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Pentecost Sunday

May 19, 2024

David Collins

Acts 2:1-47

Happy birthday, church!  Today is Pentecost Sunday. The Church’s birthday! We are just a few years away from our 2000th birthday, which is kind of a big deal. I think that when you’re getting close to 2000 you don’t worry so much about whether you’re 1997 or 1998. I think you more just celebrate that you’re around 2000 for a decade or two. On Pentecost, we remember that around 33AD, after Jesus inaugurated the new age when the heavens and the earth are one, and ascended or subsumed into that new reality, that his first disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem for a Jewish festival, and the Holy Spirit descended on them like flaming tongues and suddenly everyone who was there, and it was a lot of people from all over the world, could hear them in their own language.

After all that, Peter stood up in the middle of the crowd and gave his first big sermon which started out with maybe the best opener of all time. He gets where everyone can see him and hear him and says, “Okay! Okay! Everyone settle down! You need to know something right off the bat…WE ARE NOT DRUNK!”

What? Let’s look back at that story.

Acts 2

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

This is what we have here in the sanctuary today. Isn’t it cool?

4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now, this is different from the event that the New Testament describes as glossalia, or speaking in tongues, that euphoric non-linguistic speech that reminds Presbyterians everywhere we left the oven on at home and we’re so sorry but we really do need to go see about that.

No, this was a unique miracle in the Bible that was not only useful in the moment, but symbolic of everything that was about to happen in the book of Acts. God’s spirit is about to go forth from Jerusalem and embrace the whole world.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

Now this next verse is a doozy. Bear with me.

9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’

I’m sorry. It says Hold for Applause right here. Am I supposed to just wait? I went to three years of seminary for that and I’m still paying it off.

So here is where this story starts to really apply to us here and now.

12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13 But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

Look at that response. People were either amazed and perplexed, or sneered and made up stories about them. When God moves in a crowd, it divides people. That makes me think about us and the way we do church in our context.

Speaking solely for myself, and probably not for anyone else here….I really want people to like me. Or more accurately, I don’t want anyone to dislike me. Am I alone in this? Does anyone else here really hate criticism? Even from strangers?

We all hate that right? And so sometimes we edit what we say and who we are in order to head off criticism before it even happens. And so we end up just blending in to our surroundings. We become little chameleons. And there is indeed less criticism. But there’s a high cost, too.

No one is amazed. No one is perplexed either.

No one thinks we’re drunk, and maybe that’s the problem.

But it wasn’t for Peter, on that day the church was born basically 2000 years ago. He wasn’t drunk at all, by the way. Just really into Jesus.

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,

    and your old men shall dream dreams.

18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,

    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;

        and they shall prophesy.

19 And I will show portents in the heaven above

    and signs on the earth below,

        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

20 The sun shall be turned to darkness

    and the moon to blood,

        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

22 ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

And then Peter unpacked how the Bible points to Jesus in so many incredible ways, but most importantly, how his resurrection demonstrated that he truly was God with us, and that now nothing is outside of his purview.

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ 38 Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’

40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’

Save yourselves from this corrupt generation. Some things never change, do they? The world back then was the same as it is today. It’s not Peter and the apostles who were drinking too much.

Our world is drunk.

It shouldn’t be. I wish it wasn’t (And drunk is the generous word for it. Insane is another. Evil is on the table too.) But drunk works too. Because there are many intoxicating substances in the world that lure people into a state of numbness, distraction, and disorientation.

Our world is drunk on power, constantly chasing control and dominance. It’s drunk on consumerism, endlessly buying and accumulating, while leaving so many empty and unfulfilled. It’s drunk on individualism, prioritizing personal gain over community and connection. It’s drunk on ignorance, refusing to seek wisdom and enlightenment. It’s drunk on fear and hatred, perpetuating division and violence instead of embracing love and compassion. It’s drunk on profit, valuing wealth over generosity and fairness. It’s drunk on misinformation, spreading falsehoods and eroding trust. It’s drunk on status and image, valuing superficial appearances over inner worth.

In this intoxicated state, the world is stumbling and falling, hurting itself and others. It’s making decisions that are irrational, destructive, and often downright evil.

Our world is drunk.  And if it’s going to stay that way, I can see our church responding in two ways.

The first way is that we can be the Designated Driver.

Designated Driver

We can be the sober, sensible ones, providing a stable refuge where people can find clarity and peace. This isn’t a bad idea. People need to know that there are actual grownups around.

In a world that feels so chaotic and unpredictable, being a place of stability and sanctuary is huge. The church can be an anchor, a place where people can come and feel a sense of calm and reassurance.

This is a place where people can catch their breath, reflect, and find some solace. This is a time every week where, despite all the craziness around you, there’s something solid and unchanging: God’s love and the support of this faith community.

