Acts 2: 1-21
Today we celebrate the day of Pentecost, the third great festival day of the church year, and the day often given the title of the birthday of the church. With this, Pentecost is a day that should not only cause us to look back to the earliest stages of the church and how it came into being, but should also cause us to look at the church today, its place in the world, and what it means to be a part of it.
As with many other congregations, here at St. James, as we celebrate Pentecost, we also celebrate alongside of our young persons who will be confirmed in just a few moments, as they affirm the promises made at their baptisms, and officially become adult members.
In the language of the church, they will renounce the devil and the forces that defy God, the powers of this world that rebel against God, and the ways of sin that seek to draw us away from God. They will confess their faith in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit through the words of the Apostles Creed. They will make public affirmation to live among God’s people, to hear the Word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, and to strive for justice and peace. And following this affirmation, they will receive God’s blessing, invoking God’s presence to help them along in their journey of faith.
So there’s the language of the church… but what does all of this really mean? What did it mean for those early followers in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost to be “church”? What does it mean for us to be “church” in our world today? In a similar vein, as a parent of one of our confirmands asked me a couple weeks back (and I won’t say who), “what do you say to them (to those who will be confirmed) to convince them to continue to come to church after they are confirmed?”
In our Gospel text for this weekend, Jesus gives the promise of Pentecost to his disciples, understanding that his human presence won’t always be. In looking to Thomas and Philip, Jesus proclaims, “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you accept him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
In our reading from Acts, this promise of the Spirit unfolds as the day of Pentecost. St. Luke describes, that on this day, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jerusalem, filled the apostles, and gave them the ability to speak and understand languages other than their own. With this, every nation under heaven, once separated by language and race, became one community under God…
It’s safe to say, that the events of Pentecost are difficult for us to imagine. Tongues of fire, people speaking and understanding languages they never had before, and the Spirit of God descending from the heavens with bursts of violent winds. We’d likely be amazed and perplexed as well, if these things suddenly began happening here in Adams County… But then, if we think about our own Holy Spirit moments, amazed and perplexed are usually in the bag of emotions when we experience them.
In verse 2 of todays’ text from Acts, St. Luke describes the descending of the Holy Spirit as “a sound like the rush of a violent wind” that “filled the entire house where they were sitting.”
In the Greek, the word translated as sound, is, exos… echo. Like the sound of an echo, the sound of the Spirit, isn’t heard just once, but again and again… and the root of the Greek word for “wind”, literally translates as “carry”… that the Spirit is sent to carry the disciples outside of Jerusalem and into the world… again and again… That it doesn’t just enter into their lives once, but repeatedly… a constant reminder that God is always with them and calling them to follow in the footsteps already laid out by Christ.
If we were to continue to read the remaining verses of Acts chapter 2, we would discover that the awe caused by the Spirit led those who witnessed the events of Pentecost to sell their possessions and distribute the profits to those in need, and that as they spent time together in worship and at home breaking bread, and praising God with the good of all people in mind, day by day their numbers grew… The Church, in its earliest forms… Distribute wealth to those in need, worship, and break bread, with the good of all in mind.
So what does Pentecost mean for us today? What does it mean for us, as Christ followers today to be Church? And as we confirm a group of young people here this weekend, what does it mean for us to affirm the promises made at our own baptisms? To renounce evil and the things of this world that rebel against God, to believe in the Triune God, to live among and as God’s faithful people?
To answer the question of our confirmands mother, of what I would say to these young people so that they come to church following their confirmation… The world is a difficult place filled with hardships and challenges, a world that, too often feels as if it is too difficult to bear, and where good news seems all too hard to find. Expectations to succeed, and to act, dress, and live a certain way feel as though they keep getting bigger and bigger. Violence among nations and within our own floods the news. Here in Adams County, along with many other places across the United States, we’re facing a drug epidemic where substances like Heroine continue to take the lives of more and more people, some not much older than our confirmands… A reality that Pastor Mike and myself have seen for ourselves.
For me… this is the significance of Pentecost, the significance of confirmation, and the significance of being church. In a world filled with unrealistic expectations, insurmountable challenges, and bad news, what good news is there without the Good News of the Gospel, the promise of forgiveness, and the hope of everlasting life made true in Jesus Christ?
In a Pentecost sermon by Martin Luther, he preached these words; “the Spirit came pouring into their hearts, making them different beings, making them creatures who loved and willingly obeyed God. This change was simply manifestation of the Spirit himself, his work in the heart. He wrote in those hearts his pure and fiery flame, restoring them to life, and causing them to respond with fiery tongues and efficient hands. They became new creatures, aware of possessing altogether different minds and different tendencies. Then all was life and light.”
As we celebrate the day of Pentecost some two thousand years later, this pouring out of the Spirit continues to echo into our lives as well. It fills our hearts with its pure and fiery flame, restores us to life, and calls us to respond with fiery tongues and efficient hands. The day of Pentecost shows us that it is the Spirit, by which God bonds us together as a family of faith, and sends us out to do the things that we wouldn’t do on our own…
The Spirit is all around us, within us, and between us. It reminds us that we are to work and live alongside of all people, not be separated by our differences, but united as one. As followers of Christ we are called to be open to its presence, not dismiss it, but to respond to it. So as you leave this place today, be open and pay attention. Allow the Spirit to be at work in your hearts, to restore you in times of need when you are filled with little hope, and to bring you peace so that you may be a sign of God’s light in the darkness of people’s lives, as the Spirit has been for you. Amen.
~Pastor Andrew Geib, 5/15/2016