A Sermon on Acts 2:1-21 with allusions to Joshua 6:1-5
On Pentecost morning the congregation of Jesus was gathered together in a house. They had moved beyond the fear of the earliest days after the crucifixion, those days when they locked the doors, they were so afraid. They had moved into the wonder of the resurrection. But they still hadn’t moved out into mission. They hadn’t taken their story public yet. The early church worked on internal matters, like choosing someone to replace Judas Iscariot in the central group of twelve. It wasn’t that they didn’t have anything to say; they did. What they needed was an opening, some way to start. And they needed the power to do it.
On Easter evening, Jesus had breathed his Spirit onto and into his church in a most gentle way. Perhaps it was because his objective then was to begin to heal their wounds and fill them with peace. The Spirit came as gentle breath.
But not on the day of Pentecost. That day the Spirit came as a great, noisy blast, a gale force wind. His presence rested on each and every one like a tongue of fire. And that set their tongues on fire. They couldn’t keep their mouths shut. They were so full of Spirit that the good news of Jesus spilled out. And it spilled out in all the languages of the known world: Parthian, Median, Egyptian and more.
Suddenly the church was talking with people from all around the known world. The noise had drawn a crowd. Somehow the church wasn’t inside any more. It was outside.
Most pictures of Pentecost that I’ve seen picture the disciples still inside, a tongue of fire resting on each one, and they’re talking to each other. But wouldn’t it be better to picture the disciples outside, talking with folks from all over the world? The action is outside!
An artist named Leonard Freeman created a painting that he titled “Lord, Build This House.” Freeman intended to show the pieces of the church coming down from heaven and being put together by God. That’s not what I thought of when I first saw this painting, though. I think it looks more like the church is being blown open, and there are the people with their arms outstretched to the whole world. At the blast of the Holy Spirit, the walls fall. (See the cover of The Practicing Congregation by Diana Butler Bass, Alban, 2004. The print is also available online from many outlets. You can view it here.)
Luke doesn’t tell us just when or how the disciples got outside. If the walls of the house didn’t fall away literally, they certainly fell away figuratively. Walls became irrelevant. The barriers between those inside and those outside had fallen away. Most obviously that particular day, language barriers had fallen away. Notice: the Spirit didn’t make the outsiders able to speak and understand the language of the church, and then bring them to the church. The Spirit empowered the insiders to speak the native languages of the outsiders, and took the church out to them.
Jesus’ disciples were out of the box. They went public. Their presence—and that of God’s Spirit—was heard and seen. It was unmistakable. Their presence, and God’s presence in them, couldn’t be ignored.
Sometimes I wonder how well the presence of this congregation of Jesus’ disciples can be seen and heard. I wonder. (more…)