Pentecost Sermon – Sunday 9th June, St Petri Lutheran Church
Stephen Schultz – Assistant Bishop for Mission
“I will Pour Out My Spirit”
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’
Peter addresses the crowd
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 ‘“In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[c]
‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them’ (Acts 2:4).
Faith is a very personal thing for us: which is a good thing – you want it to be personal. But in Australia, more than most other countries, faith would also seem to be a very private thing.
I have taken plenty of couples through pre-marriage counselling and it surprises me how few of them have had faith conversations with each other. They are going to spend the rest of their lives together and haven’t even discussed the subject of their faith.
Nearly 11,000 Lutherans filled out the national church life survey a few years ago, your congregation included. Only 14% (1 in 7) feel at ease talking about their faith and look for an opportunity to do so (you were a bit better than that at 16%). A further 55% mostly feel at ease and will do so if it comes up – though we have already established that in Australia it doesn’t seem to come up.
In the surveys for children, they were asked what they were good at doing when it came to faith activities. Their lowest response (36%) was ‘talking to others about God’. They were also asked what faith activities they engaged in frequently. The lowest response (10%) was ‘talking to their friends about God’.
This is not surprising, given that only 28% of the children surveyed had frequent discussions about God and faith in the home. Only 16% had conversations in the home about faith doubts/worries.
I’d suggest that keeping our faith in Jesus private is not such a good thing. It acts in direct contradiction to the work of the Holy Spirit, something we celebrate on this day of Pentecost.
Faith is a very personal matter to each of us. We are all on our own faith journeys and have our own faith stories to tell. And there are plenty of reasons as to why we might not want to tell these stories; why we might want to keep our faith private.
Maybe we don’t know what to say and how to say it. Maybe we don’t want to be seen as a religious fruitcake by those close to us; afraid of being misinterpreted or misunderstood. Perhaps we don’t want to be seen as pushy or judgmental or as undermining the right of others to believe what they want to believe. There are lots of reasons why we might want to keep our faith private.
I reckon the first disciples had their own reasons for wanting to keep their faith private. It was certainly very personal to them. They had been through an extraordinary roller coaster with the events of the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
You get the distinct impression they were sticking pretty close together in those early days. At the end of Luke’s Gospel account we hear that they returned from the ascension to Jerusalem and ‘stayed continually at the temple, praising God’ (Luke 24:53).
The temple was the most public place in Jerusalem, which seems to contradict the whole privacy thing, but they could blend in with the other worshippers as they carried out their praise of God.
Likewise, our worship as Christians on a Sunday blends in easily enough with our current society. You don’t have to stick out too much simply by going to church. You can do what you want here, as long as it happens within the confines of these walls.
The first disciples also gathered together privately, away from the public eye. In Acts 1 we read: ‘they went upstairs to the room where they were staying…they all joined together constantly in prayer’ (v13-14). And in today’s reading we heard: ‘when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place’ (Acts 2:1).
We too gather in small groups in our homes to discuss faith matters in private amongst kindred spirits. And that’s great – we should not give up meeting together to encourage one another in our faith, as the writer to the Hebrews urges us to do (10:24-25).
But the day of Pentecost shook things up a little when it came to the privacy of a Christian. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit altered the landscape for Jesus’ disciples in a very significant way.
If I was in their shoes (sandals) I’d be wanting to stay under the radar, to keep a low profile. The Jewish authorities were still a bit antsy, looking for signs of trouble. It would be best to keep blending in and to keep those uncomfortable faith conversations about a risen and living Lord private, out of the public spotlight.
The Holy Spirit obviously missed that memo! They were gathered together in a house when the Spirit came upon them. And look at how the Spirit chose to manifest himself at that time. There was:
“A sound like the blowing of a violent wind’, they ‘saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them’ and ‘all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them’.
Real discrete! And even all of that melodrama would have been fine if it could have been contained in the house where they were gathered. But, without any explanation as to how it happened, they are suddenly not in the house anymore.
They are now out in a space where a crowd of however many thousands can bear witness to this phenomena. So much for blending in, keeping things private and staying under the radar.
The only place I can think of in 1st century Jerusalem where you can have such an assembly of thousands from a range of cultures in the one place at the one time is at the Temple complex.
Pentecost was a high festival where the population of Jerusalem would have swelled in number with religious pilgrims from throughout the ancient world. It is at the Temple complex where they would have gathered for their religious festivities, especially at 9am in the morning, as we know it to be.
And here was this group of 120 disciples of an as yet unnamed sect, who were suddenly declaring the wonders of God in a whole range of different tongues, languages. They were now firmly in the spotlight. They had attracted a great deal of attention and it was not all complimentary – ‘they have had too much wine’.
But it’s not wine they had their fill of – it was the Spirit – a far more potent, intoxicating force that was unloosing their tongues in the public domain. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them!
Historically the Holy Spirit had empowered certain individuals to play a role in God’s unfolding plan of salvation. But on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit opened the mouths of all of them. It was precisely what had been foretold by the prophet Joel:
‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days’ (Joel 2:28-29).
The good news of Jesus is to be proclaimed in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth because everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
You better believe that your faith is personal – it is intensely personal because it relates directly to your eternal salvation. That’s how much your relationship with Jesus means to you.
But you also better believe that it is not private. The Holy Spirit was not content to allow the first group of disciples to keep it private and his opinion hasn’t changed when it comes to every generation of disciples since then, our generation included.
There are times throughout history when our lips seem to have been silenced, times when it has been easier to keep our faith to ourselves and only speak about it if it happens to come up.
But the Spirit of God continues to loosen the tongues of Jesus’ disciples so they can bear witness to the good news he is to us.
And this is not the task of a select few. It is not just the task of a pastor or a lay worker or a handful of leaders in a church community. It is the task of all of God’s people because that is who the Holy Spirit empowers – no exceptions.
That’s what happened on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was poured out on all of the disciples and then poured them out into the community to share the good news.
The Holy Spirit has been poured out on us through the waters of baptism and is poured out on us whenever we gather to hear his word and receive the Supper of our Lord. But we don’t remain contained within the walls and privacy of a church.
The Holy Spirit releases us into the public domain where he can communicate the Good News of Jesus through us! The world still needs to hear that they have a Lord and Saviour in Jesus.
You may try and tell me you are not equipped for this task. You do not have years of seminary training under your belt like a pastor does. Nor had those first disciples, by the way – the crowd even recognised that they were just ‘Galileans’.
Even so, you can insist you have not received the gift of communicating in other languages like they had – your Phrygian and Pamphylian is a little rusty. You’d have a point – if you happen to mix a bit with Phrygians and Pamphylians.
But I’m guessing that the people you mix with are family and friends, work colleagues, people with shared interests, people who you live with in community, people like you. I’m guessing that you do speak their language (Barossan English).
They need to hear the wonders of God in a familiar tongue not a foreign tongue. As the crowd at Pentecost said: ‘we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’
You might not know exactly what to say at all times and when to say it. But that is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is still bursting to get this good news of Jesus out to the world and he will empower you to do that in your corner of the world. The Spirit is poured out on all disciples – no exception, you included.
So may God empower you with his Holy Spirit as you declare the wonders of God to the world in which you live. May God’s Spirit open your lips and loosen your tongue, so you can speak the good news of Jesus. This news is very personal to you and the people who are also personal to you need to hear it. Amen.