Read Acts 2:1-21
There’s something very, very spiritual . . . about the Holy Spirit.
For example, when Mary got pregnant with Jesus? The Holy Spirit was in the womb where it happened.
The work of the Holy Spirit can be hard to understand. The people there with the disciples on that day of Pentecost were mystified, and aren’t we also mystified by this story?
There’s lots of empty space in the telling. It’s like Shakespeare in that way. The setting isn’t really described. The people aren’t named. They are a crowd of blank faces. So we can use our imaginations to fill in the blanks.
We brought it to life a bit in our telling today, and you helped out with some sound effects, but there’s still much more that is hard to communicate.
When we read this story and imagine what it was like:
How do you imagine it looked? Sounded? Felt?
Have you ever been in a crowd in which you or those around you were having a spiritual experience?
In this story there are three groups of people. Where do you see yourself?
- The first group are the 120 (Acts 1:15) people who are the center of the action, the people on whom the Holy Spirit is falling in what looks like fire. They are praising God in all different languages and telling about the wonderful things that God has done. These were the disciples and others who had been following Jesus, and had been praying and waiting for God to empower them to go and be witnesses to the world about Jesus (Acts 1:8,14).
- The second group are the people outside who come running to see what all the commotion is about. These are the people who hear their native languages being spoken and are mystified and amazed.
Luke, the writer of Acts, makes a point of telling us that these people were Jewish people who lived in Jerusalem but who were from all over the world. We might not think of Jerusalem as being so diverse, but it was like New York City in its diversity.
The place names in Acts are somewhat foreign to us now, but they indicate that there were people from all over the world. The Greek says they were from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). This was long before explorers had sailed around the world, so this was every part of the world that they knew of then. The places have different names now. Today we know them as Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Rome, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Khuzestan, and Ilam.
The people who came running to see what was happening probably all spoke Greek which was the most common language of that time, and since they were Jewish, they probably knew Hebrew. They expected that Galileans like the disciples would be speaking Aramaic, since that was the native language of Galilee. But instead they heard the disciples speaking their native languages.
Nelson Mandela, a great communicator, talked about the importance of speaking each other’s native languages in his 1992 book. He said:
“. . . when you speak a language, English, well many people understand you, including Afrikaners, but when you speak Afrikaans, you know you go straight to their hearts.”
We have some good friends from our church in California that had grown up in Mexico and Spain. They worshiped with us in English, and led worship in English, but they expressed a longing to worship God in their native language because, they explained, this was their heart language. This was the language they used when they were speaking from their hearts to God in prayer. So sometimes they would lead a song or prayer in Spanish, and eventually they formed a group that met to worship together in Spanish, the language of their hearts.
We might not think of Sterling as being particularly diverse, but the college is. At Sterling College 37% of the students are people of color and 60% are from outside of Kansas. At Sterling College there are many students whose heart language is not English. So sometimes in their chapel services, there will be songs in Spanish. When they sing songs in Spanish in chapel, I get chills that are often quite strong, because those for whom this is their heart language are engaging with God in a deeper way and I feel the Holy Spirit moving among us.
What is your heart language? It might be English or a creole or dialect of English, or it might be another language. Or it might be music or art or poetry or literature or dance or a sport. It might be that God speaks to your heart through beautiful places or through uncovering the mysteries of science or math.
If you were to be one of those in that crowd outside watching, what would you hear? What would you feel? Would you be frightened or excited?
- The third group might actually be part of the second group, but these people respond differently. Instead of amazement and wonder, they respond with ridicule and mockery. They assume that the people on whom the Holy Spirit has fallen must be drunk. Maybe they are even laughing and pointing. Ha ha, look at those people acting all weird and crazy!
Would you be one of those making fun?
We might think that this third group is people who don’t know God, or are not connected with the disciples, but that might not be the case. Sometimes the harshest ridicule of the work of the Holy Spirit comes from people inside the church. I know because I have been the church member who was critical of everything, and made fun of people who were doing or saying things that I didn’t understand.
This week I’ve been watching the broadcast the annual Festival of Homiletics. In years past this was a gathering that happened in person, and two years ago Rob and I had the incredible blessing of going to this, but last year and this year, because of the pandemic, it’s been online. As you might imagine, those who are asked to preach at a Festival of Homiletics are powerful preachers, and many are quite charismatic. As they spoke their truth, some of them described experiences of being Black in America. Because we’re online, there’s a comment feed, just like we have on our Facebook broadcast, and in the comments there were yesses and amens and halleluhahs, and there were also some scoffers and mockers. On one of these, someone said, “What about those who are watching who aren’t in America? Is this ignoring all of them?” But then some of those people from other countries chimed in and said that the experiences being described were happening in their countries, too.
I can’t know what was going on in the scoffers and mockers’ minds and hearts, but I can tell you that sometimes when I have been the mocker and scoffer, it’s been because I didn’t really want to hear what was being said. I wasn’t ready to let the Holy Spirit fall on me.
It is hard, sometimes, to let the Holy Spirit loose in our lives. It’s scary.
- What if the Spirit inspires us to do something that makes other people laugh at us?
- What if we try something the Spirit inspired and it fails?
