Homily: Spirit for All
Acts 2:1-11 1 Corinthians 12:3-13 John 15:26-27 16:12-15 The Message
In our story of the Pentecost experience from the Acts of the Apostles, it must have felt like creation all over again, with wind and fire, and something new bursting forth. Then there was the amazing linguistic experience of speaking in one language yet being understood by people of many different languages and lands.
In that moment, all the people were one in their hearing, if not their understanding of the deeper meaning of what they heard. Despite their differences, they could all hear what the disciples were saying, each in their own language.
Fire, wind, and humble Galileans speaking persuasively in many tongues were dramatic signs that God was doing a new thing that would transform the lives of all those present, and far beyond, in time and place. Maybe it was a little frightening, something people would want to explain away, or to contain with cynical comments that blamed it all on drunkenness.
And just to make sure that they know they’re included, the formidable obstacle of a multitude of languages is overcome by a sweeping wind, an uplifting Spirit that drives those disciples out, out into the world beyond their walls, beyond the theoretical but fragile safety those walls provide. Out into the world, and compelled to spread the Good News of what God is doing in a new day.
This reading is particularly powerful for a church that proclaims wholeheartedly that God is still speaking. Peter steps up and interprets the meaning of what is happening to those to whom it is happening. Right in the midst of these astounding and undoubtedly confusing events, he interprets them as he experiences them, relying on Scripture to help him understand what God is saying in that new day.
The effect of the first Pentecost, then, may not be new birth, but rebirth, not a new covenant but a renewed covenant that would change the hearts and minds of the disciples and renew the face of the earth!
This is good news for 21st-century Christians as we approach the feast of Pentecost. The same Spirit of God that warmed the hearts of those disciples on the road to Emmaus and inspired the tongues of those gathered in Jerusalem is looking to inspire a rebirth within us.
Clearly, the crowd is hungry for the word brought by the Spirit-filled disciples, even though some are immediately cynical and scoffing. Yet, we know from later verses that the church expanded from just over one hundred to three thousand in one day. A mega-church is born on a single day! What do you think is the heart of the message that brought so many new believers to the newborn church? What converted, and even transformed, them all – in a shared experience?
The same Spirit that drew the little band of disciples out into the world also shaped them into a community.
In the ancient world, there was a utopian ideal of one universal language, and this story provides an intriguing take on that dream. The Spirit of God has rushed in to empower many different kinds of people to do something astounding – communicate effectively with one another. (Can you imagine such a thing?) Bridges were built and crossed in a moment, and the differences among them, instead of dividing, provided startling illustration of just how great the power of God is. Underneath the differences of nationality and language, there was a fundamental unity that was not only touched but enlivened and experienced, profoundly, by many who were there. Others scoffed and interpreted even the most amazing of events through the eyes and ears of cynicism, but those with hearts and minds that were open to the movement of the Spirit knew that a new day had come.
Births are rarely neat, tidy, or quiet, whether it’s a human being or ‘something beautiful’ struggling to be born. The birth of the church is no different. The disciples, cowering and confused, experience their own kind of rebirth or transformation by the power of this Spirit who blows into the scene on the rush of a mighty wind, with great noise and even with fire. In this case, fire and wind bring not destruction but new life. As with birth, it may not be quiet or peaceful, but it is exhilarating and, in the end, it is a very good thing.
Is this a time for new birth for us? Is it perhaps a time for our ‘sons and daughters to prophesy,’ for our ‘young to dream dreams’ and our ‘old to see visions,’ for an outpouring of Spirit that calls from tomorrow overwhelming our preconceived notions and neat perceptions in favor of the expansive and inclusive reign of God?”
As we reflect on this story of the birth of the church under God’s Spirit, how much does it relate to the life of the church , our nation, the world today? Perhaps there are different ‘languages’ (literally or figuratively) that divide the world, the nation, the church today, or at least make unity more difficult to achieve. What experiences of deep unity in the midst of diversity have you encountered? Differences can actually enrich and enliven what we share, if we can reach across what separates us, not only in language and culture but also in religious upbringing, economic class, and basic personality types.
If we learn to communicate effectively, to hear what God is still speaking today, we will hear a call, together, that may astound us and gather us into something more effective and more amazing that we were before.
What events and experiences have made us cower, have made us confused? What sort of power does it take to draw us out of our “all together in one place” and send us out with courage and energy to proclaim the good news of the Risen Christ? What loud noises and rushing wind do we require?
We are a people no longer easily impressed: in an age of technological wonders, we’ve come to expect regular improvements in the “stuff” of our lives. Consider, for example, the improvement in special effects in film. What amazed us twenty years ago now looks almost silly. What would it take then to astonish us? What astonishing things happen quietly in the life of our parish, and in our lives and the lives of the members of our church? It’s tempting to prefer a church that’s a safe refuge over a place and community where we are astonished and our safe assumptions up-ended. What stories need to be up-ended and heard in a whole new light, even if we are all speaking the same language? What is the basic unity that we share, that the people in our congregation and our neighborhood share? What deep spiritual bond brings us together across every kind of barrier and difference? How do we appreciate our differences and yet find that common ground?
Today’s story is another one of those that belongs to all of us, not just to the early Christians. This is our beginning, our ‘foundational story’ of the new life, the New Age of which we are a part.
You can almost feel the wind pulling the folks together from all corners of the known world, and then propelling them back out to share the good news, like the Spirit breathing new life, the giving of new life and the gift of the church, a new way of living for those who would follow Jesus in every land and in every age. Not just some kinds of people, but all different kinds of people, in all different places, different languages and customs, different cultures and backgrounds and experiences, different abilities and gender and races and orientations, all different kinds of people, beloved of God and filled with God’s Spirit, a new creation just as it could and ought to be.
If this story really is our story, too, not just something stupefying\ that happened long ago and far away, what are we afraid of? If they were thought to be drunk, what conventions could stand a little bursting, or a lot, like new wine in old wineskins? Do we feel like we are ‘new wine’?
The apostles, from this day forward, will have the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all that they do, preaching the gospel to a very different audience that includes both Jews and Gentiles. What a marvelous diversity we face as well, in our “audience” for the gospel, with many cultures, languages, and backgrounds in a richly multicultural, multiracial world.
My prayer for you on this Pentecost is: May you find your heart singing with the spirit of God, your ears humming with the voice of the Spirit speaking in a language that reaches deep into your soul and wisdom dawning on your mind so that the shackles that have hardened around your spirit may be broken, and God’s voice and language set free. May your life and our parish experience the coming of God’s Spirit, anticipate it with joy and hope, give in to it with love, so that when the day is done all the world may know the love of God because of you!”
Kathryn Matthews Huey and Mark J. Suriano