Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 19, 2013

13.05.19 “Pentecost was Not: Pentecost Is!” Acts 2: 1 – 21 – Pentecost Sunday

Central United Methodist Church

Pentecost was Not: Pentecost Is!

Pastor David L. Haley

Acts 2: 1 – 21

Pentecost Sunday

May 19th, 2013

 

“In the last days it will be, God declares,

that 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.”

– Acts 2: 17 – 18, New Revised Standard Version

 

“What happened?” If you’ve ever been involved in in a serious crash, fire, or similar life-threatening experience, you probably asked that question. One minute you’re driving along, and suddenly – everything happens so quickly – afterwards it may be difficult to remember exactly what happened.

When I was a paramedic, often I would transport to the hospital a crash victim who suffered a traumatic concussion, with resulting retrograde amnesia. On the way to the hospital they would ask, “What happened? – Where am I? – “Where’s my car?” So I would explain, and as soon as I finished they would repeat, “What happened?” “Where am I?” “Where’s my car?” all the way to the hospital.

Even without a traumatic concussion, when we undergo such a traumatic experience, that’s the way our mind deals with it. Under the surge of adrenaline that comes when we are threatened, our consciousness narrows to the essentials. Afterwards, we may not remember everything; but then, in the days and weeks ahead, it may come back in greater detail. And we say, “I can’t believe it!” or “I can’t believe I did that!” or “Thank God I’m alive.” Often with that comes the rush of emotions that follows such an experience, and we may not even be able to talk about it without crying.  How many have had an experience like that?

Whenever I read the story of what happened to Jesus’ disciples on Pentecost, I wonder if that wasn’t how they felt.

There they were, doing what they’ve done every day since Jesus’ Ascension, meeting together, praying, waiting for the coming of the Spirit, as Jesus had promised.

There were, the book of Acts tells us, about 120 believers. Think about that for a moment: for all we know about Jesus, his birth, his baptism, his profound words and powerful deeds, his crucifixion and resurrection; there were only 120 people to show for his three years of ministry, about the same number gathered here this morning. At that point, the future of the Christian Church did not look good.

And then it happened.  There came a sound LIKE the rush of a mighty wind, filling the entire house. Tongues, AS OF FIRE, appeared to rest on each one of them. Everyone was filled with the Spirit, and began to speak in other languages, the languages of those gathered in Jerusalem, who came running to see what was happening.

What happened? Just as they must have asked, so the church ever after has asked this question. I’ve been preaching Pentecost for 40 years, and I still don’t understand what happened. I feel like the little girl who asked, “What is Pentecost?” and was told, “That was when the Spirit descended on the Church, with a rush of a mighty wind and flames as of fire, and everyone heard the praise of God in their own language.” “Oh,” she said, “I must have missed that Sunday.”

Was it one of those “you had to be there” events, with special effects provided by the Spirit Sound and Light Company, in order to draw a crowd someone could preach to? I wouldn’t mind that kind of opening act, as embarrassing as it might be. If it was, it was effective; at the end of Peter’s sermon, 3,000 people joined the church, 30 times what Jesus had accomplished in three years. Is this what Jesus was talking about in John’s Gospel when he said “Greater things you will do, than I have done?”

Or is this a story full of the Biblical version of special effects: rich symbolic images, with the real meaning disguised underneath? Breath, wind, Spirit; in Hebrew all the same word, the “breath of life” God blew into us at creation. Tongues, as of fire, in the Old Testament a symbol of the presence of God, leading God’s people along the way. Language, confused by God at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, but here with the curse reversed, such that many languages now speak the praise of God.

Is this the Biblical way of saying, “Listen up!” “Pay attention!” “This will be on the test!” Is this the Biblical way of saying something important is happening here, that this is a new beginning, the dawning of a new age, that age foreseen long ago by the ancient prophet Joel,

“In the last days it will be, God declares,

that 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.”

What happened?  It was the dawning of a new age, alright; an age in which we still live, where all flesh is endowed with the Spirit of God, where both sons and daughters speak God’s word, where the young see visions and the old dream dreams, and both must be heeded.  It is the time in which we still live, where not the physical presence of Jesus, but the spiritual presence of Jesus is with us through the Spirit, to push us, to lead us, to continue the work Jesus began, loving God and loving others.