- What if the Spirit’s inspiration makes me have to deal with something in my life that is painful or of which I’m ashamed or that I’m not ready to change?
It’s much easier, in my experience, to mock and be cynical. Heck, we applaud comedians for doing this, right?
The people in that third group on the day of Pentecost were doing the same thing that the ancient priest Eli was doing the day that Hannah was praying in the temple (1 Sam. 1), pouring out her heart to God about the pain of being the scorned woman who had no children, and begging God to give her a child. Eli jumped to conclusions. People don’t pray with that kind of fervor in the temple. We’re not like that around here. So he assumed she was drunk. Just like the people at Pentecost.
There was a church where a visitor sitting close to the front heard something he really liked in the sermon and shouted, “Amen, pastor!” Later in the sermon, he clapped and shouted, “Hallelujah!” …to the chagrin of everyone around him. And then, “Praise God!” At that point, an usher walked up the aisle and leaned over to the man and said, “Sir, we don’t do that here.”
We don’t always recognize when the Holy Spirit is working. Sometimes it’s because we don’t understand.
Have you ever been in a group that’s discussing something and you don’t understand what they’re talking about? Maybe they’ve had an experience together that you weren’t a part of.
I feel this way when I listen to the podcast that Christian Dashiell does with Brett and Marisa Callan. It’s called Richmond Til We Die, which is a title that means something to people who have seen the Apple TV show Ted Lasso. I don’t have the Apple TV channel, so I don’t watch the show, but I’ve listened to a couple of their podcasts because these are my friends and I want to know what they’re excited about. They’re speaking English, and they say some things that make sense to me, but I can’t totally connect with it because I haven’t seen the show they’re talking about. I can’t quite understand.
If you have traveled, you probably know what it’s like to be in the midst of people speaking a language you don’t understand. Even in different parts of the United States, we can find ourselves in the midst of people speaking a different dialect or creole, or with an accent or using slang we don’t understand.
I have also been in groups that were speaking “in” language that I didn’t understand. Have you?
We have a lot of “in” language in the church that can be confusing to people. And we have lots of acronyms. The first time I went to a presbytery meeting here in Kansas, I spent most of the meeting trying to figure out why people kept talking about PSK. Finally I asked the person next to me, “What’s PSK?” She whispered, “It’s the meeting we’re in. It’s the Presbytery of Southern Kansas.” Oh, yeah. Duh. But I still forget sometimes.
In the story about what happened at Pentecost, there’s one word that’s been screaming at me this week. I know I usually say “jumps out” but this one’s been screaming. Luke tells us four times in the first 11 verses that people were speaking and hearing different languages (v5,6,8,11). And he tells us that these were the languages of every nation under heaven (v5).
What is God doing here? God is speaking to the hearts of everyone.
God is making sure that language differences are not a barrier to knowing God’s love for all people.
God wants to speak to our hearts. How is God speaking to your heart?
We read Galatians 5 today because this is a list of some ways the Holy Spirit works in our hearts, helping us to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
There are lots of ways that God speaks to us, not just in words. Sometimes God speaks through our hurts because those are the places we are vulnerable and open enough to let God in. And sometimes instead of words, it’s comfort or peace or inspiration.
Let there be no doubt that God speaks. Several weeks ago, I asked you all to share your stories of hearing from God at turning points in your lives and we heard some wonderful stories about how God has spoken to you.
In our reading today, Gordon, playing the part of Peter, told us about the words of the prophet Joel who said that in the last days God would pour out the Holy Spirit and people would see visions and dream dreams. We are in these last days. These are the days between the time that Jesus was on earth the first time and the time when Jesus will come again. In these last days, God pours out the Holy Spirit upon us, and as the Spirit falls on us, we see unexpected things and we may not always understand what we are seeing and hearing, but we are in this together so that we can help each other to hear and to understand.
Last week I encouraged us all to be in prayer, like the disciples were in the ten days between Jesus ascending into heaven and Pentecost. And I asked us all to be praying for our church and for God to show us how to be the church that God is calling us to be in this time and place.
How did that go for you? What did God say to you or show you? How is the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts?
It has been clear to me that whatever we do cannot be just me the pastor doing it, or just one elder or deacon doing it. We’ve got to be working together, and that’s not always easy to figure out how to do. And we’ve got to be letting the Holy Spirit inspire us and guide us and help us speak, or we’re going to run out of steam and more prone to misunderstanding. So we’ve got to be praying and listening and talking with one another.
If you’ve been sitting there thinking you don’t matter, I want you to know that you definitely matter. You are here for a reason. You are welcome here, and you are a part of what God is doing here.
I believe God wants to speak to the hearts of every single person, everyone in this room and everyone online, everyone in this city and county and nation, and every person in every nation, so that every person knows that God loves them, and loves them so much that he sent Jesus, and then sent the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit speaks to us, and the Holy Spirit speaks through us.
Let us truly ask and keep asking for God to pour out the Holy Spirit upon us.
And let’s watch out for the Holy Spirit falling!
Forgive us, God. We long for your new life, but we do not know how to live it.
 https://www.collegefactual.com/colleges/sterling-college-kansas/student-life/diversity/ and email from Dennis Dutton 05-22-21