May 15, 2016

Pentecost   May 15, 2016 (Psalm 104, Genesis 1:1-5, Ezekiel 37:1-14) Acts 2:1-21

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“What does this mean?”

The sound as of a roaring wind – the sight of flaming tongues like blazing fire… Disciples speaking languages they didn’t know they knew – and people from many nations understanding all they say – as the Holy Spirit is poured out on the day of Pentecost… and…

“What does this mean?” is the question…everyone watching and listening is asking…

And ‘What does this mean?’ is still the question today. There’s such a lot going on here on this day of Pentecost – that we need help understanding… As we seek to find ourselves in the story… and locate our landmarks for navigation…

The book of Acts is a travelogue – the narration of a series of geographic journeys from Jerusalem out to all the ends of the earth… But Acts is much more truly a spiritual travelogue. We’ve talked before about the journey and our need for the spiritual equivalents of map and compass and GPS… To know where we are and   where we’re going… And always we need recognizable biblical landmarks to help our navigation… So we start again with the opening words of the bible:

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth… a Wind from God swept over the waters…” Or– as other translation say: “In the beginning… the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…”

Both translations are correct. Wind and Spirit are the same word in both Hebrew and Greek, the languages of the Old and New Testaments. And the same word translated as wind or Spirit – can also be translated as breath…As with Breathe on me, breath of God… As with God telling the prophet Ezekiel –  prophesy breath to the dry bones of Israel.

Now when we hear in our reading from Acts – “…suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind…” With ears attuned to biblical language, we’re thinking of the Wind from God that sweeps over the waters… The Spirit of God… over the waters in the beginning. (We could also read on in Genesis and be reminded of God breathing God’s breath of life into the first human prototype…)

We could revisit Exodus and be reminded of the angel of God appearing to Moses as a flaming bush that burns and burns but never burns out… We could look to many other places in scripture where fire and flame, wind and Spirit…  communicate the presence of God… ( “You ride on the wings of the wind, you make fire and flame your messengers…”Our psalm today says of God…)

With a little help from familiar landmarks we can better understand where we are and where we’re going… As God’s Windy-Spirit rocks the house – and blows loud through the midst of gathered disciples on Pentecost morning. Now as disciples are speaking in foreign languages we are yes, amazed and astonished…. But as we remember now this is the same Spirited Wind of God that starts everything in the beginning – the same holy Breath of God that breathes dry bones back to life…

Now we begin to realize… Pentecost is New Creation… As now the Holy Spirit falls afresh on us…

And “What does this mean?” is still not a question we can answer in just a few minutes. But now we can understand…

The Spirit is a gift from God – and the gift is God. God, the Holy Spirit – who, with God the Father, and God the Son, is now the Third Person of the Trinity – God, Three-in-One and One-in-Three.

And today we’re in the midst of the public introduction of the One who has been called “The shyest member of the Trinity.” (I’m not sure that’s an accurate tag, based on today’s not-so-shy display… Though the Holy Spirit is mentioned less frequently in the bible than either God the Creator or Jesus the Son…)

But shy or bold or both at the same time, the Holy Spirit is the star of the book of Acts. A book historically known as The Acts of the Apostles – though a much better title would be The Acts of the Holy Spirit or The Acts of God, Continued… (Acts is Luke’s gospel volume two.)

And perhaps the first short answer to the crowd’s question “What does this mean?” – is that this is the gift Jesus promised – the gift he and God the Father have now sent… The gift of the Holy Spirit.

Of course this crowd isn’t asking for Trinitarian theology yet. But as devout Jews, people of the word, who are in Jerusalem for Pentecost, a week-long religious festival, they are asking for some biblical markers to help them understand this outpouring of the Spirit. And the Spirit leads Peter the apostle to a text from the prophet Joel, which Peter now reinterprets…

Where Joel says “Then afterward I will pour out my Spirit…” Peter says “In the last days I will pour out my Spirit…”  And where Joel says “ Even on male and female slaves I will pour out my Spirit”… Peter now adds “and they shall prophesy…” Highlighting the prophesy theme Joel mentions – saying now the Spirit’s given so all God’s people will prophesy. Prophetic speech meaning God-directed speech. Which is remarkable, because up to now prophesy has been considered a spiritual gift reserved for a few called and chosen prophets…So…

One of the ‘what does this mean?’ questions I sometimes ponder, is about how far this pouring out of the Spirit and of the gift of prophesy extends… We’re told God is pouring out his Spirit now “on all flesh.” Usually this is interpreted as meaning all human flesh… Maybe, but I’m not entirely persuaded…Since there does seem to be evidence for other creatures being responsive to the Spirit.

I remember sharing communion out on her porch with an elderly widow in Vermont… And as the words of communion invoking the presence of the Spirit were spoken, suddenly a humming bird – whooshing wings in flight inches from our faces…and…

Listening to the radio the other day, I heard a story about the difficulties park rangers are having – trying to teach people not to feed bears in our national parks – and teaching bears not to eat food people give… And the park ranger interviewed made it very clear… It’s a whole lot easier to teach bears not to beg… Than to teach people not to feed the bears. So who knows? Maybe “all flesh” means all flesh, all living creatures. God made all the creatures, great and small, and gave us all God’s breath of life. So for all we know, the birds and bears may be prophesying joyfully, and praying to God for us lost humans, 7-24…

And by now we’re probably noticing – even the question – What does this mean? – means different things to different people. Which can be absolutely alright – or problematic – depending on our situation…

But one thing the word of God means for us here – is that the diversity of human language is a good thing. All human languages are affirmed here as acceptable means for communicating the good news of God… One of the grand themes of Acts is God’s commitment to reaching all peoples, to all the ends of the earth… A goal the Holy Spirit equips us for…

And one of the biggest of all the ‘what does this mean?’ take-aways – is that God’s Spirit is poured out for us all – not just prophets, evangelists, pastors, and lay leaders… but for all. God gifts all believers now with the Holy Spirit, for all God’s purposes – especially helping others to get to know the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

And now God is revealed not only in the words of sacred scripture, but also in spiritual experience. (We need the words of Scripture all the more, to check our experience.  As we need spiritual formation all the more to interpret the scriptures rightly…. We’ll come back to these themes often….For now winds are blowing, sails are set, and the boat is moving… And… )

“What does this mean?” is the question – as crowds hear every day Galileans speaking more than a dozen languages all at once. (Everyone knows there’s no Berlitz school of language in Galilee…)… And the gift of spiritual communication is given early on…Because the news of Jesus risen from the dead always needs to be shared… And the Holy Spirit gives the church a jump-start now…with Spirit-filled speech that leaps culture gaps to spread the news of Jesus to people everywhere…

Just last Sunday here we had a taste of this Spirit-inspired communication – as we heard a beautiful hymn sung in Korean by Irene’s  (Eunsook’s) sister (with Eunsook and Ryong Jae singing backing ups)…  And even though most of us couldn’t understand the words literally – a lot of us understood the message well enough… to be weeping tears of joy as we listened…

What does this mean? Among the many things we still don’t know…what we do know is –

God’s Spirit is still always present and available for all of us…

If we will only receive the gift… A gift is never something we earn… (If it’s earned it’s not a gift.) But a gift must still be received…

And – just like the first disciples – we too need the Holy Spirit to be able to understand… We too need to wait and pray and worship together expectantly… to receive the gift… So as we pray, and study, and worship and serve God together… As we await the Spirit in this place… May this be our frequent prayer–

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us. Melt us, mold us, fill us, use us… Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us.

Amen.