Bible Readings Joel 2: 28-32a Acts 2:1-21
On a very hot June day last year, yes you heard me right, very hot June day... We were staying with our daughter Laura and son in law Ben in Brunei... At that time, they were based in the jungle but very randomly their house was right next door to a Christian church... so this Sunday morning I hopped over the fence to church... I was greeted by lovely smiling faces and I understood their welcome salamat datang... but that was it... the next two hours I didn’t understand much that was being said... the only thing I picked up on was the Bible reading which I knew was from Nehemiah as it sounded similar to our pronunciation... that one word was like a ray of light helping my darkened understanding in a world whose language was foreign to my own....
How about you, have you ever been in a place where you understood very little of what was being said? I know for our overseas students it’s an everyday dilemma as they adjust to a new and foreign culture.... So, what’s it like to hear someone speak to you in your own language when you’re surrounded by people with a strange tongue?
Get a hold of that and we might get a bit of a glimpse of what it must have been like for the 15 odd different ethnicities that suddenly heard their own languages being spoken in a place they never would have expected to hear it being spoken...out of the mouths of a group of Galileans... working class villagers uneducated in foreign languages!!
It must have seemed very random...
It must also have seemed very random for the disciples out of whose mouths these languages were flowing.... but was it?
Pentecost is a Jewish festival which happens 50 days following Passover. Remember Passover was the feast during which Jesus was crucified. So 50 days following the Passover is Pentecost, also known as the feast of weeks or Sha’vuot. This festival celebrates the giving of the law to Moses and bringing in the first fruit of offerings from the harvest just passed.
As it was a holiday it drew as many, if not more, to Jerusalem than the Passover did. So, the city was filled with devout people from many places.
It makes you wonder; was it random, that God established the new covenant of salvation through Jesus Christ, birthing the church through an outpouring of God’s Spirit on the same day as the Jewish people already celebrated the giving of the law that established the Old covenant? Or did God know exactly what He was doing?… God wasn’t doing away with the old, but filling the Old with new meaning.
In sitting with this passage and our passage from Joel there are so many places you could go but this morning lets concentrate on two.
Firstly, the way the Spirit not only emboldens the disciples to move out of hiding into the public arena but also enables them to communicate across cultures so that all are invited to hear what God is up to in the world... the way the Holy Spirit creates community across divides. As Matt Skinner says “One of the miracles of Pentecost here is people aren’t asked to give up their cultural identities and language and learn a new one, everyone is welcomed in hearing their own language.”
Our reading from Joel points ahead to a time when the Holy Spirit will also be poured out across the young and old divide, the gender divide, the slave and free divide...
Read with me Joel 2: 28-29
I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on servants—men and women alike..
Little is known about Joel but he was one of the 12 minor prophets called to preach to the southern kingdom of Judah. Scholars’ believe he was one of the earliest writing prophets and have dated his works to around 835 BC making him a contemporary of Elisha. One commentator notes “Joel often drew upon natural imagery—the sun and the moon, the grass and the locusts—and in general seemed to understand the reality that truth must have an impact on us in our daily world.” God’s promise of the Holy Spirit was and is a necessary part of enabling God’s truth to impact us and our world through us.
To fully grasp what God was up to in creating community across divides at Pentecost it helps to go right back to the beginning... Genesis 1:27-28 (NLT)
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
The Hebrew word for reign here is kabash which literally means to make the earth useful for the benefit and enjoyment of human beings.
Right from the very beginning, before evil entered our world God’s calling to us was to be a blessing to the earth and a blessing to each other through the work of our everyday lives, to find our meaning and purpose through our daily lives in our families, work places and world and this included all creation, all cultures. This is known theologically as our cultural mandate.
As one commentator (Nancy Pearcy) notes “Our calling is not just to “go to heaven” but also to cultivate the earth, not just to “save souls” but also to serve God through our work. For God himself is engaged not only in the work of salvation but also in the work of preserving and developing His creation. When we obey the Cultural Mandate, we participate in the work of God himself.”
This call was for all cultures across all language divides and this outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost showed this in a very real and poignant way.... The disciples are empowered to speak some 15 different languages, not random languages… the Holy Spirit empowers them to speak the particular languages of each of the different people groups gathered.
As the church is birthed through the power of God’s Spirit, it’s clear from the start that the Spirit’s empowerment is a gift through which the church is enabled to participate with God bringing God’s kingdom of forgiveness, healing, blessing and fulfilling purpose to all creation...
