“The greatest leveling event” (Ps. 104: 24-34; Acts 2:1-11)

The Psalmist writes, Praise the LORD, I tell myself; O LORD my God, how great you are! You are robed with honor and majesty; you are dressed in a robe of light.  You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens… (Ps 104:1-7, 24-34). Surely our God is great! On this Pentecost day this expression has some added impact. Pentecost was an important Festival for Ancient Jewish community with both historic and agricultural significance. It was one of the three annual Jewish harvest festivals (Dt. 16:16). It was a celebration of the end of Passover (the great liberating event of Exodus) and the celebration of the day of harvest (Num. 28:26). It eventually also became a celebration that marked the beginning of the giving of the law a phenomena that set Israel a part as God’s people (Stott).

That the celebration of the harvest featured the first fruits of the harvest could not have been timelier since “first fruits” indicates that a greater harvest is to follow. As the first fruits were celebrated, God broke in and presented the first fruits of world missions. It was an earth-shattering event in Jerusalem, which continues to shutter many people’s worlds as they hear the story of this particular visitation of God. The author of Acts describes the event thus: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4).

The way this event is described invites no debate, no explanation; it simply leaves us in wonder and awe! The event shook things up; complacency had no place; things were stirred up because God showed up spectacularly to present the first fruit of God’s kingdom. The waiting was over and work had begun led by a surge of a dangerous power, which could not be easily described. It was only described as “like” wind, “like” fire. It was both a disruptive and creative event!

Before this, Jesus promised his disciples that they would receive power to do what he had told them to do (Acts 1:8) but gave no schedule (1:7). I wonder how we would have responded to such un-scheduled promise today since we are so schedule minded people! The apostles took it in strides perhaps understanding that without the Spirit they could do nothing. John Stott states it well, “As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Sprit is dead.”[1] Having waited as they prayed (1:14), suddenly the promise was fulfilled! The Pentecost event led to the greatest movement or to the creation of the community we now call the church, therefore Happy Birthday Church!

At Pentecost, God broke forth into the world and the immediate aftermath was fascination; nothing was lost in translation as people spoke.   Some have described it thus, “Pentecost was the greatest leveling event.” This is because at Pentecost, no one spoke “over” others, the person with the PhD and the one with a grade school education were brought to the same level so to speak; they babbled but amazingly in their babbling they understood each other. All kinds of barriers were broken and all communication expressed one single speech, “the mighty works of God” (v. 11).

However, as with all unusual events, there were dismissive voices that sought to distract from what was happening by attributting the amazing event to drunkness.  But Peter  would have none of such unfounded criticism, he instead  reminded those skeptics that it was only 9am!  Peter proceeded to do some narrative theologizing putting the event in historical perspective. He said that what happened was simply a fulfillment of what Joel had prophesied centuries earlier. (I am still confounded by why Peter referred back to Joel rather than the most recent speech that Jesus had given!). This particular Pentecost event broke barriers; barriers between the wealthy and the poor, natives and strangers between the schooled and the unschooled etc. When God’s Spirit visits God’s people, their realities are redefined and new life and new possibilities emerge.

God has chosen to recruit us for kingdom work. We collaborate with God’s Spirit in kingdom work. God calls us to love all people, particularly our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, to clothe the naked and the heal the broken hearted and also to confront the powers and structures of the kingdom of darkness.

At EMM we believe that righteousness and praise shall spring up before all the nations as we are moved by the Spirit of the Lord to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners and proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.  How does this look like around the world and here at home? How does the Lord’s commission look like here at Cross Roads? What missional stories can you tell? You have been filled with God’s power to witness for God.  What radical steps are you taking to witness for God as a community? What old things are being disrupted as new life emerge under the empowerment of Holy Spirit? Continue to go forth in your witness both to your area and around the world because the Good news of God’s kingdom is for all peoples.  EMM will continue to partner with you as you seem appropriate in your calling to reach all peoples with God’s good news.

Amen!

Sermon Preached at 

Crossroads Community Fellowship (CCF), Lititz PA

May 19, 2013


[1] John Stott, The Spirit the Church and the World, the Message of Acts p. 60

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