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.’
The Day of Pentecost was traditionally a harvest festival for Israel. I remember the harvest festivals in the churches where I grew up. The altar groaning and the communion rail festooned with produce. Canned and fresh it didn’t seem to matter. It was a time of cornucopial abundance. For Israel the feast was celebrated on the fiftieth (Greek=Pente) day after the first sickle had sliced through the crops in the field. Every person, clan and tribe would carry the first fruits of their harvest in baskets to the temple.
It makes sense then that our cultivating Heavenly Parent, the Lord of the Harvest, should choose to reveal the extravagant abundant aspect of God’s nature on this day.
There is the rushing ruach wind, there are the the tongues of fire evenly distributed and dancing on each person’s head. It is every bit as dramatic as any and every theophany that happened in the Old Testament. It is Moses and Elijah, Sinai, Horeb and Carmel all happening in Jerusalem.
Unlike Elijah on the mountain before the Lord 1Kings 19:6-16 here God is indeed in the wind, and in the fire! Instead of the sound of sheer silence in Elijah’s experience, this time there is the peal of universally comprehensible proclamation. Everyone hears, everyone sees, everyone experiences. That is the earth shattering earthquake that happens not in the ground but in the hearts of those who see and hear this reversal of Babel and comprehend that in God all the peoples of the earth have access to common language and understanding.
The cynics of course thought they were drunk, which I suppose in some way they were. Holy Spirit is intoxicating stuff. Yet that is not the disturbing part for me about this day. Honest cynics, I have found are useful to my understanding of things and usually they are open to discussion.
No the disturbing thing for me is that as I stand in church on any given Pentecost Sunday, I hear no mighty wind, except perhaps the whisper of the pipe organ and I see no tongues of flame except on a banner or an altar cloth. Even the Bishop’s mitre is a tame doffing of the cap to what happened the first Pentecost.
I suppose I could live with even that as we have become meeker and milder than those dusty, lusty first disciples.
The most disturbing thing for me about the feast of Pentecost year after year is that there are so many who no longer hear in their own language about God’s deeds of power.
How have we as disciples and church moved from fire carriers with loose tongues, gossiping the Good News Gospel; to become domesticated distribution centres of mediocrity, where only club members have access, and only franchise holders get a tongue of fire endorsement branding, after doffing their cap to the Bishop and the treasurer?
Peter quotes Joel in his sermon, ‘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. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.”
I am willing to bet, good non-gambling Methodist that I am, that if we advertised that these things Joel and Peter are referring to were going to happen here this morning, most of us would have elected to rather go and play golf, or walk on the beach.
I mean really! Where is the reverence and decorum in that chaos!
Could that be why the ruach wind no longer blows in the churches? Why young people have visions on YouTube and old people dream dreams of the preacher ending the belaboured sermon so they can go and have tea?
When last was the church truly prophetic and not keeping one eye on the bank balance and another eye on whether the dominant culture group was approving? When last did we allow a foreign Galilean, speak to us in our own language?
No folks, I fear we are a long long way from Pentecost. I fear our respectability, our rules and our recalcitrance to be moved by a creative, fiery God, has left us breathless and becalmed whilst the Spirit seems to be blowing fiery freshness elsewhere where the Spirit wills. It’s hard to imagine a harvest in some of these fields.
It’s enough to make one go and get drunk!