"Tongues, as of fire"-A Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, Acts 2:1-32
Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. An occasion that is often referred to as the birth of the church…the first green shoots of new life, the beloved community, emerging from the fertile soil of Jesus’ own empty tomb. It could also be said that on Pentecost Jesus’ friends and followers, officially, make the great move from being disciples to becoming apostles. As I am sure you know, the word “disciple” means follower, an apropos title to describe Jesus’ entourage during his earthly ministry…those women and men who followed Jesus and shared in his itinerant ministry, as they traveled from town to town across the Galilean country side and then on to Jerusalem, where our narrative from the Acts of the Apostles takes place on this day.
The title “disciple”, used in the gospels, both describes the twelve named followers of Jesus…people like Peter, James, and John…but, also, many, many others…those women and men, some named, like Mary and Martha, but most not, who joined Jesus’s growing band of sisters and brother somewhere along the way. These were the blessed eye witnesses of Jesus’ life…his teachings and healings…his teachings about the transformative love of God that is entirely present in the everyday lives of humans, like us, bringing light and hope and direction and purpose…his healings of all those who came to him with broken hearts and broken bodies, an expression of God’s desire, in the midst of our very human limitations, to make us whole…to live a life that is fully alive…a life that matters and participates in the creation of God’s peaceable kingdom here on earth, just as it is in heaven. And, in addition to meaning follower, the title, “disciple”, also has the connotation of being a student. So, Jesus’s disciples, as they followed him along the way, learned from him…soaked in his teachings and miracles…the wisdom and signs…that formed them to be Christ’s own hearts and hands for the very life of the whole world…after Easter, after Jesus had ascended into heaven and is no longer physically with them.
But, as I suggested, on Pentecost these disciples of Jesus, his followers and students, take on a new title…that of “apostle”…which means, “one who is sent”. They are no longer sitting at the feet of Jesus, learning what it means to continue his mission and ministry of un-ending love in and for the whole world. Instead, now they are the sent ones…apostles…sent out into the world to be themselves a living incarnation of the very same love they witnessed first-hand in and through Jesus. Further, it is specifically on the day of Pentecost that these apostles are empowered with the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit…spiritual power poured into their lives…power like tongues of flame…that is heat and warmth which produces all the energy required to fully empower Jesus’ message of hope and healing that they will bring to all those to whom God is now sending them.
Thus, after they have been formed as disciples of Jesus and just as they take on their new role as apostles…ones who are sent…at Pentecost, they are given the very last thing they need to fully live into the “beloved community making mission” that has been set before them…and that gift is, of course, God’s own Holy Spirit, God’s resurrection power, dwelling in their very lives…entirely present with them wherever their mission takes them and to whomever they go. Thus, indeed, in this Pentecost moment, the church, which is always made up of people, not bricks and mortar, but people sent out to serve together on a world-altering mission of creating communities defined by love alone…the Church…is, indeed, fully birthed and fully empowered on the day of Pentecost…some two thousand years ago.
And as you may know, the Feast of Pentecost, actually has a more ancient history…going even further back than that moment two thousand years ago when the apostles first received the Holy Spirit. For Pentecost was, at its beginning, a pilgrimage festival established by our Jewish ancestors to celebrate the seasons…focused on agriculture…asking God’s blessing on spring’s planting…that the weather would be good…the climate healthy…the soil rich…and the stalks strong…that in the fall a harvest of abundance would be produced to fill God’s people with all the strength and energy needed to be the loving, liberating, life-giving people of God they were created to be. And, again, the Jewish celebration of Pentecost was a pilgrimage festival, which means that Jews and those who followed the Jewish religion in other nations and tribes would travel from far and wide…from all over the Mediterranean world…to offer their Pentecost prayers and sacrifices together, as the people of God, gathered as one, in Jerusalem.
And, there are, indeed, at least two things the ancient Jewish festival of Pentecost can then help us understand about our own Christian celebration of Pentecost. The first is that Pentecost, as a Christian celebration, remains to be all about growth…about the sprouting of the church’s mission in the world. For indeed the church buds and grows and thrives to this day to reap a harvest of love…that looks like people, just like us, falling in love with God in Christ. People, in whose hearts, the Holy Spirit is planted and then watered in baptism…that then become disciples of Jesus themselves…until his sacrificial love is written on their bones…till the love that Jesus both teaches and demonstrates for us becomes the air they breathe, the path they follow, the defining influence in their lives…which leads to owning their own apostolic mission…becoming “sent ones” themselves…that venture out boldly into the communities and places where they work, love and live…planting God’s seeds of love in new hearts…in the lives of those people they get to serve and care for…those they get to tell about the love of God…and, thus, the cycle of planting and growing and harvesting…begins all over again, the cycle of seed time and harvest, until God’s peaceable and life-giving kingdom is planted and producing good fruit in all the world…in every heart that beats...just beginning in Jerusalem.
