The scripture lessons that we used were: Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:14-17, and John 14:8-17, 25-27.
Before I start the message today, I need to share something that I have forgotten to mention for a few Sundays. This is actually a bit of a joke on me if you know how I was having a fit about the last Oahe Association meeting. One of the reports we had at that meeting was about how hard it is getting for the nominating committee to find people to fill positions. My answer to that statement has always been, well no one is calling me. Anyway a couple of weeks ago as I was sitting in the office the phone rang and it was a secretary from the conference office and she said she was calling on behalf of the nominating committee. Well, of all things me first thought was: “now which committee are they going to ask me to be on and how many times will I have to drive to Chamberlain?”
So the question was “We were wondering if you would be willing to accept a nomination to be a delegate to the next General Synod?” Well I nearly froze. I wasn’t sure that I had heard correctly. James and I about six months ago had a conversation about if you could go anywhere where would you like to go and General Synod was my first answer. So, I am not sure if there will be more nominees, at the last conference meeting there was a nominee from the floor for that opening, but who knows. On Wednesday, I finally finished up the little bio that had to be turned in for the booklet, hopefully the story I submitted doesn’t make me sound too much like someone who is a babbling fool, and that I am able to represent the conference and this church in a positive way. Anyway, I had to share this story before I forget to mention it again….
As for stories, the lectionary lesson, which we did not read for today, was from the first book of the Old Testament. In Genesis 11:1-19 there is a story about how the many different languages of the world came to be. It is an interesting story about how all of the people were getting so smug and so superior, that they thought they could build a tower to heaven. And because of their attitude, God put a stop to them. You know the story about the Tower of Babel. As in babbling like talking nonstop. God struck the people as they were building the tower and instead of one language, there were many languages and people no longer could understand each other. And their grand superiority fell apart.
Interesting! What a time those beginning years must have been. To me it seems the more we study about what is written of the beginning of time, and the more archaeologists dig up, the more the mysterious it becomes. Just this past week news was released of a find in Florida that indicates humans were on our continent far longer than we had thought. And so we can only wonder at how things progressed and moved in those days after creation and before Abraham became the father of God’s chosen race.
Our actual scripture story for today comes many years after God picks Abraham to father his chosen people, and an even longer time after the incident when God had to step in and stop the building of the Tower of Babel. Our story today happens in the book of Acts in the town of Jerusalem after the Ascension of Jesus. The story today is what we call Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples, and it is in reality the story of the beginning of the Christian Church.
In chapter 1, it talks about how there were about 120 of the followers of Jesus together at various times, but at the end of that chapter the 11 gathered together to choose the replacement for Judas, so they could be a main group of 12. This group, mostly led by Peter, had been praying and staying together waiting for the day Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to them. When it happened there was a noise like a rush of wind, you can imagine the sound. It makes me think of those days when the wind is going up and down, and just when it seems to be calming, there is a rush and a whirlwind stirs up and sweeps through the area where you are standing and you sometimes wonder if it is going to push you off your feet. Those are always the days I feel fortunate to have a few extra pounds to hold me in place.
Verse 2 of Chapter 2 says: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” Then verse 3 lets us know that wind was not the only indication of the spirit, “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” And this is when they were filled with the spirit, and they were able to speak in ways that all those around them could understand in their own languages.
On this day, God made it possible for the many people of very different languages, who were gathered in Jerusalem, to understand the words that these 12 disciples, who were mostly Galileans, were speaking about Jesus and his life and death and resurrection, And in case we didn’t understand it before, the term Galileans is not just in reference to where they are from, but in those days saying someone was from Galilee was pretty close to calling them a backwoods hick. This idea of giving them the gift of speaking all these languages was the complete reverse of what God did to the people who were trying to build a Tower to heaven.
On this day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on to the 12 disciples so they could share it with everyone around them. This time, this event was different from their private meetings with Jesus following his resurrection. This was different from when they alone witnessed his Ascension, this event was not just for them, this event was for them and for everyone around them, and even for those of us who are reading about it. And more than that, the Holy Spirit was not just for the 12, it was a gift from God to all who believe. But this event was not without its doubters, and we read in verse 13 that some accused them of being drunk.
And it was at this accusation that Peter kicked in quoting the words of the prophet Joel, explaining that it was only 9 in the morning and that the disciples were not drunk with wine, but were filled with the Spirit of God and were proclaiming the truth about Jesus to all who would hear and believe, and if you read to the end of the chapter you learn that there were about 3,000 who believed and accepted baptism that day.
Yes this story in Acts is the story of the beginning of the church, the history of the first Pentecost, but it is also a story for us to look at in terms of what the Holy Spirit means to us. Digging into this spirit stuff is sort of a hard thing for us old stoic Congregationalists to do. This is more something for a new modern Evangelistic or Evangelical Church. We are more about God the Father and Jesus the Son, and we sort of happily like to just forget about the third corner of the trinity. We’re not really Holy Spirit people because that is just so Holy Ghost sort of thinking, and seriously when we do admit to that sort of belief isn’t it more in a “closed door, private kind of setting.”
The scripture in Romans that we read for today assures us that it is through the spirit of God that we are given the ability to become joint heirs with Jesus to the kingdom of God. This doesn’t happen because we are human, it happens because we accept the spirit of God into our beings. Just as Jesus explains to Philip in John 14 that he is one with God, so we become connected to God and Jesus through the gift of the Holy Spirit, who, Jesus in verses 25-27 calls the Advocate. The Holy Spirit is an advocate who becomes part of us and helps us to learn and understand about and build a relationship with God.
Oh, but reading or even studying all of this and knowing all of this spirit stuff doesn’t really make acting on it any easier. This spirit stuff is really still something we would rather just look at like you do a history lesson or a scrap book or a museum piece. You might want to dig it out once a year, dust it off, say something like, “isn’t that nice?” and then wrap it up and put it back in the closet on the shelf for next year.
The presence of the Holy Spirit isn’t supposed to be acknowledged once a year then hidden away. As much as it would be more convenient or easier to think of our beliefs as a set of rules that are mostly do this don’t do that, it isn’t quite that simple. We are spiritual people, and as such we need to be in tune to the moving and the nudging and the teachings of the spirit. We need to open ourselves to the possibilities of perhaps not completely new ways, but maybe some renewed ways that we go about–as we have said before, not just going to church, but being the church. Perhaps as we accept that, we can also accept the Peace that Jesus promised to his disciples, Christ’s peace of no unnecessary worries or troubles, that would be a wonderful peace to claim. Let’s go this week opening ourselves to the workings of the spirit and claiming the peace that working for Christ can give us.