Scripture Reading: Acts 2:1-11
Way back in the Gospel of Mark, near the beginning, there was the story of John the Baptist. People flocked from all over the land to come to him to be baptized.
They would come and meet him at the Jordan River where they would confess their sins and then be baptized by John.
But John knew that his baptisms were simple acts he would perform to help people be cleansed of the sin in their lives. His baptisms were simply a way of people getting themselves ready for the next step.
John baptized with water, but he was always quick to point out there was something far greater coming. Someone was going to be coming who is far more powerful than he.
While John’s baptisms were important, they weren’t the final ritual. The one who is more powerful who is to come will baptize you too, but instead of with water, he will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
John was, of course, preparing people for Jesus and the ministry he would provide to the people.
John knew he was a prophet, one who was called by God to point people to someone very special. He knew he was preparing people to meet Jesus, and he knew Jesus was a very special man. He knew Jesus was the Son of God, and that he would come to change the world.
Throughout his life Jesus continually pointed people towards God as he taught and healed. He kept telling them what the Kingdom of God was like as he told parables, stories to them.
And on several occasions Jesus told them he was going to send them a helper to be with them after he leaves them.
And so, after Jesus shows himself to over 500 people after his resurrection, and now after he has ascended into heaven, we pick up the story on the holiday called Pentecost as described in Acts 2.
Pentecost, while we celebrate it a particular way today, was a Jewish festival. In the Old Testament it was referred to as the Festival of Weeks or the Festival of Reaping, as it generally closed the harvest season with the bringing in of the wheat harvest.
The disciples were together in a house on the festival day, and while they were there a strong presence filled the room and came upon everyone.
This was the Holy Spirit.
Just as Jesus had promised, he sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples so that they could continue to do his work in the world.
And it’s pretty clear the disciples were transformed by these little tongues of fire which settled upon each of them.
If we read on in Acts 2, we hear the following:
“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’” (Acts 2: 5-11)
By the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples were speaking in such a way that people from all kinds of nations were understanding them in their own languages.
These are devout Jews from every nation in the area, from all sorts of countries, who are in the city for the harvest festival. And they are astounded by what they are hearing.
Let’s take a look at who is there.
There are people from the East represented by Parthian and Medes. These are people who would be considered enemies of the ruling Romans in the region.
There are people there from Mesopotamia and Elam, these are former empires who had once invaded Israel.
If we look at Cappadocia and Pontus, we see people representing the edges of the known world. These nations were far away from Jerusalem.
And what about the Egyptians, the Libyans and the Arabs who are there? These are the nations to the south.
And it’s clear that on the day of Pentecost God was making himself known to the people from these areas. He was revealing himself to enemies, to those who live in the wilderness and to those who are on the borders.
As I looked over this great insight shared with me by a colleague, I began to wonder what this motley crew of individuals from various nations might say to us today.
God, through His Holy Spirit, gave a gift to the disciples. This gift changed their lives in an instant. No longer did they just have the memories and stories of Jesus in their heads, but now it was in their hearts and on their tongues!
Clearly they knew Jesus was special. They knew at this point Jesus had returned to be with God, because they saw him go. But it wasn’t until the Holy Spirit descended upon them that they really were moved in a powerful way to share his story with the world.
And so, as they spoke to a great variety of nations gathered in the city, it was the Holy Spirit which translated their words into the languages of those gathered. People from enemy nations; conquering nations, wild nations, neighbouring nations.
It causes you to ask the question, if God can work in these groups of people, who can He work in today?
As people who call Carman United Church our spiritual home, and as a people who acknowledge God is working in and through us, who are the ones that might be like the nations gathered around in Jerusalem?
Who are the enemies, the wild ones, the neighbours?
As I think about it, there are many examples.
Those who were gathered in Jerusalem from these various nations were all Jews. They followed Jewish traditions and believed in God.
When I think about these people in our communities, there are many who say they believe in God, but also consider themselves strangers to the church. I meet many people who claim a belief in God, but also many would say they have an affiliation with a church. Yet they will also say they rarely go, if ever.
For instance, for many of the funerals I do the funeral home calls me and they tell me a member of the church has died. “Oh no!” I think. Then I ask, “Who is it?”
Then the funeral director gives me a name that I don’t recognize, but the family insists they belong to our church. This happens far more often than you think. I’ll even bring the name to some of you, and sometimes you’ve never heard of the person either.
When I meet with the family to discuss the funeral, it usually works out that their parents came here, and maybe they came when they were a kid. But then someone will say, “They haven’t come in years.” Which usually translates to 50 or 60 years.
So there are many people in our community who claim a church connection. That’s great! But does it really mean anything?
