Heart of the Matter; Acts 2:1-21
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; May 31, 2020
Pastor Toni Carmer
The city of Jerusalem was packed full of people. The streets were crazy—crowds of folks moving along elbow-to-elbow, restaurants overrun, long lines at the check-outs, bathrooms in dire need of a simple, routine cleaning. Everyone was there. It was a Jewish festival, a harvest festival, celebrated 50 days after Passover, bringing Jews from all over the civilized world to the temple in Jerusalem.
They had to go. They wanted to go. It was one of the 3 obligatory feast days of the year, and so they went: Medes and Elamites from the East, Romans from the West, Libyans from the South, and Cappadocians from the North. All of them streaming into the city and setting up their own camps—a home away from home—so that walking through the crowded city was like taking a trip around the world, with Arabic singing over here and Libyan laughter over there, and the smell of Egyptian food cooking over an open fire with its distinct scent heavy in the air.
But there was one group missing—the small band of orphaned disciples, who weren’t out on the streets enjoying all these sights and sounds—but who were instead, huddled together, behind closed doors, for fear of their enemies. They were lost. They were leaderless. They were powerless. They’d lost their vision. They were the sole survivors of a catastrophic event that had robbed them of their future. The world had become a frightening place for them, and they had barricaded themselves against it, believing that their only safety was in sticking together and keeping everyone else out.
Left to themselves, they may very well have gone on like that. Establishing a church that welcomed only a select few: those who were safe. Those who could be trusted. They might have created a defensive hideout, where frightened, like-minded people could gather together and agree on everything that was wrong with the world. Maybe only a few family members would be allowed to join them. (In-laws would require a special vote). Maybe there would be certain examinations that people would have to pass in order to be allowed to enter. Maybe members would learn a secret handshake or a secret pattern of knocks—a little door that would slide open and somebody named Bubba would peek out and decide if you’re okay to enter.
But that’s not the way it went. When the day of Pentecost arrived, the Holy Spirit invaded their hideout, crossed their boundaries, stepped into their personal spaces, and set them on fire.
And when that happened, the ordinary became significant. The frightened, timid, anxious, squeamish, faint-hearted, traumatic stress disordered disciples were about to do something new.
It was an amazing thing: a Cecil B. DeMille/Steven Spielberg/George Lucas all rolled- into-one kind of thing. The sound of a violent wind filled the room: no one knew where it came from! And then, like wildfire, divided tongues appeared among them and rested on each one. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, languages they hadn’t been taught and didn’t before know.
Mass chaos...but not really. Incredible. Amazing. Powerful.
As the story unfolds we can see that this wasn’t meant to be a private affair, kept only among the closest of friends. The sound of the wind attracted the attention of all the people moving about, and they came running—and couldn’t believe what they were hearing! Their own language! Spoken by these strange men! Galileans!
What does it mean?
How can this be?
Simple explanation: “They’re drunk!”
Peter hears what they’re saying and he can’t stay quiet. No, not anymore. You may remember when we last heard from Peter: he was outside the high priest’s house after Jesus was arrested. When someone recognized him as being a disciple of Jesus he denied it. Three times. Then? He refused to speak up. He didn’t have the courage to admit he knew Jesus.
But now? Things are different. He speaks: “These men haven’t had anything to drink. As a matter of fact they’re fulfilling scripture!” And then he reminds these faithful gathered Jews of God’s word as spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the final days I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…your young men will see vision and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy…”
The Spirit is given, Peter preaches with power and with strength and 3000 people are baptized. 3000 people join the Jesus-movement. The church is born.
It all started out in this insignificant, dusty little place on the other side of the world. A child, born into a poor family, without social standing, grows up, starts traveling around, meeting people, gathering people around him, healing, teaching, empowering…and 2000 and some years later, the world continues to be transformed through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. In Jesus’ name.
On this Pentecost Sunday, in this season of our lives, here’s what I’d like you to be thinking about as you consider this text:
- Jesus’s promises can be trusted. Jesus told the disciples he would send the advocate to empower them to do God’s work, and that’s what happened. The gift of the Holy Spirit continues to be given to us today and we can do so much more than what we could ever give ourselves credit for, because the power comes from God and not from us alone. These first disciples were convinced of God’s power given to them in the Holy Spirit. What would happen if we were so convinced?
- The disciples were all gathered in one place, but a building isn’t mentioned. I do look forward to coming together in the same space again when the time is right, but perhaps even now, we can be gathered together into one place in our hearts and minds—united in the task and mission of ministry. Thankfully for us, a building is low on the list of priorities of what we need to have to do God’s work.
- The disciples were willing to try a new thing. We’ve been learning new things, and I know it hasn’t been easy! But how might God be calling us to apply these new learnings in even greater ways? What is God teaching us? Will we remain courageous in learning and serving in new ways?
- The disciples recognized their own and other’s gifts. Each one of us have been given gifts that are uniquely ours. If you haven’t done it already, recognize your gift, your skill, your voice, claim it and use it to love and serve. Don’t be afraid to tell others that you see gifts in them. Encourage others to use the gifts they’ve been given. Bless one another in doing this.
On that day, the Holy Spirit swept through the house and was set loose in the world; the Spirit was set loose in the church and into our lives. Claim that Spirit. Live it. Proclaim it…so Christ’s mission can be accomplished and our world transformed.