Filled with the Spirit and Hope
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in our sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
This is the day we remember and celebrate the remarkable events of Pentecost and their impact on the Church. The feast of Pentecost was the second of the three great Pilgrimage Feasts of Judaism. It was called in Hebrew the Festival of Weeks. It came seven weeks after Passover—literally a week of weeks. In the New Testament, it is called Pentecost, 50 days after Passover. Pilgrims who came from other countries normally came to Jerusalem for Pentecost, since it was later in the spring, and weather was more suitable for travel than at Passover. The small grain harvest had begun and this festival was an opportunity for the people to bring their first offerings of the new harvest.
Jerusalem was packed with the travelers from countries throughout the Mediterranean World. They understood how dependent they were for all their harvests and the Pentecost celebration was a way for them to offer their thanks to God. Sometimes this Festival is called the Festival of First fruits. They offer a grain offering as they begin the harvest, in anticipation of more grain. In some ways, Pentecost functioned for the ancient Jews like Thanksgiving serves us. It was a time to give thanks to God for a bountiful harvest. We don’t remember this Festival because of its Jewish Heritage or significance to the Jewish people; we celebrate Pentecost as the empowering of the early church for ministry.
When Jesus ascended, he instructed the disciples to return to Jerusalem and wait for the Gift of the Holy Spirit. They were given the mission—be Christ’s witnesses throughout the world. What they lacked was the power. They knew what their mission would be—they lacked the power and the wisdom to know how to accomplish it.
On the Day of Pentecost, this small group of believers was overwhelmed by God’s Spirit. The Spirit came upon them and they heard the sound of a great wind, and each one heard what was spoken in their own language. The Greek word for spirit and the word for wind are the same word.
Some of the bystanders suggested that they had gotten into the new wine and were drunk. Peter corrected that the people were not drunk, as it was only nine o’clock in the morning.
Peter pointed the crowd to Joel’s prophesy about the last days. Joel foresaw the day when God would pour out his Spirit on people and it would change their lives. The Spirit brought a change that was obvious—there was a joy, a boldness, an exuberance that some in the crowd mistook for intoxication. The believers were beside themselves; it was like something or someone else was controlling and directing them. God’s Spirit had come upon them.
Joel the prophet in the Old Testament, had prophesied of the day when God’s Spirit would be poured out on all people. In the Old Testament, the Spirit was an occasional guest. It came upon some people from time to time. He longed for the day when the spirit would be a constant companion for all the community. Peter was seeing that happen on the Day of Pentecost. The Spirit fell on the entire group of the 120 believers who were gathered. Not just their leaders, all of them; not just on the men, all of them. This is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that he would not leave us as orphans—when He left, His Spirit would come and be His continuing presence in our midst. The Spirit would fall on all groups, women, men, elderly, and the young. They would all experience God’s Spirit.
And they would find themselves empowered to do things they had not thought possible, they would speak, they would prophesy. God gave them the courage and the words to speak. Prophecy is speaking the words that God gives you to say. It is speaking the truth the best you understand truth. And Peter saw this as a fulfillment of Joel’s ancient words.
There are other gifts listed that the Spirit brings to believers. The Spirit causes dreams and visions. Dreams allow us to step outside our reality and see things we normally don’t see. At night when I dream, I see things and do things that I normally don’t see or do. But this passage is not about our dreams while asleep; I think Peter is talking about dreaming while awake.
People who dream are those who can see beyond their present realities and envision more possibilities that are out there in the future. Churches that dream see ministries and possibilities that could be, they recognize needs in their community that they could be meeting; they are able to see beyond what is, to what could be. The way we’ve always done things doesn’t carry as much weight with dreamers as it does with others. Dreaming is a gift of the Spirit that comes on people regardless of age—it comes to the old and the young—it is the ability to think outside the box— beyond the way of doing things passed down from previous generations. Dreaming is a by-product of Pentecost. The Spirit comes and the church is liberated to follow.
Throughout the last twenty centuries the church has dreamed and changed and evolved. It has faced enormous challenge and remains in the name of Christ. The Spirit keeps moving and prodding us along. Each generation, each Christian, each individual congregation gets touched by the Spirit. God’s Spirit gives us power and courage to do those things which move God’s Kingdom along. God has gifted each one of us with our own particular skills, abilities, and passions. While none of us have all the gifts and skills that God needs to use in this community, God’s Spirit combines our individual abilities and infuses them with the courage needed to accomplish God’s work in our community.
The church is a body where none of us carry the whole load; instead God uses all of our gifts to accomplish the work of the church as we work together. This is God’s work and today we celebrate the gift of God’s Spirit and the work that God calls us to do. Notice the Spirit gives us joy and exuberance as we do it.
The Old Testament text from Ezekiel that is read today is a passage that like the Acts reading, emphasizes the role of the spirit in bringing life and hope to people who cannot see a way forward.
While these texts were written in different times and to different groups of people, what we have in common with both groups, is our desperate need for hope.
Hope allows to make thoughtful and deliberate choices. When we believe that God is at work in our world, we invest time and energy in principled and meaningful actions. Hope is not necessarily believing that all will go well with me personally, or that my life will be successful, or that my church will thrive or survive. Christian hope is about a much broader vision of God’s work in our world.
I do believe that God is at work in our world, and I believe that God’s work in our world will ultimately prevail in spite of any evidence that would point otherwise.
On this day of Pentecost, we celebrate the way that God’s Spirit enters our lives and our church and infuses us with power and hope. Today we celebrate the ways that God has acted in the past and we express our hope that God’s work will continue to change our world. May we praise God this day for the Spirit that is among us, let us celebrate our children and those who recently graduated, those who are graduating and moving on to something new, our regathering and newly refurbished sanctuary, the new life that is in each of us, as we work together to bring God’s kingdom into our world now. AMEN.