Sunday, June 9, 2019. Rev. Annamarie Groenenboom, preaching.
Scripture Readings: Romans 8:14-17; Acts 2:1-21
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I love Pentecost. It’s definitely one of my favorite days of the whole year. We get to wear bright red. It’s the one day, my husband’s classic bright red shoes fit in. Most importantly, we get to talk about the Holy Spirit. It’s the one Sunday in the Presbyterian church that we get to devote an entire service to the Holy Spirit.
Let’s look back and remember how we got here. We’ve come a long way since Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. About 50 days to be exact. In those 50 days, we’ve seen our living and resurrected Lord. And we’ve also seen him lifted up into the heavens in the ascension. A lot has happened.
I bet the disciples were wondering how anything would ever be able to top that moment. And just over a week later, the disciples found themselves up in a crowded room for a nice dinner celebrating the feast of Pentecost.
That’s right. Pentecost was not originally our celebration. It’s still celebrated to this day by Jewish communities. The “pente” part in Pentecost actually means 50. 50 days after Passover, the Jewish community celebrates God giving Moses the 10 commandments on Mt. Saini in front of all of the Israelites. Jewish people still celebrate it to this day. Many of my Jewish friends from Pittsburgh love this time of year because it’s the one day of the year, Jewish affiliated businesses get cheesecake for the staff. Because the law of God is sweet. Just like cheesecake.
I don’t think that the disciples were up in that room to eat cheesecake, but they were in that room to gather to celebrate the Jewish Pentecost. 1 of the major holidays that brought thousands of Jews from all over the world on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. And they gathered waiting for the gift that Jesus had promised them.
Suddenly a violent wind filled the whole house where they were staying and tongues of fire rested on each of them. Flames rested on each one of their heads. And then each of the disciples began speaking in a different language. Languages that they had never learned before and they began spreading the Good News. It was the perfect time for the Holy Spirit to come because thousands of Jews were in town for the festival.
We celebrate this day because of the Holy Spirit has finally come to be God’s never ending presence in the world. But, we often overlook and under appreciate the Holy Spirit. Maybe this is because we only have one day that specifically celebrates the Holy Spirit. Or maybe we just don’t understand the Spirit.
There are so many ways to describe the Holy Spirit and often our ways of understanding the Holy Spirit come from our own personal experience. In Bible study this week, we talked about our experiences with the Holy Spirit. Some of us saw the Holy Spirit as inspiring and guiding, while others experience the Holy Spirit as a comforting and empowering presence. I’ve talked about how much I appreciate our confirmands this year and they all created these amazing statements of faith. In Emma Staeger’s statement (she is graciously allowing me to share this), she said that to her, the Holy Spirit is like a blanket of love that wraps around her. All of these ways of describing the Holy Spirit are amazing.
You may have noticed that the title of my sermon is “crossing over.” It was actually chosen by our confirmands at our last class this year. Not exactly a Holy Spirity title. Crossings are an important milestone and represent a transition time throughout the Bible. We think of the Israelites crossing over the Red Sea to freedom, Joshua crossing the Jordan River to get to the promised land, and all of us crossing over to new life through baptism. These crossings give us an opportunity to see the God’s power.
Pentecost is one of these crossing over moments. This is one of the first times we see the true power of the Holy Spirit and it is a moment where the small group of Jesus disciples turns into the Church with people from every nation.
The Holy Spirit is an individual gift but it’s also a distinguishing mark of a bigger inclusive community. Yes, the tongues of fire rested on all of the people, but the Holy Spirit came when they were all together as a group. The Holy Spirit waited until they were together as one.
Just like the 10 Commandments and other laws of the Old Testament help to distinguish the Jewish community in Pentecost. The Holy Spirit distinguishes our Christian community in the festival of Pentecost. Pentecost is the moment when the Holy Spirit took a small group of disciples to being a community of people that can reach the ends of the earth.
It’s amazing that we are having Confirmation on Pentecost because Confirmation is another “crossing over moment.” Confirmands, it is a moment where you will be able to cross over from being a baptized member of the church to being an active member of Lewinsville Presbyterian Church. You are about to renew and respond to the promises that God gave you in your baptisms when you were just little babies.
During this time, I want to remind you of just one other thing. On Pentecost, the Holy spirit rested on each individual disciple in the house. It is an individual and personal gift from Jesus. The Holy Spirit could have come down in just one big “whoosh” and swept over all of the people. But the Holy Spirit took the time to differentiate between each individual person. The Holy Spirit rested on everyone. Jesus doesn’t just give the Holy Spirit as a communal gift. It is an individual gift that is deeply invested and involved in the life of every person.
My favorite part of this story is when the people outside go, “hey, wait a second, aren’t these people from Galilee? Aren’t these people speaking my language from Galilee?” At the first Pentecost, each disciple was given the gift of speaking in tongues. Spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and reaching and including every person that was visiting Jerusalem that day. Each disciple was given this gift. But, the crowd asked an astute question. Aren’t these people all from Galilee?
The Holy Spirit could have come and perfected each person’s accent. The Holy Spirit could have made it so you would think that each disciple was speaking in their first language. But instead, the Holy Spirit used the disciples as they were. The Holy Spirit used the gifts and the individualism that each of the disciples had and used each of them in their own special way.
As you grow remember that the Holy Spirit has give each one of you special gifts. Grow them. Don’t be afraid to use them because the Holy Spirit has given them to you. And your individuality gives you power. The Holy Spirit has a plan for each of you but you can only figure that out by using and practicing them.
As we listen to this powerful story and witness your confirmation, remember that God made you special with your gifts and your faith. Remember that your faith will be changing and growing throughout your whole life and that’s good. Remember that Jesus will always be present with you through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now all I have to say is “Nice One Acadia, Daeun, Jackie, Emma, and Parker.” Amen.