June 4, 2017 – Pentecost

Pentecost    June 4, 2017   (Psalm 104, 1 Corinthians 12:4-13, John 7:37-39)

Acts 2:1-21, 37-42

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All-at-once – almost-as-if-by-magic – a wild-wind is blowing inside the house, loud-as-a-hurricane – flaming-tongues-as-of-fire are blazing and dancing upon those gathered – who, now, are all speaking-in-languages-they-didn’t-know-they-knew – great crowds of Pentecost festival pilgrims now also are gathering… to listen to the sounds of their native languages spoken – asking “What’s going on?

None of this is magic. None of this is accident or coincidence. And… disciples know what’s going on, because they have been preparing. Making ready for this gift of the Holy Spirit. Doing what Jesus said to do. Gathering together for worship, prayer and study. Practicing faith together in community, day-by-day. There’s no way they could have known what to expect. But when the Spirit of the Living God comes upon them… They’re ready… (and…)

Now here’s the apostle Peter, who famously had many difficulties keeping his focus…while Jesus was with the disciples in person – now preaching the good news of Jesus boldly. Preaching from the prophet Joel, re-working key phrases.

Joel, many hundreds of years earlier said “In those days, says the Lord, I will pour out my Spirit…” Now Peter says “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit…” Signaling the last days of the old order have begun… And these last days we’ve been in ever since… Are also the first days of the kingdom of God on earth… (And if it doesn’t feel as if we’re living in the kingdom, remember – Jesus told us the kingdom comes along with many birth pangs…)

Peter also doubles down now on the phrase “And they shall prophesy” – adding a repetition of this phrase that’s not there in the original text of Joel. Highlighting the all-inclusive giving of the Spirit, for men and women, old and young, slave and free – saying again,  “and they shall prophesy” to add yet-more emphasis…

And in making these and several other modification to the text of Joel, Peter is faithful to the word of God… Since he’s doing all this under the supervision and guidance of the same Holy Spirit who inspired Joel’s prophecy in the first place. The same Spirit who now inspires creative adaptation of the prophet’s words for a new situation in time and place … and…

Guided by the Holy Spirit, Peter now is able to interpret both the word of God and also the needs of the gathered crowd. Able to help the questioning crowd progress  from their first question: “What’s going on?” – on to the even better question –

“What should we do now?” (And…)

It’s not that Peter’s suddenly smarter than he used to be. It’s just that he’s learned to be responsive to the leading of the Spirit working in him, helping him come up with the right words at the right time…

Perhaps we may remember times when we’ve been thinking and praying hard about something…And someone comes along and names exactly what we’re concerned about, without us even saying a word.

(Now we’re not talking about driving by an ice cream stand on a hot day and everyone spontaneously saying “ice cream!” in unison. Nothing against ice cream – but – not every craving for ice cream is divine inspiration… )

But it is more than natural intuition – when we’re thinking about one of life’s big questions, like – what we should be doing with our life? – and someone comes along at just the right time and gives just the right word about Jesus. (Unless your spouse, mother, or pastor set it all up) – This is the work of the Holy Spirit…

Now Peter, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, is able to discern the hopes, fears and needs of those from many nations who have come to Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost. People who now come on the run… gathering to listen to the sound of disciples speaking in their own many languages about the glories of God… Some of them listening now to the disciples in awe and wonder. Some merely curious. Others snarky and skeptical…

But Peter, and probably the whole church, filled with the Spirit, knows – the deep hunger of this crowd for understanding. (Even the snarkiest have this hunger, whether or not they know it…) Hunger, also, on an even deeper level, to be in right relationship with God… Included in God’s beloved community…

Through the Spirit, disciples know the needs of others…With the help of the Spirit, now, they’re able, to speak to the needs of others with courage, conviction, and discernment…

And the Spirit is moving powerfully also among those from many nations gathered to listen, who now begin to ask, “What should we do?”

Peter says “Change your life. Give it all to Jesus. Be baptized. Receive the Holy Spirit…” And they do… Thousands are baptized and receive the Spirit… And as the scene concludes, they’re all-in – sharing in the apostle’s teaching, the community meals, the prayers – all the life of the beloved gathered community.

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So what now should we, the church, do with this wondrous and rather amazing story from the days of our spiritual youth? How can we best be retelling this story now? What lessons can we draw from the way Peter retells the story of Joel in his day? What might the Spirit be saying to us, here and now? (Perhaps some of you may be hearing a word from the Holy Spirit… you can share?)

(And –) Whatever else may come to mind – there are a few things scripture tells us about the Holy Spirit… to be kept in mind…

Most importantly, the Holy Spirit is still with us today. Willing and able to do for us today… as for disciples of old. Willing and able to teach and equip us to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ risen from the dead. The gospel of God the Father. The gospel of the Holy Spirit – sometimes called the “shy member of the Trinity” – though I’m not sure that’s very accurate – given the way the Spirit enters the life of the church so dramatically here at Pentecost…

The Holy Spirit perhaps might be describable as the quieter member of the Trinity… Since the Spirit’s there in the beginning with the Father and Son, but we have only a very few direct references to the Holy Spirit (only three, actually) in all of scripture… till we get to the New Testament… The Spirit is there, all along, and there are indirect references, but we don’t meet the Holy Spirit in public, till here at Pentecost.

So perhaps we can also say the Spirit often seems to be the most mysterious member of the Trinity. Noticing how Jesus refers to the Spirit in our reading from John today with the metaphor of living Water – elsewhere in John as The Paraclete – a Greek word translatable as The Advocate, The Comforter, The Friend… We also hear the bible using the Hebrew word Ruah and the Greek word Pneuma, both of which mean Spirit – both of which also mean Wind and Breath…. (Thus that sound of a roaring wind at Pentecost…)

The Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to care much about systematic theology. With all these varied images of the Spirit at work (or in play), it’s probably a good idea not to try to over-explain the Spirit…But to do our best to appreciate the mysterious presence of the Holy Spirit… Without imagining the Holy Spirit is not concerned with the practicalities of life.

The Holy Spirit will cause some of us to see visions and others to dream dreams… But the Spirit also still calls us, like the early church, to the same practical, down-to-earth spiritual work of being witnesses and stewards of God’s grace. Living and telling the story of God and Jesus faithfully. ‘Always ready,’ as Peter’s first letter says, ‘to explain the faith we have – with gentleness and reverence…’ Choosing words carefully, with the Spirit’s help – so as to make God’s grace evident…

And the Spirit reminds us of everything Jesus has taught us. Reminds us – we, like the first disciples, are called to gather together regularly (as today– ) for worship and prayers, for teaching, for table fellowship and holy communion, for life together, united in the love of God and neighbor…

Jesus tells us – the Spirit reminds us –  God will provide us with all we need to do the work of God – (and meet our own needs) – when we do our part – to make the love of God known.

The love of God that has been made known for us in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Made known, now also, in the Holy Spirit. The love of God poured out for us and for all… The wondrously gracious and generous gift of God’s love that never runs out…and never stops giving.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.