Sunday, June 8th, 2014 – Pentecost Sunday
Scripture: Acts 2:1-21
Hymns: “Holy Spirit, Light Divine”, “Sweet, Sweet Spirit”, “Surely the Presence of the Lord”, “Spirit of God”
Special Music: “Holy Spirit Rain Down”
“Pouring Out the Spirit”
It was nearly a year and a half that the anticipation built. Plans upon plans upon plans. Ideas created, ideas discarded. Ceremony designed and redesigned and redesigned again. Arguments over details. A seeming revolving door of groomsmen.
The 500 days from January 19th, 2013, until May 31st, 2014, built and built upon one another, until the air surrounding Caitie, me, our parents, and the dozen or so people who would be taking part in the wedding with us were seemingly surrounded by a bubble of crackling energy. One wrong move, and the entire thing could collapse, melting down like Chernobyl’s reactor number four, with similarly disastrous results.
But it didn’t melt down. Though it destabilized at times, the energy building toward that day kept steady, growing ever stronger, until at just after six o’clock in the evening on May 31st, as the strains of Coldplay’s song “’Til Kingdom Come” filled the air over Lexington, North Carolina, Caitie appeared around a corner in her wedding dress, arm-in-arm with her father, and the whole thing went critical. For the next five hours, from ceremony through reception, the hundred and fifty people at Childress Vineyards would run on what felt like a boundless source of energy, moving from one thing to the next, never flagging, never failing.
And then, at 11:15 PM…
Caitie and I got into the car, and drove away…
And suddenly, the energy dissipated. We all came back down to earth – yes, even Caitie and me, though it took us a few extra days. All that time, all that energy, building up to that one event – and suddenly, it was all over, and things had to go back to normal.
I think about that near year and a half and the frenetic pace of the events at the end, and I have to wonder if Jesus’ apostles felt a similar hecticness, energy, and eventual letdown in Jesus’ ministry. After all, for three years, they followed him around Israel and Samaria, energy and anticipation building around him, growing greater and greater, until finally they hit the breakneck pace of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the Passover, which was followed by the literal bursting forth of Jesus from the tomb, the unbound energy of the Divine running rampant as he stepped forth from death into life, and carried out the final phase of his ministry on earth.
Jesus was gone.
Now, to be sure, the Apostles knew that he was still present with them. After all, he had promised them – he would be with them always, even until the
end of the age. But in person, he was gone. He had ascended to the heavenly realm, and he would not be returning.
Can you imagine what that must have felt like? Traveling with somebody like Jesus, watching his ministry, his death, his resurrection, his ascension – and then asking, “Now what do we do?”
I don’t know how many of you watched the TV show The West Wing, but in the final episode of the show, several of the White House staffers from the outgoing administration, having worked in the White House for several years each, are seen wandering out toward the end of the episode. One of them asks, “Now what do we do?” Another replies, “I don’t know… go see a movie somewhere?” A third adds, “When was the last time you even set foot in a movie theater?”
The answer to that – “I don’t know.”
It’s a difficult thing, not knowing what to do. And it’s something that a lot of people experience every time they have a major life transition – a graduation, a marriage, the end of a job – your life has suddenly drastically changed, with all the energy that accompanied that change gone. Now what do we do?
Fortunately for the Apostles, they had one thing, one familiar thing left to do in order to delay figuring out what they had to do next. Yes, it was time for
them to celebrate the Day of Pentecost – the fiftieth day after the conclusion of the Passover.
And so, they gathered together for this celebration – fifty days since the end of Passover, seven weeks since the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. And then, shortly before nine in the morning, something wondrous and weird occurred.
“Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues as of fire appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”
I’ve always wondered exactly what this might look like. One of the best depictions I’ve ever seen of it came from an old, old Catholic picture Bible that I had as a kid. Next to the story in Acts 2 was a print of an oil painting that showed the Apostles gathered in a house, with Mary the mother of Jesus seated at the head of the table. All of them looked normal, except for their heads, which appeared to be illuminated with a brilliant light, and each of them had a little fire burning in thin air above their heads.
Now, Terri, Linda and I talked at length about how we could give y’all a good practical demonstration of what this might look like, but we decided that stringing up an intricate grid of flammable filaments dangling above each of your
heads was impractical and quite frankly unsafe, so I’ll just ask you to imagine with me, if you will. A howling wind has just filled this building, gusting through with no warning. No good reason for it – the doors and windows are all closed, the building is sealed up pretty well. Where did the wind come from? We don’t know.
