Pentecost Sunday: Feet on the Ground
Just about 50 days ago, we celebrated the resurrection together, as we gathered on Easter Sunday, and shared together the gospel story. We heard about the women coming to the tomb and finding it empty, and we heard the repeated words from throughout the next, from messengers, from Jesus: Do not be afraid. Last week we left the apostles looking up at the sky, as we celebrated Ascension Sunday, and talked about hearing God’s messengers tell and disciples-becoming-apostles to tear their gazes from heaven, leaving them instead to get to work on earth. They’d been promised the gift of the Holy Spirit – a gift that literally means Holy Breath, a gift that Jesus describes as Comforter and Advocate, literally one called to your side. The Holy Spirit isn’t something new, isn’t something that just shows up in the New Testament, on Pentecost. But certainly, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit in a different way than we hear elsewhere in the scriptures, and he encourages the twelve to trust that they will have strength and help from God, God’s Spirit dwelling within them, working within and through them in a way that seems new.
So the disciples-becoming-apostles, students-becoming-“sent ones” are waiting for this Holy Spirit to fill them up in some way that’s going to be more tangible than anything they’ve heard about before, and that’s going to help them do the work of Jesus in the world. What do they do while they’re waiting? According to the passage of scripture between last week’s text and today’s, the apostles return to Jerusalem and devote themselves to constant prayer, along with some women, and Jesus’ mother and brothers. Between the apostles, women, Jesus’s family, and others who have been following Jesus all along, they’ve got about 120 people gathered, praying and waiting for the Spirit. I forget that there were so many. From this group, the disciples also use this time to name a twelfth disciple, to replace Judas Iscariot. It would be easy for them to sit and do nothing until the Holy Spirit showed up as promised. But, perhaps inspired to action by the messengers at the Ascension, they wait actively instead of passively, praying and preparing to carrying out God’s plans.
If our message from Easter was Do Not Fear, and our message from Ascension Sunday was to tear our eyes from the sky, our message for Pentecost is to get moving, get our feet on the ground, get ready to take action. We can take on the work of Jesus and carry it out into the world. Pentecost is a festival that is part of Judaism. The disciples in our text today are gathered together to celebrate Pentecost as they wait for the gift of the Spirit. Pentecost as also known as Shavuot or The Feast of Weeks. The festival celebrates the “first fruits” of the harvest and the giving of the Torah, the books we know as the first five books of our Bible. The disciples were gathered together during this traditional celebration, as are many other faithful Jews who have come to observe the holy days. While they are gathered, suddenly, a sound like the rush of a violent wind comes and fills the gathering place and the apostles are filled with the promised Holy Spirit. And they begin to speak the gospel message to all who are gathered in such a way that everyone in the city could understand them. Many people from many places were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, and it seemed that everyone could understand the apostles. Some were amazed at this, but others were a bit cynical. But Peter stands and raises his voice to the crowds saying: we are speaking as the prophets spoke. Visions and power from, God will come to all people – young and old, men and women, slaves and free. He quotes the prophet Joel, saying, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young shall see visions, and your old shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” After Peter is done preaching, Acts tells us that thousands respond to the message he shares about Jesus. And from this point on, now equipped with the Spirit Jesus promised, the apostles are out, everywhere they can get to, telling people about Jesus and carrying out his work.
How can we think about the Holy Spirit in meaningful ways? When I was in junior high, I accidentally pinned my leg under our minivan. Some of you might have heard me tell this long story before, and doesn’t make me look very brilliant, but suffice it to say, I was laying on the ground outside a small market in Rome in the parking lot, with my leg pinned underneath our Dodge Caravan. My mother was in the store, and when my friend, who was with me, conveyed to her what happened, and my mother came out and saw me under the van, she didn’t look for help. What she did was push the van off me. Now, maybe she could have done this on a normal day, but I suspect that the level of adrenaline coursing through her body in an emergency situation made it suddenly easy for her to get me, her child, out of such a dangerous situation.
I think the Holy Spirit is a little like that – like adrenaline that enables you to do something you couldn’t imagine doing under normal circumstances. Only, we have this Holy Spirit with us always. Did you ever sing the Sunday School song, Give Me Oil for My Lamp? Give Me Oil for My Lamp, keep it burning, burning, burning, Give me oil for my lamp, I pray! Hallelujah! Give me oil for my lamp, keep it burning, burning, burning, keep it burning til the break of day! The song continues in more verses, and some of my favorites were: Give me wax for my board, keep me surfing for the Lord, and Give me gas for my Ford, keep me truckin’ for the Lord. All the verses suggest that there is something we need, something God can give us, that can inspire us, move us, help us to act with faith and boldness. That’s what the Holy Spirit can do with us – give us boldness to speak and act in the name of Jesus.
Friends, sometimes we need to be actively waiting for God’s direction, praying and preparing as we trust in God’s promises. And sometimes, we’ve got to realize that the promise is fulfilled, the Spirit is ours, a fire has been lit, and we need to be burning, shining forth with the light of Christ in the world. I spent the last several days at Annual Conference, our annual business meeting of the Upper New York Conference. Our study leader during the conference was Rev. Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean, a professor at Princeton Theological School of Youth, Church, and Culture. She was fantastic. I kind of wish I could just play a video of her whole study for you as my sermon today – she was so inspiring. Dr. Dean shared with us the story of Maggie, a woman whose life was upheaved by ethnic genocide in Burundi, but who has lived a life of love and light nonetheless, transforming her community, providing love and support for thousands of orphaned children. Maggie said, “Every day I improvise new life because love makes us inventors.” Dr. Dean asked us: Who has God given us to love as our own? And how is God calling us to be inventors? How can our church surprise young people with hope this year? There’s something about that description – that we are called to be inventors, carrying hope, new life, and new direction because of the love we have for one another that says “Holy Spirit” to me.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift for us, a promise kept not just to those first apostles, but for us too. It’s a gift we claim at our baptism, that we renew as we receive new members even today, that we call to fill our hearts every time we celebrate Holy Communion together. It’s the gift that turned a group of disciples into a church, a community, the body of Christ in the world. And it’s the gift that can turn us into dreamers, visionaries, inventors for the sake of hope and love. Come, Holy Spirit, come. Amen.