Sunday 9 June 2019: Pentecost
How would you imagine it?
By Paul Burden
Director of Contextual Learning and Co-ordinator for the Sarum Centre for Formation in Ministry, Sarum College, Salisbury
Context: a quieter evening service with 30 people
Aim: to allow hearers to enter the Pentecost event, and to recognise it is for them also (The interpretation is used that the ‘house’ of Acts 2:2 refers to the temple)
What might it have felt like to have been in Jerusalem that first Pentecost? Perhaps we can imagine it told like this …
I went to Jerusalem weary. Weary of the political tensions with Rome, weary with the way that old ways are being pushed out by the new. Even the name of the festival - Shavuot as we call it in Hebrew - called Pentecost by those following the Greek ways. And something more - if I’m honest, I was tired of the bickering about religion - the nit-picking about what we should and shouldn’t do. Surely God created us for life, not for trivialities?
Yet there I was, amongst the pilgrims as we travelled to Jerusalem, joining the busy crowd in the city worshipping and celebrating. And of course, there’s something worth celebrating - the first of the grain harvest, another year of food. All the signs from the first fruits of this harvest were that this will be a good year – something worth celebrating!
There was something else too. I couldn’t help noticing in the temple courts how the temple guard were looking wary, how the rabbis teaching on the temple steps kept giving warnings about false messiahs. There had been a few, but one recently had been notable. Yeshua ben Yusef, from Nazareth - the Greek speakers call him Jesus. He had been executed only a few weeks before but then, instead of his followers dispersing, incredibly there was a rumour he was alive. A large number claimed to have seen him, and they were staying in Jerusalem with the other pilgrims, gathering in the House, the temple of God, praying the festival liturgy with everyone.
It’s a liturgy I like – we hear of God’s provision in the harvest, of Moses and the prophets sent to proclaim his word, and of David his anointed king. And that wonderful promise from Joel, of a day when God pours out his Spirit on all people - I love the picture he gives of our young people having the prophetic wisdom of the old, and of our elderly dreaming dreams again like the young, the Spirit turning things upside down and making us … well, alive! So attractive – but I wondered, will that promise ever come?
I was in the temple courts when it happened - we had arrived at dawn for the worship where we’d heard the promise of Joel again, and the remembrance of David and Moses, and how God would send another like them. Again I wondered, when will that be? And then, from a group meeting in Solomon’s colonnade on the east of the temple court, there was a noise like I’d never heard before. A beautiful and chaotic noise all in one, a sound that was at once heavenly and at once grounded on earth. We stopped, others stopped. I could hear the praises of God being sung in my beloved Hebrew over a sound like rushing water or wind or angels singing or the earth groaning. Others near me said they heard praises in their language - Greek, Latin, Persian and Aramaic. Something deep in me wanted to sing with those praises, but I didn’t know how. They were like a bubbling stream, and I was receiving each little splash and drop like a desert would receive the rain. I moved to get closer, seeing what looked like flashes of morning sunlight or flames dancing over the men and women. We were unnerved, what does this mean? Some started shouting that whoever it was should get themselves sober and leave off the wine.
I’ll never forget the man’s words as he stood up in the Colonnade. He was a follower of Yeshua, and as he said this was about Jesus, I knew. As he said this was God pouring out his promised Spirit, I knew. As he said we need to repent and receive God’s gift for ourselves, I knew. It was happening -- this was the outpouring promised by Joel, this was God’s Spirit, this was life!
And this was where it changed, for me and thousands in the temple that day, as I acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, as I asked God to flood me too with his Spirit, and as the drops of baptism fell from Peter’s hands onto my face.
Yes, my friends, I stand before you as someone who went to celebrate the beginning of earth’s harvest and became the beginning of God’s harvest. The days Joel prophesied have started, the days of God’s Spirit poured out on women and men. The promise is for us and for our children and for all who are weary and far off. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, because the harvest has begun!
(Pause). Perhaps that’s how it was – or something like it. How would you imagine it? And how would you respond? Let us pray. (A short, appropriate prayer that we will know the Holy Spirit in our lives).
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