“All in One Place” Acts 2:1-21
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John Henson
Pentecost Sunday, May 15, 2016
“Happy Pentecost!” That’s not something we really ever say as Christians. Many of us here this morning are wearing red, but that’s about as far as our recognition of Pentecost Sunday goes. Its just not one of those special days in our year like Christmas, Easter, or even Ash Wednesday. Barbara Brown Taylor wonders why and comments that “We have Christmas pageants and Easter parades, but where are the Pentecost festivals? If Hallmark has a line of Pentecost cards then I have not seen one yet, and I don’t know anyone who invites the whole family over for Pentecost dinner. Like most of you, I’m not looking for anything else to do, but still—you have to wonder what is going on here.”(source: “God’s Breath”, Journal for Preachers, 2003) What is going on here? To answer that, we need to look at what was going on there, back in the event Luke described in his Acts account.
In our text this morning, we hear how people from all over the region had gathered for the Festival of Pentecost. This, also known as the Festival of Weeks, was a time when people (Jewish men in particular) would travel from all regions around their world to Jerusalem to observe and participate in the celebration of God’s giving of the Law. Luke made note that there were “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, and Cretans and Arabs . . .” It would be quite an understatement to say that this was a diverse group. They didn’t all look alike, dress alike, eat alike, or speak alike. What they did have in common was their Jewish faith and their observance of its requirements. But they would soon have much more in common as God’s Spirit would meet up with them on that day.
Perhaps what is most remarkable about Luke’s account is how God chose to give the Holy Spirit to such a diverse group and in a context of diversity, obviously wanting to unify them all while honoring their differences (allowing people to hear the Gospel in their own languages). This doesn’t seem like the best communication strategy. Wouldn’t it have been better to do the giving of the Spirit at another time; in another way? God obviously didn’t think so. For God, this was the perfect opportunity to give birth to a church of diversity; right in line with God’s creative activity and love for variety since day 1 of creation.
The Eighties, a CNN special, is currently running at different times and days. I happened to see part of it the other night, flipping onto the channel just as Peter Jennings was reporting about the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I was in college and remember seeing it on the news. I even saw a few pieces of it as they became souvenirs a few friends of mine were able to get. I had forgotten the dramatic emotions and expressions of the first people to walk through it. I saw tears of joy, hugs, and even a bunny hop line of strangers celebrating together. People were filled with joy beyond description. It was all unexpected and unplanned. James Baker, Secretary of State at that time, mentioned how freedom had gotten out of the bag, and the communists couldn’t get it back in.
I wish TV had been around to record Pentecost, as people gathered together in one place and encountered a powerful movement of God’s Spirit taking down the walls that separated them from each other and true freedom. What significance this has for us! I believe that there is something to this we need to see: God still loves and chooses diversity. The harshest words in the Bible, especially those made by Jesus, were for the people of God who built walls of separation and rejected people different from themselves. I believe Jesus would have the same words for the religious of today if he were here walking among us. Jesus demonstrated throughout his time on earth God’s love for diverse groups and places.
The good news is that Church for the Highlands is just such a group and place. In what ways is God’s Spirit blowing into our group and place? That’s something we will explore this next weekend at our church retreat. I hope you will be there as we gather in one place and seek the direction of the Holy Spirit together. There is no agenda; just what develops from asking two questions: “God, what would you have us to be?” and “God, what would you have us do?” We can anticipate that the Holy Spirit will attend and maybe even shake the walls a bit.
Isn’t that what happens when we are receptive to the Spirit among and in us? The walls (of our exclusion and indifference) will shake, and signs and wonders will be evident as we experience a deeper reality of fellowship and community with one another. Everyone becomes a part of what God is doing and has access to the Gospel in a way that they can understand and share. And people will think we are on something, into the spirits, when what really is happening that Spirit has gotten into us.
[Audio of this sermon is here]