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Sunday 28 May 2023 Day of Pentecost

13 February 2023

Love and Unity for a Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

By Carol Tomlin

Educator and ordained minister. Senior Research Fellow for the William Temple Foundation and a visiting fellow at the University of Leeds. Principal of the Kingdom School of Theology and senior leader of Restoration Fellowship Ministries. Author of Preach It: Understanding African Caribbean Preaching (SCM: 2019)

Context: part of a series on Pentecost focused on all-age groups. The congregation is primarily African-Caribbean and familiar with some theological ideas relating to Pentecostalism

Aim: to explore the Day of Pentecost as representing a call to love and unity among Christians

My topic for today is love and unity for a Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. When we look at the Day of Pentecost, we are mesmerised by the miracle where the disciples spoke in different languages they hadn’t learnt. We can see many verses where Jesus told his disciples about the promise of the Holy Spirit or in the Greek Paraclete, meaning advocate, helper, comforter and counsellor – John 7:39; John 15:26; John 16:7-15 and Acts 1:5-8. But we overlook what Jesus said before about ‘love,’ L-O-V-E. In John 14:15, Jesus said, ‘if you love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Helper.’ The Holy Spirit is a divine force that inspires, empowers, and can fill or move through an individual, but the Holy Spirit should also empower us as Christians to walk in love and unity.

Many, especially Pentecostals, understand the Holy Spirit as a work of salvation, different from conversion or when you are saved. You have heard me many times talking about William J Seymour, the one-eyed African-American leader of Azusa Street, the birthplace of the modern Pentecostal revival in the early 20th Century. I haven’t got enough time to explain how Seymour and his peers saw full salvation as being saved, being sanctified and being filled with Holy Spirit. Seymour followed Jesus by emphasising love, L-O-V-E, when Jesus said in John 14:15-16 that ‘if you love me, keep my commandments, and God, the Father, will give you the Holy Spirit.’ Seymour said true baptism in the Holy Spirit was a way to be ‘flooded’ with the love of God, power for service, and a love for the truth shown in God’s word. Love was Seymour’s watchword and song (a Pentecostal Caribbean phrase), although he did speak in tongues.

Many of us believe speaking in tongues is evidence that we are filled with the Spirit – though that view is changing – and anyone saved can speak in tongues. But love should be at the centre. Because as 1 Corinthians 13:1 says, ‘if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.’

Acts 2:1 says that on the Day of Pentecost, ‘they [the disciples and other men and women] were all with one accord in one place’ (NKJV). Accord means that they were in agreement or harmony of mind and spirit. About 120 people were gathered together in unity, and a straightforward definition of unity is oneness, the state of being one. They were in one place, not here there and everywhere.

On that great day, there were international Jews who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Pentecost also known as Shavuot. To give you a bit of background, Jewish men had to go to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate the three major feasts or festivals: Passover known as Pesah in the Spring; Pentecost or Shavuot; and Tabernacle, which is Sukkot, also known as Festival of Booths at the end of the harvest time. Let me go back to the annual festival of Pentecost. The actual name Pentecost in Greek means fiftieth, 50 days after Passover. Pentecost, also known as ‘Feast of weeks’ or the ‘Day of First fruits’, was a celebration of the first buds of harvest. We can say that the Jews who became Christians were the first fruits of the harvest of millions of souls. Praise the Lord!

Although the Jews visiting Jerusalem came from different cultures and spoke other languages, according to the Bible scholar Craig Keener, the Spirit prophetically moved the church into multicultural diversity under the lordship of Jesus Christ. We know about the different nations of Genesis 10 and the unity of the people who had ‘one language.’ The nations of the earth were all united to build a city and tower but were scattered at the tower of Babel by God, who judged them by making them not understand each other’s speech. On the Day of Pentecost, Jews were brought together despite the different languages to witness the miracle of tongues by the followers of Jesus, who were united!

Acts 2:17 is a prophecy from Joel 2 about the coming of the Spirit and the beginning of the kingdom where the Spirit will be poured out on everyone, sons and daughters – it is not gendered. Speaking in tongues is controversial among Christians. Some see it as a part of the salvation experience, while others do not. Whatever you believe, when one is truly filled with the Holy Spirit there is evidence of powerful witness and walking in the spirit of love and unity. Only then can we have a true Day of Pentecost.

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