We can, we will, we are… a sermon about the real meaning of Pentecost, Part 1

Recently, Harry and I had the privilege of watching our youngest son graduate from High School. We watched attentively as bright eyed students from all over the world gathered on the stage full of joy for the season that was now coming to an end, but also full of questions and even some fear about what the future might hold for them. One of the highlights for us was the service of dedication on the Friday night before when we heard students as well as teachers reflect on their journey together over the past   several years. During that time our son and members of the campus choir performed a song that he had written for the class “I don’t know what the future holds but I know who holds the future…” it was extremely moving to hear our children sing those powerful words about their future. My favorite part, that has really stuck with me over the past several weeks, is the bridge they repeated several times…”we can, we will, we are… the future…” It is only through the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to confess such an extraordinary direction for our future.

In many ways, the story of Acts chapter 2 unfolds in a very similar way. Jesus’ followers have gathered together in Jerusalem in a room to pray and wait; having just said goodbye to Jesus their teacher and friend and not knowing what the future might hold but now believing that Jesus, the risen Lord, indeed holds their future. You may ask why these Galileans gathered in Jerusalem and how did so many others from so many different nations end up in that same place when the Holy Spirit came…Well, it fell during one of the three largest feasts in the Jewish faith, the Feast of Weeks where they would make a pilgrimage from wherever they were to bring a first fruits offering to the Lord. Later it also became a time in which they celebrated the giving of Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. You have to marvel at God’s timing in all of this.

So here they were with their eyes wide open, wondering what the future might hold and seeking God’s face, when all of a sudden the wind begins to blow violently and tongues of fire come down from the heavens and rest upon the tops of their heads! The promised gift of the spirit has arrived with sound effects and all! Leaving no doubt in the disciples mind that something significant was taking place! The church’s mission can and would take place…. They would continue this ministry that Jesus began. In very real ways, the Holy Spirit was saying to this group of faithful followers, you can, you will, you are!

And so they begin to speak in tongues… but not the tongues of Angels that Paul speaks of in the Epistles. Instead, they begin to declare the wonders of God in a way that everyone could hear in their own tongue. Remember now the list of nations present: “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.”  And the nations who were represented exclaim in chapter 2 verse 11, “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues! Amazed and perplexed, they ask one another, “What does this mean?”

What does this mean? If you note verse 7, they say… “aren’t all of these men who are speaking from Galilee?” Here is the part I think we miss in the story… I think that they weren’t as amazed at the the message that was being proclaimed in their own tongue as they were at the messenger. Let me explain.

Galilee represented a crossroads of cultures, peoples, racial and cultural mixtures… they were mixed breeds who were rejected by both Gentiles and Jews. Phillip Yancey in his book, “The Jesus I never knew” writes this, “Galilee got little respect from the rest of the country. It was the farthest province from Jerusalem and the most backward culturally. Rabbinic literature of the time portrays Galileans as bumpkins, fodder for ethnic jokes. Galileans who learned Hebrew pronounced it so crudely that they were not called upon to read Torah in other synagogues. Speaking the common language of Aramaic in a slipshod way was a telltale sign of Galilean roots.” You may recall Nathanial saying to Phillip’s claim to have found the Messiah in John 1:46, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth”… which was by the way, a small village of Galilee…

In order to understand better, we need to think about who Galileans might be in our culture and time… Who do we view as fodder for ethnic jokes? In my day, it was dumb blonds and Pollock jokes. You may also remember prejudice statements about race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender as a subject of coarse joking. The messages that I received about my own identity were staggering… that somehow I was less intelligent and less capable of accomplishing anything because of my hair color and gender. Today I am reminded of our Mexican immigrant brothers and sisters who are treated less than human because they are seen as half breeds.

But I am not sure that we have to reach that far… we here in our church are somewhat of a mix breed… well… you have two pastors who aren’t from Mennonite Background… we aren’t from quality stock with the last name Jarrett… we have Haitians and Ethiopians, Kenyans and Hispanics… we have people with tattoos and earrings… people who like traditional worship and people who like contemporary worship, young and old, democrats and republicans. We are, a veritable mix breed; a cultural melting pot. The message of Pentecost is also the same for us. The Spirit is reminding us also through the story that…we can, we will, we are… in spite of our brokenness, diversity and limitations.

Perhaps Peter, once a fisherman now transformed into a preacher, displays it best when he rises  full of the power of the Spirit and begins to preach the first sermon to the first church. He quotes the words spoken by the prophet Joel, “In the last days, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…” All People! This is what the whole of scripture has been pointing towards… what all of creation has been groaning for… that all people… Galileans, Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free, eunuchs, both men and women, are worthy vessels of the Spirit of God. The message is clear… this mix breed of people that God has gathered for God’s self will continue the ministry of Jesus and proclaim with power the good and redemptive news of the Gospel; that everyone, yes everyone, who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  We can, we will, we are… the future of the kingdom of God!

To be continued…

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About Beth Jarrett

Wife, Mom, and practitioner of the Jesus way
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