Pentecost is next Sunday. Next Sunday, we’ll be celebrating Pentecost with a concert by Bobby Jo Valentine, but we won’t really be exploring Pentecost itself. Just celebrating it. So this Sunday I want us to remember the miracle that was Pentecost.
Pentecost was a Jewish holiday. In Hebrew, it’s called Shavuoth, but in Latin, it’s called Pentecost. Pente – five; Pentecost – fifty. And you get this whole ‘fifty’ thing going on because 50 days after the Passover, the Jewish people would come to the Temple with the first fruits of their harvests to give thanks to God for another year of abundance and life.
Shavuoth, or Pentecost, had a second meaning, too- one that grew to be even more important to the Jews. Pentecost commemorated God’s giving of the Torah to the Jewish people.
There the Hebrews were, 50 days after having escaped the slavery of Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, out in the middle of the wilderness, huddled at the base of Mt. Sinai in fear and trembling- escaped slaves afraid to go forward, afraid to go back, bickering, snapping, alienated from themselves and each other. You know! The usual picture of the Church!
But then with the wind of heaven and the fire of God, Moses came down Mt. Sinai with Ten Commandments and the Jewish people for the first time learned Who They Are, and What Their Purpose Is.
You… You are the Chosen People.
You… Are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
And love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.
Some 1200 years after that event on Mt. Sinai, just 50 days after Jesus was raised from the dead, Jews from all over the world gathered at the Temple for Shavuot (for Pentecost). They were from Pamphylia and Parthia, Mesopotamia and Media, Cappadocia and Libya- the first fruits of all over the world- all gathered at the Temple to give God thanks.
And huddled together in one place, afraid to go forward and afraid to go back, bickering and snapping and alienated from themselves and one another… were the terrified disciples of the Risen Jesus: the Church.
Suddenly, from the heights of heaven came a mighty wind and the fire of God, and it blew over the disciples and rested as flames upon their heads, and the Church for the first time learned Who We Are, and What Our Purpose Is. Who are we? We are the Beloved Children of God. What are we to do?
We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are to love our neighbor the same as we love ourselves. We are to love God and our neighbor so much, that we overcome our fear, go out on a limb, and tell our neighbor about God, and Jesus, and the Gospel, and Life, and what it’s like to live without fear.
And Peter opened the door of that upper room, and went out with the other 11 disciples, and Peter began to preach his very first sermon to this gathering from every country in the world.
“God says, Peter cries out, “God says, ‘I will pour out My Spirit on everyone. Your sons and daughters will proclaim My message; your youth will see visions and your aged will dream dreams. Yes, on both men and women , I will pour out My Spirit… and whoever calls out to the Lord for help will be saved!'” (Acts 2:16-21)
Some 26 years later, the apostle Paul will write in his letter to the Romans, “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back again into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness to our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:14-17)
Pentecost is about the power of love to cast out fear. Pentecost is about the power of God opening the door, and empowering us to tell other fearful people about the freedom that God intends for us. The freedom from fear. The freedom to love. The freedom of community.
Fear, Beloved ones: We know what it is to fear. We know in our bones the chilling fear that keeps us huddled in one place, afraid to go forward, afraid to go back, bickering and snapping and alienated from ourselves and those around us. The fear when the doctor says, ‘It’s cancer.’ The fear when your child says, ‘I’m gay.’ The fear when your spouse says, ‘I’m leaving.’ The fear when you’re boss says, ‘Pack up.’ And we don’t know what the future brings, and the unknown looms threatening and dark, a whirling chaos of panic…
And through the dark, whirling fear comes a wind and a fire: a clarity and a light. And God says, “Who are you, Chosen and Beloved? And we reply: “We are Yours, O God.”
Whose are you, Chosen and Beloved ones? We are Yours, O God
Whose are you, Children of God? We are Yours, O God.
Whose are you, God’s Own? We are Yours, O God.
“And,” God continues, “what are you to do?” And with a courage not our own, we stand and hold on to each other, and proclaim the truth that God has placed in our hearts: We are to love You, Lord, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are to love our neighbor the same as we love ourselves. We are to love them so much that we will tell them the truth about fear, and life, and death.
And, God whispers gently, “Who loves you beyond fear, beyond pain, beyond death?” And an old catechism rises in our hearts: yes, Jesus loves me; yes, Jesus loves me
In the Affirmation of Ministry we proclaimed this morning with Wendy, we said bold words. “Lord, I offer my whole being to Your purposes. I will not dishonor my soul with hatred, but offer myself to You humbly as a guardian of nature, as a healer of misery, as a messenger of wonder, as an architect of peace. Lord, use me to bring good into the world. Through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.”
What if we were to take these words to heart? What if we were to tape them up on our bathroom mirror and etch them in our hearts? What if we were to say, “Here I am, Lord; take me?
Friends, that’s what Pentecost is. When God courses through our beings, and we say, “Here I am, Lord. I offer my whole being to Your purposes. Here I am, Lord. Take me.”
Here I am, Lord; is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.
In the Name of the One who will never let us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Scripture for May 13, 2018 Romans 8: 14-17
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness to our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ- if, in fact, we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.