INTRO: PENTECOST IS A BIG DEAL!
The Day of Pentecost in Acts is not the first Pentecost. Judaism celebrated the Festival of Weeks at Pentecost, this was 50 days after Passover, when the Jewish tradition celebrated God’s handing down of the Law – the 10 commandments brought down by Moses. The harvest is celebrated, the book of Ruth is read, and the people remember. Because of this celebration, many Jews who are able make pilgrimage to Jerusalem to be present in the Temple for this celebration. They come from everywhere. And those who were already in Jerusalem would have been preparing for the Festival of Pentecost.
We know that Jesus told his disciples at the time of the Ascension to go to Jerusalem to await the Holy Spirit, and you can imagine them sitting together, looking at one another, pacing, wondering to themselves how they will know when it happened. What exactly did Jesus say we would feel, what would happen. “What are we doing?” one might have the courage to voice. Another responds with a tone of annoyance, “We are waiting.”
So when a violent wind started to howl, I wonder if some of those obedient disciples weren’t rethinking their commitment to stay and wait. When the house was filled with wind that may or may not have reminded them of the scriptures from Genesis when God’s ruach, breath swept over the waters of the deep and tongues of fire hovered over each of them, reminiscent of the pillar of fire that led the Hebrew people through the wilderness, or the fire that called to Moses from a burning bush…the power of this moment was an encounter that none of them would soon forget. Holy Smokes!
Who is the HOLY SPIRIT?
Mainline Christian churches are often critiqued for having a lackluster doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Holiness tradition churches and Pentecostal churches have a more robust understanding of the Spirit that has at times made our stoic sensibilities uncomfortable. PRCC is not much of a creedal church, but our historic Christian creeds still inform our theological understandings. In the Apostles’ Creed, the Holy Spirit is mentioned twice: I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…etc. and then later I believe in the Holy Spirit. No mention as to what the Holy Spirit does or how she moves.
In confirmation as a young person, we visited a couple of Pentecostal churches, where we experienced people speaking in tongues, or glossolalia, people being slain in the Spirit, convulsing on the floor or shaking in their seats, eyes turned to heaven. I wondered why their experience of worship and intimacy with God was so different from mine.
Jürgen Moltmann wrote The Spirit of Life as an attempt at unpacking a systematic framework for who the Holy Spirit is. As one third of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is not just God the Creator’s Spirit or Jesus’ Spirit, but a unique, dynamic part of how we experience God, and the Holy Spirit didn’t emerge in Acts as a new part of God, but the Holy Spirit has been a part of God since the beginning.
Moltmann writes, “God’s Spirit is more than merely the being-revealed of his revelation in human being, and more than simply the finding of faith in the heart through the proclaimed word. For the Spirit actually brings men and women to the beginning of a new life and makes them the determining subjects of that new life in the fellowship of Christ. People do not only experience the Holy Spirit outwardly in the community of their church. They experience it to a much greater degree inwardly, in self-encounter – as the experience that’s ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 5:5)…There are no words of God without human experiences of God’s Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit moves through us as individuals and as a community. The Holy Spirit was with Mary before she ever conceived. The Holy Spirit helps us find words when we have none after experiencing loss. The Holy Spirit inspires us to be creative, to experience holy curiosity, to see the world with God’s vision. The Holy Spirit, as a part of the Divine Dance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit invites us to be a part of the dance, leaving us breathless, emboldened, and sometimes even a little terrified.