Following the wind, as you’re catching your breath, you feel a bit of heat above your head, and you look up – and there, above you, burning in mid-air, with no fuel source, no wick, is a flame, like the flame of a candle. How it got there, you don’t know, but there it is.
And yet, that’s not even the most miraculous thing happening, because the next thing you know, you open your mouth to talk – and you’re not speaking English. No, you’re speaking another language entirely. German, Croatian, Mandarin, Arabic, Swahili, Tagalog, Navajo, you name it, you’re speaking it – and you’re preaching the word of God.
That is exactly what the apostles and all gathered with them experienced. They were suddenly preaching in the name of God in languages they didn’t speak – fifteen of them, per the account in Acts 2. But instead of freaking out, they poured out into the streets – and why not? If you suddenly have the ability to speak God’s word to ANYBODY in Jerusalem, you take advantage of it.
The people that they encountered, according to Acts, were “perplexed and amazed”. Well, most of them, at any rate. There were a few jokers in the crowd who decided that their behavior meant that they must be drunk.
Now here’s the thing. I’ve seen some intoxicated people in my day. I went to college, after all. In fact, there was one weekend my first year at Wake Forest where a friend of mine and I went to the main quad early on a Saturday morning and made nearly a spectator sport of watching the undergrads stagger back to their dorms following their Friday night partying. And I can tell you this – I don’t remember a single one of them ever speaking in tongues. In fact, truth be told, the only things I remember any of them saying were variations on “Oh, my head.”
So I don’t know where these people got “they’re drunk” from, especially since it was – in the words of Peter – only 9:00 AM. And that’s the point at which Peter decided it was time for an explanation.
Now, let’s think about this for a moment. This is Peter the hot-headed we’re talking about here. Peter the leap-then-look. Peter the guy whose intentions were good but whose common sense was generally bad. Peter the guy whose neck was so stiff that he would, later, keep arguing with Paul over the necessity of various Jewish rituals even after all of the other apostles had sided
with Paul. Yes, that Peter is the same one who jumps in here and drops some serious wisdom on the clowns saying the apostles are drunk.
“THIS IS WHAT WAS SPOKEN THROUGH THE PROPHET JOEL,” Peter declares. It’s as if, in this very moment, Peter decided that, since Jesus had said he would be the rock upon which the church was built, it was darn well time for Peter to start living up to that. “Darn straight I love you, Lord!” Peter must’ve been thinking. “NOW WATCH ME FEED YOUR SHEEP!”
Yes, there is no doubt in my mind that Peter probably felt he had something to prove. The couple of months prior to the day of Pentecost had been a pretty rough time for him. In fact, if you go back and look at the timeline leading up to Holy Week, some of the worst and most embarrassing moments in Peter’s life had been leading up to the crucifixion – his “let’s build shelters” flub at the Transfiguration, being told “Get behind me, Satan,” and of course, the denial of Christ. Even his redemption at the Sea of Galilee had to have been a painful moment.
If there was anybody who was going to come out of the post-ascension doldrums and figure out what to do next, it was Peter. And in this shining moment, he NAILED IT.
Quoting the prophet Joel, Peter tells the people outside just what’s going on. “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,” he says, quoting the declaration of God to the prophet.
And that certainly seems appropriate, now doesn’t it? You’ve got the apostles and the other followers of Jesus, gathered, not knowing what to do next – and all they had to do was wait a minute. Wait for the Spirit to be poured out upon them, and then they could take the next step in ministry.
Now make no mistake. I know that I compared the Day of Pentecost for the apostles to the days after Caitie and I got married, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t know what to do next. That having been said, it is a valuable lesson to learn – the idea that all we had to do was wait for the Spirit to be poured out on us. And you know, with me returning here, and Caitie looking for a job in which to serve, a little pouring out of the Spirit was definitely in order.
It’s a lesson that applies to each of us. When we aren’t sure what we need to do next, perhaps the best thing to do is step back a minute, and wait. Wait for God. And then, we may well see the Spirit poured out upon us… and who knows what might happen after that.
You might just find yourself speaking to somebody.