The Unexpected Moment

fire

[1]

This sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church in Saline, Michigan and was focused upon the story that is told in Acts 2:1-21.  The audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.

Acts 2:1-21

All.

I hear that word weaving its way throughout this entire story. It’s a word that is big, expansive, and at times, remarkably surprising.

All.

It’s right there at the beginning, in the very first sentence of the story: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. The disciples of Jesus were all in a house together. The twelve disciples were there, likely with other men, women, and children who called themselves disciples too. We don’t know exactly what they were doing when the great, surprising moment of the Spirit came, but we do know that they were together in community. We do know they were all in one place.

They had been doing this together for a while in a season of waiting. Now surely, they couldn’t have anticipated the full power of this moment in all its details, and most likely, they wouldn’t have necessarily expected it to happen that very day. They couldn’t have anticipated this in its entirety, but they were waiting purposefully.

After Jesus died and showed himself unexpectedly raised to new life, he spoke to his disciples, saying, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are my witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

So when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. They were waiting purposefully for the promises of God. But in any given moment, could they have anticipated that the time was right upon them? I bet they were just as stunned as anyone else was that day.

Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

I’m sure they were startled.

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

What strange, wonderful details.
And that’s when we hear the word again. . .

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Could they have possibly anticipated this holy moment and what it would be like?

Could they have possibly known how deeply empowered they would become without a moment’s notice?

When the Holy Spirit suddenly entered that room, God empowered them to become witnesses to proclaim this great message of love, liberation, forgiveness, and renewal for the people.

They spoke good news about all these things, and initially, all those who heard them were stunned. Pentecost was an ancient, annual festival of the Jews. People from many different nations were present during this holy moment. They were Jews who lived in other places. They came to Jerusalem from every nation to celebrate this great festival of the harvest.

When the people heard all this sound and these words of love, liberation, forgiveness, and renewal they were shocked. They said, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? So how is it that all of us – all of us, wherever we have come from – are hearing these words in our own languages?” They were stunned by this. The story says, All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’

So often, when we enter our own celebration of Pentecost and remember this holy moment, we think of this story as a miracle of tongues. Certainly it was, for in this story, the disciples were speaking languages previously unknown to them.  But Eric Law, an Episcopalian priest and author, frames this moment in another way. He says that this Pentecost moment was a miracle of the ear.[2] Suddenly, people divided by language, national origin, and cultural upbringing were connected, and all were able to understand one another.

This is a miracle of God, bringing people together so that this message of good news may be known.

This is what they understood:

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and said to all of them, People of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. (And I love this next part). These people are not drunk as you suppose. It’s only 9 in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.

And listen as the word all weaves its way through Peter’s speech.

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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

And Peter closes by saying,

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

All who call on the name of the Lord, leaning in the direction of this vision,
shall know love, liberation, forgiveness, and renewal.

That’s what happens in this moment of Pentecost.

Beyond the portion of the text we read today, Peter continues in his speech. He talks about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He talks about love, liberation, forgiveness, and renewal. Peter shares all of this with the people, for God is providing all of these for the people.

And after they heard all of this, the story continues, saying that they were cut to the heart. They said to Peter and the other apostles, “What should we do?” Peter invites them to repent — which means to change one’s mindset — be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit.

And they do. The story goes on to say,

Those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day, about three thousand persons were added.

So this day of Pentecost –
the day we are living together –
I keep thinking about this word All

and the power that is within it.

I marvel at the power and the beauty of the large, expansive vision of God.
All.

I marvel at the power and the beauty present
when we are all gathered together,
not simply living a mundane moment,
not simply living one of 52 Sundays on the calendar,
but being present this day and waiting upon God.
All.

I marvel at the power and beauty that takes place
when all are empowered, including those beyond our sanctuary,
perhaps to do things that have seemed impossible.
All.

I marvel when all are able to understand each other,
especially in this world where see so many divisions —
our genders,
our races and ethnicities,
our class structures,
our political divisions,
our expressions of culture,
our expressions of church culture. . .

What a miracle it is when we are all able to understand one another and our neighbors, 
and recognize that the Spirit of God
 can be found in and among all of these human lives.

I marvel at this word:
All.

And it makes me wonder. . .

When we are gathered together — when all of us are in one place —
 do we expect very much from that experience?

Do we think that anything transformative is possible?
 Or do we see this gathering as just another run-of-the-mill routine in our lives?

Do I expect very much?
 Or do I assume that yes, I’m going to be guest preacher, and step into another pulpit, and speak for a while. Go home. . . have lunch. . . and continue in a run-of-the-mill day? Sometimes, I think that way.

Or might we expect that God will show up and expand our vision, our thinking, our understanding of ourselves, and indeed the whole world?

Might it be possible that the love, liberation, forgiveness, and renewal of God might be present, on display, and transformative in ways that are surprising and uplifting? Might that presence of the Spirit help us expand the ways we view our neighbors and understand how we are called to love — breaking open all those ways in which we limit our understandings of who we are and who our neighbors are, ways that we sometimes reduce ourselves or our neighbors?

My goodness, do we think that the Spirit could change us? Even today? Even this very hour? Do we?

I wonder. . .

Yesterday — you might have heard about this — the world had a Royal Wedding. Lots of people in the world, depending on where they live, woke up early or stayed up late to watch this wedding take place live.

And during the wedding, Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopalian Church in the United States, preached the homily. Maybe you heard about this too, because all day long, I saw social media feeds on Facebook and Twitter filled with his presence, as people shared his words and praised the moment. How often these days do we sermons shared so broadly on social media?

In his sermon, Bishop Curry did some things that were unexpected. And who can know all the ways the Spirit might have unexpectedly impacted human hearts in that moment, in his words, and in the particular thoughts and unfolding callings of people around the world? Because millions upon millions of people were watching, all gathered in one place.

Bishop Curry brought the influence of Black liberation theology into the Royal Family, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and uplifting the witness of American slaves. And Bishop Curry talked universally about the power of love, inviting us into its power. “There is power in love,” he said again and again.

He spoke about fire, and all that has been possible — health, migration, science, medicine, technology — because humanity has harnessed the power of fire. He asked us, What might be possible if humanity began to harness the power of love?

Yes, what might be possible? What unexpected, transformative good news might be possible — for our neighbors, for ourselves, for the whole world? What love? What liberation? What forgiveness? What renewal?

And friends, how can we be a part of it?

Isn’t that one of the questions that is before us today on Pentecost — a day so surprising and wonderful? How can we be a part of this?

So let’s close in the same way we began,
with that opening sentence of the scripture made present to us now:

When the day of Pentecost had come, the people of First Presbyterian Church of Saline were all together in one place.

Come,
Holy Spirit,
Come.

Renee Roederer

[1] I found this image here.

[2] Eric H.F. Law shares this perspective on Pentecost in his book The Wolf Shall Dwell With the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community.

To watch Bishop Curry’s sermon at the Royal Wedding, please click here.

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