Summary: A Pentecost sermon focusing on the promise of God's enduring presence with us through the Holy Spirit.
The story you just heard is the story of the first Pentecost day. Today is Pentecost Sunday, and that is going to be the framework for our message this morning. So that we all start on the same page, let me explain a bit of the history of Pentecost. Pentecost comes from the Greek word, “Pentekostos,” which means fifty. It’s the 50th day after the Passover Feast. Originally, the Jewish people celebrated this as the “Feast of Weeks,” during which time Jews were instructed by God to bring a new grain offering and present it to the Lord. So that’s exactly what’s happening here in the passage from Acts we heard a few moments ago.
The crowd that is described in Acts 2 consisted both of followers of Christ (about 120 people, we are told in the first chapter), and Jews who had come to Jerusalem in celebration of the Feast of Weeks. Christ, before his ascension, had instructed the disciples to stay in Jerusalem and to “wait for what the Father had promised,” but they were certainly not the only folks in Jerusalem at this time; hundreds, maybe thousands of faithful Jews would have been in Jerusalem as well to bring their first grain offering.
Then, as the Christ followers were gathered in the place they were staying, a home, suddenly, “a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house.” The sound was so loud it caught the attention of many others in Jerusalem, and in a short time a crowd had gathered around this dwelling, where the believers, now filled with the Holy Spirit were speaking in other languages. But the Holy Spirit wasn’t only with those who were speaking, it was also with those who were hearing, for they all understood what was being said! Even though there was quite a cosmopolitan gathering of folks in this place, each heard the Word in their own language! On that day, hundreds of people encountered God, were transformed by God, and began to share the good news of God in Christ Jesus. The church began.
I have to tell you all, I often read the Bible with a tinge of jealousy. It seems I never have these dramatic encounters with God. I regularly wonder what it would be like to be among the crowds listening to Jesus as he taught. I wish that I could see a dove descending from heaven, or experience the sensation of the Holy Spirit resting like a flame on my shoulder. It would be awe-inspiring to talk to God in a burning bush, or even just to hear him calling my name as I slept. I think I speak for most, if not all, of us when I say that we simply don’t have these dramatic sorts of encounters with God. And yet, we wish we did, don’t we? We wish Christ would lay his hands on us and heal us from whatever is afflicting us. We wish God would speak to us in the midst of difficult decisions, making clear the best path forward. We want the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s presence with us in those times when we feel isolated and lonely, or as we face the realities of this chaotic world. But it just never seems to happen that way. So we come to this place, we gather in church. We gather here to praise and thank God our Savior, but I think deep down inside, many of us also come here because we’re hoping for an encounter with God.
In that way, we are not unlike the believers huddled together in some house in Jerusalem 50 days after the Passover. They were waiting for what God had promised. They didn’t know when it would come. They didn’t know what it would look like. All they knew was that Jesus told them to wait. I’d imagine they were a little afraid. I suspect they were somewhat overwhelmed. Christ was gone, and all they had to go on were his instructions to wait in that place. We’ve got instructions, too. We have God’s promises. But that doesn’t change the desire I think we all have to truly and deeply encounter God in our lives.
Here’s the thing. You can bet that we Christians are not the only ones in this world who are longing for encounters with God in Christ Jesus. I almost think it’s something that’s built in to us humans. You see, God created us to be in relationship with him, and so, as Saint Augustine so poetically put it, “our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.” Friends, people all around us are looking for greater joy, peace, and fulfillment in their lives; and here is the answer!
The enduring message of Pentecost is that God is always with us. On the last night with his disciples, Jesus explained that he would not be with them much longer, but that the Father would send another Companion to be with Christ’s disciples forever. Pentecost is the realization of that promise. But we so easily forget that the promise wasn’t just a one-time thing. The promise is that the Spirit is ALWAYS with us. Here we are, searching for something greater, longing for an encounter with God, but God is all around us.