“The Power of Pentecost”
Acts 2: 1-21 ~ May 23, 2021 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United Church
Do you play favourites? I guess it’s human nature to do so. Do you play favourites? Hey…it’s just you and I this morning. We can keep our favourites between us. Coke or Pepsi? McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Burger King or Subway or Sushi? How about your favourite child or grandchild? You might say, it depends on the day! I have two children. My favourite? Well…my favourite…my favourite son is Ethan. And my favourite daughter is Mikayla. But please don’t tell them? That can be our little secret! How about your favourite holiday? Some might say “Christmas”…others….“Easter”. This morning, I’d like to throw out another contender as a favourite: Pentecost. You see, I think this feast day we gather around has never received the attention that it deserves. Pentecost is generally devoid of the pomp and ceremony of the festivals of Christmas or Easter. I mean…have you ever heard of exchanging Pentecost presents? Or gathering for a Pentecost feast? Or a Pentecost candy hunt. Me either! Sadly, Pentecost needed a better ‘P.R.’ person and, frankly, has never quite received the attention that it deserves. Pentecost is here hidden away this long weekend. Hidden away from our deserving attention. Pentecost arrives in May when church attendance is lower, and warm weather tempts, even the most faithful church attender, with outdoor adventures. Yet, this year, seems to present a new opportunity to discover this powerful festival. This year, we find ourselves spending time closer to home, and attending virtual church. And we have this amazing opportunity to discover this powerful celebration…the celebration of Pentecost. So, get ready! Get ready to experience the power of Pentecost. Because, I think you will be surprised…and amazed…and perhaps even may find a new favourite holiday as we discover the power of this day: the power of Pentecost.
What unites us? Different things have the power to unite: some of them bad and some of them divine. The current pandemic is the former. It has shown that all the boundaries we had previously constructed are artificial. Covid has crossed geographical boundaries; it has moved over lines of race and religion; it has touched the rich and the poor, white collar, blue collar and those living on the street. It has united us as people as we deal with a common enemy. One which has threatened our health, our economics, and our future. In many ways, Covid has united us.
On the other hand, there are divine things with the potential to unite…that is what Pentecost celebrates. Pentecost celebrates the powerful spiritual unity which gathers us together. It took a long time to arrive…the people remember how truly separated they were back in the days of Babel. You have to go all the way back to the opening stories of Creation in the book of Genesis. Stories of human separation are told ~ Adam and Eve in the garden choosing to wander away from the intimate connection of God. There were stories of the separation within family ~ Cain and Abel demonstrate this separation as brother is capable of murdering brother. And eventually the separations and divisions grow exponentially. The Tower of Babel was a time when the different languages of the world were spoken, when the people were scattered, and there was no understanding between them. Yet…there was a promise. There was a promise given that, one day, God’s spirit would be poured out upon all the people. Spirit poured out would mean that God’s righteousness, God’s mercy would be revealed, and enacted, and they would understand one another as sister and brother, as common flesh, as Children of God. The power of Pentecost was that day! The power of Pentecost demonstrates the uniting power of God ~ uniting us despite our language barriers, despite our cultural separations, despite all that would divide…the power of Pentecost is God’s baptizing spirit alive and at work in the world!
I appreciated the Wednesday coffee group indulging my crazy idea of having us read this text collaboratively because I truly wanted us to hear the different cultures that were represented. We need to hear the countries read by different readers, in different tongues. They would have been as difficult to pronounce to first hearers, perhaps, as they were to us today. Because each of those foreign lands represented ‘the other’. People’s tongues would have pronounced them in anger and disgust. The Parthians, and Medes, and the Elamites…surely there were jokes about ‘those’ people that were in the air. There were the Mesopotamians, and Judeans, and Cappadocians…what were ‘they’ doing here! ‘They’ don’t look like us or speak like us! So many ‘others’ were present. And more still, the Asians, the Phrygians, those from Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Crete and Arabia. Surely people must have felt on edge with so many ‘others’ who were despised, hated and (at the very least) misunderstood. Yet…somehow…there was not hatred in the air. They understood one another. God’s spirit came upon the gathered crowds and they were united in a common understanding of ‘the other’. They began to hear. As ‘the others’ were speaking in another foreign language, they began to hear in their own. They heard their struggles; they heard their joys; they heard their love; they heard their commitment…that day they truly were united as they heard…for the first time in a long time…in a long, long time….they heard one another. Pentecostal power equipped them to hear!
