Today is Pentecost

by | May 28, 2023

Acts 2;1-21

PRAYER: Holy Spirit, be among us this day that we may see the visions you inspire in our hearts and minds. Be among us that we may dream the dreams you have in store for us that your church may live up to its promise in the time and place.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen

Today we celebrate Pentecost. On that particular day in that particular place from our reading today, the streets were crowded; they were jammed. There were a lot of people in Jerusalem at the time. And to understand why, we go all the way back to the book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible, chapter 23.

It says, starting in verse 15: “You must count off seven weeks starting with the day after the Sabbath.” So, think about what happened 7 weeks and one day prior to this day in Acts? Jesus’ resurrection. Remember that the Resurrection happens on the Sabbath. Leviticus continues, “Then you must present a new grain offering to the Lord. From wherever you live, you will bring two loaves of bread as an uplifted offering.” The streets were crowded because of the centuries-old commandment to bring this offering to Jerusalem 7 weeks and 1 day following the Sabbath.

It goes on about the types of offerings that are to made, and then that, “The priest will lift up the (offerings) before the Lord. On that very same day you must make a proclamation; it will be a holy occasion for you.” This was a holy day, and the proclamation on this sacred holiday concludes in Leviticus with these words: “When you harvest your land’s produce, you must not harvest all the way to the edge of your field; and don’t gather every remaining bit of your harvest. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant.”

Centuries prior to the resurrection, Pentecost was a Hebrew celebration of the Spring harvest and a reminder to the Jewish people of the importance of giving to the poor, of leaving parts of their fields unharvested for the poor and the immigrant. Because this was a sacred holiday described in the Torah, Pentecost had also become a celebration of the gift of the Torah and the multitudes of people in Jerusalem at the time were there for the celebration they called Pentecost.

Today, for us as Christians, Pentecost should remind us of our own deep connection to the Jewish people. As they celebrate the gift of the Torah, which united the people as a holy nation and priestly kingdom, we celebrate the gift of the Spirit which unites all people. We celebrate the movement of the Spirit and its prompting of us to be moved. We celebrate and recognize that the Spirit is not idle. Ever. That’s one thing about the Spirit that is always true. The Spirit is always on the move.

And we must remember that the presence of the Spirit on that day in that place was not the first time the Spirit was at work. Reverend Wilda Gafney writes, “The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost marks the dawn of the Church, but it is not the dawn of the Holy Spirit; she births

creation, hovering over her newly hatched brood in Genesis, and breathes through the scriptures, celebrated in Psalms.”

We do see the Spirit in the book of Genesis as she blows out over the waters at creation. We also see the Spirit active in liberating… liberating the earth out of chaos, liberating the Israelites out of Babylon, liberation from Rome… We see the Spirit in the movement of the dove coming down upon Jesus at his baptism, and of course, we see it in the flames in the tongues of the fire at Pentecost. The Spirit prompts movement; the Spirit is never idle.

Last week, we read about the disciples standing and looking up at the sky, and they were prompted to move on, reminded to look, not at the sky but at those around them for the resurrected Christ. The liberating Spirit prompting the new church to not be idle. As they sat comfortably within the walls of the upper room, the wind of the Spirit blew them outside. The movement of the Spirit prompts the disciples themselves to move. Such a metaphor for us today: yes, it’s nice inside the church building, but we are called… we are prompted to go out. And what we learn from Pentecost today is that the Spirit is the thing that makes the impossible possible. But what we have to do first is to put away all of the assumptions that we have built up over our collective lifetimes about what the church is and what the church is not.

I started out by saying that today, we celebrate Pentecost. But we must not make the mistake of viewing Pentecost only as a precise moment in history some 2,000 years ago. Notice that I never said “THE” Pentecost as if it was a one and done thing. Pentecost is the Holy Spirit constantly moving in and around us, and through us to create a new thing. Pentecost is the Holy Spirit reminding us to view the poor and the immigrant, the oppressed and marginalized with compassion and love. The liberating Spirit is many things, but it is never static. Pentecost is a reminder that we must not look to the church of the past and aspire to reclaim some measure of that any more than we should aspire to model the church after what the disciples themselves built all those years ago. Today is a new day, and today is Pentecost.

