The Good News of Pentecost - Rev. Michael F. Bailey

The Good News of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-13
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
May 15, 2016

Acts 2: 1-13: When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested[a] on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Sometimes sounds can comfort us, can’t they? Voices, music, and the sounds of nature can soothe our souls, quiet our spirit, and even encourage us. Perhaps we hear a favorite song on the radio, a beloved hymn, or find ourselves reading a deceased relative’s special Psalm in worship. Sometimes we’re captured by the theme song of a childhood TV show! At other times, we listen to our voicemail and hear a friend’s voice we’ve not heard in some time. What do you hear from time to time that comforts and encourages you? 

I heard some accents this week that I loved hearing! Unexpectedly, I received a trip to west Tennessee to visit my dad. From his home, we embarked on what his wife, Leanne, called a “heritage” tour. We visited Holly Springs, Mississippi, an antebellum town my grandfather served as pastor for First UMC from 1950-1955. The church building is unique! Built in the 1830’s, the church plant included the parsonage in the complex. There was a door next to the organ that went upstairs to the pastor’s study and a door in the pastor’s study that went into the parsonage’s bedroom area. My grandmother used to say that it wasn’t uncommon to find folks wandering around the parsonage looking for the parsonage potty on Sunday mornings, when the church facilities were filled! They did build a separate parsonage in 1961, thank goodness. 

From Holly Springs we headed to Oxford, Mississippi where my father received his undergraduate degree from the University of Mississippi. There, we toured the beautiful campus and several other sites. Oxford is an amazing small city with a rich literary heritage and a place where musicologists collected the music of the blues. It’s also a culinary epicenter. One evening, I found myself in a small restaurant; a converted small grocery presided over by James Beard, award winning chef. There, I paused and soaked in the sound of the voices around me. I heard the accents of my childhood; North Mississippi and the Delta. Those sounds comforted me and somehow embraced me with hope in their unchanging nature. 

 (As an aside, while I was in the restaurant, Leanne said to me, “Mike, Morgan Freeman is coming in behind you.” Morgan was seated 2 tables over from us and later the waiter came by and asked me to tell Morgan how good the chef’s special was! I did this with aplomb and Morgan said, “I need your business card to come see you if you’ve led me wrong.” Sadly, I didn’t have a card and couldn’t help but think, “Wow, if I’d connected with him, what a voice that would have been if I could have recruited him for lesson and carols…especially since he’d played God in one of his films!” As a running joke, at every other place we dined I asked, “I wonder if my friend Morgan will show up?”)

The sounds of familiar voices and accents comforted me. I wonder if it was like that for all of the pious Jewish people from all over the world on the first Christian Pentecost? Here they were, on a religious pilgrimage, and suddenly, by an act of God, they were hearing people speaking in their own native languages. You may know how this is. Perhaps you’ve been in a non-English speaking land, off the beaten track for tourists, and then your ears hear English spoken in an American accent. I’m sure there was some comfort and encouragement in hearing their own tongue long ago on the first Christian Pentecost.

But, here’s what vitally important, the greatest comfort for those global citizens long ago, wasn’t in the familiar tongue, but in the content of what was spoken!

Think of the world these people lived in, and you can easily understand why the content of what was spoken was so hope filled for them. They had come to Jerusalem filled with the religious expectations that only a high holy festival could engender. In the history of Israel,  God asked the people Israel to always celebrate when the angel of death passed over the Jewish captive’s homes in Egypt. After their escape, 50 days later, Moses and the people Israel arrived at Mt. Sinai and were given the gift of the law. God then commanded Israel to always celebrate this gift, fifty days after Passover. When we Christian folk, writing in Greek, began celebrating the birth of the church on the Jewish holiday, 50 days after Passover, we used Greek to name it: penta-costae, which means, 50 days.     

So, on this day, Jewish folks either remaining after Passover or newly arrived for the Jewish festival, crowded into the small city (about the size geographically of the area bound by Hobbs, Friendly, Green Valley and Benjamin; Friendly Shoppes and Center combined). And in those close confines, 120 followers of Jesus were gathered in a room. They’d been choosing a replacement for Judas, praying and waiting.

