Acts 2 begins with the disciples “all together in one place.” This is not an ideal gospel situation. The gospel is more “free spirit wanderer” than “established homesteader.” The gospel is more cosmopolitan than provincial. However, to traverse the world proclaiming something radically new was a lot to ask of Galilean fisherman–so God sends them a helping hand.
The tongues were divided. It was not a raging Spirit inferno. It was not a united flame. Each tongue rested on a disciple, and each tongue gave the ability to speak in a particular language. The Spirit of unity was not there to bring the disciples together—they were already together. The Spirit of unity was there to send out those who would bring the world together. In order to do it, the Spirit came as divided tongues to wedge the insular group apart.
Before the Spirit’s coming no one had heard of international Galileans (cf. vs. 7). The gathered crowds hearing the many languages erupting from the disciples were amazed, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own language?”
Luke is confusing, “All were amazed…but others sneered.” The “all” are the Jews of the diaspora who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). The “others” Luke identifies as “Men of Judea, and all who live in Jerusalem.” The sundry world outside of Judea accepted the miracle while the singular tribe inside of Judea denied the presence of the Spirit. God is not meant to respect borders, or to be contained by them.
The sneering crowd accused the disciples of being drunk with new wine. Peter denies this accusation, and tells the dissenters that the presence of the Spirit is the fulfillment of God’s word. The last days are here, the Day of the Lord has come. Nothing is the same. The Spirit of God is released and cannot be put back in its place. This is a full scale meltdown of the containment unit. The Spirit has descended on sons, daughters, young men, old men, male and female slaves–all flesh.
Pentecost begins in indoor seclusion and moves to public proclamation. It is ironic then that we gather together indoors, clad in red, to receive the message once again to “get out there and do something!” It is important to remember that this is exactly what is happening. Pentecost is not a trip down memory lane where our task in worship is to memorialize the birthday of the church. Pentecost is about now, not then. Our Pentecost observances fail if they create nostalgia instead of equipping interpreters or prophets to go out in the world and proclaim the good news of the gospel.
Psalm 104:24-34; 35b
Our Psalm lection celebrates the Spirit of life. The Spirit of God animates God’s creation. When God takes away the Spirit, God’s creation dies (vs. 29). Even the mighty leviathan (the somewhat mythical creature of the sea) is not self sustaining, but looks to God in due season for its sustenance. Indeed, says the psalmist, these creatures would not even find life if it wasn’t for the creative power of God’s Spirit. When God sends forth God’s Spirit, there is creation and renewal (vs. 30).
This is an important reminder for the church as we gather on the day of Pentecost. When we resist the Spirit, and act provincially about the gospel, we become sick and weak. When we act like God and send forth the Spirit with reckless abandon, then we see new creation and experience vital renewal.
Our salvation is sure, absolute, and total, but it is not yet finished within us. We are in process. Because the Spirit is changing our hearts in a deep and purifying sanctification we are continually in a state of awkward adolescence as we learn what it is that we are yearning for, and what a godly future kingdom means for us and our world. During this awkward time when we and the planet we live on cry out for God’s presence and provision we often do not know how to pray. We wonder what it means to follow the lead of Jesus and pray “may your kingdom come, may your will be done.” Paul tells us that the Spirit of God intercedes for believers and presents to God the innermost workings of our hearts with “sighs too deep for words.” There is comfort in the Spirit’s intercession in that even in our great human weakness we are not stumbling unaided into the throne room of God with our petitions. The Spirit is at work in us, and the Spirit is preparing our hearts for the kingdom, even as we pray with great ignorance about the hope we all have within us.
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
In our gospel lection Jesus, in his so called “farewell discourse,” tells his disciples about the coming of the Spirit of Truth (aka the “advocate”) upon his departure. The Spirit will testify on Jesus’ behalf along with the disciples.
Jesus is adamant that the disciples will not be poorer in his absence. Jesus declares that at the coming of the Spirit the disciples will be at an even greater advantage. There are things the disciples need to hear, but Jesus cannot yet tell them. At the coming of the Spirit, however, the disciples will be led into “all truth.”
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the gift of the Spirit’s presence. The Spirit gives us life and sustains us and then frees us from our insular existence and makes us available as witnesses for Christ to the world. When we suffer for lack of knowing how to pray the Spirit takes over our prayer life and pleads with the Father on our behalf. Often we wish Christ had lived in our lifetime, so we could have heard his teachings and enjoyed his presence. Seldom do we remember Jesus’ surprising statement, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”