Our sermons are available as audio files to listen at your convenience.
Our sermons are available as audio files to listen at your convenience.
Acts 2: 1-21
June 5, 2022
Day of Pentecost
Have you ever had the awkward experience of getting a gift from someone---and you have no idea what it is? Tom Long remarked on how embarrassing that experience is: While everyone is watching, you pull away the paper, lift off the lid, and-----there it is. An object that is completely unknown to you! To put it in his words, “Of course, the person who gave you the gift is looking at you with eager anticipation, as if to say, ‘Well, do you like it?’ And finally, out of courtesy, you have to say something....But is it a pencil sharpener or a coffee grinder?...a scarf or a bread napkin?... earrings or fishing lures?”
Tom Long said, “There is something of the same uncertainty and perplexity, in a much deeper sense, about Pentecost, when in dramatic fashion, something has been given to the church, a gift from God. But when we open it up, what exactly is this gift? What is it for?” he asked.
That is the question for us on this Pentecost Sunday. We have received an amazing gift. Now, what do we do with it? Our lectionary text from Acts chapter 2 tells about the giving of this gift. There was a huge roar of sound, like a gale-force wind, the kind of deep rumbling that vibrates the walls, that you feel in your bones. There was something that looked like fire, like a mighty blaze divided into tongues, appearing to rest on each person. There were voices bubbling forth in different languages, a babble of amazement. The believers may have been wondering, what is this gift?
The sound, the fire, the language, were not themselves the gift; they were signs of the Spirit, tangible ways of helping the people experience something beyond comprehension, something that could not be described fully in words, but had to be experienced with the senses, an experience of presence and power.
In the wake of this experience, there was amazement and confusion. What did it all mean? What was happening, and how? The gift had been received, but what in the world were they supposed to do with it?
Peter addressed the people, quoting from the prophet Joel. The prophets also tried to explain the unexplainable with images and symbols, and Peter reminded the people of God’s words through Joel: “In the last days, God declares, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.”
The phrase “the last days” is sometimes misunderstood to mean the end of time. But in fact, the phrase does not mean “the end of the world,” but the Messianic age that began with the coming of Christ and continues through the presence of Christ living in us.
Peter explained: the time of which Joel prophesied has come! We are no longer waiting for the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy; we are living it! God’s Spirit has been poured out. Before his death, Jesus had promised that he would not leave the disciples orphaned, but would come to them, sending his own Spirit to be with them, the Advocate who never leaves. In Pentecost, we see the fulfillment of that promise. The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, but personal, the third person of the Trinity. Just as Jesus in human form was the Seen-God, the Spirit is the Unseen-God, the presence of God who is with us every day, in every place, at every time---God who is not limited by human constraints, but like the wind, goes where the Spirit wills.
Peter said that with the coming of the Spirit, we will have power, just as Jesus promised. “Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,” Peter quoted from Joel, “your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon slaves”---that is, the least powerful in that particular society, the ones who had no power of their own---“even upon slaves, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit.”
That gift was not just for those first Christians gathered in Jerusalem that day, but for all of us; the Spirit lives with and within all who are Christians, just as Jesus promised. We are Pentecost People! Our other text from 1 Corinthians 12 fleshes that out, making unequivocally clear that each and every one of us has gifts from the Spirit. No one is left out! And no gift is better than another! There are varieties of gifts, services, and activities, but the same Trinity: God, Lord, and Spirit, the passage said.
One person might have the gift of wisdom, and another of knowledge, and another of faith, and so on. All are activated by the same Spirit. The particular gifts listed in that passage are not the only gifts of the Spirit. There are other spiritual gifts listed in other places, such as serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, showing mercy. The point is, all of us have gifts from the Spirit, and we are called to use them. We have been given these gifts not for ourselves, but for the good of the church, to the glory of God.
Over the last several months, we have been thinking about God’s mission for this church. During the month of May, we focused on what it means to welcome everyone as if we are welcoming Christ himself, whether that person is another church member or someone worshiping with us for the first time, or someone we encounter in our community ministries, or a neighbor or family member, or someone we have not even met yet, with whom God is calling us into relationship. When one of our Elders, Gene Barndt, preached recently, he challenged the church with a vision of what could be, of not just donating food or space, but one-on-one, face-to-face ministry, building relationships with neighbors and community members, so that they can experience the love of God through this church.
That vision involves stretching into places you may not have gone before, doing things you may not have done before. But if you are concerned about whether you are up to the task, if you feel anxious or uncertain, remember: you have the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ is with you, enabling you to do what God is calling you to do.
I don’t think anyone has explained it better than the 17th century minister Matthew Henry, who wrote of this passage, These spiritual gifts “were not distributed for the mere honour and advantage of those who had them, but for the benefit of the church, to edify the body, and spread and advance the gospel...Whatever gifts God confers on any [person], [God] confers them that [we] may do good with them.” “They are not given for show, but for service; not for pomp and ostentation, but for edification; not to magnify those that have them, but to edify others,” Matthew Henry said.2
We are Pentecost People, called to use our gifts for the good of the church and the glory of God.
In the nitty gritty daily realities of life, it can be hard to remember that we are Pentecost People. Busyness can overwhelm us. Challenges can weigh upon us. Troubles can beset us, and we can be overwhelmed by life, feeling weary and discouraged. We can be like the baseball player who went up to bat against one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Walter Johnson. The batter knew the stats, knew how good Johnson was. He swung once and missed; swung twice and missed, and then----he headed to the dugout, telling the umpire as he walked away: You can keep the third strike; I’ve seen enough.3
Like that player, do we sometimes get psyched out, thinking the odds are against us, the forces too strong? Yes, we live in a challenging time. But in the history of Christianity, there has never been a time when God’s people have not faced daunting circumstances. When we feel discouraged about our ability to make a difference, we should remember that we are Pentecost People, people empowered by the Spirit, people who see visions and dream dreams! God has poured out the Spirit upon ALL of us! This is not a gift just for some people. This is a gift for ALL Christians. Not just the elite. Not just the exclusive. Not just the most educated. Not just the oldest. Not just the youngest. The gift of the Spirit is for ALL Christians. Each one of us has a purpose, and God has given specific gifts to fulfill that purpose. God created you to be who you are, with your gifts, abilities, personality, life experience. For a purpose.
We are Pentecost People.
The writer Kent Ira Groff told about a friend who was going through customs inspection on the way back from Haiti. “The person ahead of him had bought lots of costly jewelry but was waved through by the customs officer with a mere glance. My friend,” he said, “had only an inexpensive carved head of Jesus. But it was big, about knee-high, so he had wrapped it in several layers of towels in a burlap bag. As the officer dug deeper into the towels, expecting expensive hidden items, suddenly he looked up and asked, ‘How big is your Jesus, anyway?’”5
That’s the question for us today. How big is our Jesus? Do we truly believe that the same power that descended on that first Pentecost lives in us? We have received a great gift, and Christ calls us to use it! We are Pentecost People!
On this Pentecost Sunday, may we be renewed in our understanding of how great is our Jesus, and may we use the gifts he has given us through the power of his Spirit, for the glory of God and for the good of all people. In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, Amen.
Rev. Dawn Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church