The Promise of Pentecost

Acts 2: 1-13

Today is about the world understanding the love of God through the gift of language given to the disciples. We must first seek to understand before we can be understood. In the spirit of peace and understanding, Ed Young, in his bookRomancing the Home, suggests that husbands learn two techniques for listening to their wives: the “hold the bucket” technique and “the mirror stance.”

Hold the bucket: just let her express her emotions without offering any advice or judgment. There are times when women are looking at the problem from all angles as they sort through their emotions. Try not trying to fix the problem so quickly but listen first. This will promote understanding and empathy.

Mirror Stance: If you are confused, do not point that out so quickly. Reflect your wife’s feelings back to her. Re-state whatever she says in your own words. At least you will be letting her know that she is understood. Both of these forms of listening will make a woman feel loved and respected and will promote home peace. Being a disciple means learning to understand another.

We celebrated Children’s Day last Sunday and presented the third grade disciples with their Bibles. In the liturgical year it was Pentecost Sunday, the day when the church celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. This was the moment that generated the spark that grew the early Christian church. Pentecost, meaning fiftieth, is the Greek word for the feast of weeks described in Leviticus 23:15 – 22. As outlined in Leviticus 23, the Jews were to bring two loaves of bread as an offering representing the two stone tablets on which the Law was written. Pentecost was a holiday celebrating the harvest season. It celebrated the completion of the winter harvest and was held in early spring, 50 days after Passover. We might compare it to Thanksgiving. Jews from all aroundthe world came to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost.

And it truly was a celebration. Maybe it was closer to Mardi Gras than Thanksgiving. Some rabbis encouraged their followers to drink to excess as a sign of their gratitude to God for the gift of the fruit of the vine, so this was the one day of the year when moderation was set aside. There is not an equivalent for that practice in our Christian tradition, but you are encouraged to eat a lot of pancakes on Fat Tuesday, the night before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.

Following the instructions of Jesus, the followers of Jesus had gathered together in Jerusalem to wait. Maybe they were not completely certain of what it was they were waiting for. Suddenly the sound of a mighty wind came from heaven and filled the whole house. This was the Holy Spirit, the same spirit that moved above the waters in creation.

They noticed what is described as “tongues as of fire,” resting on each of their heads. Fire had always been, for the Jews, a symbol of God’s presence, such as Moses and the burning bush, and the pillar of fire the Israelites followed in the desert.

The noise from the room was loud enough to attract attention on the street below. People gathered outside the house and heard their own languages being spoken. Some thought they were celebrating Pentecost at nine in the morning, but it was clear something supernatural was happening when people from other countries remarked how amazing it was that they were hearing these Galileans speaking in native languages. This is the greatest illustration of the Pentecost story. God’s love was being spoken and understood to the world. What an irony…Gallileans were known by their distinctive accents. For people to hear them speaking in their own languages must have been quite surprising.

A Southern mom was talking with her young son about why all their relatives from the North “talk funny.” “They have a different accent,” she explained. “Everybody talks in different ways,” she continued. “ To them, we sound like we talk very slow, and all our words are drawn out.” His eyes got big, and he asked, “You mean they hear funny, too?”

The Galileans had a habit of swallowing consonants. It was a somewhat guttural accent. Recently my family saw the musical Mary Poppins, and I thought that it might even be compared to the cockney accents of the chimney sweeps as they sung “Stepping Time.” Think about it, Jesus walking on the water and the chimney sweep walking across the ceiling…all right, maybe that is a stretch!

Pentecost contains a beautiful parallel between God’s spirit and wind. Let us consider the action of wind upon sails since we are talking about God’s spirit upon these Galilean sailors. These sailors were caught in the doldrums but were blown out through God’s powerful spirit. If you look at the old maps of the ocean currents, you will see great areas just north of the equator in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans marked “doldrums.” This is an area between the prevailing oceanic winds. It is an area where the air is very warm, still and humid. Listen to this description of the doldrums: “Sea captains learned to avoid the doldrums. Now and then a careless captain would sail his ship directly into the center of the doldrums—or the doldrums area would shift north or south. The ship’s sails would sag and droop. The whole ship would take on an appearance of fatigue. The sun would beat down. The interior of the ship would become like a smelly, humid dungeon. Sailors would get sick. Occasionally light, baffling winds would cause excitement—but in the doldrums winds blow this way and that with no consistency. In the doldrums terrible killing storms may be generated in certain seasons. With only a sail—the only hope was a sustained breeze. Ships actually were caught for so long that the crews died.”

The Pacific doldrums were famously described in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in the following stanzas:

All in a hot and copper sky, The bloody Sun, at noon,

Right up above the mast did stand, No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean.

We have all had moments of being caught in the doldrums. Suddenly God’s Spirit arrives and we know that God is present and active. Pentecost brought the disciples out of the doldrums and the Pentecost promise calls us to believe God will bring us out as well.

Luke lists the many nations of the civilized world to illustrate that the Pentecost promise was meant for people in all nations. The fact that they were together yet speaking in several languages is a great example of diversity in teamwork and utilizing unique gifts and resources toward a common goal. It reminds us that we accomplish so much more when we work through our fellowship. The National Geographic TV Special about eagles living on cliffs shows how they stretch out their wings and glide on the wind for hours. They are suspended for hours. We are a culture of eagles that easily forgets that one day we will be grounded. We never expect our wings to get tired. Whether helping ourselves or others, it seems as if our resources will last and never be depleted…

A youth group team building exercise had each team trying to hold their arms out by their sides without putting them down. Only the group that realized that the rules did not prohibit them putting their arms on each other’s shoulders won the game. The other groups’ arms fell fast.

We need to be reminded to respond to this Pentecost promise by staying connected- that is how we keep ourselves built up with the power of the spirit. When people were experimenting with electricity back in the 18th century, some French scientists wanted to know how quickly electricity moves. They asked the Abbot of a large monastery to provide 1,000 monks for an experiment with electricity. They had all the monks stand in line, and they each held hands. The first person in line was given a jolt of electricity. There were two conclusions from this experiment. The first was that electricity moves with astonishing speed. When the electricity was turned on, 1,000 monks jumped up into the air at exactly the same time. The second conclusion was that abbots in French monasteries in the 18th century had tremendous authority over their monks!

The other scripture that we read was the tower of Babel. God’s punishment for their pride was to be dispersed in different languages. They tried to make themselves God. It is clear that when the disciples are enabled to speak in the languages of their Mediterranean world, the judgment that fell on all nations at the Tower of Babel has been reversed. They were building a tower instead of a well!

What are we building? Pentecost reminds us of our job to build the kingdom of God. The Pentecost promise is that God will show up and bring us out of the doldrums. The promise is that when we connect ourselves in the Spirit of God’s love, we are able to communicate that love to anyone in any language, to any ship caught in the doldrums no matter where it is. We must trust God’s power to bring us out of the doldrums as those Galilean fishermen trusted. Do we act like row boat Christians, struggling on own power; stopping to rest for a while, only to find that the current has taken us back where we started…are we in a sailboat, letting the wind push us but when the doldrums come, what happens…let us be more like steam boats. Steam is a good analogy for Pentecost because it uses the fire of God and water, another symbol of God’s presence, to produce an inward energy that will sustain us and unite us in progress. We must remember to reach out our arms on each others shoulders, to cooperate in our mission and ministry, to pull others out of the doldrums and let others pull us out. Trust in that Pentecost promise, it was given to those disciples and is also just as powerfully given to us.