was a part of this church, it gave me instruction in my formative years. I learned about the creeds and confessions, the actions and the movement of the Spirit. I then moved away to college and attended a community non-denominational church. It was OK, but I loved to come home and come back to this church on holidays. We then moved back to this church and Mary and I began helping with the youth group. I was ordained an elder in this sanctuary and then received my first commission to this church. But in two short years…
I landed in this church Rankin Presbyterian Church. My first service was on Christmas Eve with the departing pastor Michael Hartwell. I learned in this sanctuary how to do just about everything. How to preach and share the sacraments. Around the corner how to moderate Session meetings and still be able to teach kids in the church. I have baptized many children and a few adults right here. Even my own granddaughter. We encounter the Spirit in our churches. But one thing I have learned the past few months is that the Spirit is much more than just our buildings.
When we gather in church we encounter the Spirit but we also encounter the Spirit in a variety of other places as well. When the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the first thing they did was go outside and tell the people who heard the rushing wind and were gathered in the street what they had experienced and they did it in the language of all who were there. We can go outside and experience the Holy Spirit as well. One place is our labyrinth outside the UPC church. Bruce is going to tell us all about it…
The Spirit moves as it will. The story from Numbers is one that reminds us even when we are not willing all the time, the Spirit seeks us out. Moses was in the wilderness and was being inundated with requests. God told Moses to gather the 72 elders and to them he would give a portion of the Spirit that Moses had. But for some reason Eldad and Medad forgot to set their alarms. Or maybe they just really didn’t want to go. So, when the Spirit was distributed they were not present. Yet the Spirit moved and came upon them anyway. Then Joshua the son of Nun sees them meting out justice and runs to tell Moses that they should not be doing it.
But Moses has a different take. He tells Joshua that he wants them to keep on helping by the power of the Spirit and that he wishes everyone had the Spirit because that make life so much easier. The wild and crazy thing is, we have the Spirit that was given to us at our baptism. And that Spirit does move inside each of us. Just as Bruce was talking about the unique rocks and how each one is different it is the same with us. We are all unique and different but we have the same Spirit. That Spirit does not divide us but it brings us together in unity.
When the disciples went into the streets and spoke in all the different languages it was the Spirit that brough them together not pulled them apart. The Spirit does not have to be encountered in a building or other place, even though it can be—the Spirit resides in each of us. That same Spirit that was like the sound of rushing wind and the flames of fire burn within our hearts as well. Look for the Spirit within you. Look for it in other people. Celebrate the Spirit as it was not only was the beginning of the church but it is the promise of God to abide with us always. Happy Pentecost. Amen.