Summary: A sermon for Pentecost Sunday, Year B
May 23, 2021
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
Calls, Gathers, Enlightens and Sanctifies
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit’s entry on the church of Jesus Christ.
In his final hours with his disciples on the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus told his disciples that his departure would be a blessing for them. The Paraclete was coming, he said. It would only come to them after he had left. That Greek word Paraclete is slippery. We don’t have a direct translation for it. Literally it means something like “The one called to be by your side.” It’s been translated as Counselor, Comforter, Helper and Advocate. They all sound good. The one called to be by your side.
This Advocate, Jesus said, would only come after he had departed. And came it did on Pentecost! The Jewish holiday of Pentecost came 50 days after the Passover. It was one of three Jewish holidays where devout Jews were to make pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. And so on this particular Pentecost there were Jews in Jerusalem from many far lands. Aramaic and Hebrew were not their primary language. They’d adopted the languages of their new homes. They were assembled in Jerusalem using their broken tourist Aramaic to make their way.
The disciples were awaiting in Jerusalem on that day of Pentecost. And that’s when the promised Advocate breathed among them. A sound like a strong wind filled the house. Then tongues of fire settled on top of each of them. But the Spirit wasn’t just around them, it wasn’t just above them, it was IN them. They were FILLED with it!
Tongues weren’t only above them. Their own tongues were loosed and filled with other languages. Here were these very common, countrified folk from the Galilee region. And suddenly they were speaking as a global village. The Spirit moved them outwards. It can’t be contained and used within an exclusive community. It’s expansive, it’s wild and can’t be harnessed.
As Peter would explain, it was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” Not just some flesh, but all flesh. That wild, uncontainable Spirit crosses every human-established boundary. It crosses the divisions of gender and age. It utilizes men and women, queer and trans. It speaks through the mouths of babes and infants, it works through the wisdom of the elderly. That uncontrollable Spirit proclaims through the enslaved and dispossessed. It speaks a prophetic word from the mouths of those ignored by the seats of power.
The disciples must have spilled out of the house and into Jerusalem, because the foreign visitors in the streets could hear them. If you’ve ever travelled to a country where they speak a foreign language, you know what that’s like. Maybe you’re in Germany, or Malawi, or Turkey. You’re shopping, or you’re touring a museum, or you’re at a beautiful lake. And then you hear it. Somebody is speaking English. Your ears have been listening to the background babble of this foreign language all around you. But suddenly, amidst the indecipherable drone, you hear English! You start positioning your ears like satellite dishes so that you can pick up the signal better. All of the background chatter drops away and you focus in on this language you understand.
That’s what it was like for those pilgrims in Jerusalem. Suddenly, amidst the drone of Aramaic, they heard their native tongue! Their ears settled in on it. And what they heard was testimony. The word of God was coming directly to their ears. The disciples were testifying, or rather, the Holy Spirit within them was testifying. It was speaking a word directly to the hearts of these listeners. Directly: to their imaginations, their souls. In multiple foreign tongues, these Galilean disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, were sharing to the world the mighty deeds of God’s power.
God’s deeds of power. What greater deeds of divine power than those of Jesus! As the new community of Jesus, they were the first tongues of proclamation. They bore witness to the power of the divine light no darkness could overcome. They told the story of Jesus’ power of life over death. They voiced the healing power of his forgiveness over sin. They testified to the power of love over hate, the power of hope over despair, the power of joy over sadness.
The Holy Spirit filled the disciples that day. It filled them to the point of overflowing. Joy in the Lord was too great to keep to themselves. The word, the good news simply erupted from them. It issued from the mouths of the disciples and fell on the ears of the great crowd in Jerusalem. They brought this good word of God’s power to new ears in a way they could understand.