a Sermon for Pentecost C
Text: Acts 2:1-21
A Holy Spectacle
In Pentecost, we have the dawning of a new era. Jesus has departed and the Advocate, the Holy Spirit has arrived. It is now the apostles’ turn to deal with the ministry for which Jesus was preparing them. I’m not sure what they expected, or what we might if we were there, but what they received was nothing short of amazing. Tongues of fire descending upon them. An incredible visual spectacle. And suddenly the apostles are able to speak so that anyone can understand them.
This is a powerful statement about collective witness. What is not happening here is one person having a little private conversation with someone else in a living room saying “you should come to my church on Sunday!” but a group of Jesus’s followers, in Jerusalem, speaking at the same time, while a large group of Jews from all over the known world respond to the commotion. And when they arrive, they hear the Good News as if the apostle were speaking right to them.
Or better, as if GOD were speaking right to them.
And what we most ignore about this event is how public, spectacular, universal, and particular this event is. This city street becomes the epicenter of GOD’s holy spectacle. This is not a secluded stable, where a baby might be born in peace. This new event dawns in broad daylight. And who are the witnesses of the event? But the already faithful.
A Moment for Us
The trouble we have as the already faithful, is knowing how to take this event. At one time, Pentecost was the most important day of the Christian calendar. We saw it as the church’s birthday, and we saw it as the very crux of the Christian story. And I think it is way more than that. We don’t merely tell the biography of Jesus, but witness to what GOD is doing in our world. In creation, in the incarnation of the divine Word in Jesus, and in the swirling tempest and whisper quiet of the Holy Spirit compelling us to live out a new way. It isn’t Easter or Christmas, but Pentecost, the empowering of humanity to be in holy relationship with the divine.
And yet, we neither celebrate it differently in any meaningful way, nor do we take the conviction of the Spirit in a communal way. Not in our tradition, at least. We don’t speak in tongues here, or get up and dance. We don’t allow for the Holy Spirit to move our physical forms at all. We govern our forms by making them sit and kneel and stand at appointed times, rather than allow our movements to be coaxed by the Spirit.
Perhaps most provoking for me about the story this time is that it is witnessed, not by the unbelieving “heathens” outside, but among the already committed faithful. And the power was bestowed upon faithful people to speak to other faithful people. Not as some insular gathering or closed system, but that they were the ones that knew what the spectacle actually meant: that GOD was doing something amazing.
I’m not so sure we’re always so attuned.
To Witness, One Must See
The story ends with Peter’s quote from the book of Joel, saying this moment fulfills the coming of the Holy Spirit. Peter knows that the Spirit is doing this. Peter knows that this is an act of GOD—that something amazing is taking place in the midst of the people: something amazing for the “elite” followers (the apostles) and for all the rest of the faithful Jewish people. That GOD had once again come into their midst to guide and direct them in a new way and in a new direction.
In Peter, we now see the zealous, eager follower demonstrate uncanny wisdom and understanding. Not because he is smart, we know that’s not the case, but in allowing the Spirit to move him, to speak through him. He is able to know GOD because he isn’t too busy defining GOD or defending GOD or denying GOD. He is speaking to the acts of GOD. He is responding to what GOD has done and is doing. Peter, ever present in the moment, in the now, is unleashed to be in the now.
The Spirit With Us
This story is about the now. The public spectacle in this shouts! This isn’t some demure moment. This isn’t a moment of serene, personal transcendence. We aren’t to hear this and calmly nod our heads or silently sit in our pews or walk to the altar rail at communion as if the Holy Spirit only shows up in personal moments, as if we didn’t matter, as if we aren’t the gathered children of GOD, as if we weren’t ordained by the Holy Spirit to do GOD’s ministry, as if we weren’t the very means by which GOD transforms the world.
Feel the Spirit today. Feel it’s presence with us. The Spirit is here. The Spirit is moving around us. The Spirit is empowering us. The Spirit is compelling us, whispering and shouting and tickling and demanding we respond. That we all say Alleluia! Let’s say it! Alleluia! Again.
We have another word we say when we are feeling it. Amen.
When we get ready to come up to this table, what do we say? AMEN!
When we receive the body and blood of Christ, what do we say? Amen!
When we have eaten, we have heard about all the great things GOD is doing at St. Paul’s, we pray, are blessed, and we sing, I am going to say “Alleluia, Alleluia! Let us go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit!” then what do we say? Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia!
Hear it, Thanks be to GOD! These aren’t just words, so we dare not say them like they are any old words. Are we thankful? Is GOD doing good things? Then we better say it. Say it like there’s an exclamation point Thanks be to GOD! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The Spirit is here! Let us all say Amen.