Meditation on Acts 2:1-21
June 9, 2019
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 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. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘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.18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
It’s good to be back! Jim and I traveled to Boston on Memorial Day to visit children and grandchildren. Our beautiful grand girls and their parents kept us busy and entertained. Jessie is a precocious 5 and a half. And Madeline, who was just a babe in our arms when we saw her last year, is nearly 21 months–walking and running, and learning to express herself with words. My favorite word that she says is, “Yessssssss.” Maddie, do you want to go for a car ride? “Yesssss.” And she’s putting on her shoes, only it’s her big sister’s shoes. Jessie doesn’t like that, of course. Maddie wants to do everything, play with everything, and wear everything that Jessie does. This creates some tension in the household. Jim and I witnessed a few knock down, drag out fights, and I want you to know, in case you are worried, that little Maddie is holding her own. She’s a tough little cutie pie.
On the plane ride to Boston, I worried that Jessie and Maddie wouldn’t remember us. That was true for Maddie, who was at first shy and clung to her parents. But when I pushed her on the swings and sang her favorite songs, she and I became pals. When I helped Jessie embroider a flower at the Boston art museum, I was OK in her book, too. Later, I showed her how to play Bubblewitch on my I-phone. She was impressed that old Grandma who sews the holes in ballet tights, crochets blankets, makes brownies, and paints Jessie’s fingernails could also help free the owls and kill the freezie frogs! I probably should have asked her parents before I got her hooked on video games.
The most important thing to Jessie, I discovered, wasn’t that I could do stuff with her. She wanted someone to listen to her, understand her, and care about her feelings. When I asked if she was making friends at her new school, she said yes, but NONE of them were boys. “They don’t listen!” she said, furrowing her dark brow and tossing her mop of curly hair. On our last night together, while we walked home pushing a stroller with a sleeping Madeline after a very full day of soccer, baseball, a picnic brunch at the playground, and a citywide festival in the evening, Jessie sobbed, “Daddy, you’re not listening!”
And I understood how the little girl felt and her need to be heard and understood by those near and dear to her. The spirit of love brings us together and draws us close, though we live at a distance, we live such different lives, and only see each other a few days out of the year. And although we are so tired when we leave and I can’t wait to be home in my own bed, I always feel, with each visit, that we have come to know and love each other a little bit more.
This week with our Pentecost readings, I thought of our basic human need to be heard and understood. We show our love for others when we listen with an open heart, without prejudice or suspicion or assumption that we already know what they are going to say. We listen well when we are fully present and listen seeking to understand and feel the same things that they do, though our life experiences, faith backgrounds, cultures, and languages and countries of origin may be different.
Jesus is all about going outside the boundaries of what society deems proper and breaking down barriers between people. Those who benefit from his ministry include lepers and prostitutes, scoundrels and criminals, Samaritans and the demon possessed. The actions of the Spirit, promised by our Lord before he ascends into heaven in Acts chapter 1, shouldn’t surprise us when it overcomes human barriers and includes all people in its benefits, just as the prophet Joel had said.
That Christ’s Spirit comes on the Jewish Festival called Pentecost, Greek for 50th for the fiftieth day from the first Sunday after Passover, is significant. Pentecost for Jewish people marks the giving of God’s Word, the Law, The 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai. The Commandments form, empower and unite a community of believers to live new, holy lives as God’s children, loving and serving God and neighbor. The Spirit’s powerful arrival on Pentecost brings to mind the drama of Exodus 20:18-19, when Moses comes down from the mountain and there’s thunder and lightning, the sound of a trumpet, and smoke on the mountain, and the people tremble with fear. They stay at a distance and say to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” The Commandments are given with one voice–God speaking through Moses–but the people hear multiple voices. Rabbinic tradition teaches that every person in all the tribes of Israel receive and understand the law in their own language.
The giving of Christ’s Spirit on Pentecost, like the Commandments of the Old Testament, forms a new, diverse community of believers, but those who are united and empowered by the Spirit of the New Covenant will be sent out to live new lives. They will learn, eventually, to overcome human barriers and to work for peace and justice to reveal God’s reign. They will reach out with love not just to Jews, but to Gentiles, too. They will be equipped through God’s Word (Peter’s preaching) and Spirit to offer the message of salvation through belief in the Risen Christ and the promise of being risen with Him.
For the grieving, fearful disciples on Pentecost, just seven weeks after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Spirit’s coming isn’t just a moment of enlightenment or intellectual exercise; it’s a multi-sensory experience to forever remember. It brings inexplicable joy, so that when they are accused of being drunk on new wine, Peter the common fisherman, the rock on which Christ will build his church, makes a joke. “No, we aren’t drunk, because it’s only 9 in the morning.”
The Spirit reveals the power of God in the noise like the rush of a violent wind, and divided tongues, like fire, resting on them. The sound fills the entire house in which they are sitting and can be heard out on the street. I can only imagine it’s like the freight train sound of a tornado. It draws a large crowd of astonished and amazed neighbors as they hear, each in their own languages, the Galileans “speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
Not all will believe. But many will. And Christ’s Church, gathered, formed, and led by the Spirit, is born. This is the beginning of a new life, a journey that will span the globe and will mean suffering, hardship and persecution, but also miracles of healing, provision, rescue, and joy. I encourage you to read the book of Acts this week and be amazed!
Today, we will pray that the Spirit will claim Elijah Layton in his baptism. We will promise to help his family nurture him in the faith. He will have a new identity–child of God. And a new purpose–loving and serving the Lord with all the gifts God will give him.
If you ever feel anxious about the future of our church, don’t ever forget that we are not a building, made by human hands. We are not a human organization! We are the Church with a capital C, the Body of Christ in every time and place. Think of the sound at Pentecost, the roar of the rushing, violent wind and divided tongues, as of fire. Remember that we are a supernatural creation, being reconciled and re-created when we gather in His name. Every Sunday for Christians is like Pentecost! The God we serve understands us, like no other. Our God listens when we cry out! Hear this promise: all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved! The Spirit that claims us never lets us go. The Spirit that brings us together is love.
Let us pray.
Holy One, thank you for sending your Spirit on Pentecost to empower the disciples to take the message of salvation in Jesus Christ to the world. Thank you for claiming us in our baptisms and your Spirit that continues to live in us and work in us today. Lord, we ask that your Spirit would pour more love in our hearts so that we have compassion for those who don’t know you. Stir us to take the message of hope, love, forgiveness, and new and abundant life through Christ to those still walking in darkness. Remind us, every day, especially if we feel anxious about the future, that the Church is not a human organization. We are a supernatural creation! And that we are your children; we belong to you! In Christ we pray. Amen.