The Spirit brought together a diverse group of people. We must not lose sight of that even though not all of those people were so easily inspired. Some of the same faithful people who were in town celebrating the gift of the Torah and the spring harvest dismissed the joy of the Holy Spirit as just alcohol-infused revelry.

It was clear then, just as it’s clear today that while not everyone will see the Spirit’s movement, the Spirit IS still at work. Peter was telling the people gathered about Jesus and the fact that they need to reorient their lives together in Jesus. It is more than recognizing the inherent goodness of Jesus; it is about reorienting their lives – our lives – by focusing on Jesus and allowing the Spirit to make things new.

Pentecost is a reminder of the divine dance of the Spirit, and my question to you is what are the ways in which the Spirit is moving in our lives, as the church of the 21st century. It sometimes seems natural to us to miss that divine dance, if we’re focused, like those people were on how drunk the disciples may have appeared. That’s the choice we make every single day. We can

choose to look with jaded vision, and miss the communication that the Spirit offers us, or we can find the promise of hope offered to us in Jesus Christ.

Today, we are at the end of our immersion in the book of Acts. We have been in the book of Acts since April 16. We’ve been doing our book study in Acts, and we’ve seen the work of the Spirit in a myriad of ways. You may recall from our reading in chapter 6 and 7 that choosing life is rooted in God’s justice and shalom. That’s an echo of the liberating Spirit of Pentecost from Leviticus commanding us to care for the poor, the immigrant, the people who are often classified in our culture as “other”.

1 Corinthians 12 describes the power of the Holy Spirit to always move in new and creative ways. It teaches us that the Body of Christ has many members, and Pentecost, where this diverse crowd of people from all corners of the earth are welcomed by the Spirit, reminds us that all of them are needed. Even the ones who might not recognize the movement of the Spirit in that moment. Because when we start to look at those naysayers with anything other than God’s love, then we are doing exactly what they are – seeing through the lens of human limitations and sin instead of the possibilities that exist through God’s love. We are contributing to the environment of polarization and suspicion, conspiracy theories and fear instead of following the teachings of the Spirit and Jesus to welcome all people regardless of who they are.

Because of all the messages that the Spirit is putting forth for us in Pentecost, here is the most true thing the Spirit says about you: you are beloved by God. And all of those folks who missed the signs, who viewed the actions of the disciples through sinful, through limited vision, who said they were drunk, here is the most true thing the Spirit says about them: they are beloved by God too.

Our challenge – our opportunity is to be open to the many ways in which the Holy Spirit communicates to us, how the Holy Spirit communicates through us, and how the Holy Spirit communicates in spite of us. We can find the Spirit in even the most innocuous ways, ways in which language itself may not be necessary, where language barriers are broken down, as we see in our reading. Think of the many ways in which the Spirit communicates: through friendship, laughter, smiles, even tears… the Holy Spirit is present through it all. The Spirit is present in sharing a meal together, sitting down for a cup of coffee with someone, or just listening to someone’s story without interrupting. The opportunity for grace comes when we allow the Holy Spirit to bring us together and communicate God’s love to us through us. The spirit of liberation is present to free all whom God loves.

After all, the purpose of the Holy Spirit ultimately is to bring people together. When we view the Spirit through those faith-filled eyes, we see that the impossible is made possible. Romans 8 reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It says that, “All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters.” The Spirit of love means adoption into God’s embrace – an unbreakable connection that we have with God and with one another.

And so, I do believe that the church is ready for a new spirit of Pentecost. This is not so that our pews are full on Sunday mornings, but that we may be part of something new in God’s creation. The Spirit prompts us, moves us, liberates us, and the Spirit is creating something new. We can look upon that with skepticism and doubt, or we can allow the Spirit to work within and through us, to see the visions, to dream the God-sized dreams that remind us that the Spirit makes the impossible possible.

Today is Pentecost. Amen?

To God be the glory.