Acts 2:1-21 – John 14:8-17
The Rev. Helen Havlik – Pentecost – June 9, 2019
In the Acts of the Apostles we learn how the early church began as the Holy Spirit took over where Jesus himself left off. In Ch. 1 of Acts, the disciples choose a 12th apostle to replace Judas and then wait in Jerusalem as Jesus told them to do. Now on the feast of Pentecost, that celebrates the first harvest of the year, the Holy Spirit comes as Jesus promised. As the disciples go out to tell others about what has happened, the crowd assumes they are drunk, so Peter reminds them about what the prophet Joel had said about the end of time. That’s Luke’s take on the Holy Spirit. In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives the disciples a preview of what’s to come—the Advocate, or Counselor, or Spirit. I’m reading from John, Ch. 14, beginning with vs. 8. Listen to these words from the book that we love.
As they gather at that Pentecost celebration, those first disciples are truly vulnerable, hanging by a thread, clinging to the hope Jesus had raised in them even as he had been raised from the dead. They had been taught to expect the resurrection of the dead at the end of time. Did Jesus’ rising mean the end had come? Jesus was the one with the answers, who kept them encouraged, challenged and comforted—and he was really gone. Before he died, Jesus promised to send someone else—called the Counselor or Advocate—who would continue to help them. Jesus had said “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” So of course they loved him and were keeping his commandments, but it had been seven weeks already! And just whom were they waiting for? Someone who can’t be seen? How will they know when this someone comes? As they waited, they struggled with skepticism and doubt—maybe even despair (William Willimon, Acts)—and certainly fear, as they wondered what would happen next.
And then this amazing thing happens. Beyond the roaring wind and multi-language miracle, the Holy Spirit gives Peter the insight and ability to make the connections that will help not only those first disciples, but generations of believers that follow. And what does Peter tell us? God keeps promises. Though Jesus was rejected, God raised him from death anyway. God saves us anyway. When our confidence is chipped away and we’re succumbing to the fear all around us—Peter stops us, sits us down, talks sense to us. He reminds us that God has been faithful in the past and all along, so there’s no reason to think God has given us up, even now. As William Willimon points out, those early believers “were struggling to retain their boldness, faith and confidence in the face of new internal and/or external struggles.” (Acts, p. 35) It’s for them and for us that the Holy Spirit speaks a word of promise and fulfillment through Peter—the same one Jesus had given them just before he died. God’s great and glorious plan to defeat the very powers of death and evil has succeeded—what’s left for us is trusting this and living in the reality of it and spreading the word.
So many things zap our confidence and make us feel vulnerable—personal issues and problems like poor health, depression, anxiety, worries of all kinds. And public issues, too—the economy, politics, community problems, global conflicts. It’s so easy to be crippled with fear, disconnected from each other, from ourselves, and most serious of all, disconnected from God. Think about all the end of the world movies that have been made in recent years—how nothing ends well. Zombies and vampires take over the world; the earth is uninhabitable; only a few creatures are left on a deserted planet. The good news is this isn’t what scripture tells us is coming. The bad news is it’s easy to forget the good news—in the face of life’s internal and external struggles, we followers of Christ often struggle to hold onto our faith, our confidence, our boldness and our joy. Yet Peter reminds us the Lord is even now pouring out the Spirit “upon all flesh.” And we are witnesses to God’s freeing power. Peter reminds his fellow disciples they are literal witnesses to the fact that Jesus is alive and the Holy Spirit dwells in them—and this good news belongs not just to them, but to the whole world. In Luke’s gospel, the risen Jesus tells his followers that his message of turning to God and receiving forgiveness should be preached in his name to all nations. “You are witnesses of these things,” he says. Now tell the world.
As it turned out, the literal end of the world didn’t happen after that first Pentecost. But what if Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of a new Spirit were meant to be the end of fear and the beginning of faith? What if they are the invitation to call on God’s name and be saved? What if they make good on the promise that whatever is dead in us—our energy, our joy, our hope—can come back to life because God didn’t and doesn’t give up on us? That’s the message of hope we first need to hear and accept—and then the world needs to hear from us. Each of us sitting here is a witness to this hope, as we’ve experienced it in our own lives and in our life as a congregation. In lean times and times of plenty, in peaceful times and times of conflict—even when we get so busy or distracted we forget God is there, God does not abandon us or leave us for dead. The Holy Spirit within us and among us is our proof of the new life God wants for us and for everyone.