What does this mean?
- It’s a question we in Lutheran circles ought to recognize
- It’s the question at the heart of Luther’s Small Catechism
- It’s the question children ask repeatedly as they begin to explore the world –
As they begin to realize that there’s a world beyond their own self
- It’s also the question that is asked in verse 12 of Acts 2
As the people on the street begin to react to what’s happening
In, through and to the believers on the day of Pentecost
50 days after the resurrection of Jesus
What does this mean? It’s still an open question today in many ways. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has ever had to preach on this day!
It’s all more than a little strange. People from all over have come to Jerusalem, as was common for major Jewish feasts, to keep the feast of Pentecost, or Shavuot in Hebrew.
Celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover, Shavuot is traditionally a joyous time of giving thanks and presenting offerings for the new grain of the summer wheat harvest in Israel.
The name “Feast of Weeks” was given because God commanded the Jews in Leviticus 23:15-16, to count seven full weeks (or 49 days) beginning on the second day of Passover, and then present offerings of new grain to the Lord as a lasting ordinance. (http://christianity.about.com/od/biblefeastsandholidays/p/pentecostfeast.htm)
So this was a time of feasting, and great joy and celebration, so it’s not that surprising that when all the weird stuff starts to happen with the manifestation of tongues and such, some in the crowd sneer and say: “They are filled with new wine.” – They’re just a bunch of drunks caught up in the revelry of Shavuot!
But Peter, no longer out fishing on the Sea of Galilee, finally coming into his own as the leader Jesus has called him to be, stands with the eleven and begins to preach – “These are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” And he begins to explain, using the words of the prophet Joel, just what’s really going on. God’s up to something, you see? God’s doing a new thing just as we heard God was going to do back when we read from the prophet Isaiah on the Fifth Sunday in Lent: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is. 43:19) But this new thing is really strange on the surface.
The believers are all together in one place – and that’s a powerful image of unity compared to what we saw a few weeks ago when the believers had all seemed to kind of wander off into their own things. And there’s a sound like rushing wind, and there’s tongues of fire among them and resting on each of them, and they burst out of the room they’d been in and they begin to proclaim God’s word. And those who hear them, rather than hearing the language that is being spoken, each person hears what’s being said in their own language. But some folks must have experienced it all as just noise and chaos – as if a bunch of people had just stayed up drinking all night. It’s a crazy scene. This is way far away from the “still small voice” of God as experienced by the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings, Chapter 19. This is wind and noise and fire and proclamation in many languages! This is a new thing! God doing a new thing in a whole new and different way, and nothing’s ever the same after this!
God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh, just as God had promised more than 600 years before through the prophet Joel, and God’s Spirit does its work in and on and through all flesh
- Young and old
- Male and female
- Slave and free
Now, I feel compelled at this point to speak the obvious, to name the 500 pound gorilla sitting in the middle of the room. Ummm, we don’t like change. We don’t like new things. We don’t like it when things are out of our control. We like things settled, and familiar, and comfortable. Am I right? That’s how we’re wired as human beings. But God wants to rewire us. God wants to undo all that desire for settledness and call us to go faithfully into an unknown future without fear!
In John 14, Jesus knows all that’s about to happen – that he’s about to be betrayed, and condemned, and put to death, and that his friends have no idea what’s coming, even though he’s tried to tell them plainly and repeatedly, and so he finally says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
And why ought we not be afraid to go into that unknown future, even though we know, more than his disciples did back then that the way he’s leading us on is the way of the cross? Well, because we’ve seen where it ultimately leads! Do not be afraid to follow Jesus on the way to death, because, in Christ, we know that the way of death is the only way to life.
It’s right there in our reading from Romans 8 as well – All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God, and if we’re God’s children, then we’re joint heirs together with Christ Jesus, if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. The Spirit leads us into the way of the cross, because death is still the only way to resurrection. And I know that sounds crazy – it sounds like the ramblings of a drunken man to the mortal ear, but to the spirit within us, given insight and understanding by the Spirit of God poured out on us, it no longer sounds crazy. It sounds like profound truth! It sounds like words of life!
The feast of Shavuot was a summer harvest feast, and it’s at this feast that celebrates God’s provision and the first fruits of the summer harvest that God brings forth the first fruits of this new thing God’s doing in Christ – the Church is born as a new people of God in Christ called to follow in the way of his death and resurrection. And the fruits of that harvest continue to be manifest throughout the world, including right here and right now as we, in just a few moments, will stand with our young brother, Ryan, witnessing his Affirmation of Baptism, promising to continue in that journey together with him, promising to support him in prayer as he promises, before God and the Church, that he’ll continue in the covenant God made with him in Holy Baptism. What we’ll see unfold in a just a few moments is no less crazy than what unfolded in Jerusalem on this Feast Day 2000 years ago. God’s Spirit still comes to the Church, and to us as individuals, and God’s Spirit still empowers us to live lives of love and service, dying to ourselves and our self-interests for the sake of the Gospel, and so that new life might spring forth in new ways and in new places.
On this 50th Day of Easter, hear again the call of God in Christ to come without fear, taking up the cross and following Jesus in the way that leads to glory and to resurrection life in him.
Come, Holy Spirit, come, and renew the face of the earth!