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Pentecost Sunday

Message for May 31, 2020-“Blow, Spirit, Blow”

(Based on Lesson: Acts 2:1-16)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  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.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 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. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel.”

 

When I was in high school, I had a group of close friends that were members of a charismatic church in our town.  Many Sunday evenings, I attended worship with them.  Each service began with the joy-filled music of the choir and congregation, followed by opening worship prayer.  During the opening prayer, several of the church members would begin to “speak in tongues.”  What they said as they spoke was, quite honestly, unintelligible in any sense to me.  In fact, at first, it gave me an uncomfortable pause.  After all, the quiet and prayerfully polite United Methodists in my congregation had never done anything like that!  Yet, when I became acclimated to their practice and listened very carefully, what I heard was prayer being offered in a different language—one I simply did not understand.

Each Pentecost Sunday, as I read about the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the early Church and they spoke in differing languages as the Spirit empowered them, I am reminded of my experience with the believers of that Church, who spoke in tongues.  I recall how foreign the experience first was to me, and how easy it would have been to attribute the power of the Spirit that was speaking through them to some other more earthly cause.  Were they intoxicated?  That is what the onlookers thought of the early church on first the day of Pentecost.  It was something they did not understand, and so they chose to ridicule and belittle those who were “filled with the Spirit” as being those “filled with new wine.”

It sometimes seems that somewhere within our human makeup resides an element that resists anything which is new, novel or uncommon.  Familiar is comfortable, while different can give us an uncomfortable pause.  We resist the different, even when the difference is as benign as the words that are used to pray.  And, if that is the case, and if we are honest enough with ourselves to admit it, we can see how greater differences can present themselves as greater sources of both inner and outer conflict.

Our modern secular society has attempted to manage differences leading to conflict in two ways: through tolerance, and through acceptance.  When I think of tolerance, I am reminded of my Grandmother, who used to tell us misbehaving grandchildren that she had had about all she could tolerate of our “shenanigans.”  To tolerate is to remain unchanged in our opinions and feelings by the circumstances that are happening around us.  We “take it as long as we can,” then comes the reckoning time of conflict.  Tolerance often exists within us with an inner sense of condescending toward that which is being tolerated.  “This much and no more” is the mantra of the tolerant.  Those who were watching the early church had tolerated the differences they had seen to a point, until the day of Pentecost, when they had had enough, and sneeringly accused the believers of being drunk.

Acceptance is a more benign, live and let live, state of being.  Acceptance would say, “We may not agree with you, but, as long as you do not infringe upon my space, I am OK.”  Some of the onlookers on the day of Pentecost wondered what was going on with the believers, but they were not ready to sneer at them and taunt them for acting differently.  Instead, they were willing to accept the difference they observed.  Some may even have been open to an explanation about the difference in behavior they observe, whether or not they were able to grasp its meaning.

As Christians, we are called to a higher standard than that of the world or our society.  We are called to the very love that, as believers, we have experienced through our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.  We both know and have the power of the Holy Spirit that was received by the early Church on the first day of Pentecost.  It works in and through us, enabling infinitely more than we can ever imagine.  This is a cause for celebration Church—a celebration of the diversity of gifts we have each been given for the building-up of God’s people!  Celebrating our diversity means that we uphold and support one another, even amid our personal trials and struggles in this world.  The love of Jesus calls us into unselfish, sacrificial and unconditional love for others, even when we cannot understand   the differences between us.  That is what the power of the Holy Spirit does for us as believers.  Of course, we have to work with the Holy Spirit in order to grow in holiness—to become more like Jesus. And it will take grace, upon grace, upon grace to get us there.  Thank God for God’s infinite grace and patience as we engage the process.

Paul reminds us, in his letter to the Church at Rome, that the mind set on and governed by the Spirit is life, while the mind set on the flesh and this world is death.  We have certainly seen how this truth has played out in the disturbing events of this week.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need the Spirit’s power at work in our world today, guiding and ordering our steps.  We need to be intentional in listening for the Spirit to speak into our personal space.  The cross and flame of our United Methodist Church remind us that we are a people saved by faith, through grace, by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; and we are set ablaze by the power of the Holy Spirit.  So, come Holy Spirit, and fill us with the fire of your love.  And, may that love shine forth in justice, hope and peace upon all creation.

Amen.