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.’ Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Alright! It’s time to be honest. Who watched the wedding yesterday morning? Who got up early and watched the wedding live of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle? Come on! I know some of you must have. I did. I am a huge fan of British culture and history, thanks in large part to Downton Abbey.
It was a beautiful occasion, wasn’t it. (All weddings are beautiful, aren’t they?) Her dress was beautiful in its simplicity and sophistication. Ms. Markle wore the tiara originally made for Queen Mary in 1919. She wore a veil that was 16 feet long and that was trimmed in hand-embroidered flowers representing each of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth. She was stunning. And, Prince Harry looked dashing in his military uniform, the Blues and Royals of the Household Cavalry, the arm of the British service in which he served for 10 years--a period of service that included a tour of duty in Afghanistan. And the children--the little sons and daughters of the royal family who acted as page boys and bridesmaids. Well, they were just adorable. It was a wonderful, royal wedding--with all of the pomp and circumstance and tradition we have come to expect from the British royal family.
This one, though...this one felt a little different. A little more unique than most. Even some of the commentators picked up on this, remarking that this wedding in particular seemed to move the royal family just a little further into modernity.
What was it that felt so different? Well, to begin with Meghan Markle is an American. Then, it’s hard to miss the fact that she is bi-racial--the daughter of a white man and a black woman. Throughout the wedding, there were things that showed us who she was. Her solo walk up half of the center aisle. The exchange of two rings, one for the bride and one for the groom--unlike the usual royal tradition of a ring only for the bride. Then, in addition to the usual Anglican boys' choir, there was also a Gospel choir, singing “Stand By Me” and “This Little Light of Mine.” Finally, the address was spoken by Bishop Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church here in the United States. And his wasn’t any ordinary, royal wedding address. Quoting Martin Luther, he spoke passionately about the Power of Love, in the style of African-American prophetic preaching, growing more and more excited and, even, going a little longer than he was supposed to go.
One can only wonder what it must have felt like to be sitting there, sensing something new and different happening. One can only wonder how we might have reacted to this new and different wedding, this blend of cultures. This beautiful blend of diverse culture. This royal wedding, unlike all of the rest, because of a new and different and wonderful diversity. One can only wonder.
Just like one can only wonder what it might have felt like to be at the first Pentecost, so very long ago.
All of the disciples had gathered together that day--all 120 of them. Men and women. They had come together because thousands of Jews from across the region had also gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavu’ot, or the Festival of Weeks--one of three major annual Jewish festivals. In Greek, Shavu’ot was known as Pentecost, because it came 50 days after Passover.
Legend had it that 50 days after that first Passover--after the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt--they camped at Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Torah, or the Instruction, from God on Mount Sinai. Passover had freed the Jews physically from bondage in Egypt. But it was Pentecost that gave the Jews spiritual freedom, a freedom from bondage to idolatry and immortality, a freedom given in the Torah and, as part of it, the Ten Commandments.
So, as the disciples gathered on that festival day, one can only wonder what they must have been thinking. Or talking about. Jesus had risen from the dead some 50 days before. And only 10 days ago, Jesus had ascended into heaven. He had gone away. He had left them physically. No longer present in their lives. Or so it must have felt.
Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit. To send an Advocate. A Comforter. “And I will ask the Father,” he had spoken to them. “And he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees her or knows her. You know her, because she abides with you, and she will be in you.”
Jesus had promised. But, they had no idea when this would happen. Or, even, if it would happen.
Do you ever doubt God? Do you ever doubt that God will keep God’s promises? We, who live some 2 millennia after Christ, who long for the fullness, for the wholeness, for the shalom of God’s kingdom in the midst of a world that often seems dark and that often seems to be crumbling around us. A world where children aren’t safe in school, where refugees and immigrants are rejected at the border, or separated from their children. A world that seems to be in a state of despair, that seeks to mask its pain in drugs or alcohol or anything else that will keep us from feeling this darkness. A world that seems to be growing further and further away from God. And from the church.
Do you ever doubt that God will keep God’s promises? Do you worry, just like the disciples must have worried as they gathered together that day?
And, then, they heard it!!! The roar that sounded like a rush of violent wind. It filled the house. And, then, the divided tongues that looked like fire. Fire, that ever refining agent, that purifying element that whooshed in as one large mass of flame and then divided into 120 individual tongues resting on each of the disciples. And, then, filled with the Holy Spirit, the languages that came out of their mouths. Diverse languages. Languages from all of the lands to which the Jews had dispersed. Languages that represented the diversity of all those who had gathered that day in Jerusalem. Language that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, reached each and every person where they were. Unexpectedly.
Because, that is what the Holy Spirit does. Unexpectedly shows up exactly where we are. In the midst of our worry. In the midst of our broken world. In the midst of our messy lives, she shows up and begins to do her work. Unexpectedly.
Just as the Spirit comes unexpectedly and continues to surprise us, I have a surprise for you, too. I would invite you to look under your seat to see if anything is taped there. If so, then you get to be the reader of a second lesson for us to consider today. (And, if you don’t want to read it, you can pass it to someone near you who is more comfortable reading it out loud.)
Over these past few weeks, we’ve been reading select portions of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. What we are about to hear are the closing words to Paul’s letter. At the time he wrote this letter, Paul was in prison in Rome. One can only wonder what he must have had to worry about. Whether he might see them again. Whether he might ever be freed? Whether he might be martyred as many of the disciples would be? There would have been much for him to worry about. Yet, let us hear the words that Paul wrote to them.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (NRSV)
Sisters and brothers, what are you worried about? What troubles you today? Take out that square of paper I mentioned at the beginning of worship. Write down on it what has you worried. We will turn those worries over to God in prayer. Then, write what you might find to rejoice in this week.
The Holy Spirit continues to show up in the most unexpected ways in our lives and in our world. She keeps us with Christ in faith. She offers renewal. She offers re-creation. She seeks to heal each of us and to bring us together to do the work of building God’s kingdom, a kingdom where there are no more worries, no more divisions, no more barriers of class, gender or age. A kingdom that might look more like what we saw in yesterday’s royal wedding--a world of inclusiveness. A world of unity in all its diversity. A world redeemed by the power of the Holy Spirit. A world with something truly to rejoice about!
And, now, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Preached May 20, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY
Readings: John 14:16-17