Today, we celebrate Pentecost, known as the birthday of the church, a beginning, a new start, where we read of the disciples seemingly literally on fire with the new energy they have found in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disciples had been on quite the roller-coaster ride with Jesus. For three years they’d followed him, worked with him, ministered with him. They’d been through an ordeal, watching Jesus be put to death, and then they’d received the joy – Jesus resurrected. But now Jesus had returned to God, and no longer walked the earth in human form with them.
And then, Pentecost comes, as our text from Acts begins. In the Christian faith, we know Pentecost as the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit, but in the Jewish religious life, Pentecost was an already existing festival – a harvest festival. And so people were coming to Jerusalem, making a pilgrimage to the city to be there for the religious festival, like they would at Passover and other holy days. And then, suddenly, a sound comes like the rush of a violent wind, and it fills the whole place where the disciples were. And Luke, our author, describes to us these “divided tongues,” like flames, resting on each apostle. And all of them are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking in other languages, as the Spirit gives them ability. The Jews in the city, who are from many countries, many places, all hear the disciples speaking in their own language, and they are amazed, dumbfounded, perplexed. Some even wonder if the disciples are drunk. But Peter stands with the rest of the twelve, and raises his voice to address the crowds that have gathered to witness this strange event.
“Let this be known to you, and listen to what I say,” Peter begins. They aren’t drunk, he insists, but instead, they embody the vision of God which the prophet Joel proclaimed: “God declares . . . I will pour out my Spirit upon all your flesh, and yours sons and your daughters will 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.” Past our text for today, Peter continues preaching, talking about Jesus Christ, and people respond to his words. In his message, they catch something of the Spirit that has filled Peter and the other disciples, and Luke says that three thousand people were baptized on that day. Three thousand!
We’re celebrating something else here today too. The Service of Confirmation is a spiritual milestone that has been celebrated in conjunction with Pentecost over the years because of the new baptisms that take place just after our text for today in Acts. It’s a day of making a commitment to follow Jesus. But I think it is especially appropriate because both Pentecost and Confirmation are stories about taking what has been taught to you by someone else, and making it your own. At Pentecost, the disciples finally took everything Jesus had taught them, all the encouragement he’d given them, and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, stepped out in front of the crowds to make a bold statement of faith, putting it all on the line. Finally, they had to stop standing behind Jesus, relying on him to answer their questions and tell them what to do, and start acting as his messengers in the world.
Confirmation is a similar occasion. All of these young people who will stand before you today were baptized when they were too young to make the decision for themselves. But because we believe baptism is a symbol of God’s grace that is already at work within us, parents and sponsors and congregations participate in baptizing babies, taking vows on their behalf, anticipating this very day – when these young people will confirm the vows taken for them and make them their own, confirm that they know about God and God’s love for them, that they want to be in relationship with God. From here on out, they can continue to be guided and helped by their elders, of course: but we’re saying together, them, and us, that their faith journey is their responsibility. They stop standing behind adults to answer for them, and start acting as disciples in their own right, even leaders and messengers of God in this congregation, in our world.
Confirmation is one step on the faith journey of these young people. For some of them, it’s a first step in their path – everything that they’re learning is new. For some of our older students, who are already in high school, it’s a different step in the path. They aren’t all having the same experience today. They aren’t all at the same step in knowledge or life experience. But that’s not what it is all about. Confirmation is about taking on for yourself the vows that someone else made for you at your baptism. Confirmation is saying that now, you are responsible for your own faith journey. Someone else can’t be faithful on your behalf – your relationship with God is just that – yours! At the beginning of our service, our young people weren’t full professing members yet, and in a few minutes, they will be. They certainly don’t know everything about this congregation, or Christianity, or Methodism. Although, until they forget it, they might know a little more than some of you do! But the point is, if we waited to give them all the rights and responsibilities of membership and leadership in the church until they knew everything and were totally ready and prepared – well, then, I’d bet we’d never celebrate confirmation again. They won’t stop learning just because they’re confirmed. But they lay claim now to having their voice in all that we do here, because they’re laying claim to their own faith.
What happened on Pentecost is both hard to explain and easy to understand. The disciples, even though they weren’t really ready, became the church. Since Jesus had returned to God, they became the body of Christ in the world. They weren’t ready. They needed to know more. They still didn’t have all the answers. It isn’t long before they get in fights with each other and stray from what Jesus might have done. But they take the plunge. They take the leap of faith. They can do it, because once they feel the Spirit moving, they know that Jesus is really always with them. They aren’t alone. When they step out on faith, God is with them.
What will you do? God is with you. You aren’t alone. So whatever it is you are waiting for to be ready to start following God, really – remind yourself that we’re never ready for everything we’ll face. But we can be ready to put our trust in God, who has never failed us yet. Are you ready? Probably not. But let’s get started anyway. Amen.