(There’s a lesson in that isn’t there: being together, praying and waiting on what God promises through Christ.)

And then it happened: from heaven came a sound like a mighty rushing wind. (And we who live with occasional tornadoes know what that sound is like. After every tornado a news reporter asks someone what it sounded like and they all say “a freight train.”) A sound like a freight train came from heaven, heard by all in the small city. And then, in rich imagery for courageous, impassioned speech, the passage speaks of divided tongues of fire upon all the disciples, and they were filled with the Spirit of the blessed three-in-one.

The first miracle followed; the miracle of a locked in, inward directed group, facing outward with courage. That’s something we all know the church needs today, isn’t it?

The followers reached out. The city was a place where all spoke Hebrew, but folks from all over heard the disciples proclaiming in their own language and the comfortable accented tones of home. And the world citizens were puzzled asking, “Are not all these Galileans?” In other words, these are NOT the educated elite of the city, they’re the country bumpkins of Israel, how can this be? 

At first, I sure that the familiar sounds of their home language and accents comforted them, but then the message, the content, took hold and the hearers were thrilled. We know why they were thrilled when we consider the world they lived in; a dark and seemingly hopeless world.

Their world was ruled by a cruel, military dictatorship; one that ruled with an iron fist and in the blink of an eye would erect a cross, bring out the scourging lash or slam a cell door shut. Theirs was time where the dictatorship excised high taxes from an already impoverished citizenry. It was a time where women were treated as animals and children like property. Slavery was global and accepted as a fact of life. Their holy nation was ruled by puppets and the line of David was a mockery. The religious system was compromised and corrupt. It was a dark time.

And into this darkness the Holy Spirit spoke through the disciples a word of life, light and hope. The disciples shared an amazing, simple truth: “a loving God is even now doing deeds of power.” In the face of a global dictatorship, a corrupt Davidic line; a compromised priesthood; in the face of death, darkness, injustice, disease and evil, the disciples proclaimed a loving God was more powerful than all of these dark things and doing deeds to overwhelm all that is base and de-humanizing.

Peter followed up. He rose and focused the Good News message: The Spirit would be poured out on ALL flesh, not just the elites, the outwardly righteous by the law, the wealthy and the powerful–as the belief had been. Rather, all meant all: the poor, the weak, the broken, the rejected, the broken, the Jew, the Gentile, the free and the captive, the young and old, women and men: all meant all.

And then he proclaimed that no matter what cataclysm comes into life, even the very disintegration of the world, ALL who call upon the name of the Lord would be saved. 

And that’s the heartwarming, comforting, hope-filled message of Pentecost. No matter what language or accent it’s delivered in! It is a timeless message, and one offered to us today!

In our world, where we find so much rancor, divisiveness, exclusion, racism, sexism, classism, hatred and fear….

In our world where it so often it seems that darkness and evil hold the upper hand…

In our world where the church argues about who loves whom while souls are lost and children are hungry….

Into our darkness, the Spirit speaks still of God’s wondrous deeds; of the young men and women and of the wizened wise alike responding to the Spirit’s leading. The Spirit speaks still of all who call upon the name of the Lord receiving the beauty of wholeness, salvation, no matter what world dissolving, cataclysmic event life brings their way!

And’s that’s the message of Pentecost for us today. Let’s hear that message, live and share the hope and love it contains to a world that needs this good news now more than ever before.  

Sharing starters:

Share with your group what “sounds” bring you comfort.

Share with your group if you’ve ever heard your language or accent unexpectedly.

Share with your group about the comfort you receive from hearing that God is doing powerful, loving, good deeds in our time.

Share with your group where you see/sense God’s deeds in our times.

Share with your group the comfort you receive from knowing God’s Spirit is poured out on all.

Share with your group the comfort you receive from knowing that no matter what universe dissolving event people face, all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.