“WIND AND FIRE…ON EARTH!”
-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 6-9-2019 Pardeeville
(Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Acts 2:1-21)
Have you ever felt like you just didn’t know what to do? And so you did nothing? Don’t feel bad because that’s exactly the way the Pentecost story begins. The disciples were gathered indoors, all in one place. Imagine what it must have been like in that room. You have followed the man called Jesus for the last three years or so. You’ve gotten really used to him being around. You have relied on his wisdom, his teaching, his ability to get his point across. But Jesus returned to heaven. You saw him rise through the clouds and disappear. Now, you’re concerned about what you’re supposed to do as a group and especially troubled about what your role might be in all of this. Not a lot has happened…the group has added another person to take the place of Judas. That’s about the sum total of what you’ve accomplished. Lately, you’ve just been hanging out. You haven’t formed any kind of a plan. You have no real direction to your life but you sure have lots of memories.
The last two months have been a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. It was great having Jesus around, especially when you watched him handle the Pharisees. But it was bad news when Jesus was crucified and it looked like it was over. Even when he was raised from the dead, it took a while for everyone to catch on. Jesus made several appearances after the resurrection but you’re on your own now…you’re aimless, unsure about what you can do. All of the people in the room, including you, are trying to figure out what they should be doing. Then someone notices what looks like a small flame above Peter’s head and tells him about it. “Don’t laugh”, Peter says, “we all have them.” Things start to get a little weirder. It gets windy…inside the room! And you appear to be speaking other languages. The problem is…you don’t know any other languages! You and the others speak Aramaic and whatever it is you are speaking now, it’s far from Aramaic! All this is very confusing to everyone in the room but somehow the entire group is drawn outside, still speaking this way. It isn’t until you and the others are outside with the crowd that you realize all of the visitors to Jerusalem, and there are many, can understand you perfectly! You have been given the ability to speak their language! You can’t explain what’s happening yet but you feel yourself being drawn into the hustle and bustle that is Pentecost in Jerusalem.
That’s more or less how the event is described in scripture. To us, this is the story of Pentecost. You may think that Pentecost is somehow named for what took place that day. Actually, the feast of Pentecost had already been around for many years. It was one of three major Jewish feast days, always scheduled to occur fifty days after Passover. It was an agricultural celebration back then, intended to coincide with the end of the wheat harvest. Being a major feast day, it was, however, a big out-of-town draw. Devout Jews from all over the world had come to Jerusalem. With so many foreign visitors in town, it was a perfect place and time for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. God’s timing is indeed impeccable!
No one could figure out the coming of the Holy Spirit at first. The passage we heard this morning describes the confusion felt by all of the other Jews in town, those who lived in Jerusalem but were not yet a part of the small band of Christian followers. They knew who the disciples were and that they belonged to a radical group that followed Jesus Christ. They also knew these people didn’t know how to speak any of these other languages. So what was happening and what did it all mean? Some of those who lived in Jerusalem are legitimately trying to figure out what is going on. Others immediately jump to the conclusion that these followers of Jesus must be plastered.
Peter assumes a leadership role. He gets up and addresses the crowd, both resident Jews and visitors, and tells them that no one is drunk. Peter explains to the crowd that what is happening is something the prophet Joel was speaking about a long time ago—about 800 years before to be exact. Something Joel described as “the day of the Lord”. On that day, God’s Spirit will be poured out on all people. Joel quotes God as saying, “I will pour out upon everyone a portion of my Spirit.”
Peter continues to address the crowd beyond what we heard this morning. He talks about Jesus, his miracles, his ministry, his death and his resurrection. He is quite convincing. So much so that the Jews in the crowd ask, “What should we do?” and Peter answers, “Repent and be baptized.” Remember that this is an odd request of a Jew. The Jews had a ceremony similar to baptism, a kind of ritual washing that was reserved for people converting to Judaism. It was one of the steps that was mandatory in the conversion process. To ask a mainline Jew to be baptized was very much out of the ordinary because they didn’t feel it was necessary! Peter is convinced that it is. The report is that about three thousand people were baptized that day so Peter must have been very compelling indeed. And so, the early church gets off the ground on Pentecost. That’s why, almost two thousand years later, we still point to this event and celebrate it as the birthday of the church.
Our version of Pentecost is about being able to live up to one’s potential. It’s about the Holy Spirit driving the disciples out of hiding and into their community, something they were always capable of doing but, until that day, did not feel comfortable doing. And it patterns the story we heard from the book of Ezekiel this morning. Ezekiel really had his work cut out for him. After the fall of Jerusalem, most of the influential, learned, or wealthy people in Israel were taken off to live in Babylon. Ezekiel was a priest so he got an all-expense paid trip to Babylon too. The Israelite people were stunned by all that happened to them. The mere fact that Jerusalem had been attacked and the temple destroyed caused the Israelite people to question a lot of things. It didn’t seem to matter whether people remained in Israel or they were carted off to live in Babylon, folks were beginning to question most everything they believed about God. In Ezekiel’s vision, God declares that the bones lying all over the ground are like the chosen people. They see themselves as dried up and useless. They have lost hope and do not see a future for themselves. But we see over and over in scripture that, even when we give up on ourselves, God does not give up on us. God provides work and ministry for us to do and trusts us to be disciples. In fact, we live our lives very much the way they did at the time of the first Pentecost. This morning, we are a group of believers that are together in one room. We have a lot of memories of how God has been at work in our lives—our individual lives as well as the life of our community of faith. We gather here to worship God…the God we know…the God who has been a part of our lives for a long time. We can never be exactly sure how the worship experience is going to affect us though. That’s just another great thing about being in God’s presence and rubbing elbows with the Holy Spirit.
We spend some of our time trying to understand where God is calling us to go as a community of faith. What are the things that we are supposed to be doing? We struggle with our individual roles too. Mainly because we aren’t always sure of what we should be doing. At times our response is timid yet we are constantly reminded that we are called as Christians to go out into the world and share the good news. Good news that we have experienced time and again in our own lives. We just need something to energize us. However, if we experience the wind and the fire of God’s Spirit here but do not go outside our building and share our faith with others, nothing will change. We need something to overcome our inertia. We need the gift of the Holy Spirit. That may not happen to us as dramatically as it did to the disciples on that first Pentecost. But the Holy Spirit comes to us in this room during worship just as sure as the Holy Spirit came to the disciples on Pentecost…unpredictably.
Our inspiration can come from a prayer. It can come from a song. It can come from a word or a sentence in the Bible reading. I am told it can even come during the sermon! Wherever it comes in the worship service, it is often a surprise and get this, it is not always to be found in the same place. And so, timid as we might be at times, we find the energy to go out into the world as God’s faithful witnesses because of our experiences in worship. Inspired by something that is said, heard, or done right here. Inspired by the Holy Spirit!
One of the most important things to remember about the Pentecost experience described in scripture is this—everyone in that room received the Holy Spirit. Everyone in that room had the sign above them, the tongue of fire, which was an indication of the Holy Spirit. In the very same way, every time we come to worship God, the Holy Spirit touches us, each person in this room. Each one of us is prepared to go out and to witness in our own way to the good news—not in a timid way but in a bold way. And every time we do that, things are going to happen. Good things for us and good things for the body of Christ. Thanks be to God!