Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 23, 2010

2010.05.23 “A Beginner’s Guide to Pentecost” – Pentecost Sunday 2010

Central United Methodist Church

“A Beginner’s Guide to Pentecost”

Acts 2: 1 – 21

Pastor David L. Haley

Pentecost Sunday

May 23rd, 2010

“When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force — no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

       There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; even Cretans and Arabs! “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk — it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:

“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people:

          Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions,

your old men dream dreams.

          When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit

          On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy.

          I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below,

          Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,

          Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous;

          And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”

                                                                   (Acts 2: 1 – 21, The Message)

     Each year I look forward to Pentecost Sunday, one of my favorite Sundays in the Christian year.

      The arrival of Pentecost means we are past the Advent/Christmas cycle, past the Lent/Easter cycle, ready to embark upon “ordinary time,” the long stretch of Sundays which runs from now through November.

      But even more importantly, Pentecost marks the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus’ first disciples, the birthday of the church, if you will. No more moping around, waiting for something to happen; at Pentecost we acknowledge that we the people of the Church – all of us – are Spirit-endowed, connected to the power source; we are the people we’ve been waiting for.

      But then, in celebration of Pentecost, what does one SAY about such an event takes requires some of the most symbolic language in the Bible in its description, images of both sight and sound: “the rush of a mighty wind, and tongues as of flames of fire.” 

      Today, as we commemorate Pentecost I’ve decided today to take a new tact, inspired by a 2005 sermon (“When Pentecost Ends Too Soon,” see below) by one of our best preachers, The Rev. Dr. Barbara K. Lundblad, professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

      Preaching to a radio audience, Lundblad doesn’t assume that her listeners know anything about the church celebration of Pentecost, not even what it is.

      Some of us know what Pentecost is, or at least think we do, but some of us don’t.  And, maybe even those of us who think we do, don’t, given the tendency of some of us in the church to talk about things in ways which nobody else knows what we’re talking about.

      So this Pentecost, let’s do the “Beginner’s Guide to Pentecost.”  Let’s assume nothing.

      The first thing we ask is, “What’s with the name: Pentecost?  A word most of us never use, and some may never even have spoken.  Pentecost?  Is it anything like the Pentagon? 

      Not really, but it does offer a clue. The Pentagon is a five-sided building in Washington, D.C.  Pentecost, means five times 10, that is, it is an event which occurs 50 days after Easter.  

      In church on Pentecost, as you look around, you should see lots of red.  And that’s a good thing, because red (the color of fire trucks, except those occasional green ones that are not ripe yet) is my favorite color. I wear a red stole today, and Cindy is wearing a red dress, and others are wearing splashes of red here and there.  

      The point of the color red is to remind us of the flames of fire that appeared over the disciples’ heads as found in the story in the Book of Acts.

      After sight, there is the “sound” of Pentecost. In most churches, just as we did today with our opening song, there will some attempt to speak in other languages, that is, other than the one we usually use.  We might do the call to worship in as many languages as we can muster (which in our congregation is considerable), or some churches have people read the Scripture readings in their native languages.  

In some churches, of what we call the “Pentecostal” variety, some people might even be so moved by the Spirit that they’ll begin to speak in tongues no one can understand. That’s pretty confusing, if you’ve ever experienced it, but not really what was happening in this story.

On that first Pentecost, the disciples spoke in actual languages so that everyone who had come to Jerusalem could understand.  Barbara Lindblad puts it this way:

“People from all over the world who had come to Jerusalem for the festival were surprised to hear someone speaking their own language so far from home. Parthinians stuck their heads through the door of the house expecting to see other Parthinians, and Libyans looked around for other Libyans. But what they saw instead were a bunch of Galileans, rural types from northern Israel dressed in the equivalent of first-century overalls, all of them going on and on about God’s mighty acts like a bunch of PhDs in Middle-Eastern languages. That’s what it was like that day in Jerusalem.”

        In whatever language, eventually, it comes time for the sermon to explain what’s going on. Today it’s me, and on Pentecost it was Peter, but what we say essentially remains the same: “This is that.” I say, “This which we celebrate today, is that which happened on Pentecost.”  Peter said, “This which you see today is that which the prophet Joel spoke of when he said, “In those days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.”

      Wow, think about that. Do we ever ask our sons and our daughters to prophesy, or do we only expect them to listen?  (This ought to wake up all you Junior and Senior Highs youth sleeping in the pews.)

But that’s not the end of it.  Peter goes on, quoting Joel:  “Your elders will see visions, and your youth dream dreams.” (This ought to wake up all you elders sleeping in the pews.) What are your visions for us, elders?  What are your dreams, youth? The youth may giggle, not sure if they want anyone to hear their dreams. 

But there’s more. “Even on my slaves, both women and men, I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy.”  I know what you’re thinking.  “We don’t have slaves anymore – thank God!  But we do have our ways of looking down at people, don’t we?  Who cares for our small children when we go off to work? Who takes care of our parents in nursing homes? Who washes the dishes when we eat out in restaurants, who changes the sheets when we stay in hotels?

Wow, that makes us think.  Think about the people we talk to but never listen to, the people we’d never mistake for prophets. God is doing something radical on the Day of Pentecost.

After the sermon, the time comes for the offering.  Some people get up from their seats and begin to circulate offering plates through the church.  As they do, some have bought in their stock portfolios signed over to the church. Others have sold their homes, and put checks in the plates.  One high school kid puts in her graduation money, and another sold the car his parents gave him and puts that in.  Some people have even sold their possessions – like big screen TVs – in garage sales or on Ebay – and brought those proceeds to put in the offering.  

Later, the Finance Committee will pool the money, consider the needs of everyone and especially the neediest, and then distribute the proceeds until there’s not a needy person among us.  Aren’t you glad you came to Church on Pentecost?

Wait a minute, you say! You making this up!  No, I’ve seen everything described here on Pentecost, except maybe that last part.  I’ve seen people dressed in red. I’ve heard Calls to Worship and songs and Bible readings in other languages. I’ve heard powerful preaching, even attempted it myself.  But – I confess – I’ve never seen the last part, the part about selling houses and cars and possessions, and putting the money in the offering.

But I didn’t make it up. That part – though we didn’t read it today – comes at the very end of the Pentecost story, the part which we usually stop reading before we get to:

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.” (Acts 2: 44 – 46)

These – of course – aren’t the verses people like to quote when they talk about taking the Bible literally. These are the verses we like to read with lots of qualifications. “Those people lived at a much simpler time,” we say. Or “That was a very small community, probably a house church and sharing possessions wasn’t so hard.” Or “Who could ever trust the Finance Committee to be fair in the distribution?” These verses about sharing possessions are often dismissed as nostalgia.  Or perhaps their communal sharing came from the exuberance of Pentecost, which passed quickly.  But, as Barbara Lindblad points out, sometimes Pentecost ends too soon.

 What have we learned?

* A Pentecost church will reach out to people of every language and

tongue. 


* A Pentecost church will call young and old, women and men to

prophesy. 


* A Pentecost church will preach and baptize, but also be concerned

about community and caring, about giving and economics.

Whether you’re hearing about Pentecost for the first time or the fiftieth, it’s a great story and a great day.  In the power of the Spirit, let’s go forth to practice what we have seen and heard.  Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Barbara K. Lundblad is professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and. Her sermon, “When Pentecost Ends Too Soon,” preached on Day 1 on May 15, 2005, may be found here: 

            http://day1.org/938-whe_pentecost_ends_too_soon

 

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