Day of Pentecost (Year C) – May 15, 2016 – Acts 2:1-21
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Pentecost Prophets – Pastor Evan Davis
Imagine if some good ol’ mountain folk sauntered their way in here today, people from back in the hollers, you know. You know who I mean. I’m talking about some of us! 🙂 If they, if we, showed up here today…speaking Mandarin Chinese, you might be a little shocked. You might be a little surprised.
I’ll break down this Pentecost story for you real quick: Just as promised by Jesus, the Holy Spirit shows up in a big way. The Spirit chooses an opportune moment – the Festival of Weeks, fifty days after Passover, Shavuot to Hebrew speakers, Pentecost to Greek speakers. Jerusalem is filled to the brim with Jews from every nation, speaking every languages, who have come to Jerusalem to worship. Among them, these backwoods Galileans…folks from back in the hollers, if you will.
They’re not the first people you’d expect to be masters of language. Yeah, there was also this rushing, violent wind and a tongue of fire resting atop each of them…but here were these Galileans speaking Persian, Arabic, Egyptian, Greek, Latin, and who knows what else? According to Luke, who wrote Acts, the people were “amazed and astonished” mostly at this outpouring of language. And perhaps also their message – God’s deeds of power. Some are skeptical about all this and figure these guys kicked off the festival a little early, if you know what I mean… Some are curious, perhaps even moved by this multilingual experience. Or rather, I imagine they were moved, in the end, not because they heard all these different languages they didn’t understand, but because each of them heard the good news of God’s deeds of power – the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus – in her own native language. They heard the most important thing they could hear in a way they could understand. Hearing this, they asked, “what does this mean?”
What a question. What does this mean? Well, to be honest, what doesn’t it mean? This story of Jesus means everything about everything is different. And, you know, Peter gets to that. Just beyond where we stopped reading this morning Peter explains the significance of Jesus and of his death and resurrection and Peter makes a biblical case that Jesus is, in fact, the culmination of God’s work over all these years to bring redemption to the Creation through the people of Israel (Acts 2:22-41). But that’s not the first thing he says.
First, he answers the question, “what does this mean?” by interpreting not the story of Jesus itself but rather what is happening all around them. Before Peter interprets scripture, he interprets what’s happening right in front of them. Peter answers, no, they’re not drunk. Remember what the prophet Joel said? Remember those words? 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. Peter says, remember all that? THIS is what Joel was talking about. It’s happening right now.
Peter says, in effect, something has changed. Christ is risen. The Holy Spirit is here. God is at work. And now it’s our time – time for all of us, women and men, young and old, enslaved and free, together to prophesy. You might be wondering, what’s that word he keeps saying, “prophesy?” It’s a pretty churchy word. Or you might think you know exactly what it means and you don’t think you have anything to do with it. To prophesy is to speak as a prophet would speak. We often think that means predicting the future, and if you look at the prophets of the Bible, some of them do that, some of the time. Usually, they don’t even know they’re doing it.
No, what prophets generally do in the Bible is speak the truth, especially when it’s hard or dangerous to do so. They proclaim God’s Word, God active in the world, God’s judgment upon our sin, and God’s mercy for us all. Prophets open their mouths to speak words about what God is doing right now, how it relates to the past, and what future it might all be pointing toward. To prophesy is to dare to speak what you believe God is calling you to say.
There’s something amazing going on here – and it’s not the wind, the fire, or the languages. What’s amazing about this story is that people believe God is speaking to them. How often do you believe God is speaking to you? Peter believes God is speaking through him. And because of Christ’s resurrection and the Holy Spirit’s dramatic arrival on this Pentecost day, Peter believes God is going to be speaking through all of us, and we’re all called to open our mouths to speak God’s name in the world. What Peter’s about is far more radical than speaking in tongues or fire burning all over the place…the Holy Spirit is telling us, through Peter, that we are all instruments of God. God is still speaking…through you and me.1
Yet none of us speak on our own. None of this comes from within us. Forgive me if you’ve heard me say this before, but it’s so important – the word for Spirit in both Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma) means, at the same time, spirit, wind, and breath. The Holy Spirit is the wind blowing over the waters at Creation, he is the breath of life that fills your lungs, she is the violent wind that fuels the fire of Pentecost and the fire of energy and imagination in your heart. The Holy Spirit is that breath rushing past your vocal cords to become speech and the idea that pops into your head and the love in your heart when you speak beautiful words about God and God’s love.
Without a doubt, not everything we say comes from God. Not by a long shot. And, of course, none of us, certainly not me, can see even a fraction of the whole picture, of all God’s wisdom. We each have something to say, just a piece of what needs to be said. We need each other. Sometimes when we speak, it is the Spirit speaking through us. Pentecost means that it’s our time – your time…to open your mouth, and speak.
Speak to that person in your life who really needs to know you believe in God, that you believe God actually loves him or her. Speak to that person who really needs an invitation to lunch, who really needs to be invited to share her story. Speak alongside those who need justice, even if that kind of speaking is inconvenient or costly to you. Speak to those who wonder if church is just a place you go without thinking every week, if this is all just some kind of cultural safety blanket, speak to them of the faith in your heart, of the God you believe in, of the hope that is in you, of the Savior who died and is raised for you, but not only for you, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
1The general idea for this sermon comes from Matt Skinner, Commentary on Acts 2:1-21, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2837 (accessed May 11, 2016).