Year A — Day of Pentecost

Commentary for June 12, 2011

Click here for today’s readings

[If the passage from Numbers is chosen for the First Reading, the passage from Acts is used as the Second Reading.]

Acts 2:1-21
We have mused and bemused over this story for years now; most of you have tried to preach it every which way you could possibly think of. I heartily commend the sermon below by my Brother Bubba, Dr. Chilton, for a fresh take on the activity of God the Spirit in the midst of the believers on this Pentecost Sunday.

It may not be necessary, but I like to point out the miracle of “spiritual hearing” in this text — not the generally-assumed miracle of “speaking in tongues” that is so often accentuated. Vv. 6 and 8 clearly indicate that, no matter where you were from or what language you spoke, if you were in the room that day you heard the gospel proclaimed in your native tongue (I have, at times, wondered if I’d been there, would Peter have begun his address with, “Now, ya’ll settle down…?”)

Numbers 11:24-30
We don’t often think of this way, but Moses and 70 of his friends got together for a little “pre-Pentecost” warmup in the wilderness here in Numbers. God “comes down” to speak with Moses, and the spirit is divided ( whether in tongues of fire or not, we are not told) so that a portion rests on each of the elders.

There were two guys who were lagging behind — Eldad and Medad (I just love those names!) — but they got a dose of the spirit, too! Similarly to the Pentecost experience, all of these gentlemen began to speak the words of God at the prompting of the Spirit.

Three things strike me: 

  1. God evidently feels pretty strongly about God’s people sharing God’s word
  2. The task belongs to all of God’s people, not just the Moses’ and Peters of the church
  3. If God has called you, sooner or later God is going to find you no matter where you are (in the tent or not!)

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
The psalm reminds us of the creative work of the Spirit, echoing the opening passages of Genesis. It was the ruach (“wind, breath, spirit”) of God present in the beginning that brought order to the creation. It is the same ruach that brings renewal to our lives — re-creation, if you will, over and over again!

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
The Holy Spirit brings many gifts into the lives of Christ’s followers; the first gift is the ability (or will or desire, depending on your theological perspective) to say, “Jesus is Lord.” 

After that — both occasionally and consistently — the Spirit gives other gifts of grace that are expressed in the lives of Christians. Some of these expressions are for the purpose of “work” that needs doing; others are for “service” that needs rendering. But some of the greatest gifts are those that simply demonstrate God’s “grace”– unexpected, unearned, just because.

John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39
We read this snippet from John 20 earlier in Eastertide; sometimes overlooked in that dramatic account that results in Thomas’ profession of faith is the “breathing” of Jesus on his disciples so that they can receive the Spirit.

Is this a separate manifestation from the day of Pentecost? Why are there no “tongues” evident here (the spoken kind or the fiery kind?) What is the purpose of Jesus’ breath on the 10 (remember that Judas and Thomas were absent this day.)

This could be seen as a preparatory movement toward the coming experience of Pentecost; Jesus could be preparing their minds and hearts for the “coming” of the Spirit. Or, this could just be a Johannine quirk or twist in the text. As students of the Synoptic gospels like to say, “Oh, well — that’s John for you!”

The close tie to forgiveness of sins is interesting; but, in the context of the rest of the story, I believe that it is the closeness of the Savior himself that is the real key. Jesus, though different than he was when they knew him before his death, is still with them. He is close enough that they can feel his breath. And with the coming of the Spirit, that’s just how close he will always be.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The earlier cut from John 7 connects with Jesus’ language to the woman at the well in chapter 4; the Spirit is the source for “rivers of living water” in the lives of believers.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Verse 2: Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

In the fall of 2004, Hurricane Ivan hit the Gulf Coast with a fury that did not peter out until it reached the NC mountains. I know, I was there.

I had a group of young pastors meeting at a  retreat center. It was their first week together. They were from all over the country.

It had been a good week, a getting to know you week, but on Thursday night, it became a very interesting week indeed. It had been raining all day and we knew a hurricane had hit the Gulf, but we were in the mountains, for God’s sake. We were safe.

After dinner, I went out and sat on the lodge porch and looked at the rain on the lake, trying to do some last minute program adjustment. Suddenly, I realized what was happening right in front of my eyes. I thought, “Look at that, little tornadoes, water sprites, dancing across the lake. And waves. Big waves. We don’t have waves on mountain lakes.”

Then it really hit. Trees bending toward the earth, electricity going out, roofs lifting up. Light pole breaking off 5 feet in the air, power lines dancing around on the ground.

And, in the midst of that, I had a stupid attack. Someone came into the kitchen and said there was a tree down across the road that was the only way in and out of the Retreat Center. For some reason, he and I decided it was vital to get that tree off the road, in the middle of the hurricane.

So we got a chain saw and loaded a couple of young pastors in my old Jeep Cherokee, (Herb from South Dakota and I think John from Kentucky, I don’t remember who else was along.) We drove down until we got to the place where the trees had fallen across the road and began to work.

The wind was blowing, the rain was falling, the trees were slick, we made some progress on one and moved up to the next one. And then; well it’s kind of confusing but I’ve never been so scared in all my life, before or since.

