The Harvest Festival of Pentecost

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Acts 2:1-21

At the local clergy gathering pastor’s were sharing from the month’s life at their church. One offered this experience.

“As I was reading Acts 2:4, ‘And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues’ it dawned on me that the Holy Spirit must be with me, because when I preach, people look at me like I am speaking in a foreign tongue.”

Now I am beginning to understand that look.

Today’s story follows last Sunday’s story of Jesus ascending into the heavens. The disciples were still in Jerusalem after this momentous experience. We can only imagine the uncertainty and the speculation going on among them.

We are told that they were gathered together in a room once more. Were they contemplating their next steps? Were they fearful and in hiding? Were they simply preparing for the Harvest Festival? Who knows.

Jerusalem, at this time, was bustling with people from near and far, gathering to celebrate the Festival of the Harvest. This was a Jewish celebration called Shavuot, and it had a double significance for the Jewish believer.

Firstly, it was the celebration of the wheat harvest. A time of thanksgiving. It was also linked to the day the Moses received the Torah or what we call the 10 commandments, on Mt Sinai.

So, against this backdrop the story takes on a new content for the Christ follower. As these disciples were sitting together there was a violent concussion felt among them like a powerful wind shaking them to the core. This was followed by what they could only describe as the Spirit of God filling their space and with what appeared to be tongues of flame dancing above their heads. Directly following that they discovered that they had somehow found a way to speak in different foreign languages.

These two distinct experiences seem to give the disciples the following affirmations;

One, the experience of the violent Holy Wind or Breath of God, affirmed their authority as apostles of Jesus Christ. A kind of ordination.

Two, the ability to speak in other, foreign languages was an affirmation of the Matthew 28 mandate that quoted Jesus as saying;

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” In other words, what was once a regional religious tradition reserved for the people of Israel, was now to be shared with the whole world. It was a symbolic breaking open of what had been a tribal religion to include all the people of the earth.

Equipped with the Spirit and mandated as Christ’s voice on earth, their new journey began on the streets of Jerusalem. They left the safety of their room and spilled out onto the streets where people who had come from all over the Roman Empire to celebrate Shavout/Festival of the Harvest, were enjoying the beauty of the Holy City.

The crowd, we are told, was amazed by the fact that these simple Galileans could speak their languages. Some went as far as to speculate that they had a little too much to drink.

But Peter stepped up as the leader of the group.

“Come on folks, its nine o clock in the morning, we’re not drunk.”

Then he quoted from the prophet Joel:

“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 men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.”

With this quote Peter was building a bridge between the past and the present. He presents Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises made by the prophets of old.

“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 men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.”

Who does not yearn for prophesy and vision and hope? The world desperately needs an outpouring of God’s loving spirit upon our leadership, our churches, our social institutions and our hearts.

The stresses that eat away the confidence we need to envision a hopeful future is being eroded by an ethos of greed and corrupted values. All over the world terrorism threatens the lives and wellbeing of ordinary men and women and children. The deep divide that keeps us captive in different camps, white and black, gay and straight, rich and poor, oppressor and oppressed, peacemaker and war mongerer, citizen and refugee, all contributes to this sense of consternation and tension.

Could it be that a new generation will step forward, empowered by God’s Spirit of Love, to help guide us upon a new path? Could it be that God calls us to receive a spirit of love, to dream dreams and offer prophesies of encouragement?

How we hunger for a time when the adult generation will be imbued by God’s Spirit so we be part of the transformation of a dysfunctional society that limits us and robs us of our potential. How we cry out for the younger desperation to embrace new visions and dream new dreams that will lift us out of the tension and pain of these times.

Pentecost—the Festival of the First Fruits or the Harvest, is one of those places on our journey that stands out like a huge billboard next to the freeway urgently calling for our attention.

God is always ready to do a new thing in our midst. God empowers each one of us with God’s Spirit of Love, but God does not enforce it upon us. God does not shove it down our throats. God presents this as an invitation but it depends on you and me as to whether we accept this new spirit of hope.

Ultimately, all change we wish for has to begin with ourselves. So, when last have we been able to set aside the time and made the effort to consider our lives and determine whether we are indeed, living within the great potential that God’s Spirit has gifted us with?

Or is life lived in such a blur that we simply follow the herd as it rushes from one place to another?

Are we so exhausted by life that we have lost our faith and abandoned God’s visions? This Pentecost celebration is our call to embrace God’s Spirit of Love—or said more poetically, to breathe in the breath of God, so we may be empowered to love the world, making no distinction between Jew and gentile, black and white, men and women, gay and straight, citizen or immigrant. The world needs us. Our family needs us. Our community needs us. May we be granted the courage to step out of our own rooms of isolation to live out the love of Christ in our everyday living. Amen.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

O God, how manifold
are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

Yonder is the sea,
great and wide,
It is teeming
with countless creatures,
living things
both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed
to sport in it.

These all look to you
to give them their food
in due season;

when you give to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are filled
with good things.

When you hide your face,
they are dismayed;
when you take away
their breath,
they die and return
to their dust.

When you send forth your spirit,
they are created;
and you renew the face
of the ground.

May the glory of God endure
forever;
may God rejoice
in God’s works —

God looks on the earth
and it trembles,
God touches the mountains
and they smoke.

I will sing to God
as long as I live;
I will sing praise
to my God
while I have being.

May my meditation be pleasing
to God,
for I rejoice in God.

Let sinners be consumed
from the earth,
and let the wicked be
no more.

Bless God,
O my soul.
Praise be to God!

Acts 2:1-21

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: ‘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 men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'”