A belief in God and a long distance relationship with a church isn’t what we see in the book of Acts. The disciples were together, celebrating the harvest in a busy city. And then their lives were changed when a gift from God entered their lives.
It was when they received the Holy Spirit themselves when things really started to take off. In a city full of people who believed in God, but had not encountered Jesus, the Holy Spirit made a huge difference!
Because the disciples then moved out from the house and into the street to share Jesus with others. Others who were longing for a relationship with God, but until they too heard of Jesus Christ and also received the Holy Spirit, they truly didn’t have the relationship they were looking for.
How do we know this? Because thousands joined the disciples that day.
What are people missing in the world today? They may believe in God, in fact almost everyone you talk to in Cape Breton would say they believe in God.
But do they truly know Him?
I would argue they do not. If they did our churches would look very different today.
We have received a great and wonderful gift Jesus promised his followers. We can be filled with the Holy Spirit which gives us a personal connection with God.
What is the Holy Spirit?
If we look to John 14 we hear Jesus describe it.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you… I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:15-17, 25-26)
The Holy Spirit is a helper in life sent by God to walk with us in our life. It teaches us, it guides us. The Holy Spirit is God within us.
Without the Holy Spirit we struggle to understand God and His presence in our lives. The disciples before the day of Pentecost were quiet and didn’t show themselves in public all that much. They didn’t preach in the streets, they kept to themselves. They weren’t bringing anyone new into their community. It was just them and others who were close to Jesus.
But once they received the Holy Spirit, all things changed.
They believed in God. They knew Jesus. And their lives were fairly normal. Certainly they weren’t moved to do much of anything to share their knowledge with anyone else.
But then the third and final piece of the puzzle was put into place. When the Holy Spirit came upon them nothing was the same.
When I talk to people, they say they believe in God. They say they have heard about Jesus and know some of his stories. But they aren’t excited about any of it. They don’t feel the need to explore this relationship. They don’t feel the need to share any of their beliefs.
They are all missing that final piece.
We need all three to really experience God in our lives. We need God. We need Jesus. And we need the Holy Spirit.
All three are required.
The disciples knew Jesus better than anyone else in all of human history, and it wasn’t until they received the Holy Spirit that they started what we know today as the church.
The movement of Christianity did not begin until the day of Pentecost. These followers, great friends of Jesus couldn’t do it on their own. They needed help. They needed the help Jesus promised them they would have.
They needed the Holy Spirit for things to start happening.
If we are going to function as a community, a church, who believes in God, who seek to be followers of Jesus, then we also need the Holy Spirit.
If you are sitting here this morning and you are thinking to yourself, “Yes, I believe in God. Yes I know some stories of Jesus. But I’m not sure I have the Holy Spirit.”
If you are thinking this, then I encourage you to ask Jesus to make his Spirit known to you. Simply pray that he will give you the Holy Spirit in your life. He won’t hold it back from you. Jesus wishes all who follow him to have the Holy Spirit in their lives so that we can be closer to our Father in heaven.
There is a reason why we talk of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in our churches. Because all three work together in the perfect Trinity to make God fully known the His children.
I think all of us would say we want to turn away from bad things in our lives and live the best possible life we can live. We all want to be good people.
This is a noble thing to do.
But there’s more that is being offered to us. Jesus is offering us an intimate relationship with God. He is offering us a gift from God Himself in the Holy Spirit.
This is a gift which changes lives, including those who were closer to Jesus than we could ever be. The disciples travelled side-by-side with Jesus for years. And they only knew what it truly meant to be faithful to Jesus after they received the Holy Spirit. Only then did they understand what Jesus had been teaching them all along.
The Holy Spirit is a helper, a teacher, a guide. The Holy Spirit is an intercessor between ourselves and God.
We need the Holy Spirit if we are to be true followers of Jesus Christ.
We can be ready. We can prepare ourselves just like John the Baptist prepared those who came to him for baptism. But we need the Holy Spirit in our lives if we are going to be children of our Father in heaven, touched by the teachings of Jesus, and moved to do his work in the world.
My friends, this is the day of Pentecost. They day we celebrate the birth of the church. The day the disciples moved from being friends of Jesus to being followers of his Way.
The Holy Spirit did this for them. The Holy Spirit gave them the guidance, the words to say, and the strength and boldness to say them so that the world would also be open to receiving the Spirit in themselves as well.
May we too live with the Holy Spirit moving in and through us. May it strengthen us and give us the courage to share Jesus and to do his work in a world in need.
And may the world see our actions and hear our world and be ready to receive this great gift in their lives as well.
It may be the celebration of the birth of the church, but we are the ones getting the gift. The gift of an intimate relationship with God, through knowing Jesus, and moved by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Come Holy Spirit come.
A gift for all the world. A promise of Jesus himself to change the world forevermore.
Amen and amen!