The second learning I want to mention that we can glean from the ancient Jewish Festival of Pentecost, is the who…that is defining to whom God is sending us. For indeed, we are sent forth to bring the glorious message of salvation that Jesus’ resurrection inaugurates…a message that is planted, grown and harvested in human lives…to, unsurprisingly, other humans…and more specifically…every human…every person with life and breath and without distinction. Remember, the Jewish Festival of Pentecost was a pilgrimage festival. Thus, people came from all over the world to be present. It gathered representatives of the whole known world together in Jerusalem. And, as you recall from our Acts reading, the very first gift the Holy Spirit pours into the lives of Jesus’ very first apostles, at the Pentecost Festival, as they literally stood among people gathered from far and wide, from many tribes and languages, was the gift of speaking in tongues, meaning languages, other than their own…so that they could share the life-altering Good news of God’s love planted in our world in Jesus…to everyone gathered…the little United Nations, if you will, gathered on that very day in Jerusalem. Thus, the church is born…it is planted…it lives and thrives for the life of the whole world…and the blessing of everyone in it…women, men, young, old, black, brown, white, rich, poor, sick and healthy…whoever they love…however they live…wherever they call home.
And, now, meaning today, God’s mission of planting, growing and harvesting…God’s mission of forming a beloved community that produces the fruit of love in the lives of everyone who walks upon the face of the earth…is our mission…if we but choose to accept it…as Jesus’ own apostles, the sent ones, alive and active today. And we, like the apostles gathered in Jerusalem, are, likewise, empowered for our love sowing mission, our own seed time and harvest ministry, by the Holy Spirit…God’s own Spirit…that dwells in us…that, like tongues of fire, has been set aflame in us…enlightening our heart and minds and bodies with a divine power that makes all things, even the seemingly impossible, entirely possible…that we might bring new life…Spirit fired life…to the countless numbers of people, the rainbow colored people of God, who surround us. And if living into this mission seems somewhat overly optimistic, consider this list…perhaps something in it sounds personally familiar to you.
Community First Village, iAct Interfaith Action, Elsa England Elementary, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Kairos and other Prison Ministries, Learning Without Limits, Girl Scouts Texas Service Unit, Austin Transitional Center, Dress for Success, Life after Loss, El Buen Samaritano, Dance Discovery, Backpack Coalition, Cub Scout Pack 150, Central Texas Interfaith, Texas Baptist Children’s Home, Cub Scout Pack 174, Boy Scout Troup 157, Foster Angels, Ronald McDonald House, Great Promise, Meals on Wheels, Water for People, All Saints Episcopal Day School, Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools, Creek People, Austin Philharmonic, Rodeo Austin BBQ Buyers Group, Cattlemen for Cancer Research, The Settlement Home, Buckner Retirement Services, Civil Air Patrol, Women’s Story Book Project, Dell Children’s Hospital, Swan Song, Central Texas Treatment Center, UT Camp Texas, FRC, Seminary of the Southwest, Eanes Educational Foundation, Casa Marianela, Mother’s Milk Bank, University of Texas Student Organizations, Navajoland, State Employees Charitable Campaign, Central Texas Food Bank, Poets Pantry, Rutledge Elementary, Baylor Scott and White Lakeway, Central Texas Homeschool Prom, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, Thursdays in Black, NYOS Charter School, Texas 4000, One Human Race, Traces of the Trade, Austin Dialogue Institute, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Camp Allen, AdvoKate, Pearson Ranch Middle School, Valley View Elementary Booster Club, Episcopal Veterans Fellowship, Age of Central Texas, North Austin 4-H Club, Keep Austin Fed, Girl Scout #1113 and #2557, Great Oaks Elementary, Neighborhood Association, Caring Meals, Episcopal Relief and Development, and Habitat for Humanity.
That’s a mouthful and beyond any doubt not an exhaustive list. It is only what we, together, have listed on the “Where We Give and Love” poster hanging on the back wall of our worship space. We hung it up and began its creation last fall during our annual stewardship season, which we call “The Season Giving Thanks”, to help increase our awareness of the “Butterfly Effect” that spreads out from the love, God’s love, that takes shape and is formed in this beloved community, in our human lives, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, that then spreads out far and wide. And, by all means, you are very welcome to add to the list at any time...let’s fill it up and start a new one if need be. Though Pentecost was not specifically on my mind when we created this list…today…today it stands as a living, loving expression of our shared life as apostles, the sent ones…on our seed time and harvest mission…a mission of planting and nurturing God’s seeds of love in the hearts and lives of all whose paths we cross…most especially those most in need of our care, attention and blessing.
Pentecost is so much more than an annual Feast Day in the life of the Church, it is our permanent attitude and disposition. It is a trumpet like call to always be the “sent ones” that beautifully incarnate together God’s own apostolic, seed time and harvest mission that we get to share in…empowered by God’s own Spirit…that exists for the very life of the whole world. Amen.