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with New Wine"
After the crucifixion, it was apparent that there was a great loss of faith among Jesus followers, or at least a great deal of confusion over what they should be doing. But aside from my criticism of the disciples, I would also note that a STRENGTH prevailed among them. If we examine the nature of Jesus appearances, we find that in almost all of them, Jesus found the disciples TOGETHER. The three years they had spent with Jesus had bonded them; and they did not suddenly give that up. And so it WAS, at the opening to the second chapter of the book of Acts.
"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place."
We don't know what was happening among them, any more than we know what was going on in the upper room PRIOR to the first two appearances recorded in the Gospel according to John, but we can make some guesses. I seriously doubt that it was a mere social gathering, with a discussion of fishing. But on the other hand, I DO believe that their attention was focussed; that their minds, their spirits, were in a receptive mood.
"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."
Now, to the cynical non-believer this may sound like something out of a spooky horror movie about a haunted house. And even believers might wish to overlook this and hope that nobody ever asks them about it. But let's NOT ignore it.
Something DID happen, so let's try to figure out what it might have been. First of all, what was the "sound from heaven"? We know that it was "like the rush of a violent wind." And that's all I NEED to know. We have heard or read of those who use hallucinogenic drugs as experiencing a "rush."
But I've also known of distance runners who have spoken of experiencing a "rush," a "runner's high," when trying to describe what might be called a deeply spiritual experience when running.
"The rush of a violent wind." A deeply moving experience.
"Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability."
The "other languages" in the CORINTHIAN church were an INCOHERENT form of speech, and Paul addresses this in the fourteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians; but here Luke thinks of a GIFT of FOREIGN languages, as though the story of the tower of Babel, as recorded in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, had been reversed.
"Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem."
But this is a special time for the Jews. Jewish tradition held that the Law was given on this day, seven weeks after Passover. So this time and place for this event in Christian history was not randomly selected by God.
And just as the Jewish Law, the Torah, was given on this day in history, so God has chosen, on this day, to send the Holy Spirit, which Jesus PROMISED God would send in his place, as Counselor and Advocate for his followers.
"And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each."
So it's no longer a private party. But how did THESE folks know that something was happening? What was it that THEY heard? What "sound"? And why did it attract them?
I have to believe that God through the Holy Spirit was working not only within the disciples, but also within the rest of the Jewish population of Jerusalem that day.
Of course, their minds were on the celebration of the receiving of the Jewish Law; but I also believe that they were NOT unaware that the one who had come to tell of the NEW law had been put to death only a short time before.
"Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?"
Well, of COURSE they were! But they had received a GIFT. And the question asked here sounds a lot like the question asked of good lay preaching: "Isn't that preacher just a layperson?" But laypersons have received gifts too. Clergy aren't the only ones who should be expected to be able to preach. And sometimes, WE don't do the best job.
And the multitude continues to ask questions:
"And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?"
And it really must have been baffling to them, how this little bunch of folks from the tiny province of Galilee could reach out to the whole world. But given what we know now, it really shouldn't be baffling to US. Consider the Bible.
Consider all the translations it has gone through. Consider all the people and all the cultures which have been exposed to it. And the message still WORKS.
Because somehow, each of us hears, in our native language, in our own personal history, the message that God is trying to send to us. In spite of the fact that the story came out of the Eastern Mediterranean culture two thousand years ago, we can still HEAR it.
And Luke catalogues for us all those who are being reached in that moment:
"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."
And Luke was probably pretty impressed. Well, he SHOULD have been; but even this list barely scratches the surface of where the word would eventually be heard. The list barely touches the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa.
And the entire Western Hemisphere was unknown.
"All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"
We need to ask ourselves this same question. We can choose to sit on this bit of history and see it only in terms of spoken language and what God can do with that. But I think there's more to it. I believe that there is a call to mission in this message.
After going through commencement exercises at seminary fifteen years ago, it occurred to me that there were a number of my classmates that I would likely never see again. And those I WOULD see I would see on only the rarest of occasions.
All of us came from a very wide variety of backgrounds. We spent three years together, and then we scattered. Offhand, I can think of at least eight states to which classmates departed.
Each of us would be taking a similar message: God's love as we had found it in Jesus Christ. But each community to which we took that message would speak a slightly different language, have a different history and culture.
And we would need to trust in the Holy Spirit that we could learn to speak that different language to be heard by the people to whom we had been sent to minister.
But I have benefit of hindsight in my interpretation of the pentecost event. Some, at that time, were not so receptive:
"But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."
Now, we can read that with less subtlety: "They're drunk." But personally, I take it as a compliment, as prophesy. For those of us who are sent forth to proclaim the word MUST be filled with a new sense of who we are and of what the world might be.
We MUST have a new sense of God's purpose in this world. For without that "new wine," we have little to offer.
"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."
But Peter has his hands full. Somehow he has to explain this strange event to these folks in a way that they can understand AT THAT TIME. As far as they're concerned, all they've got is a bunch of crazies and drunks on their hands.
Some of them may understand what's going on, or want to, but even for them it's probably confusing.
So first Peter points out what is NOT happening.
"Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning."
Now, that strikes me as a pretty weak argument. Does this mean that if this had happened late in the day, they MIGHT have been drunk? Is Peter saying that they haven't had enough time to get drunk? Well, anyway, he's trying. And the important thing is that he's trying to put aside any purely physical reason for the behaviors that are being exhibited, because something spiritual is happening.
And then Peter shifts to his strong suit: "No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel."
And it is important to note that Peter isn't relying on his own words for his explanation. He isn't relying on his own experiences. He isn't even referring to the teachings of Jesus, either in his earthly life or his appearances after the resurrection.
Instead, he heads for the prophets. And in doing so, he is moving to ground that his Jewish listeners should understand.
He begins, citing the second chapter of Joel: "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."
For Joel, "all flesh" meant primarily the Jews. This is clearer in the third chapter of Joel, and is similar to the thirty-ninth chapter of Ezekiel. But for Peter at Pentecost, it included all nations.
Indeed, Peter was telling his listeners that this was not an isolated event limited to only a few, but evidence of God's gift available to all people. He was including his listeners in what was happening.
"Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy."
And the thrust of this message is to cut across class lines. In God's sight there would be no structure of master and servant; ALL would receive the Holy Spirit and ALL would take upon themselves the gift of prophesy.
"And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
But we also hear echoes of these words in the words of Jesus in the twenty-fourth verse of the thirteenth chapter of the gospel according to Mark: "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light."
Again, in the twelfth verse of the sixth chapter of Revelation: "When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood."
So what is Peter trying to tell his listeners? What is he trying to tell us?
I believe that he is telling us that the Pentecost experience, strange as it may have appeared to those first onlookers, was an experience that God would make available to all, even before the end of time: and indeed, as we each, individually, experience the Holy Spirit in our lives, we too shall prophesy, shall see visions, and shall dream dreams as we work for God's glory on earth.
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