The wind started blowing in a particularly hard and swirling manner, and the trees around us began to twist and twirl in the air and to crack and moan and make noises both mournful and threatening and looking up into the twisting tree tops was a vertigo inducing experience; and suddenly I and all those with me knew ourselves to be in mortal danger and we ran to the seeming safety of the car.

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.

And here’s my question. If the Holy Spirit is indeed like a “violent wind,” like an untamed hurricane or a sudden and destructive tornado, what makes us think we want it in our lives? 

We say we want it. In my mother’s Methodist Church they sing a song that goes, “Breathe on me Breath of God”

It’s a comforting image; like a baby sleeping on your chest, or a wife or husband curled up, dozing at your back, breathing a sweet gentle breath.

Or, remember this one?
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me,
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

That one’s best if you sway and hold your arms up.
Spirit of the Living God, Fall afresh on me.

Or close your eyes:
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Or, how about this one:
There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place,
And I know that it’s the spirit of the LORD

You know that do you? I wish I could be so sure, then maybe I wouldn’t be so afraid.

For you see, the scripture says that is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God, and I think our scriptures show us this fearfulness very clearly. I don’t think the Spirit is all that sweet and gentle. Indeed I think the Spirit is a lot like my Mama.

Let me tell you what I mean by that. When I was a young teenager; Mama and Daddy went to work in the Cotton Mill to supplement the family income. Up until then we got by on just the tobacco crop. They still raised the tobacco, they just did it after work and on weekends, and expected a lot of help from their children.

They would leave for the mill around 6:30 AM. They would leave us a list of things to get done, some around the house, most in the fields. They got home around 3:30. We tried to figure out how long it would take to get the jobs on the list done, then we always waited until the last possible minute to start working.

One day, we had done nothing on the list. It was about 11:00 or 11:30 AM. We were drinking Kool-Aid and eating peanut butter on cracker sandwiches and watching the Dialing for Dollars movie on Channel 8 out of High Point when:

“. . .suddenly, from the kitchen door there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire room where we were sitting . . .

and the name of that wind was Mama and she was some kind of mad. She had gotten sick at work and came home early, and instead of finding her children busy about the business she had left them to do, she found them sitting around, doing nothing.

Mama roared into the den, the fly swatter she had grabbed off the hook by the kitchen stove in hand. She drove us out of that house, across the yard and up the hill, into the fields where we were supposed to be hoeing tobacco.

We danced into that field.  You know: Mama’s hand on the back of your neck, swatting at your legs and behind, while you stretch your feet and bottom as far away from her as you can get.

Yes, brothers and sisters, I believe the Spirit in Acts 2 is a whole lot more like my Mama on a bad day than any sweet, sweet spirit, any gentle breath of God, we might conjure up.

It was fifty days after Easter. And the disciples had done very little in that time but hang out with Jesus, spending some quality time with their Risen Lord. Then he left, really left, ascended into heaven left.

And before he went, he told them to get busy, he told them in Acts 1: 8, “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.” And then he ascended. And after he went up, an angel came to them and said, in essence, “Quit standing around. Get busy.” (Vs.11)

But, they really hadn’t been doing anything yet. And as our story opens, they were all together in one place, probably drinking first century Kool-aid, i.e. watered down wine, and munching on fig and bread sandwiches, looking out at the crowded city streets, which are, after all, more entertaining than a TV movie.

“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 .”

And, as the rest of the story tells us, that wind gave them a job, and the ability to do the job, and then it drove them out into the street so that they would get busy doing that job.

Which is why the Holy Spirit, the mighty and powerful wind of God, is more like an angry Mama than any sweet baby or gentle lover.

And, on this Pentecost Sunday, 2011, that Holy Spirit is after us. It is after us to get out into the world with the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

It is after us to get busy with what we have been called to do, it is after us to quit worrying about being together in one room and to start worrying about going out together to witness to those in need of God’s love.

It is after us to look around us and see who it is that we know or know about who needs to know about the love and grace and forgiveness of God in Christ.

It is after us to know that the reason that we know that someone needs to know about Jesus is that it is our job to tell them or show them that love.

It is after us, and the only question right now is this:

Are we going to go voluntarily, or is Mama Spirit gonna have to make us?

Amen and amen.

6 thoughts on “Year A — Day of Pentecost

  1. You know you've made it when you make it into one of Delmo's famous sermon stories. What an honor for us to be in that category! We still credit Ivan with bonding our group in a way that nothing else could. Some might even call it the Spirit at work 🙂

  2. I second Ellen's comment — what an honor to have made it into one of your sermons! And I remember how scared you were . . . and how sick of hurricanes I was!!!! So thankful we all came through that alive, and that I left that mountain with some of the best friends in the world. The Spirit certainly was at work.

  3. P.S. And I love the image of Mama Spirit too. I'm not preaching on Pentecost this year, but I'm going to have to save that up for a future sermon.

  4. Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting. Katie and Ellen, what a mighty moment on the mountain…that will always be holy ground, will it not?Tiffany, so glad you found us…love your blog!

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