Today our Easter season continues and culminates in the celebration of Pentecost. We rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit, which has been set loose in our world and poured out upon all believers. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, not only as a historical event, but as the action of God in our midst today. The Spirit blows among us. We are a Church of Easter: we claim the joy of Jesus’ resurrection and promise of life for us. What will it look like as we are called and formed into a Church of Pentecost?
We heard from Acts a recounting of that amazing day of Pentecost. Jewish people who live in many nations had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. They came to celebrate a festival called “Shavuot” in Hebrew. Fifty days after Passover, this celebration is a time to give thanks for God’s providence: “the goodness of God toward the nation” (of Israel) (NIB 53).
On this day of celebration of God’s faithfulness, the disciples have gathered as Jesus instructed them, and Jesus’ promise to send the Spirit is fulfilled. The loud noise of the coming of the Spirit gathers a curious crowd around the disciples. A sign appears above the disciples, like a flame. Then the disciples begin to speak, and filled with the Holy Spirit, they proclaim God’s work in Jesus in the various native languages of the crowd.
Some of the crowd are amazed, while others are skeptical. The disciple Peter stands up and interprets the event, connecting God’s work of sending the Spirit with God’s work of sending the Son with God’s promises written in the holy scriptures of those many Jews who were gathered.
By the end of Peter’s speech, many people are convinced that they have witnessed God’s work. They are convicted of their disbelief of God’s work in Jesus. They follow Peter’s invitation to be baptized. Three thousand people are thus converted to this new way of understanding God’s work. They join the community that the Spirit has grown from those eleven disciples who at first had such a difficult time believing the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.
As a smaller congregation, I think we might hear this story and long for the same amazing work of God that would grow our numbers by that amazing percentage! Some of us might think that’s impossible. Some of us might be afraid of all the growing pains that would cause. If I’m doing my math correctly, that would mean we’d grow from around 30 coming to worship to 8160! Of course, that would mean quite a change in this community for there to be so many people!
We might not be looking for eight thousand people, but we can still experience the power of the Holy Spirit as a church of the Pentecost. At the center of this event is the Spirit’s empowering ordinary people to share their experience of Jesus Christ. The really amazing work of the Spirit is that people listening hear this good news in the language they know best.
The disciples praise God and proclaim Jesus in a way that reaches people. Their witness doesn’t feel foreign to those who hear it. It makes sense. That’s the work of the Spirit that I long for today. How do I- how do we- share the good news of God’s work in Jesus in such a way that it makes sense to those who hear it? How can we proclaim the gospel so that it becomes a source of joy and hope for all the world?
I know that each of you have your own comfort level with sharing your faith with others. Most of you are not all that comfortable. It varies with the situation: easier at Bible study, less so at the cafe table. It’s ok to not be comfortable, talking religion with people. But I do think we are called and challenged to point to Jesus in some way, so that other people would be able to hear about God’s love for them.
Witnessing to our faith is not an easy task. The Spirit makes it possible. But, it’s not necessarily going to be completely “successful.” On that amazing day of Pentecost, there were people who saw and heard evidence of the Spirit, but still doubted. There were people who sneered and called out that only those who are drunk would be speaking as the disciples were.
Others among the crowd were astonished, knowing these men are Galileans. This is an interesting detail. Even as the foreign Jews heard these disciples speaking in their own foreign language, they recognized the disciples are from Galilee.
Even as they are able to speak directly to each member of the diverse crowd, the disciples retain their own identity. I find this really helpful and empowering. It tells me that I can be all of who I am, and not have to pretend to be something I’m not in order to share the good news. With all my history, my experiences, my likes and dislikes, my personality, as well as those things and experiences of which I am completely ignorant, God will still give me the ability to proclaim Jesus to people who may be very different from me, as well as those who are very similar.
Our foundation, if we are a Pentecost church, is God. God makes all things possible, including our ability to speak of God’s goodness through word and action. The next level up, supporting our ability to speak directly and understandably to many different people, is relationship. Being able to witness to how God gives life and hope and a future depends on our knowing that other person to whom God gives those gifts.
There’s a special stance of relationship that we can cultivate as a community. That is a stance of hospitality. I think hospitality comes pretty naturally to many of you. You know how to set out a lunch and add a chair to the table. At the center of this hospitality is making room for the other by changing for the other. That’s the part that maybe doesn’t come so naturally. In our daily lives, that means being hosts who help another feel comfortable and welcomed in the grand story of God’s salvation. It’s helping them see themselves, with all their particularities and uniqueness, among those who are loved and chosen by God. It means welcoming the unique stories and questions each person brings.
In our congregation, hospitality that makes room for the other means recognizing the gifts and passions each person brings, and giving them space and support to live out their faith and impact the way we do things. Hospitable relationship allows for a questioning of everything we assume. As hosts, we change for the other by letting go of control. Yet we are not chameleons who match one circumstance one moment and another the next. We are people strong in our own faith experience, so strong that we can allow for someone else’s faith story, and ways of living that out, to be different from our own, and yet celebrate that the same God works in both of us.
Pentecost, like so many acts of God, calls us to set aside our assumptions. In being hospitable to those who long to hear God’s good news for them, we can’t assume they will know or accept the same things we do. In being a community of faithful people, we can’t assume we know how God is working. The disciples could have never dreamed that God the Spirit would stir in Jews of all nations on the day of Pentecost, and then continue spreading, to stir up faith in Gentiles, people who were outside the boundaries of their relationships.
The Spirit blows with the tree-shaking power of a strong wind. It burns among us as dangerously as tongues of fire. We can’t control the work of the Spirit, and it’ll likely push us toward uncomfortable change. As a Church of Easter, we’ve already begun to rejoice in the amazing and surprising news of the resurrection. We’re in the midst of learning to claim this good news for ourselves. God is also seeking to form us into a Church of Pentecost. God’s among us, strengthening us by reminding us of God’s action for us, and giving us the words to share God’s work of love with all the world.
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