May 20, 2018
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran Churches
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
Before he ascended to Heaven Jesus “ordered his disciples to not leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father. “This is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” This day we commemorate today shows when so desired God delivers with all the pieces fit into place. It is quite a birthday to begin publicly proclaiming repentance and forgiveness through the same Jesus Christ.
The disciples obeyed and stayed in Jerusalem. It was a period of active waiting. They devoted themselves to prayer. They carefully selected Mathias to fill the place Judas Iscariot held. They lived in such a way that their gathered number had grown to about 120 people. What God brought forth had to exceed anything Jesus’ followers might have expected.
On Pentecost they are gathered together as they often were. Then ‘wham’ a sound like a rushing wind came through the house they were meeting. We have recently experienced howling winds and have some idea what that must have been like.
That was nothing compared to what happens next. “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” Before a person could say, “Look there’s a flame over each or your heads” or, “What’s happening!” or, if astute enough to tie this with Jesus promise of the Holy Spirit, “Wow God’s promise is here in a big way”, each begins speaking in a different language. It is an amazing event.
Some of the disciples had witnessed possibly equally amazing events. Peter, James, and John were present at Jesus’ Transfiguration when he became dazzling and was joined by the great prophets Moses and Elijah, and a voice from heaven told them to listen to God’s Son.
This is different. Then Jesus was the recipient of special favor. Now it is happening to them. Then the witnessing disciples were told to keep the special moment in confidence for the time being. Now the effect is to draw attention to them for people passing by.
The effect of their strange speaking is not drawing attention for the usual morning pedestrian traffic. God has chosen a pre-existing holiday. Originally Pentecost had been the first pilgrim festival of the year celebrating the wheat harvest. Over time in some Jewish circles it had become a celebration of the identified with God giving the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
Being a pilgrim festival Jews from all over the Roman Empire and countries to the east and south of that Empire were in Jerusalem. There is the convergence of the disciples who knew Jesus and the people from near and far coming together. God has opened the possibility that whatever happens next can spread well beyond Judea. Everyone and everything is in place.
At the beginning there is a natural flow to what occurs. As people pass and hear all these different languages being spoken at once. They stop to listen. As they stop more and more people begin gathering. Understandably they are bewildered.
A really amazing thing is occurring. If I were to have four CD players here, each had a disc featuring vocal music in a language other than English, and I hit the play buttons it would sound chaotic. We would have our own miniature experience of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.
Here God reverses the effect. Members of the crowd notice it is not babble but coherent language. More and more not they can zero in on what is being said and hear it in their own language. It would be like my CD players providing the English translation direct to your ear.
Most wonder how this can be. Some, either natural hecklers or skeptics come up with the explanation of drunkenness, “They are filled with new wine. It is a silly explanation. Say each disciple was a person who picked up languages easy, in a few days you might have some social and business phrases down, but you could not convey a summary an understandable summary of Jesus’ life and purposes.
At this point the way beyond the pale of normal experience which most of us would not expect to occur to us individuals in private, takes a turn and provides an application of naturally sharing about Christ. Peter latches on the drunkenness line and responds in a manner which may have been light but is still an honest answer in terms of their society. “Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” A Jewish man would not be drunk in public at that hour. He then he answers what is occurring. “No this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel, chapter 2 verses 28-32. Peter tells them that what is occurring is a sign from God.
Peter will continue to use Joel as a springboard to teach about Jesus Acts 2:22-36. The tone of the crowd has shifted from some sneering to general interest. After listening to Peter, many will be affected deeply and ask the apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter answers with what Jesus had commanded them before he ascended. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
It is quite a birthday party. It begins with clear signs of receiving power from on high at a time when people from around their part of the world who were tied to the God and people of Israel were present, and gives us a model of connecting with the hearers, taking a starting point from those minimizing what is happening.
Today give thanks for the church’s launching at Pentecost from the signs of power through the communication of the Gospel story. Let Pentecost help provide the awareness to embrace the Holy Spirit’s presence, accurately assess our world, and share our Savior and the difference he makes in all of life. Amen.