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The Day of Pentecost - Whitsunday
May 19, 2013
The First Lesson: Acts 2:1-21
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
The First Lesson:
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples 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, "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.' "
Wind power! It’s one of the most promising forms of renewable energy, but it can be notoriously difficult to catch. One of the problems is that the best winds don’t tend to move at ground level. Instead, they do their blowing six miles up, in the jet stream. At that height, the winds are so much stronger and consistent that they carry up to a hundred times more energy.
But how can we harness that power? Conventional windmills won’t get us anywhere close enough; the tallest tower to date being just over 200 meters in height.
Enter a company called Sky WindPower. They’ve recently developed a flying generator. It looks like a cross between a kite and a helicopter. Picture an H-shaped frame with rotors at the ends of the four points, tethered to the ground by a long cable. The rotors provide lift, and as they lift the frame they also turn dynamos that generate electricity. This electricity is then transmitted to the ground through the tethering cables.
But what happens if the wind stops blowing? Here’s the cool part: The dynamos can be used in reverse as electric motors. If the wind slows down, the dynamos will fuel the rotors to keep the generator in the air.
The idea here is that if you want to catch the wind, you have to put yourself where the wind is blowing.
Let’s say that one more time: If you want to catch the wind, you have to put yourself where the wind is blowing. Call it the Pentecost paradigm, because that same principle applies to the church. If the Christian community is going to tap the limitless energy of Holy Spirit wind power, then it’s going to have to position itself where that wind is blowing.
Fortunately, the book of Acts provides us with a blueprint for building a church that can catch this wind. In our reading this morning, we find three Spirit-wind converting dynamos that can help us capture the Spirit’s energy: they are Community, Communication, and Courage. With these three dynamos in place, we too can feel “the rush of a violent wind” (Acts 2:2), and capture the energy of the Holy Spirit. So, let’s look at these three for a moment.
Here’s the first dynamo: Community. Our passage tells us that on the day of Pentecost, the apostles of Jesus “were all together in one place” (v. 1). They were all together, gathered in community. They were not in different places, but were in the same spot, on the same page, reading from the same prayerbook. (Well…maybe I’m being a bit Anglican in that last part.)
Community is critically important, because when the Holy Spirit came with a sound “like the rush of a violent wind” (v. 2), it came to that one group in that one house. If Peter had been in Capernaum, John in Nazareth, James on the Sea of Galilee, Andrew in Cana and the other eight scattered across the country, they would have missed it. Pentecost, in Jewish tradition, was a communal experience, and it was only because they were together that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Gathering together is a challenge for us today because we have become so individualistic in our practice of faith. It used to be that people would routinely take their spiritual search to church, and look to their fellow worshipers, to their pastors, to their religious traditions and to the Scriptures for guidance. Unfortunately, more and more people today are taking their quest directly to the Internet, surfing for religious insights and accepting Internet information as the gospel truth. Spirituality is becoming more like Wikipedia and less like the encyclopedia. People are relying more on online opinions than on time-tested insights. This leads to a kind of spiritual isolation.
Faith communities, however, draw people together. Something precious is lost when people choose to practice their faith in isolation. It is only when we are “all together in one place” that we can catch the windpower of the Holy Spirit, and begin to use the gifts that God wants to give us. Community is the first energy capturing dynamo.
And here’s the second dynamo: Communication. The apostles in Jerusalem “began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (v. 4). This amazed the devout Jews from every nation who were gathered in the city for the festival of Pentecost, because they knew that the apostles were Galileans; a group not famous for their foreign language abilities.
You know the old saw: What do you call a person who speaks three languages? Trilingual.
What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person who speaks one language? American. Well, in the first century, the punch line could have been: Galilean. But on Pentecost, the apostles were chattering away in the native languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Romans, Cretans, Arabs and so many others. In these diverse languages, they were “speaking about God’s deeds of power” (v. 11). The apostles had been given a gift of communication by the Holy Spirit. They could tell people about the good news of Jesus in a clear and compelling way.
We are to position ourselves to put this gift to work today. Not only by considering services in languages other than English, but by using communication techniques that reach a new generation of potential believers. One reason that I’m very glad that we here at St. Thomas are online now is that we are able to compete in the marketplace of ideas out there. Amidst all the spiritual schlock and pabulum that the internet is rife with, we and other visionary churches like us are able to still present a spirituality that transforms lives and nurtures souls. Hopefully, this will draw some of those who do all their shopping online, including their spiritual shopping, into congregational community. We have to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gives us ability, including techno-speak, if we are going to reach new people in the same manner that the apostles did on Pentecost. Communication is the second energy capturing dynamo.
And the third dynamo is this: Courage. Acts tells us that some of the residents of Jerusalem sneered at the apostles and said, “They are filled with new wine” (v. 13). They didn’t want to hear the message of the Galileans, so they tried to write it off as drunken babbling. But Peter 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. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose” (vv. 14-15).
It took courage for Peter to stand up to the sneering crowd. It took Spirit-powered courage. Remember that this was the very same Peter who, just a few weeks earlier, had slunk away from conflict by denying Jesus three times. He could have made a joke of the whole situation, like the students at a Lutheran college who had T-shirts printed up for their 9:00 a.m. class. The shirts read simply, “Acts 2:15.” Not many people knew the verse from memory, but when they looked it up they found these words, “Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”
Peter didn’t make a joke. He didn’t shy away from conflict. Instead, he stood up to the Faith’s detractors and said that the speech of the apostles was a fulfillment of ancient prophecy. “This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel,” said Peter: “‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh’” (vv. 16-17). Peter made a strong stand for what God was doing in the world at that particular moment.
We are challenged to do the same, especially when people dismiss our practice of the Faith. Our job is to show courage as we describe what we see God doing in the world. We don’t have to engage in great philosophical arguments, or refute the best-selling books of today’s neo-atheists. Instead, our challenge is to point out what God is doing transformationally in our personal lives, through our church, in our larger communities, and even around world through our missionary and outreach efforts.
When estranged family members come together, that’s a God-moment. When an unexpected healing occurs, that’s a God-moment. When warring factions make peace, that’s a God-moment. When the hungry are fed, the sick healed, the prisoner restored, the destitute clothed and nourished, and when our own personal lives are changed within and without by God’s presence, those are all God-filled, Holy Spirit empowered, Christ present moments. These are what you and I are called to stand up for and courageously witness to. Courage is the third Holy Spirit-energy-capturing-dynamo.
These are the three dynamos of a Holy-Spirit-windpower-harnessing church: Community, Communication, and Courage. Let us faithfully gather in this community. Let us broaden our communication in new ways to those outside this community. Let us all courageously tell the story of what Christ is doing in our lives. Let us be a faith Community that Communicates with Courage, catches the power of God, and changes the world.