May 19, 2013
Pentecost was the quintessential Divine Disturbance for the Apostles, for people in Jerusalem and for us. Jews from all over the Mediterranean had come to Jerusalem for the Festival of First Fruits fifty days after Passover, hence the Greek name Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit came, they heard the wind and the Apostles speaking different languages. Word spread and a crowd gathered and asked, “What does this mean?”
Peter answered in Acts 2:14-21 by quoting Joel 2:28-32. He did not say this was a prophetic code that could have been cracked to predict the details of the specific events of Pentecost. Rather, he used Joel as a lens for getting perspective to understand the coming of the Holy Spirit. All were amazed and perplexed; others sneered.
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.15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, 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. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Seen through Joel’s prophecy, the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost meant that God was really among the Apostles and would be among all who joined the community of those who trusted Jesus. When the Apostle Paul concluded writing about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 14:25, he said outsiders would recognize that “God is really among you.”
Red is the liturgical color for Pentecost echoing the tongues of fire that rested on the Apostles. In Scripture, fire and smoke are often signs that God is present. For Moses it was the burning bush, the thick cloud of smoke on Mt. Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments, and the pillar of fire and cloud that guided Israel through the wilderness. At the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, it filled with smoke so the priests could not stay. In Isaiah’s vision of God the Temple was filled with smoke, and fire purified his mouth. Ezekiel had a vision of fire departing from the Temple before it was destroyed by the Babylonians and returning on the Day of the Lord. God sent fire to burn up Elijah’s offering at the contest with the prophets of Baal and a chariot of fire to receive him into heaven. We light candles in worship as a sign of God’s presence, and some churches keep a candle lit all of the time except Good Friday and Holy Saturday in memory of Jesus having been in the tomb. Roman Catholic churches keep a candle burning by the “sanctuary” with consecrated host for shut-in communion.
As the Holy Spirit blows through you – First Christian Church of Midwest City – outsiders will ask “what does this mean?”
When people in Jerusalem heard or heard about the sound of the wind and the Apostles speaking many languages, people gathered to find out what was going on. What is happening with this church that would gather people to find out what is going on? Yes, you hold some events, such as the car show, that attract people. Yes, you have programs in the JCAC that bring people on campus. Yes, you have quality ministries to children and youth that draw families. Yes, now you are going to add a creative, energetic new senior pastor to your excellent ministry staff. But “if you build it they will come” works better in baseball movies than real life churches.
When the people in Jerusalem heard the wind and the Apostles speaking different languages, they were mystified and asked, “What does this mean?” For a church, the Holy Spirit adds the intrigue that prompts people to ask, “What does this mean?” You may all be speaking English, but if you are “speaking about God’s deeds of power” people will ask, “What does this mean?”
Your answer won’t be to quote an ancient Hebrew prophet. No, your answer will explain how and why trusting Jesus is the most important and defining core of your life, not just individually but perhaps even more in the life you share as a congregation. Then outsiders will say, “God is really among you,” or at least say, “You think God is among you, and God is real to you.”
Two weeks from today Mike Snell will be preaching for the first time as your new pastor. Just about the worst thing you could do is to heave a sigh of relief and say, “Good, now Mike can grow the church and balance the budget.” Did you notice the spiritual democracy of Pentecost?
Though the visitors in Jerusalem for the festival may have spoken Greek to do business and Hebrew for Temple worship, they heard the Gospel in their native languages. Outsiders will hear you “speaking about God’s deeds of power” a lot better if it comes the way they get other information than if it is couched in church-talk. This is especially important for those in their forties and younger. To get an idea of what that is about, ask yourself, “How can our church become a church my grandchildren will enthusiastically want to be part of?”
Both Peter and Joel said that the Holy Spirit comes without regard for gender, age or social status. The Holy Spirit is not just for pastors, elders and deacons. The Holy Spirit is not just for successful, educated people. The Holy Spirit is not just for Mike, Julia and Andy. The Holy Spirit wants to use you for this church’s future.
Peter and Joel both said that God’s visions and dreams for the future were not just for a few but for all. The Holy Spirit is not restricting the dreams and visions for this church to the pastors, elders, deacons and board members. The dreams and visions the Holy Spirit gives to you are essential to the whole future of this church.
It is still a Divine Disturbance when the Holy Spirit blows through a church so outsiders ask “what does this mean?”
Theologically, Pentecost is the reversal of the Tower of Babel. In Genesis 11, confusion came to the builders of the tower, though they started with one language. At Pentecost, people come with many languages and all hear the Gospel as one. The confusion at Babel prevents them from building their monument to pride. From Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowers the Church to accomplish spreading God’s redemptive mission to all humanity.
In C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories, Aslan – the Christ-figure lion is not tame but wild and good. The Holy Spirit is not tame but wild and good. In her book Teaching a Stone to Talk Annie Dillard vividly cautions about God among us.
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.
Are you ready for God to show up at First Christian Church in Midwest City? The new energy and vision that Mike will bring as your new pastor is just opening the window for the Holy Spirit to blow through you, so many outsiders will say, “God is really among you!”