Texts: Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17
Imagine… that you are at home eating your breakfast in your early morning attire, whatever that is… Imagine that it’s a soft spring day with riots of flowers and young green leaves on the trees. Then, BOOM! The house next door to you explodes. That will change your morning. To say the least.
On the day of Pentecost, the Jesus people of Jerusalem were all together in a house. They were still recovering from the excesses of Easter and resurrection. Jesus had returned from the grave and done some appearing around Jerusalem and the Galilee and then ascended into heaven. People, the disciples included, were still figuring out what to do with that.
Then, boom! A sound like the rush of a violent wind, flames of fire, and everyone talking in languages they didn’t even know. And when they left that house the story of Jesus had a whole new launch. This time told by the people blown out of that house and onto the streets with an explosive story to tell. They were met with an equally surprised audience outside wondering why they were all hearing about God’s powerful activity in simultaneous translation from a bunch of upcountry Galileans.
How did we get from there to here? Pentecost has always been a day of the Holy Spirit’s special activity. The Eastern, (or Orthodox) Church’s Pentecost is a three day event celebrating both the Holy Spirit and the Trinity. Anglicans often go for the baptismal theme of cleansing and rebirth. Lutherans have a thing for the Spirit’s gifts of guidance, advocacy, and truth. And while the mainliners were out to…let’s say coffee hour, the Pentecostals showed up and laid their own claim to Pentecost with Baptism by the Spirit and speaking in tongues as the outer evidence of inner transformation and holiness. All of us together still only dimly understand the event.
Originally Pentecost was Israel’s festival of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. God commanded that it be observed fifty days after Passover. It was the way of celebrating community formed in Godly ways by obedience to the Ten Commandments.
The commandments were God’s means of creating and sustaining holy community. The Hebrew community learned the value of the Law the hard way as they made their way out of captivity, through the desert, and into a new life testing one another and God the whole way. The Law helped them live in community together despite their differences, by setting certain boundaries and expectations.
Gradually, Pentecost became more a celebration of the Law for its own sake. Adherence to the Law became equated with Godliness. Godliness became a point of separation and division. The law had to be interpreted to the smallest point. More laws had to be written about how to follow the Law. Exclusion and separation from others increased out of fear that associating with others might lead to ungodliness. Terrible lines were drawn. The smallest infraction of the smallest part of the law would bring harsh punishment and even banishment or death. The devil is in the details, no? And we are still recovering from it.
But according to Acts 2 God reclaims Pentecost. The beauty of that first century Pentecost festival is that it was entirely unscripted. No one made it happen. Despite what the scoffers said, Peter vowed it was not drunkenness. The Holy Spirit was on the loose and stirring things up – resulting in amazement, perplexity, and disbelief in equal measure.
What the people heard was the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus! This was not an event of salvation for a few. That day God preached a sermon about Jesus through Peter. ALL who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. Every. Single. One.
Holy Spirit blows people away. Oh yeah. In all sorts of ways. We are blown right off our righteous stands. Blown right off our pretentions. Blown off our set courses. Blown off our feet to see life from a different perspective!
Reclaimed, Pentecost became a close encounter with another of God’s gifts. It is a celebration of God’s Spirit in the community. What are you going to do with THAT!
Romans says that the Spirit of God does not enslave us to God, but adopts us. Our spirits are joined to God’s Spirit. And this work thing that John is going on about in his Gospel? It’s not the heavy Law popping up again. God’s Work is Gospel. Good news. Work that enlightens.
In John 14 the Spirited work of Jesus is this: working integration from disintegration. In Christ Jesus, God is re-making creation toward the wholeness and integrity that was before Law and which is the fulfillment of everything the Law attempts to accomplish. That’s why Jesus said, “I have not come to do away with the Law, but to fulfill the Law.”
Jesus said. Keep MY commandments. And his commandment was…the old Law claimed anew: love one another. When we do as Jesus commands we are connecting with one another in spite of our differences. Tell me about anything Jesus did where that wasn’t the plan!
Realizing that we will not be able to answer Jesus on our own, for our sake Jesus calls forth from God the Advocate who is the Spirit of Truth who is the Spirit of God. To come and dwell in us. Not just float around us.
So! The Advocate is the opposite of the Adversary (the devil, right?) The Advocate comes to speak for goodness sake! To give peace, To quell fear. So that we will act out of character, not as earthbound creatures, but as children of God. So that we can do the work that Jesus did. Maybe even more, as Jesus said, ‘cause we’ve got more than a couple of years in which to do it.
Every time the Spirit lets loose it’s Pentecost all over again. And new things are possible. First in spite of us. Then through us. What are you going to do with THAT? Living Pentecost means regarding every act you do and every word you utter in light of the commandments. Oh yes, you’ll get it wrong. That’s what confession and forgiveness is for.
One thing is for sure, it’s all about getting the work of Christ OUT THERE. Because no door stays closed when the Spirit really begins to blow.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.