The disciples had to re-group and get it together without him. Probably not an easy task after your beloved, charismatic teacher has gone. But they persevered and went back to Jerusalem to an upper room. They were joined by others and spent their time in prayer and devotion in the days following. There were about 120 of them by now and Peter took charge. He led them to replace Judas with Matthias so the disciples who were now called apostles were complete with 12 once again. They began to rebuild their lives.
Fifty days had passed since Passover and that fateful Friday that Jesus had been crucified and three days later rose from the tomb. It was now the festival of Shavuot or Pentecost and they were gathered once again.
We will now hear our scripture today from the Book of Acts. It will be different than all other Sunday’s. It will be visual and it will be fast and loud and I will retell the story when we resume. Watch now the story of Pentecost.
This particular piece of scripture is anything but gentle and sweet. Our celebration of the ‘birth day’ of the church is rather joyful and sentimental; we’ve got red balloons to signify the Spirit, we sing hymns about the gentile spirit of God and we’ll have cake at coffee hour to celebrate its birthday. And that’s good I’m not pooh-poohing that. But we need to be reminded that the day the disciples were empowered by the spirit to witness the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Christ was anything but gentle. God crashes their party in a pretty significant way.
It was jarring and scary. Gathered together suddenly, the Bible says, SUDDENLY a great sound came from heaven. It was like the rush of a VIOLENT wind and fire was involved - lots of fire, tongues of fire that came upon each person who was there. And then, if tongues of fire wasn’t enough, they began to speak in other languages. It was not jibberish that no one could understand but it was intelligible languages so that everyone who was in Jerusalem that day could understand and hear their message.
People thought they were crazy! Drunk at 9:00 in the morning! But Peter sets them straight. “They are not drunk, they are merely a manifestation of the prophet Joel’s words. The spirit will come and your sons and daughters will prophecy, the young men will have visions and the old men will dream. And it there will be blood, fire and smoky mist, the sun will be dark and the moon will be blood-like. Everyone, EVERYONE who calls out the name of the Lord will be saved”.
Well, day by day, the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved. Labor pangs of the church’s birth begins. We’ve come a long way – we’re all grown up now!
Yet, I believe, we still need that rush of a violent wind, that infusion of the spirit. We need to be empowered once again to witness, not so much about the church but about Christ himself, let’s go back to the basics. If you want to add numbers then go tell like the discples. I think it’s that simple…on one level. Get real excited about the transformation of your life with Christ and then let it be known. From Judea to Samaria, from Norwalk to Norwich let it be known that you have been saved in some way, shape or form.
The disciples didn’t witness about their church and it’s worship and meetings and outreach. The early folks were ‘Followers of the Way’; they didn’t have budgets, meetings and minute takers, they didn’t follow the prescribed lection of scripture or have doctrinal debates.
They witnessed about what they had experienced living with Jesus in their lives. The spirit infused them with grace and hope and the living Christ within them. They gathered together and prayed and had a nice meal. They were no more of a church as we know it than that proverbial man in the moon.
Simply, they gathered to eat and to be in fellowship and then they lived their lives telling others. This was, and still is the great gift at Pentecost. That God sends the Holy Spirit to gather us, unite us, inspire us and reconcile us as brothers and sisters in the faith. God calls us to Christian community then sends us out.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian, pastor, who was martyred at the hands of the Nazi’s once said this about Christian community, “Christian community….is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship….what may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God…the more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”1
Thank God for what has been given to us, it is a gift and we should be open to where God’s spirit is leading us.
The Holy Spirit reminds us of Christ, the Holy Spirit is the Christ within us. We are the Church and the Church is inseparable from Christ. You cannot have one without the other. We do not exist for ourselves, we are not an exclusive club and we are not just another social service agency dolling out services.
The Church is to be the face, hands, heart and intelligence of Christ in this world. Teresa of Avila, mystic Carmelite nun of the 16th century says this so beautifully in her prayer:
“God of love, help us to remember that Christ has no body now on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes to see the needs of the world. Ours are the hands with which to bless everyone now. Ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.” Amen.
The Holy Spirit reminds us of Christ; the Holy Spirit is the Christ within us. We are the Church and the Church is inseparable from Christ. You cannot have one without the other. We do not exist for ourselves, we are not an exclusive club and we are not just another social service agency dolling out services. We are alive because of Christ!
In 2,000 years the world has changed and we still are witnesses to Christ’s message. How do we witness in a post modern world where soccer games trump Sunday School? Where the Sunday ‘Times’ and Starbucks has replaced the Gospel and communion? How are we to be the face, the hands and heart of Jesus in this world?
I believe that the Church’s question isn’t so much how can we get people in here but more importantly how can we, individually; take our spirit infused faith in God outside of these four walls beyond mission outreach and into our everyday living. We need to feel the red hot flame of love, of the Holy Spirit above our heads everyday because surely that is a reminder of God’s love through the saving redemptive act in Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit comes, we celebrate in community gifted by God, and now we are to take it out in Wilton and beyond because we are all Christ has. It might be intimidating, but God will provide you with what you need.
Eventually, after picking themselves up off of the dusty floor, the disciples left that room spiritually scarred by the Holy Spirit. If we read further in the Chapter we know that they shared their witness with others about Jesus and his miracles, about how he healed blind beggars and prostitutes, about how he went up against the authorities and never wavered in his convictions and love for God, about how Jesus plucked them from their meanial existence and gave them hope, about how Jesus was buried and rose again and how the disciples baptized believers to be Christ followers. 100’s of them. 1000’s of them day by day. And so, the church grew, and we will too.
1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘Life Together’, Harper Row Publisher, 1954, p. 30.