Date: May 18, 1997 - Pentecost
Theme: The Birth of New Life
Text: Acts 2:1-21
The Birth of New Life
Today we celebrate the day of Pentecost - the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. We can well imagine the frightened group of disciples who were told by their Master not to leave Jerusalem until the Comforter would come. In the meantime, the disciples had centered their energies on praying for the right one in their midst to take the place of Judas.
Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, explains what happened on the day of Pentecost. The disciples were gathered in one place to worship God and to have fellowship with one another.
Luke begins this story with the words “When the day of Pentecost had come…” The day of Pentecost was a day of profound religious importance to the Jews. We remember, that the Passover celebration had a specific connection to the time of the Exodus and the freedom from slavery in Egypt. In Israel’s history the Passover Feast became associated with the Day of Atonement as well as a feast that marked the beginning of the harvest season.
Pentecost was the Greek term for the Jewish feast of Weeks. It is called Pentecost because it falls on the fiftieth day after the ceremony of the barley sheaf during the Passover observance. This day marked the beginning of the offering of first fruits. The New Testament uses the term Pentecost to refer to this established Jewish feast. But. Since the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church occurred on the day of Pentecost Christians have reinterpreted the meaning of it in light of this event.
The Day of Pentecost was of such great importance in the Jewish calendar that every able-bodied Jew was required to go to Jerusalem for this occasion. It is estimated that up to a 100,000 people would journey to Jerusalem from all areas of the world to participate in these annual festivities. This explains why so many people were gathered in Jerusalem at this crucial time of the Holy Spirit’s intervention in the life of the Church.
It was at that crucial time in History that God chose to empower the Church to become agents of His grace and redeeming love for the salvation of all mankind. By sending the Holy Spirit, God spoke in a language that humankind could understand. Even today God speaks to us in a language that we can understand.
Luke explains the phenomenon of the Holy Spirit in a way that would spark familiar images for the people in the Early Church. For example, from the Old Testament Creation account we understand that the Spirit of God was present. The dynamic and divine power that was present from before the foundations of the earth were laid is also referred to as the Breath of God (from the Hebrew ruach). It was when God breathed His Spirit into the nostrils of Adam and Eve that a living relationship between the Creator and His creatures came into being.
The reference to the sound of the blowing of a mighty wind sparks images of God breathing new life into His Church. The breaking-in of God’s Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was felt by “the whole house”, that is, everyone who had come to share in fellowship, prayer and worship.
Luke also makes reference to the Tongues of Fire that were seen on the heads of the people in that place. Fire has a specific significance in scriptures. For example, we are reminded of God’s call and commissioning of Moses when the Lord spoke to him through the burning bush. We’re reminded of God’s presence and guidance through the pillar of fire when the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness.
However, fire also reminds us of God’s wrath and judgment. We see the images of the cities of Sodom and Gomorra. And we also hear the prophesies of the end-time judgment that will bring the purifying fury of an unquenchable fire.
We are further told by the writer that those who were present in that place came under the complete control of the Holy Spirit. This was not just a brief feel-good session with no lasting consequences. Rather, it was THE event, that set God’s historic plan of salvation into action for all people, regardless of race, gender or any other identifiable difference. And, everyone who was gathered at that place was completely dominated by the Spirit of God. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would look like if everyone of us who are here today would surrender our lives completely, and unconditionally, to the power of the Holy Spirit.
The reference to the Speaking in tongues gives testimony to God’s forgiving grace and acceptance of all mankind through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Many years earlier in the history of mankind we made an attempt to reach into the heavens and to take the place of God. You will certainly remember the story of the Tower of Babel, and the confusion of languages that took place as a result of human pride and arrogance. The breaking in of the Holy Spirit’s on the Day of Pentecost hints at a reversal of the confusion of languages that took place in Babel. God’s forgiveness and healing were at work.
All these powerful signs of God’s intervention in humanity on the Day of Pentecost indicate to us the nature of God’s grace and love for us. What we have screwed up through sin and selfish pride, God is setting it right through the work of the Holy Spirit. God is reaching out to mankind and reminding us that New Life is about to begin.
The Day of the Lord, of which many prophets of the Old Testament had spoken, has come. The Kingdom of God, which was the main focus of Jesus’ ministry, has begun. In the first Christian sermon ever preached, Peter points at the signs and says: “This is what the prophets have spoken to you about. These are the signs of New Life. The breath of God filling this room… The fire of God’s Word sending us into the world to bear witness of our Risen Lord… The purifying fire of God’s wrath and judgment calling us to repentance and reconciliation with God and our fellowman… The power of a Word spoken in the language of God’s Love and Grace… Behold the mighty works of God in your midst! Behold the miracle of New Life!
As Joel, the prophet, had said, “The day of the Lord will be ushered in by all kinds of signs and miracles: Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young people will see visions, your old people will dream dreams, there will be wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. That is what God’s Spirit will do.”
The impact of the Holy Spirit’s work on the Early Church in Jerusalem was unprecedented. As the Breath of God breathed new life into the Congregation, peoples’ lives were transformed. Commitments for Christ were made. Several thousands of people were baptized at one time. Forgiveness and reconciliation with God took place. To the early Christians the Holy Spirit became a source of divine wisdom and guidance. Through the work of the Holy Spirit ordinary men and women became amazing instruments of God’s grace and love. Through the intervention of the Holy Spirit the Early Church claimed courage and the power of conviction to endure persecution and torture.
Similarly, on this day the Holy Spirit breathes new life into our congregation. We are touched by the life-giving breath of God. The Holy Spirit is with us on this Day of Pentecost… teaching us… calling us to repentance and a renewed commitment to Christ… giving us courage to dream dreams and see visions of God’s healing in our lives… and allowing us to be God’s tools of grace, hope and love in our community.
As we celebrate baptism and reception into our membership let us rejoice as those who have called on the name of the Lord. Let us open our hearts to experience for ourselves the amazing power that overcame the Church on the Day of Pentecost. Let us revisit our own commitments to Christ… let us hear the whisper of God’s grace anew… let us contemplate and celebrate the amazing things that God wants to do in our lives…