What was Jesus’ call to us as his disciples? Matt 28:18-19 tells us read with me “Then Jesus came close to them and said, “All the authority of the universe has been given to me. Now go in my authority and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
I love the way Amy Ogden puts it “We cannot miss this! The gift of the Spirit is not given so much for the disciples themselves, but for the outsiders listening. God’s gift reaches outward to those outside of this immediate circle of Jesus followers... One mark of the Spirit’s gifting is that it empowers us to connect to others.” and it could be added, connecting with others meeting them where they are at, speaking their language not ours and where people struggle to understand to interpret what God is doing in a way that can be understood.
Which brings us to the second stand out point, another mark of the Holy Spirit’s work among us… the gift of prophecy... It was one thing for the Spirit to capture the attention of those who didn’t know Jesus through the startling sign of languages, it was quite another to help them make sense of what was going on and this is where prophecy comes in.
If there’s one gift that has been misunderstood and misused across the centuries it is the gift of prophecy. So, what is prophecy? The simplest definition is to bear witness to Jesus today, but a broader definition puts it this way “prophecy is truth-telling. It is naming the places and ways where God intervenes or initiates in the world. It is a component of proclaiming the word of God and identifying God's salvation at work through Jesus Christ.” Prophecy interprets how present events might connect to God and God’s purposes in the world...
Peter hears the people asking in verse 7 “how can this be, how can these people be speaking our language?” Filled with the Spirit Peter steps forward and shows us what prophecy looks like... Peter’s no biblical scholar but he uses scripture to help interpret what God is doing in the present moment. Commentators point out that through The Prophet Joel’s writing “Peter offers a theological basis for what the crowd is experiencing, and for what they must do to share in the salvation God has prepared.” They must call on the name of the Lord.
The Spirit at work through Peter gives Joel’s words new meaning for a new generation. Prophecy, through the power of the Spirit, recalls promises, images and stories of God’s activity in Scripture from the past giving it voice in the present... Prophecy through the power of the Spirit also recalls ideas and promises that point toward the future.
Peter’s saying hey, this crazy stuff you can’t make any sense of here isn’t unexpected its exactly what the prophet Joel was talking about when he said God would pour out his Spirit on all people... what's more this promise of the Spirit is not only for us but for all future followers of Jesus and this salvation is for anyone who calls on the name of the Lord.”
Our reading today is only the beginning of Peters sermon. The main thrust of his sermon is to drive home to whoever would listen that Jesus, the one they had crucified truly was the Messiah they had been waiting for... in 2:36 he says “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” Peter connecting the happenings they are experiencing to God and God’s purposes in Jesus through the power of the Spirit.
God in pouring out the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was filling an old tradition with new meaning.
Peter, in interpreting or prophesying about what was going on, used scripture to help the people understand God’s actions.
Understand that the gift of God's Spirit poured out on them indicated God was doing a new thing in human history...
Understand that the Holy Spirit has come to mark the church, past, present and future -- every single one of us who call on the name of Jesus -- as belonging to God and as God's agents of change in the world.
Understand that the different languages they were hearing were not the result of them being drunk or crazy...
Understand that God was at work here, equipping people to communicate to others in a language they could understand about God was up to.
Understand that the Spirit prompts us to engage in prophecy, giving witness to Jesus Christ in a way that people who don’t know him can grasp and understand... bringing a ray of light into the darkness for those who have no understanding of who Jesus is.
So what does all this mean for us today?
Pentecost means we can all celebrate and be filled with the gift of the Spirit.
Pentecost means as we fulfill our cultural mandate to be God’s agents of blessing to the world we are fully equipped with all God’s resources to do so through the power of the Spirit.
Pentecost means we can ask God to give us the right language for the right time to help people interpret what God is up to in their neighbourhood. What is the language God has gifted you with? It might be a spoken tongue or it might be the language of music, or art, or science or story.
Pentecost means every language, every culture is celebrated and welcome...God’s kingdom is not about making us all one culture, its about redeeming every culture and finding unity through the Spirit whilst retaining our rich diversity.
Pentecost means every generation, every person old or young, male or female, every socio-economic group is called and empowered by the Spirit through scripture, through dreams and through visions to witness to Jesus Christ through sharing our stories of faith.
Pentecost means helping our families, our work mates, our communities understand what God is up to and inviting them in to what God is doing in Jesus Christ.
Pentecost means our DNA as God’s children is marked by the presence of God’s Spirit and no matter where in the world, we might be called to we have the universal language of love and peace found in Jesus enabling us to participate in Spirit created community wherever we roam.