Today, we pick up the story we’ve been following all year in the book of Acts, which Luke set up for us last week. And, for once, we find that the disciples actually followed directions! They stayed together in Jerusalem, and they were celebrating the Jewish festival of Shavuot together—which, because it falls 50 days after Passover, was given the Greek name Pentecost.
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: ‘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.”
In this moment, God pours out the power and grace and the very heart of Christ. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was reserved for prophets—holy people, specially chosen to bear all of this for the people. But at Pentecost, that same Spirit comes to rest within every disciple. And the results are big, and flashy, and glorious. Pentecost breaks down the barriers of language, national origin, gender, age, and class status. There is no holding God back now.
But if we fast forward a few weeks (or years) in Acts, we’ll see that the Holy Spirit’s work isn’t always visions of fire and confused disciples participating in miracles they had no intention of doing. It’s figuring out how to preach this good news and care for all of God’s people at the same time. It’s making hard decisions about how to move forward when conflict erupts. It’s calling someone to account for their bad behavior, and helping them see where the Spirit is working something new in them. It’s the daily work of prayer and study. It’s encouraging one another when the Temple literally comes crashing down around them.
The work of the Holy Spirit may begin with flashes of fire, but it continues in the absolutely mundane.
You know, I spend a lot of time here at church, and thinking about church, and doing all sorts of random behind-the-scenes stuff that no one in seminary really tells you about. But mostly, I get to spend that time giving thanks for each and every one of you.
Because every day, I get to see the Holy Spirit at work in your lives and in the life of this community.
We just witnessed it together in Emma’s baptism.
I see the Holy Spirit at work in all of the laughter and the questions of our youngest disciples,
in the discernment and decision-making we do around the Session tables,
every time someone raises their hand to pray for someone else in worship,
in every hour spent taking out the trash, decorating the k-room or the sanctuary, preparing for VBS or Sunday School, cooking and serving funeral dinners.
I see the Spirit in every card sent, every prayer prayed,
Every encouraging word spoken or texted.
I see her in the lifelong friendships that are rooted here,
and the new friendships still taking root.
I watch her at work every time someone says “we’ll figure it out.”
I hear her every time we sing a hymn and somehow,
there are more singing with us than the 60-ish voices in this room.
I see the Spirit at work in the Presbyterian partnership and the backpack program,
In the many hours spent sorting and cleaning clothes for the clothes closet,
In the preparation for fellowship events
and in the nitty-gritty caring for the building and grounds.
I see the Spirit at work in our classrooms as we learn,
in the playground and the k-room and the yards as we play together,
in the choir room, in the emails and phone calls and paperwork,
in the ways you all teach and question and wrestle
and throw yourselves into loving this place and these people—
this community and the whole world.
I know the Spirit is at work in all of these ways because friends, love really does grow here. Love is the language that transcends all differences, and I wholeheartedly believe that love is the heart language of the Holy Spirit. This love is the heart of prophecy and the substance of visions and the subject of dreams. Love is the way mundane becomes miraculous—and the power of God is harnessed among us.
I want to leave you today with these words from the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, preached yesterday at the royal wedding. He says:
“Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial.
And in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives. And it can change this world. If you don’t believe me, just stop and think and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.
When love is the way — unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive. When love is the way, then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever flowing brook. When love is the way poverty will become history. When love is the way the earth will become a sanctuary. When love is the way we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way there’s plenty good room, plenty good room for all of God’s children.
Cause when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. When love is the way we know that God is the source of us all. And we are brother and sisters, children of God. Brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family. And let me tell you something, old Solomon was right in the Old Testament. That’s fire.”
Thanks be to God! Alleluia. Amen.