What happened did not end that day, it only began that day. It continued throughout the book of Acts, as in Acts 9 with the conversion of St. Paul, or in Acts 10, when Peter realized that God was calling Gentiles too, even though, to their way of thinking, “they’d never done it that way before.”

What happened that day, did not end with the book of Acts.  It has continued throughout the history of the church, with new outpourings of the Spirit, new people willing to step up, to do what they’d never done before.

John Wesley, the 18th century founder of Methodism, was such a person.  Today is not only Pentecost Sunday, it is Heritage Sunday in the United Methodist Church, the Sunday nearest May 24, Aldersgate Day, when, in 1738, John Wesley had his famous “heartwarming experience” on Aldersgate Street in London:

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  (from The Journal of John Wesley, May 24, 1738) 

But as with Jesus’ disciples, not much would happen until about a year later, when his friend George Whitefield called him to do something he’d never done before, “field preaching,” preaching to people where they were, outside churches.  The first time Wesley did it, on Saturday, March 31, he wrote in his Journal:

“In the evening I reached Bristol and met Mr. Whitefield there.  I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday; I had been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have though the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.” (from The Journal of John Wesley, March 29, 1739)

What happened that day did not end that day, it did not end with the Book of Acts, it did not end with John Wesley. It continues today as we feel the Spirit calling us, leading us, pushing us, to address the issues of our time: war and poverty, racism and violence, ecological disaster, life at the brink of apocalypse.  Surely the Spirit who hovered over creation, who is the breath of life in every being, is calling us to care not only about people, but about the planet?

What happened that day did not end that day, it continues today as we feel the Spirit calling us, leading us, pushing us, to be a different kind of Church, to do things differently than we have in the past, even if we’ve never done it that way before.

What happened that day did not end that day, it continues today as we feel the Spirit calling us, leading us, pushing us, to be better than we are: the best Christians we can be, the best people we can be, even the best parents, despite the challenges we face. How often do we have days where we say, “God, I cannot do this on my own; lead me, guide me, fill me with your Spirit’s power.”

A few years ago, the Rev. Shannon Kershner said it very well in a sermon she preached on Day One. Of this Pentecost story, she said:

“While it is a lovely story, a meaningful story, a powerful story, we simply cannot keep it contained in the past. God’s Spirit still works this way. The Holy Spirit, the breath of God, is at work, here and now. Through Scripture and prayers, through music and proclamation, through experience and relationships, God’s holy breath challenges us, comforts us, scares us, clarifies things for us. The story of Pentecost tells us if we are open to breathing it in, if we dare to pray “Come Holy Spirit,” we will find our own lungs filled to the gills with a courage, a reserve of strength, a passion of faith we did not even know we had. (The Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner, “Breathing Deeply”, Day 1 (www.day1.net), June 4, 2006)

That is what happened at Pentecost, and what still happens today, when we open ourselves to it.

Back in 1988, I remember watching journalist Bill Moyer’s interviews with Joseph Campbell, the scholar of mythology, in that extraordinary series on PBS called “The Power of Myth.” Campbell was an expert in how we interpret, understand, and apply such stories as the Pentecost story.

In that particular episode, they were speaking not of Pentecost, but of Eden, that mythical garden in Genesis where everything began.  Bill Moyers asked Joseph Campbell:

“Eden was not, Eden will be?”

Campbell:  “Eden is. ‘The kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth, and men do not see it.’”

Moyers: “Eden is – in this world of pain and suffering and death and violence?”

Campbell:  “That is the way it feels, but this is it, this is Eden.

When you see the kingdom spread upon the earth, the old way of

living in the world is annihilated. That is the end of the world.  The

end of the world is not an event to come, it is an event of

psychological transformation, of visionary transformation. You see

not the world of solid things but a world of radiance.” (Joseph Campbell (with Bill Moyers), The Power of Myth, 1988, p. 230)

Do we get it?  Pentecost was not; Pentecost is! Come, Holy Spirit, come!

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