Texts: Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
When it comes to Pentecost, something rather rare happens for us. There’s a wonderful continuity to the flow today. All three scripture texts appointed for the day play nicely together.
In John’s gospel Jesus teaches his disciples that God’s Spirit is coming as his Advocate after his post-resurrection departure. The Spirit would speak on Jesus’s behalf, testifying how the existing order, the “ruler of this world” made Jesus out to be the sinner; the unrighteous one; to be judged and condemned. The “ruler of this world” is the faceless destructive energy that reverses the polarity of good and bad to mislead and gain power.
However, the “ruler of this world” consistently fails to understand that the Spirit is one with God and so cannot speak anything that is not of God. Jesus said, the Spirit is coming, speaking all that is true in God. So wait for the Spirit!
In the book of Acts the Spirit spectacularly arrives right on schedule among the apostles. The scene is described in analogy. The Spirit is like a blazing presence, moving like a noisy cyclone, speaking through the apostles in every known language. The message is the same however - announcing God’s powerful presence at work everywhere. So listen to the Spirit!
Paul’s letter to the Romans gives his understanding of how God’s Spirit works in people. God gifts and moves people by grace. What we are unable to do, the Spirit does. We are all set on a journey together from brokenness and sin’s captivity into hope and faith. So go with the Spirit!
And that is Pentecost for you all in a nice neat package. Except that in actuality Pentecost Day was a whole lot messier than that. A festive setting is the only thing it had in common with the happy birthday party of the church that it has become today.
The Spirit came as an unexpected guest to a house in Jerusalem where the apostles were all together, perhaps as many as one hundred and twenty of them. Can you imagine the crush? No social distancing there!
The apostles broke out in such loud speech that a curious crowd gathered there. Suddenly this typical gathering of people celebrating the festival with prayer, food, and song became something more like a mob scene. A riot even.
There was amazement, bewilderment, astonishment, perplexity, and a whole lot of speculation about what was going on. None of them thought of the possibility that God might be behind it all. And these were all God-believers and committed people of faith!
How could they have missed the obvious signs! The apostles, simple country folk from Galilee were able to speak in all the languages of the crowd. How do you explain that? They were speaking clearly and confidently about God’s deeds of power, not in coded language or ecstatic utterances that required a spiritual interpreter.
So the point is, Pentecost is not merely a festival day in the calendar of God’s people to be ritually observed and carefully wrapped in unchanging tradition. Pentecost is exactly the opposite of that.
It’s God wrenching open our closed doors and minds so that the Spirit can move within us. This is how God’s people are able to speak about and bring to fruition God’s greater love. The Spirit’s activity upended both the disciples and the gathered crowd.
In the beginning God’s first breath and first utterance of creation came by way of the Spirit. Throughout the bible the Spirit shows up whenever God’s community forgets that the trajectory of faith is always forward. Whenever faith’s center grows fixed, God comes to breathe new life and refresh faith’s energy.
Jesus never suggested that Israel’s faith in God needed to be supplanted or repudiated. The faith Jesus taught came forth as a lively shoot breaking out on the sturdy vine of God’s planting. Faith in Jesus is faith in God, always growing outward from the fringes. So, while stewardship is watering and weeding the faith of our known fields, telling others about our faith in God (evangelism) is about openness to seeding new fields with God’s word.
The Bible is our treasure not just because it is the history of our faith, the good, the bad, and the ugly. But also because it is full of people witnessing to God’s Spirit in motion. God is still speaking the truth of love, faith, and hope and summoning holy community out of it.
We read the Bible and are connected with people who long ago loved God and shared that love beyond themselves. The Spirit’s work inspires us to carry Jesus’s message about God’s love into our world too. Every day that we have life and breath.
Pentecost cannot be prevented, but it is resisted in so many ways. When the Spirit testifies to God’s power it tends to make God’s people uneasy. So perhaps we pretend not to hear the Spirit. We listen politely until the Spirit moves on to other more receptive ears. We endlessly discuss the Spirit’s message but never act on it. We dismiss the Spirit as deluded and even dangerous.
Of course this is always risk in being God’s faithful people. It calls our community to stretch beyond our comfort zone. In point of fact, there are three verses and a half verses left out of our Gospel reading today. In them Jesus told his disciples to expect severe pushback from others settled into predictable ways of being faithful. Some people would even reframe their negative action as honoring God. Just be ready for that, said Jesus.
Can we imagine the possibility of welcoming the Spirit’s message? Can we resolve to work with the Spirit, even if it disrupts our lives? Because God’s Spirit is necessary to enliven our spirits into that forward motion.
We can count on God to love us, forgive us, and set us free from sin. We can count on God to blow out the cobwebs of our faith, moving us as a community off dead center and out into the margins with all the truth that God is. So if we wear red on Pentecost, it should be to say – watch out! Heads up! God is on the move. God is calling us out and we are all in!
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.