WHAT DOES THE HOLY SPIRIT DO? LANGUAGE BARRIER OVERCOME
On that Pentecost Day, when the disciples had their encounter with the Holy Spirit, they were filled up, and sent out. They preached, and in a moment, people of every language understood. I wonder if they were themselves speaking in Aramaic, Armenian, Egyptian, Greek, Latin, and the like or if the miracle was in the translation when folks each heard their own language. I know many of you have the gift of language, and I do well to still remember a little bit of Spanish. Some of us have taken years of classes, have tried Rosetta Stone and tutoring and still cannot master putting together a sentence in another language. These Galileans are from the country. They were tradesmen, not well educated, and those who were looking on knew that. But the experience of language barriers coming down was profound. One pastor put it this way:
“On Pentecost day, God spoke outside the walls of temple religiosity and outside the halls of political power. God spoke in the streets. The divine voice manifested in all languages and in all peoples, not just in the imperial Latin of the Roman occupiers who conquered the Promised Land and not just in the language of the religious elite who restricted access to God with oppressive temple taxes. Rather, God spoke in the vernacular of the everyday and the everywhere.”
All of a sudden, each could hear the message of God’s love proclaimed. Peter explains that it’s not because they are drunk, but in fact, the Prophesies of Joel are coming to fruition. This is God’s work, and we are a part of it.
In the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Holy Spirit of God is being poured out on them and this is how it looks: wind like the wind that revived the valley of dry bones, and fire like the fire that led Israel through the desert, and tongues like the tongues that erupted at Babel, but in reverse this time. At Babel, God confused human speech so that people could not understand each other anymore; at Pentecost, God reverses the curse. What sounds like babble is intelligible speech – better yet, is gospel – and everyone present understands it.”
Friends, we are living in a time of babble. Even when we speak the same language, we have become adept at talking past one another, failing to hear more than what we assume is being said. Language is often a symbol of what divides us. We allow different dialects or accents to indicate insurmountable barriers. We can get all flustered when we cannot understand someone in the grocery store or the doctor’s office. When we travel to other countries, we expect patience as we attempt to communicate and yet become impatient when people are in the U.S. and unable to use proper grammar. Oh yes, language is a challenge, and yet, in this Holy Spirit moment, its language and division that is overcome. What a gift. Holy Smokes!
CUT TO THE HEART: WE ARE CHANGED
Those disciples who had been waiting for the next chapter of their ministry to begin must have been taken by surprise, and they were transformed. The book of Acts is filled with stories of the faithful, who were not confined by previous challenges and inhibitions. Suddenly, they were fantastic preachers, teachers, and healers. They cared for one another and became the church. But they weren’t the only ones who were impacted that day.
Those all around were cut to the heart. That’s often how we sense the movement of God’s Spirit isn’t it. We are cut to the heart. And we are left asking questions – so now what? Barbara Brown Taylor says, ‘If you have ever been cut to the heart yourself, then you know how they felt. Every now and then, if you are really, really lucky, you hear something so right and true that it pierces through all your defenses and goes straight into your heart. It can make you droop to your knees. It can make you laugh until you cry, or cry until you laugh, but it is not a mental thing at all. It is a physical thing that requires a physical response. You have to do something about it.”
CONCLUSION: THE WORLD IS CHANGED
On this Pentecost Sunday, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit is still alive and moving. She is still filling us up, and inviting us into risk-taking ministry. We are beckoned to give our very selves, to allow the Holy One to lead us where we haven’t yet gone. When God’s people have been faithful in following the movement of the Spirit – the world is changed. Prisons become places of transformation and healing. Relationships that were broken become restored. Those who have been pushed out or rejected for who they are or what they’ve done find grace and acceptance. Barriers that have divided people: race, creed, sexual orientation, age, economic status, educational accomplishments…fall to the wayside as we become one.
May this be a day when we are swept away in the Holy Spirit’s movement in ways that leave us breathless and thinking to ourselves: Holy Smokes! Amen.
 Moltmann, Jürgen. The Spirit of Live: A Universal Affirmation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001, p. 2-3.
Henson, David R. “The Divine Protest of Pentecost,” Patheos. May 16, 2013. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2013/05/the-divine-protest-of-pentecost/
 Taylor, Barbara Brown. Bread of Angels. Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 1997, p. 67.
 Taylor, p. 71.