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Acts 2: 1 - 21
Pentecost Sunday

 Pentecost Sunday, the end of the Easter Season for the Christian church, the beginning of a new liturgical season.  Today we celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit suddenly appears as a cacophony of languages, a strong wind and tongues of fire that rested on the crowd of devout Jews assembled with Peter and the other ten disciples gathered in celebration. So it was during this great assembly of Christian believers and non-believers that the Holy Spirit comes upon them all.  Known in Greek as the Paraclete, this was the Spirit, the advocate, the helper, the comforter that Jesus promised his disciples would come, after he ascended to heaven.   Jesus, knowing he would be leaving, assured his followers that he would not leave them without his presence.  “ ... I tell you that I am going to do what is best for you. That is why I am going away. The Holy Spirit cannot come to help you until I leave. But after I am gone, I will send the Spirit to you.” (John 16. 7 cev) Now, Pentecost was one of the three great festivals when the Jewish law required the attendance of all Israel at the temple, and Jerusalem would be thronged with pilgrims. Pentecost was also called the Feast of Weeks, because it fell seven weeks or a week of weeks after the Passover. Pentecost means ‘fiftieth’ in Greek, and this was the fiftieth day after the offering of the first-fruits of the grain harvest during the feast of unleavened bread. This was also the day tradition held that the Law of Moses had been given to the people of God so, a doubly auspicious and holy day for Jewish people.    What a significant day for the coming of the Holy Spirit; the day of celebration of the Law of Moses.   On the anniversary of the day when the Jews covenanted with God to uphold the Law, the Holy Spirit comes upon them anew, and this people gathered becomes empowered to bring to the world the new covenant, a new way of being God’s people, the way of Jesus.  A very auspicious day for the Holy Spirit to make its appearance indeed! Fire, wind and a babble of voices, an interesting trio, caused me to reflect some of the significances of those 3 manifestations of the Spirit.    Fire.   I’m sure you’ve heard references in the bible to refining fire.  This refers to times of serious challenges in our lives that can test us in various ways, and how God can strengthen us with God’s presence in these times.  It is akin to the purifying of gold or silver using fire, when the dross, the impure elements in the metal are burned off.   Fire unchecked can be destructive, yes.  But fire can also be cleansing, it burns off nasty bugs or dead wood and grasses so new growth can start after fire.  When we were in Australia, we learned about the banksia tree that has seed pods which only open after there has been a forest fire and the ash becomes one of the nutrients that helps the seeds to grow.  Fire can bring an opportunity for new growth and renewal.  Wind.  The breath of Holy Spirit blew through the meeting place.  Makes me think of when you open up all the windows in your house on the first really warm day of spring.  The wind blows through the house, blowing out the stale air of winter, blowing the dust and cobwebs right out of the house.  A freshening up, getting rid of the staleness. Multiple languages.  Jews from surrounding lands convened together for this special festival day of Pentecost, each speaking in the language of the place from where they came.  A veritable United Nations of Jews. Yet each understood the other, regardless of what language they were speaking.  On this Pentecost day, it was like Holy Spirit had infused everyone with their own personal translators.  Christ’s Holy Spirit is available to every person, from every nation under heaven, and speaks to each of us in a way we will understand, if we are open to hearing it! Now, Peter and the other followers of Christ cued into what was happening, they recognized the Spirit of Jesus at work.  This was what they had been waiting for—Jesus’ promised paraclete, the advocate, the comforter, Jesus’ helping Spirit that we read about today from John’s gospel. They had to wait 50 days for her to come, and when she did, she came with aplomb.  Tongues of fire, a great wind, babbling voices and multiple languages.  It must have been bedlam in there! We sometimes call the Holy Spirit “the Comforter”, but I suspect that this Pentecost might well have made some of those present uncomfortable!   This was the Spirit of Truth directly from the Lord, speaking the words of Jesus through Peter’s words that day, and later to the other disciples, strengthening them as they testified about Jesus. For those who were there that day and hadn’t known Jesus, they didn’t get it, they couldn’t comprehend what was happening; they couldn’t understand the effects of the Holy Spirit on the believers because they had no knowledge of the promise of the risen Jesus and that the Spirit would come upon the disciples.  Peter had to explain to them what it was all about, and that no, they weren’t full of new wine; they were instead full of the Spirit of Christ. Pentecost Sunday is a good annual reminder as to what the church is really for and what being a Christian is all about.  Pentecost reminds us that we don’t have to go it alone, that the Spirit of Christ will guide us, will empower us, will bring us the strength to do what God calls us to do, in ways we never thought possible, and supports us even when we’re called to respond in ways that take us out of our comfort zones.  Like sharing stories about our faith, and inviting others to join us.  I bet for many of you, just hearing me say that made you feel uncomfortable.  So, let’s consider the impact that the Spirit of the risen Christ had on Peter.  We heard how he told the Jews that had gathered about Jesus, how Jesus was the Messiah, who was raised from the dead, because even the evil of the world could not kill him.  Then he invited the entire assembly of Jews to repent of their sins and be baptized!  Really?  Was this is the same Peter who three times denied knowing Jesus on the day of his crucifixion?  Were not these the same disciples who locked themselves behind closed doors in fear after Jesus was crucified!  What prompted this complete turnaround?  Where did they get the bravery, the strength of spirit to overcome their fear and preach the Lord’s message?  The Advocate, this encourager from Christ gave Peter the inner fortitude and strength to speak boldly and fearlessly about Jesus.  How empowering this Spirit is!  Yes, the strength of Holy Spirit had infused Peter and the disciples—and they were just ordinary guys who heard Jesus call to follow him.  And we know they were anything but perfect, they questioned Jesus, were unsure of his teachings, but they carried on, kept praying together, worshiping together and working together.   They did what they did because they had the strength of the Lord guiding them, leading them, prompting them right out of their comfort zones!  The fire of the Spirit had burned away their fears, the breath of the Spirit of Christ inspired them, filled them, invigorated them with strength to proclaim the good news of Christ, and all who were present had their ears opened to hear the fresh message of the Messiah.  It is “(t)hrough the power of the Holy Spirit, (that) the church receives the authority to proclaim the gospel of the risen Lord. ... Jesus Christ offers salvation to all, and the church exists to proclaim it.”[1]   And you know what?  This Holy Spirit -- the Helper, the Advocate, the Counsellor remains with us today, ready to be called upon to help us to renew our lives and renew our church. Holy Spirit can and does fall upon everyone, sons and daughters, young and old, men and women.  The fire of renewal, the fresh wind of change, ears opened to hear many different ways God calls for new ways of being and doing church -- these are all manifestations of Holy Spirit’s presence with us.  This is the call of the Christian church, the call of all who proclaim themselves to be Christians.  So, when the opportunity arises, take a deep breath, say a wee prayer for strength from the Holy Spirit and share with someone what your faith, what your church means to you.  And invite them to come to church.  Then pick them and bring them with you for a couple of Sundays.  Share the regional ministry’s facebook page with someone, give them the website address.  It’s not easy to come out of your comfort zone, but remember we don’t go it alone, Holy Spirit is with us!  And this is the way of the Church has been empowered since its beginnings, actually since even before that fateful Pentecost Sunday.  That is the message that our Psalm for today brings us.  “O Lord, how manifold are your works, in your wisdom you have made everything! ... You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104: 21, 30)

[1] Kristin Emery Saldine, in Pastoral Perspective for Acts 2: 1-21, Day of Pentecost in Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol 3 p. 6.