May 20, 2018
Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
The day of Pentecost
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13 But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young [ones] shall see visions, and your old [ones]shall dream dreams.
It is Pentecost when pilgrimage is made to Jerusalem to celebrate the anniversary of God giving the Torah, the law, the good news of God’s presence and covenant, to the people of God. It’s Pentecost and God pours out God’s Holy Spirit on the waiting disciples giving the gift of prophesy so that they witness to the mighty acts of God through Jesus of Nazareth, now the Risen Christ! It is a miracle of communication!! Think about it.....all those different people from all over the known world hearing in their own languages of the resurrection of Jesus the Crucified One! No one is supposed to come back from the dead, much less a man executed as a criminal of the state! Hearing the stories of Jesus’ healing miracles, the stories Jesus told to uplift the poor and set the captive spirits of God’s people free....think of all those different people speaking in the languages of all the peoples of the world, sharing their life-changing and life-giving news! It is a miracle of communication! It’s a miracle of building bold bridges across difference and diversity! It’s a miracle of courage and transformation!
Pentecost is a story of the power of God, my friends! And God’s power is scary good! Power with people, not power over people! This is power we need in our own times. It is not merely a quaint remembrance from 2000 years ago. It is not just the story of the birthday of the church....though the beginnings of Christian faith communities are rooted in the story as it goes on in Acts chapter 2. It is not a revered history lesson. The miracle of Pentecost is the story God’s mighty and compassionate power working through the followers of Jesus to transform the world.
It is a story for us as we pray and work for the transformation of the world in our times! The first part of the story is probably the most familiar... the disciples waiting and praying as Jesus had instructed in Acts chapter 1 in his last words to them. “... you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They are gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival. And the miracle happens! And people in the crowds think they are drunk! I love that part! If we risk proclaiming the transforming power of God in Christ some people may brand us as a crazy too.
“No,” says Peter to the crowds. “We are not drunk or crazy....its only 9 am ... we are filled with the joyful power of God that we have known is Jesus, the anointed One....the Christ! Let me tell you the story!” Quoting the ancient prophet, Joel, Peter says to us as he did to the crowd so long ago, 'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young [ones] shall see visions, and your old [ones]shall dream dreams.” Peter is saying, “These people are prophesying, sharing God’s startling good news!
He goes on, proclaiming Jesus....the One crucified, the one anointed with the power of God who suffered and died, who is now risen by the power of God to bring new life and light to the world. To show the world God’s love! Join this movement of God’s love, Peter says. And the people say, “How do we do that?” “Believe! Trust!....turn back to God...and as a sign of your willingness to follow the ways of God known to us through Jesus, be baptized!” Which was not a new Christian tradition he made up on the spot, but a much known Jewish ritual that symbolized cleansing and renewal. “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. “
Did you hear that? Their belief, their trust in God through the story of Jesus the crucified and risen Christ, led them into community to share all things in common, to help those in need. As Christians all social justice action begins with Jesus, with his life, death and resurrection. Therefore as progressive Christians who want to be part of the God’s transforming work in the world we cannot shy away from proclaiming Jesus!
Proclaiming Jesus who loved the poor, the marginalized, the outcasts of his day – Jesus who loved the children and healed the sick, who partied with the sinners and challenged the religious authorities with new interpretations of religious ancient laws and traditions – Jesus who spoke truth to the false power of his world not with vengeance or retribution, but with the empowering tough love and compassion of God – Jesus who loved God so much that he willingly gave himself up to show God’s love for us through his death at the hands of that false power. This is the Jesus must we claim and proclaim. Jesus is our great gift as Christians to the world.
Our gift does not belittle or displace the gifts God has given the world through our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist sisters and brothers...our gift does not dismiss the mystery of all the other gifts of all other sacred religious traditions. Our gift of Jesus the Christ, God-With-Us, in human flesh, is the miracle of love that we have to share as Christians with our very hurting world full of bigotry, hatred, division, lies, greed and violence. We are called to be open to the transformation of the Holy Spirit as those earliest disciples 2000 years ago so we may proclaim Jesus in word and deed. We are called to the miracle of communication that was and is Pentecost. Our willingness to be bold in proclamation and to prophesy in Jesus’ name empowers our social justice work.
To that end I want to show a video that challenged me this week to be a bolder prophet in Jesus’ name. This is a Pentecost message of many voices coming from our brothers and sisters in other denominations. It is sponsored by the Sojourners ministry network, a community of power-filled social justice action and witness. It is speaks specifically to many of the social crises of our times. Now, one caveat....
I think all the people you will hear speak are over 50....so to my younger brothers and sisters in Christ....catch the Spirit in what these elders are saying and know that these are the “old” ones dreaming dreams as Joel and Peter prophesied....let their dreams inspire your young visions and actions in the name of Christ as we work together for the transformation of our world! Hear with me this Pentecost message..... (click image at right).
My sisters and brothers in Christ here at Plymouth we are called as Peter called his fellow Jews in Jerusalem two centuries ago turn, to repent, from fear and silence, to receive the freedom of God’s forgiveness and to be baptized in the empowerment of God’s Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ. We are called to live and speak prophetically as we follow Jesus’ ways of compassion and love, justice and speaking truth to power. The promise of Pentecost’s miracles are for us, for our children, and for all of God’s people! Amen.
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate, Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Learn more about Jane Ann here.