Being the sober, sensible ones means we show wisdom and maturity, things the world really needs right now. It means being the “grownups” who keep it together, responding to conflict with peace, and a patient smile. That makes a lot of sense. The world needs a designated driver.

But on the other hand, maybe instead of just being the safe and sober one, we need to be filled with a different spirit.

The Life of the (New) Party

If the world is drunk on power, why don’t we get hooked on justice? We don’t have to kill the party, we just want to change the menu. What if we were a church that was so dedicated to lifting others up and fighting for equality that it inspired people to join the cause.

Instead of being drunk on consumerism, we could buy rounds of purpose and fulfillment. And get really excited about everyone trying what we’re making: meaningful work, and creative expression.

Instead of being addicted to individualism, we could be hooked on community and connection. And just not be able to get enough of genuine relationships and supportive community. Every time I experience that, it’s intoxicating. But I don’t chase it. Why? I should and so should you!

You know what else the world is hook on? Ignorance and misinformation. But instead of lecturing about it. What if they saw us tripping on wisdom and enlightenment and we insisted that they had to try it, too.

So, maybe we don’t need to just be the designated driver, keeping everything safe and steady. Maybe we need to be filled with this different spirit, one that makes us stand out in the best possible way, but not because we want to stand out. Just because it’s fun and it feels good.

When we live with this kind of passionate, spirit-filled purpose, people will take notice. They’ll be amazed and perplexed, maybe even sneer a bit, but they’ll know there’s something real and transformative happening here. And we won’t care what they think, because we’ll just be really into what we’re doing, and happy to share it, not because we need the validation, but just because when something makes you feel good, you just want others to have some too.

41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

In a day, the church went from this small group of people who personally knew Jesus to a three thousand person community. That’s one heck of a party. And they were really changed! That’s the craziest part. It’s not like they sobered up the next day and were like, “Well this was fun. I’ll always remember it.” And went back to their regular lives. No they stayed at the party and made it permanent.

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

It was a gathering where everyone was welcome, where people felt seen and valued. They weren't just acquaintances; they were a family, sharing their lives in the most intimate and meaningful ways.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.

Now, granted, they were fortunate to live in the era of miracles at the outset of the church. That was a great time to join the party, when you could witness all that the book of Acts describes first hand. But the awe is still accessible to us.

We may not see miracles in the same dramatic fashion today, but God’s power and presence are no less real. Everyday miracles like transformed lives, communities built in love, acts of radical generosity, peace in chaos, and justice pursued are signs of God’s work among us. We can cultivate this awe by expecting God to move, sharing our stories, practicing gratitude, and praying boldly.

44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Boy do I wish more people knew this was in the Bible. And not buried deep in a poem or a prophecy but right here in the Church’s founding story. Communal well-being? Social sacrifice? It’s right here!

46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,

This wasn't a once-a-week event. It was a daily rhythm of life. They broke bread in their homes and ate together every night. This was a community that celebrated life together, every single day.

47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.

People noticed! They weren’t just a blessing to themselves, but to their broader community. The first sermon that sparked their growth as a community might have been Peter’s, but the ones that followed were seen more than they were heard. They were given by people whose names aren’t written down, who truly lived out their faith among their neighbors. They were people who loved like Jesus, even though they had only heard about him second hand…you know…people like you and me. They earned the goodwill of all the people. Some by being the serious and sober designated drivers of their community, and some by being the new life of the new party, offering others a shot at the life of their dreams because they were bold enough to share what experienced.

And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

The party just kept getting bigger because it was so attractive, so compelling, that people couldn’t help but want to join.

This isn't just something that happened way back when; it's a real possibility for us now. The world is desperate for this kind of community. People are drunk on power, consumerism, individualism, ignorance, fear, hatred, profit, misinformation, status, and image because they are searching for what the early church had.

They are looking for:

A place where they belong.

A place where they can be amazed and filled with wonder.

A place where their needs are met and they can meet the needs of others.

A place where they can find genuine connection and daily support.

A place that is alive, growing, and full of hope.

And it’s not really a place at all, is it? It’s a people. They, we are looking for our people.

So let's be that community. Let's throw the best party ever. Let's be a church where people are high on God's Spirit, where our love for one another and our commitment to justice, generosity, truth, and humility make us stand out. Let's create a place so full of joy, peace, and love that people can't help but be drawn in.

This is the kind of community the world is desperate for. This is the kind of community that we can be. Let's stop blending in and start standing out. Let's be filled with the Spirit, living in a way that makes people ask, "What does this mean?" and then invite them to join the best party ever.

Let’s be that church. Let’s show the world what it truly means to be filled with a different spirit, the Spirit of God. And let’s celebrate together, every day, the amazing things God was done, and is doing even now.



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