And So It Begins

Sermon 5/20/18
Pentecost Sunday
MB McCandless’ Last Sunday

pentecost-painting2

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.’

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Up until this point in the Book of Acts, the author has been setting the stage for the main direction of his story – the beginning of the church, with the message of the gospel spreading out from just Jesus’ first followers, out from Jerusalem, out to the regions and nations beyond, near and far. First in this book, we get the story of Jesus ascending into heaven, leaving the disciples behind but telling the to wait there in the city until what he calls “the Paraclete,” what we call the Holy Spirit, comes to them. So as this story begins, they’re still there in the city some fifty days after the Passover, fifty days after the crucifixion, now observing the Jewish festival of Pentecost, or Shavuot, celebrating God’s giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. And by this time, the disciples must have been wondering just when, and how, this “Paraclete” was going to show up.

Then, all of a sudden, they find out. They have this amazing experience – wind blowing, and tongues of flame dancing in the air over them, and suddenly they’re speaking languages they hadn’t known before. The Paraclete had arrived. The church is now established, and the disciples have been empowered to do the work Christ had called them to. And so it begins.

Wherever Jesus uses this word, “paraclete,” to describe the Holy Spirit, we usually translate it as “Advocate” or “Comforter.” We often think of the Holy Spirit comforting us in times of anxiety, loss, or grief. That’s certainly part of the work of the Holy Spirit. But at least as often – and certainly, in the instances where the Holy Spirit appears in New Testament stories – the appearance and work of the Holy Spirit is, at least at the beginning, something unsettling – something more discomforting than comforting. Whenever the Holy Spirit begins to move, we can be sure there’s going to be some disturbance; the pot’s going to be stirred; there’s going to be some kind of change to the status quo.

This word that Jesus uses, “paraclete,” literally means to come up alongside, in the sense of helping to lift up, and supporting, and helping to move someone forward in some way that you couldn’t do otherwise. This past week, I read about Franklin Roosevelt, who we all know now, but few people did at the time, was paralyzed. He wore heavy steel braces on his legs that with difficulty and some support, enabled him at least to stand upright, but didn’t really allow him to walk on his own. So his son learned how to walk alongside his father, locking their arms together, actually bearing most of his father’s weight and learning to do it without showing any strain on his own face, and helping to move him forward giving the illusion that his father was walking under his own energy. It was an amazing, loving deception, and as I read about it, I thought that this was actually a pretty good analogy of how the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, works in our own lives.

I’m firmly convinced that at this moment, we’re experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the “discomforting comforter,” just as surely as those disciples did in Jerusalem. The holy winds are blowing within our midst, catching up MB within it, who is here with us for our last Sunday morning together. Soon, she’ll find herself in a completely different pastoral and congregational setting, with all of the excitement, and fear, and possibility, and uncertainty that will bring with it. That same wind is bring change to us, too, as we try to discern how and where we’re being led in terms of our Spiritual Nurture and educational ministries. Whenever that wind blows, whenever the Spirit moves, there’s sure to be some time of discomfort and adjustment. That’s a normal part of the way God moves, and the way we grow in our faith and mission. In the end, though, God will lead us all into paths that are good, and healthy, and which proclaim the gospel of God’s love for all, in ways even greater than before.

God has called MB, and us, into new, and different, and better things; all for the proclamation of the gospel, for the continuation of Christ’s work in the world, and for the glory of God. The winds of Pentecost have blown. And so it begins.

Thanks be to God.

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