Pentecost is my favourite season in the church. Yes, of course I love the
anticipation and excitement of Advent and Christmas and I always feel deeply moved by the meditation time that Lent and Easter allow but honestly Pentecost is my favourite. This is likely based on the fact that in Sunday school this was the time of year when we could be playful with our lessons. Often we were given pinwheels and told that, just like how we
can’t see our breath we can’t see the holy spirit but it is clearly making the pinwheel turn. I will never forget the year we had a full on birthday party for the church with cake, hats and party games. Or one year we took red tissue paper and half the class danced around pretending to be flames resting on the rest of the class. As an adult this passage often elicits a little chuckle when it comes to the part where the disciples are accused of being
drunk and Peter’s response is, “they can’t be drunk because it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning.” I find Pentecost to be a playful story and most of you know me well enough to know that I like to have fun. There is also a familiarity to this passage that is both a blessing and a curse. It is one of the few passages in the entire Bible that is the same every year no matter what rotation we are on in the lectionary. Which can definitely make it the
hardest Sunday to preach because you hear the same passage every year. But this year, that playfulness of Pentecost was overshadowed by the fact that we are still enduring a pandemic. Throughout this passage it talks about how people were gathering together.
How on earth can a passage like that speak to us in our current context? But then I realized, perhaps our current context can help us see something new in this oft familiar passage.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. Ok, so the first line doesn’t appear to totally help in this manner. Except that, while it says they were gathered in one place, this place doesn’t seem to be very specific. It doesn’t say, they were gathered in a grand cathedral or a country church- those aspects of Christianity didn’t exist yet. The Holy Spirit, burst on the scene without the need for a dedicated building, it
just showed up where the disciples were. Within the first line of this passage we realize that after over a year of not being able to come together to worship in our church building we can still be the church because the Spirit doesn’t need a specific building to come alive.
The location in this passage is incidental. In fact, it is important to note that as the Spirit gave them the power to speech they clearly left the “one place” where they were gathered and went outside evangelizing to the astonished crowd. And I know, crowds are a bad idea too.
The next line says, “and suddenly from heaven”. While the book of Acts was
written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke we feel as if this part could have been written by Mark with all this immediate and sudden language. But this also tells me that the Spirit doesn’t need to be awaken exactly at 10:30am on Sunday morning. The spirit shows up, when the spirit shows up. So, some of you are watching this on a different day- that doesn’t mean that the worship has any less value. Some of us, like me, need the
discipline of timing to ensure that we make space for worship but the spirit can flow at any time.
It really is the Spirit who is on display for the bulk of this passage. I think this is another reason why this is a favourite season. Rightfully so we spend a lot of time unpacking the words and actions of Jesus. As one who studied Hebrew I like to delve into the Old Testament and the expression of God that is found there but at Pentecost we really get to know this strange aspect of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Spirit is a calm, quiet nudge, but in this story it is a violent wind with tongues of fire, that empowers
the disciples to speak words they could not speak just week’s ago. The Spirit brings hope to the otherwise troubled and scared disciples. The Spirit helps the disciples harness the courage to speak up. The Spirit inspires renewal.
We are exhausted by covid. We are worried about a still unknown future. We are troubled by some of the things this pandemic has exposed like inequality and chasms in our health care. The disciples were tired, concerned, and anxious too, when suddenly they are given
the ability to be bold through the renewing Spirit. There are things about this covid time that we will want to harness. We have learned a lot about worship and ministry and technology and community. Renewal in a lot of ways is afoot.
The spirit’s renewal is also universal. The passage lists a whole bunch of places that most of us don’t know how to pronounce properly. But the reason it lists a multitude of places is because the Spirit wants to ensure that no one is left out. This is a message for people all over the known world from Jews to proselytes, Cretans to Arabs. I will point out
that the festival of Pentecost existed pre-Christian church. Within Judaism it is the festival of Shavouth, a festival that celebrates the harvest- it is a big thanksgiving festival. We have renamed it Pentecost because it happens 50, “Pente” days after Easter. But this is why so many people were in Jerusalem. They were there to give thanks for the harvest, to
give thanks for the physical nourishment they have received. Little did they know that their spirits would be nourished as well.
Then it is Peter’s words that demonstrate just how expansive this message really is. A reminder that fifty-two days earlier, not even two months, Peter did not have the courage to admit he knew Jesus let alone followed him. Peter went away sulking and ashamed. One commentary says, “The Spirit had emboldened him to fulfil the potential which Jesus had always recognized in him. Are we letting the Spirit embolden us to fulfil
the potential to which we are called both as individuals and as the church?” Are we letting the Spirit help us to fulfil our potential as individuals and as the church? The follow up question in my mind is, if we aren’t, what is holding us back? Are we continuing to live huddled together in one place because we are afraid of what the renewal might bring? Are we perplexed because it is still a mystery to us? Are we worried that we’re going to appear
Peter than quotes from Joel which does demonstrate the indiscriminate nature of the Holy Spirit. The young will see visions, the old will dream dreams (and let’s be clear when we are talking dreams we aren’t talking flights of fancy but bold visions), slaves and free, men and women, will receive the gift of the Spirit. There are no societal barriers that
the Spirit can not break. There is an inclusivity to the spirit that no one can deny. If a denying fisherman can become the rock upon which the church is built then any and all of us can harness the playful power of the spirit.
This is such a rich example of what the church should be- not stuck in one place- physically or spiritually, not restricted to who can participate or not, not cowering at injustices. This is a church that allows themselves to be emboldened through the Spirit.
That preaches hope and seeks renewal. Look, I get it, I am not always up for the challenges that the Spirit places in front of me. I have had my fair share of temper tantrums. Trust me, there are lots of times when I don’t know what I’m doing. But I need the playfulness of Pentecost to help me find my voice, to have the energy to be bold, to see where the the spirit is blowing. And that’s when the fun begins! Amen