Our message on Pentecost Sunday was based on the following scripture: Romans 8:22-27, John 15: 26 & 27, 16: 4b-15 and Acts 2:1-21.
The scripture focus for today centers around the events of the original that we call Pentecost. We of the Christian faith and traditions might believe that Pentecost is only a Christian Day. We might think that this tradition and observance began at this story in Acts when the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem and a great wind came up and tongues of fire came and landed on the heads of the believers and they were all blessed with the gift of another language. It was a great thing that they were able to witness to people of all nationalities who were gathered in the city of Jerusalem. Many were confused. They couldn’t understand what was happening and why was this witness coming from Galileans? Galilee was a place that many trade routes crossed so the disciples were exposed to people from all areas. It was not a strictly Jewish area as some of the other cities were.
The truth is that Pentecost actually has an Old Testament beginning. They were gathered in Jerusalem at the feast of the Pentecost or the Feast of 50 Days or the Feast of weeks. 50 days is about 7 weeks and since the number was 7 which is the perfect number in their tradition, it began to be called the Feast of Weeks. Oh yes, the 50 days were the days immediately after Passover, so it had a particular start time. It was about the amount of time that it took for a barley or wheat crop to develop and be harvested, and soon the festival was about waving stalks of grain in celebration of the harvest. It makes sense that if Passover and Easter are near the same time that would be around the beginning of planting season, then 50 days later the barley is ready and harvested, the next celebration happens, and it happens to be called Pentecost. In some other information that I studied, it also appears that the timing of the festival coincided with the traditional date of the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. It was a time of celebrating the “New” way of worshiping, and certainly after receiving the Spirit, the disciples and the followers of Jesus will be about a completely New way of worshiping God than was custom in the past.
At any rate it makes for interesting reading. It also makes perfect sense that the disciples are gathered together on another time when there is a religious observance, and God chooses that time to send the Spirit that has been promised to the disciples by Jesus before he ascended to heaven. He revealed much to them in the days before his crucifixion and much more after his resurrection, but there was still more for them to learn and understand. There was also much for them to ponder as they really never understood what was going on around them until Jesus opened up their minds so they could grasp the meaning of his teachings and of the events that happened both to them and around them while Jesus was on this earth.
I don’t mean to be glib, but there are days that I really could use that phenomenon where someone or something opens up my mind to understand things. I was always the last one to figure out the “cool” sayings or meanings of things when I was a teenager and not much has changed. A gift of opening my mind would be helpful at times. I know of a few advertisements that leave me clueless, or even car vanity plates we saw this weekend, that don’t seem to make any sense to me.
I also think that many times we have “drama” that could be avoided it we only understood why people do some of the things they do. Is it confusion, or lack of communication or a lack of judgment, maybe immaturity, or possibly selfishness, bitterness, jealousy or is it a power higher than ourselves that is pushing us or others to do things and say things and even think things that aren’t necessarily right? Why do we do some of the things we do?
Wouldn’t it be nice just to have our minds opened to the knowledge of our own actions, and maybe those of others, but I am moving off the focus of today… Jesus left the disciples with a greater wisdom than they had while they were following him around the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem and all the parts in-between. He left them with a better ability to grasp things, but he also promised them the Holy Spirit. This spirit was going to help them to continue his work, to expand the fellowship of believers. This spirit was going to help them to endure all they would need to endure during their days as witnesses to the life and gospel of Jesus.
When it came they were gathered in Jerusalem at a particular festival and in what seems to be a rush of wind and flames; they were given the ability to speak to others in their own languages. They begin witnessing to those around them about Jesus. But we also know now that this spirit wasn’t sent just for the disciples. This is part of the plan that God has for all of us. We too have the ability to accept it as the disciples did so many years ago.
We know Pentecost as the birth of Christianity. It is celebrated as the beginning of the Christian Church, yet it begins during a Jewish gathering and as it happens those around the disciples don’t seem to understand. In fact they think the disciples are simply intoxicated. Although Peter denies that they have been drinking, they are in essence, drunk on the knowledge of how believing and following Jesus has changed their lives.
One of the commentaries connects the question about them being drunk on new wine to the parable that Jesus used about putting new wine in old wineskins. He said that it would cause the wineskin to burst. The connection that the commentary made was that Christianity was/is like the new wine that burst the old wineskin/the old way of thinking at the time that it began. The gospel of Jesus that the disciples begin to speak in all these different languages is a change that breaks down the barriers of race and nationality and language and comes to the whole world.
James and Paulina and I were in Bismarck this past weekend for the North Dakota State Track and Field Meet. One of the interesting parts of the meet is that it opens on Friday morning with a parade of athletes. Although it isn’t major, we are beginning to see a shift in the population of that state. Not everyone on every team coming through that line up looks like we do, and the major contrast is no longer between the Native American and the descendants of western Europe. I was struck with how different things are becoming right in our own back yard, we are in a time of change.
It was also interesting to realize as we were shopping how many other languages were being spoken around us. I had the scripture for today on my mind as we went about this weekend, and I think maybe the thought of what the disciples encountered was on my mind, and it caused me to be more aware of the other languages and accents, but it really stuck out to me this weekend. I began to realize that a city just up the road from us is becoming a mini-melting pot. I began to wonder what our ancestors encountered when they came to this area. I also wondered what it was like to be those Galileans who were able to embrace the newness of what they were sharing with the world.
In the gospel of John we don’t see the word Holy Spirit, but Jesus refers to an Advocate that will come to the disciples to work with them and be with them and help them when they need someone to get them through the difficult times. We too have that advocate to be with us through the tough times and as we share the love of God for the world. In Romans Paul writes of the Spirit that intercedes for us even as we are unable to pray. The Spirit is there to speak to God on behalf of our needs as we go about the tasks God gives us. But, but we have to be willing to accept that Spirit, to be open to that movement within us.
And what are those tasks we are given? I was reminded again this weekend the simple importance of a kind word, a friendly face, a hand reaching out to lift another up or offer a shake of congratulations. We are witnesses everyday by the way we treat others and the way we treat the world around us. It is like the song, that we probably should have added to the list of those to sing, but I didn’t think of it at the time, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” (Our pianist caught this line and played the song for the offertory—wow!)
Although we probably won’t see any tongues of fire hovering over anyone this morning or hear any real rush of wind with the windows closed, and we likely aren’t’ going to hear each other speaking in several different dialects, we still celebrate the birth of the Christian Church on this Pentecost Day. Today we rejoice that the disciples accepted their tasks and shared the story of their teacher Jesus with the rest of the world. We rejoice that we are able to read and study and share our personal experience with Jesus as our savior. Let’s just remember that sharing and witnessing is more in how we treat and accept others than in the words we profess.
One last story from this weekend, we talked about going to get lunch for the coolers for Friday, and a couple of the athletes expressed not wanting to go to certain parts of town because the people there are “sketchy.” Now granted I probably wouldn’t go there alone as a 15 year old girl, but I have never felt that way personally, and I hope we don’t get to that point of not embracing the possibilities of our diversity. Let’s go from here today with the thoughts of sharing our faith in Jesus with others through the witness of our actions no matter who they are. Amen.