Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 24, 2015

2015.05.24 “Throwback Sunday? Acts 2: 1 – 21 – Pentecost Sunday

Central United Methodist Church
Throwback Sunday?
Pastor David L. Haley
Acts 2: 1 – 21
Pentecost Sunday
May 24, 2015
pentecost2

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 

Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”  All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  No, this is what was spoken through the 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.
And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

– Acts 2: 1 – 21, The New Revised Standard Version

Have you heard of Throwback Thursday? The younger ones have; the older ones, maybe not. Throwback Thursday is the name of a weekly social media posting game, in which people look back upon and share some of their favorite memories. Let’s face it, the older we are, the more we have to “throwback” to. If only we can remember it and find it.

Today, on Pentecost Sunday and Heritage Sunday, let’s have a Throwback Sunday! Not of our favorite memories, but two of the Church’s favorite memories, both of which we commemorate today.

The first of our favorite church Throwback Sunday memories occurred a mere 277 years ago today, on May 24th, 1738. (Do you remember?)

John Wesley, by Nathaniel Hone, The National Portrait Gallery, London

John Wesley, by Nathaniel Hone, The National Portrait Gallery, London

Imagine – if you will – a 35 year-old-man walking slowly through the streets of London on a Saturday night, on the way to church, believe it or not, as if he wished he were headed elsewhere, which we all most likely would on a Saturday night. John Wesley, the man we imagine, was an Oxford educated clergyman. He was also a failed missionary to America, where his mission had gone so badly that he had had to sneak out of town (Savannah, GA) under the cover of darkness and return to England. On the ship over and back, even though he was an ordained clergyman, he doubted his own faith, especially when he observed a group of German Moravian Brethren who prayed calmly during a terrible storm at sea, when he himself was terrified. Because of that, Wesley continued to associate and learn from the Moravian Brethren, wishing for himself a faith like theirs, until today – 227 years ago.

Earlier that day, he had gone to church at St. Paul’s – Sir Christopher Wren’s beautiful church – where the choir sang the words of Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to thee,” which Wesley took as a sign that something was about to happen.

But the most important thing that happened that day was yet to come. Being a meticulous “journaler,” Wesley recorded his description of what happened that evening in his Journal, May 24th, 1738:

“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.”  (The Journal of John Wesley, May 24, 1738) 

Even with this, nothing would dramatically change, and Wesley would continue to experience the ups and downs of faith, as we all do, causing some to question whether this “heart-warming” event was really the milestone in his life that he described. But for all of us Methodists, sitting here today as a result of John Wesley’s “strangely warmed” heart, we celebrate this day each year as Aldersgate Day. Let’s hope it wasn’t just an extreme case of heartburn! Happy Aldersgate Day!

The second memory of the church we remember today on this Throwback Sunday, is even more momentous not just for Methodists but for all Christians, and it occurred some 1,980 years ago today (approximately!). Do you remember?

It was a day not when hearts were strangely warmed, but heads, the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts, chapter 2, 50 days after Passover when the Spirit Jesus had promised to his disciples fell upon them, with the rush of a might wind and tongues as of fire resting upon them, giving them not heartburn but “headburn.”

Spectacular as that was, that was not the most amazing thing that happened, that would be what happened next, when people who were gathered from throughout the Roman Empire began speaking in their own languages of the praise of God. But still, that was not the miracle; the miracle was that everyone understood them!

It would have been as if we had been at our Council Board meeting last Tuesday night, when suddenly the overhead fans kicked up to high speed, and the fire wasn’t in the fireplace but dancing over our heads, and and Gerhard Mels began speaking Afrikaans as he sometimes does, and Ferdinand Soco, who doesn’t speak Tagalog began doing so, and Diane Wolff-Klammer, head of our Finance Committee, began spouting financial numbers as she often does. But the miracle would not be any of that; the miracle would be that the rest of us understood them, especially Diane, and her numbers. That would have been something like the first Pentecost.

By the way, I appreciate preacher Thomas Long’s observation about where this story of Pentecost is positioned in the Book of Acts? Have you ever noticed that? It’s sandwiched between two stories: on one side is the story of the selection of an apostle to replace Judas. On the other side is a story about the early church breaking bread, attending to the teachings of the apostles and trying to take care of the poor among their midst. In other words, the story of Pentecost is positioned between the election of officers and struggling over programs of Christian education, worship, and service. So whatever it is Pentecost was about, it doesn’t remove us from these earthly realities. (Thomas Long, What’s The Gift, Day 1, Pentecost, May 27, 2012)

While what happened at Pentecost would have been a miracle, in the book of Acts it needed explanation, and Peter stepped forward to say what I can’t imagine Peter saying outside of the book of Acts, which was – essentially – “This is that.” This is that which the prophet Joel spoke of so long ago:

‘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.”

And that’s what happened on the Day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit was poured out upon all kinds of people, male and female, young and old. And God’s Spirit is still poured out today. Do you believe that?

What are we to make of all this? What could either of these two Throwback Sunday memories have to do with us? Am I to be like Peter, the one who steps forward, when everyone else steps backward?

As for what happened on the Day of Pentecost, even though I’ve read it many times – even memorized it – and done a lot of thinking about it, I’m still not sure I understand it.

It’s a story packed with symbols, for sure, especially from the Old Testament. There is the rush of wind, which in Greek and Hebrew is the same word for breath or Spirit, including the breath of life God breathed into us at creation. There are flames of fire, a symbol of the presence and glory of God, like the pillar of fire that led the people of Israel through the wilderness in Exodus. There is the babble of many languages, the curse of the tower of Babel, which is reversed here on the day of Pentecost. It seems at the most basic, what God did at Pentecost was to create a community of the Spirit, in which young and old, male and female, people of many cultures and languages UNDERSTOOD one another. But surely that was not just for the Church, was it? Surely that was just the beginning of what God desires to do, the outpouring of the Spirit upon all humanity? “All flesh,” as the prophet Joel – quoted by Peter – called it?

God knows we still have a hard time with that today. Sometimes it seems like men and women speak a different language; we learn that in our relationships. Sometimes it seems like young and old speak a different language, we learn that in our intergenerational conversations. Sometimes it seems like people of different races and cultures speak a different language. In fact I can’t remember a time since the 1950’s when that seems more so than it does today, as white people and black people once again find themselves polarized across a racial divide in America. Could it again be the work of the Spirit as it was on the Day of Pentecost, to bring us together, to talk to each other, to allow us to hear each other, to come to care about each other? As Rodney King, one of the first of those beaten by police on video, so famously put it, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Out of the sights and sounds of our day, as surely as on the Day of Pentecost, I believe the Spirit is still at work. And not just between black and white, but between young and old, male and female.

And as for John Wesley – compared to 1,980 years ago, at 277 years ago, almost our contemporary – wasn’t what happened with John Wesley, the same thing that happened at Pentecost so long ago?  Wasn’t it an example of how God – in any time and any place – can take ordinary people – even deeply neurotic people like John Wesley – and make them into mighty instruments of God, through which the lives of even future generations can be changed. Surely, as the prophet Joel said, and the Day of Pentecost proved, and as the example of John Wesley illustrates: God can use young and old, male and female, black, brown, white, every color we come in, every ability we have or lack, for God’s purposes upon the earth. If God can do this, surely God can use even us. Even if it is for nothing more than talk to each other, to listen to each other, to come to care for each other. Generations hence, who knows where it will lead?

For this – on this Throwback Sunday – may the praise of God again be heard. Thanks be to God, Amen.

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