Pentecost: Connecting In the Spirit
May 31 “Connected in the Spirit” Acts 2:1-21 * Psalm 104 *1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 * John 7:37-39
Our senior pastor when I was growing up was Joe Harding. He was a great preacher and storyteller, and one of my main inspirations for becoming a pastor. I was the weird kid who would rather go to Worship than Sunday School just so I could hear the sermon. Often, I sat in the front row by myself, enjoying Joe’s stories and his William Shatner-esque deliver minus the machismo and toupee (Joe was always bald as could be as far as I know). He enjoyed dressing up as Biblical characters and was always energetic and approachable. In a church with multiple pastors, he was the one I wanted to receive communion from, and I was happy to recieve my Children’s Bible from him (which I still have, 43 years later. It could have been Pastor Don, long passed into blessed memory), and be baptized by Joe after going through Confirmation.
I always think of Pastor Joe on Pentecost Sunday. It was his favorite church holiday, as we celebrate the birth of the Church, and he always made it a day of celebration, with cake and outdoor activities. At this time of year, the weather in the Tri-Cities (Richland, WA, specifically) is generally predictably pleasant. This celebration usually involved releasing a bunch of red balloons after worship, as we all exited the building. The first year that I remember doing this (I was still in elementary school) was a beautiful morning as we went in, but a sudden windstorm sprung up as we went out let the balloons loose into the dusty air. The balloons were blown over the church, straight into the large tree behind the Assembly of God Church next door. This tree happened to be just outside Joe’s office window, where he could see the balloons’ dead carcasses hang all winter long after the tree lost its leaves.
But Joe was not the kind to give up. The next year we went into church on another beautiful morning, and came out to let off the balloons, which floated straight up. In return, we were met with a sudden downpour of rain, in the middle of a desert where rain is rare. The balloons were a success, but we were all drenched, including the pastors in their bright white robes, wearing red crepe paper streamers. This was back in the days of heavier dyes which would rub off onto your fingers sometimes, and which bled all over those white robes, never to be fully removed.
Joe still didn’t give up. But in the name of inter-church relations, he invited the Assembly folks and the Catholics across the street to join in. Perhaps to make up for our mishaps, or to invite disaster onto someone else’s property, I don’t know. I don’t remember how it went, just being a kid, my memory foggy now, so I assume that my lack of memories means it finally went well. So, here is the story if the first Pentecost celebration, Acts 2:1-21:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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. 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. 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.”
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 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. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet 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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall 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.’
Do you have a similar story (or stories) of such direct experience of the Spirit? Or has it been a slow process of gradual assimilation into the power of the Spirit, which dwells in all who profess Jesus as their Lord? There is only one Spirit but each of us is different, so we will have different yet similar experiences with the Spirit. Some folks seem more sensitive to the Spirit’s presence, some are more focused on other aspects of life in Christ. Some have vibrant memories, some don’t, but we all join together in boldly proclaiming that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!” We may be in awe of the images the story of Pentecost produces in our minds; we cannot forget the opening up of God’s grace offered to all people that day. In sharing the Gospel today, we continue to pass the flame released on that day almost 2000 years ago. The Spirit is an unquenchable fire inspiring and driving us today.
We of course do not know when Christ will return, but this pandemic should remind us that we are in the “last days.” The final day may not come within our lifetime, but we should be prepared as if it could come at any time. We all need to seek God with our whole being, every day, and have a renewed sense of urgency in reaching the lost with the Good News of salvation in Christ through God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a time for prayer, searching our hearts and searching Scripture. We remember that this is a two-way conversation with God in the Spirit, leading to spiritual conversations with each other. It is not just about gaining more information, but about connecting in the Spirit for guidance, wisdom, and comfort. In the Spirit, we have access to our deepest prayers and concerns, beyond words, beyond earthly constraints of time and flesh, which the Spirit alone can pray for us. In the Spirit we are connected now and for all eternity.
We celebrated Pastor Joe’s life just before I left for seminary. It was a joyous time of remembrance and connection, the church full, with video of Joe preaching. He was a Spirit-filled servant of our Lord, still an inspiration for so many along this path with Jesus and his followers. In this difficult time, may we continue to be inspired by those who helped us along, and seek to help all those we can. Even at a distance, we are connected in the Spirit, united in Christ’s love. May the flame unleashed at Pentecost fill our hearts with joy and purpose. Amen!