I believe that it is significant to note that God’s power did not unite them through the giving of a single language. God’s Pentecostal power gave them the ability to hear one another without giving up their unique elements of who they were. Pentecost was a celebration of the mosaic of God’s people; Pentecost is the beholding of the tapestry of God’s diverse creation; Pentecost is an appreciation of the symphonic unity of the whole orchestra of God’s creation. And that power of Pentecost…that was poured out then…continued to be poured out upon the generations for the following 2 millennia, and beyond! Pentecost is the lived expression of our faith. It is the engine which allows us to be the church…to do the work of Christ…to be the united / in all of our diversity / the church united and alive in the world! Perhaps you are starting to see why Pentecost might be a contender for a favourite Sunday? Last Sunday, as we came to the end of Easter, we explored the question: ‘Christ has Risen…now what?’ Pentecost is one answer to that spiritual question we must ask. God’s Spirit has been poured out upon us…that’s what! God’s Spirit has been poured out and is equipping us for the work of mission and ministry…that’s what! God’s Spirit poured out upon us…uniting us…empowering us…to be ‘The Church’!
Where do you see the power of Pentecost alive today? Pentecost power is alive in the aftermath of the Fleetwood apartment fire that occurred just a short 9 days ago. Flames spread quickly…yet we have discovered, so does God’s spirit! The Abbey Road apartment fire erupted on the evening of Friday, May 14th and firefighters proceeded to battle that blaze for more than 12 hours. 56 families have now been displaced, several without any fire insurance. Pets lost…memories lost…so much lost that evening. It is a tragedy on many levels. In a Facebook post on the Fleetwood community page, one displaced resident tells the story of how supported her family was. A team of 6 people, trained to deal with disasters, were dispatched on-site offering vouches for food, clothing, medication, and hotel accommodation. We have become active in this outreach. Gwen has made our Thrift Store available, by appointment, to any families wishing items to just come and receive anything that they wish. I have been in touch with the management company and offered the church’s assistance in ways that might be helpful. “I don’t know what it might look like; however, I’m wondering how your neighbouring church might help?” Can we be a bridge for donations set to be picked up…can we be a space for small meetings that might be allowed amidst Covid…can we be a listening ear to those who need to talk. Who knows what the call of the church might be in this case? God knows…and we must listen to how we are being called to serve. The levels of community outreach has been nothing short of amazing! The Surrey Firefighters have started a fundraising campaign. A ‘Go fund me’ page has started up and donations are being offered. The flames spread quickly that tragic night, but God’s Spirit is spreading faster and faster uniting our community to care for brother and sister who find this to be their time of need.
In the days of church decline, one many wonder if the church is losing its thunder…if the church is dying? And I would argue that whenever we lose sight of the importance of Pentecost we lose this part of our identity, and thereby lose our thunder. And for the ‘nay-sayers’ and the ‘doubters’, the Pentecost story becomes the essential part of the equation. The church will lose its thunder; the church will decline; the church will fall apart whenever we distance ourselves from the power of Pentecost. We cannot be the church alone…we can never do this alone…the promise of Pentecost is the promise of God’s presence in all of our expressions in ministry. Whenever we allow ourselves to become a ‘country-club’ of like-minded people, the church has already died a quiet death and we find ourselves presiding over a nice funeral. Yet, when we open ourselves to the outpouring of God’s Spirit, the power and potential of God’s people is possible. And we are God’s Spirit-filled people.
So, what’s your favourite? Christmas…Easter…Pentecost? Why have a favourite? Let’s have parties at all three! God has come…Emmanuel! Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let us celebrate at Christmas! Jesus Christ is Risen today…alleluia! Christ has risen, he has risen indeed. Let us celebrate at Easter! And today, let us celebrate a third time! The Spirit is poured out upon us one and all. And so the church is born, the living, thriving heartbeat of God alive in us and through us. Praying, living, working for ‘thy Kingdom come’.
Happy Pentecost everyone! Amen.