Aside from the Christmas story and the Passion narrative of Easter, the scripture Mandy and I read from the Acts of the Apostles is probably one of the most well-known pieces of scripture that we have. This story tells of the Holy Spirit descending upon a gathering of the early church. The Spirit enables the various people who have gathered together from the ends of the earth to understand each other. The Spirit is speaking thru each person to the others gathered there, pulling them together.
Let’s do an experiment of sorts here- Where do your ancestors come from?
Norway Sweden Ireland England Scotland Canada America Italy Poland Russia Greece
Do any of you speak those languages? The language of your ancestors?
I know a few words in Swedish and Norwegian but I don’t speak much of the language of my ancestors. I did learn Spanish in school and can speak that a little bit, but again not fluently.
Is there anyone here that speaks another language fluently?
Now, when we speak another language- French, Spanish, American Sign Language, etc. it is difficult for those of us who haven’t learned that particular language to comprehend what the speaker is saying. This was not the case for the folks that were gathered on Pentecost some 2000+ years ago. They could understand each other.
I bet if we tried to speak in the different languages we know, we might be able to get our message across with gesturing and what not, but understanding each other might prove to be difficult.
So, what is it that enables us to understand each other today? Yes, each one of us here speaks English and that makes it quite convenient for you to understand me, but I propose that there is another language that we speak that allows us to communicate and understand each other. It is a language that we don’t think about often- as it is not written, it doesn’t even have its own alphabet. When you get right down to it, we all speak and are able understand the language of the heart or the language of the Spirit. We all empathize with each other when we are going thru a difficult time. We feel compassion for each other. We offer healing thoughts and emotions and prayers to each other and the world.
The Spirit speaks thru each one of us to the others gathered here.
Think about that for a minute. Think about what we can communicate, about how we can relate to each other without even saying a word.
Douglas Donley, Pastor of University Baptist Church in Minneapolis, shares his commentary on the scripture we have before us this morning. “Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit comes to everyone…and for an instant they all speak the same language. Right after Pentecost, the early church changed the way they did things. They got rid of their class distinctions…gave money to people as they needed it…the Spirit moved among them and they saw each other as fellow children of God…” Donley concludes that, “We are all children of Pentecost…We long for the ideal of Pentecost. We come from different walks of life…different life experiences have shaped us…it seems like we are speaking different languages… but then a Kairos event happens, a Pentecost moment, an experience of the Holy Spirit, where we understand each other and help people in their healing” (FOTW, year C, vol. 3, p. 6).
We all have diverse and unique perspectives that we bring to every situation. What we need help with, what we need to practice is appreciating how the Spirit can work through each one of us individually; helping the community be richer and more diverse. The Spirit speaks to and thru each one of us, helping us to change and heal the world.
Hear this modern day Pentecost story- an essay offered by Edwina Gateley- (http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20130513JJ.shtml)
Her name was “Breezy” — a street name she was given because of the speed with which she moved from man to man working as a prostitute on the streets and down the back alleys. Twenty three years of prostitution and drugs had left their mark on Breezy. Her face was scarred, her body battered, and her spirit dead.
The broom closet was her own personal tomb. Breezy huddled within its cramped walls for three days and three nights. She had arrived, exhausted and beaten, to the shelter. It was full. So she crept into the closet where, as time passed, she was forgotten by the stressed out shelter staff. Breezy had given birth three days earlier. Her tiny daughter was born — shuddering and jaundiced from drugs. She was taken away by the hospital emergency staff to be given medical attention and placed for adoption. Breezy staggered off into the night — to the shelter and the broom closet.
On the third day she woke — hungry, and devastated by the memory of the baby she had birthed and lost. In the cramped darkness of the closet Breezy sobbed in shame and horror. Broken and helpless, for the first time in many years, she began to pray. In between her sobs she asked for forgiveness from God — and from her baby.
And something happened.
Maybe it was like a stone being rolled away.
Maybe it was like a dense darkness being pierced by a brilliant light.
Maybe it was a Pentecostal experience — a breaking through of energy and fire into a dead soul.
But something happened. And it was so powerful that Breezy crept out of the broom closet — determined to find her way home to Chicago and to live a different life.
And she did.
She sought counseling and healing and entered a program of recovery. It was a long and painful process — letting go, forever, of 23 years of violence, drugs and prostitution.
There had to be some sort of funeral for Breezy — for the woman she had been and the only woman she knew. So the staff and residents of the recovery program gathered in their small garden, and, standing in a circle, they dug a hole, placed a stone within it and bade farewell to Breezy — prostitute, addict and convicted felon. Breezy was buried.
And in that simple and symbolic ritual, Brenda was born. Claiming her birth name, she came into the dawn of a new life. It was to be a life of the Spirit.
It was to be a life led by God where Brenda would become a healer of those broken and battered — as she had once been.
Maybe, we first have to know what it is to be utterly broken before we can become truly conscious of the power of the healing Spirit of God. One way or another, we are all a little dead. Life does that to us as we falter and become weary on the journey.
Few of us experience the drama and devastation of Brenda’s life — but we need to hear it as a contemporary Pentecostal story. We also need to hear in it that we might be affirmed and encouraged in our own struggles to be faithful children of God. We need to hear in it that we are all gifted with the Holy Spirit — no matter how deeply repressed and hidden within us it may be.
Brenda did not simply have a Pentecostal experience — she changed her life! Dedicated herself to helping her sisters on the streets prostituting, addicted and soul dead.
Friends, the Holy Spirit is all over this story, in, among, around and bursting thru!
If the Holy Spirit is capable of doing such amazing work through one person- can you imagine what will burst forth from a community that opens up to it?!?
That is the beauty of Pentecost- who knows where Spirit might blow? Opening up to the Spirit will bring the church, the gathered community, to unexpected places, and unexpected grace. The Spirit comes with the marks of God’s presence: fire, wind, and noise. But the focus of attention, both in the reaction of the crowd and in Peter’s sermon, is not on the wind and fire, not even on the Spirit as such, but on the words that the believers are speaking.
This is the central importance of Pentecost: the Spirit’s transformation of the church into a community of prophets. The community that had gathered for the Feast of Pentecost is now made something that they were not before: prophets of God’s word. The transforming Spirit is given to all of them, not just the eleven remaining disciples, but all 120 of those gathered.
The same is true for us- today-
Each and every one of us has been gifted with the Holy Spirit-
How does it speak to us? How will it speak thru us?
Each and every one of us has the ability to speak God’s truth in love-
Did you ever think of yourself as a prophet?
Each and every one of us is part of something larger than ourselves- something extraordinary-what do you think it is?
I am so curious to see how Spirit is transforming this community!
What will we do in the Spirit of God?
How is the Spirit speaking?
I cannot wait to see!