Given Words- Pentecost
PENTECOST SUNDAY 2021
May 23, 2021
INTRO: Awhile back we talked about the first Christian martyr, Steven. The strength that Steven was given to preach was given at Pentecost—when the Holy Spirit descended. Today, we celebrate Pentecost in the church—draped in red as we read about the holy wind & fire that came over us all at Pentecost. It is truly the celebration of the birth of the church. A miracle has happened and we are changed. Hear now the Word of the Lord.
Scripture: Acts 2: 1-21
Sermon: “Given Words”
Before choosing a seminary to pursue my calling in ministry, I narrowed down my choices to two schools. Many of you know that I met Jason at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina where I ended up—but before visiting Due, the “other” school I visited was near Boston. I knew Boston would be about as different of a place as I could get compared to my hometown of San Angelo, in West Texas. I was intrigued with New England and I loved Boston. I wanted to love the school, too, mainly for the thrill of living in such a new and different place. You could go whale-watching at the sea (I hadn’t discovered Vancouver, yet, mind you!). And to think that whale-watching was basically in your own backyard coming from the flat plains of Texas was pretty cool! This was quite different from the armadillo-watching that my dad did back home—in our backyard! But in Boston, you could see where Paul Revere rode and visit the gravesides of the founding fathers of my home country. It was quite extraordinary for me to experience. So, I went through 3 days of visiting the school campus, classes and professors, but had this horrible gut feeling that this was not the right fit for me at all. The final catch was when the “new” president of the seminary came out to speak to all of the prospective students. The climax of his speech was that “the goal of all graduates of this “Gordon Conwell” seminary was to be able to go and sit down by a stranger and ask “do you know Jesus, ‘cause I can tell you all about him and what His word claims for your life.” My immediate thought was I don’t need to go in debt for the rest of my life to be able to say that! All I need is Pentecost!
Pentecost is a vibrant season in the church. If we were gathered in our sanctuary, we’d drape as much red through the church as we could to celebrate the day the Spirit of God descends like fire upon us all. Pentecost is also strange. Something like a strong wind blows through and then all kinds of different languages were spoken—and understood! Speaking in tongues is not a matter of speaking jibberish. When I was a young girl I asked my mom what speaking in tongues meant. Her best response was “Do you know how sometimes when Dad is working on the plumbing he says words you’ve never heard before? That’s kind of like speaking in tongues!” She was kidding of course! Speaking in tongues really is a gift. It is a language spoken to be understood. This morning, you heard languages from those just within our own church: Mandarin, Philipino, Japanese, German, English (both Canadian and British accents), and Afrikaans! When Pentecost happened, people from every nation were present. It would be like you or me in a room full of people from a land whose language we don’t speak—and then we actually speaking fluently in their language, that they would understand us completely! It would truly be a gift.
Speaking a language understood by by another is a gift from the Spirit—a miracle. The miracle that happened here at Pentecost is one of proclamation. Those who had no “tongue” to speak, now proclaim the mighty works of God. The Spirit had empowered!
When the perplexed crowd asked “what does this mean,” the one to speak out was Peter. Peter! The one that toward the end of Luke’s gospel blurts out to Jesus ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” And a few paragraphs later, denied he ever knew his Lord. When the going to tough, Peter was behind Jesus alright…a long way behind. The one who could not find the words to say anything about Jesus just weeks before, when he was warming his hands over a fire and a servant girl questioned him. The one who promised to die with Christ, and then denied him 3 times. Peter was the one given words when Pentecost happened. When the Spirit of God came down. You and I are given words preach, as well. The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost, brings things to speech, and makes ordinary people into preachers!
In Acts we get many details of names about who was there at Pentecost: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia…and so on. These names don’t mean anything to us until we learn what they meant at Pentecost. Tom Long, a now retired preaching professor pointed out that not only is the gathering diverse, it is impossible!
For example, it would not have been an easy task for the Medes to be present with the crowd. It’s not like they had to travel a 100 miles or so, but a couple of hundred years! They had been extinct for at least two centuries. They had been extinct for at least two centuries. Same with the Elamites. So you see, we have a gathering of people from the living and the dead.
Onother theologian writes that “this strange, playful story is Acts’ way of saying, that , when God’s spirit was poured out at Pentecost it was poured not just on a few, but on all.” The point is that it was for those before us, as well as you and I, and our sons and daughters after us.
Now, do you ever try and forget certain people from your past? Surely you don’t have some far-out uncle, a nit-picky aunt that you’d just as soon not remember as part of the family. I was at a photo shop once and saw how they can refurbish old photographs. In looking at the samples of this photographer’s work, they showed examples of how they can restore and refurbish old photos. I looked on one pager and it was a picture of say Aunt Mae, Uncle Wilson, cousin Susy and young Henry standing tall and proud! In the restored photo all that was there was little Henry standing tall and proud. All the others had been air-brushed out of the picture! It was the strangest feeling—to just erase those in the picture we’d rather not have there. We, on the other hand, can’t seem to get away from our past. Especially in the church! We are the accumulation of our history. We are the product of our ancestors. We are the stuff of our past! At Pentecost, everything from the past is brough back. Everything is remembered. And, everyone is blessed and redeemed as God’s spirit was given to us all. We were all there. We’re all given words to preach.
Remember, this Spirit of fire and wind will do strange things. Allow God to use you and speak through you. As Professor Willie Jennings writes, “Allow the Spirit to make your church a strange place filled with strange power. Allow the Spirit to take your mouth and to take your voice and fill it with a language not your own—the language of the Lord. Allow the Spirit to use you to call out to peoples and to be joined to peoples not your own.” Pentecost is a miracle. Peoples of all nations speaking in languages they hadn’t known before.
Be ready, because we are all preachers. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars and 3 years of seminary. You have Pentecost. We were there. And the Spirit of the Lord descended.
So, be open to the Spirit, be ready to give account for the faith that is within you. Preach Good News to the poor, and preach deliverance to the captives. And continue learn from the one who came to show you the way. Be joined to the one who gave his life for the world.
You have been given words—preach on! Amen.