Happy Pentecost! I don’t know about you, but growing up, Pentecost wasn’t high on my list of Christian festivals. After all, at Christmas I got presents and the atmospheric lights adorning the house; at Easter I got enough chocolate to last a life time yet which mysteriously only ever seemed to last a week, and even at Harvest Festival I got to choose what food to bring as an offering. Pentecost seemed to pass me by. But over the past few years, I’ve come to realise more and more the significance and importance of Pentecost and why we should not only celebrate it today, but live as Pentecost people throughout our lives. I want to suggest this morning three ways Pentecost is essential.
Pentecost reveals our empowerment by the Holy Spirit. What we read in Acts 2 is pretty dramatic at times and quite funny at others; one of my favourite things about this passage is Peter having to assure the crowd that the disciples of Jesus are not drunk, after all, ‘it is only nine o’clock in the morning.’ I would love to know what time happy hour was for the first disciples where Peter would have to discern whether his friends were filled with the Holy Spirit or just partying hard! But the description of what happens on the day of Pentecost is quite striking and can be overwhelming: ‘from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind,’ ‘tongues, as of fire, appeared,’ and Peter speaks words from the prophet, Joel about prophesying and visions and ‘blood, and fire, and smoky mist.’ A really vivid picture is painted for us.
But this is not something to fear. The coming of and power of the Holy Spirit is not meant to alarm us, overtake us, or manipulate us, but rather is to empower us. The Holy Spirit is an equaliser, an equality-bringer; the Holy Spirit will rest on us all if we invite the Spirit into our lives. The Spirit does not care for status or achievements, it does not discriminate who gets filled and who does not. The power of the Holy Spirit is for each and every one of us; young and old, male and female, rich and poor, introvert and extrovert. The Holy Spirit filled the whole house, a tongue rested on each person; if there had been God in the Heavens with a megaphone offering a running commentary on what was happening, he would have been saying ‘I choose you and you and you and you and you and you and you’ no exceptions, no exclusions.
For the disciples and their fellow first-century Jews, Pentecost was the fiftieth day after Passover where farmers would bring in the first sheaf of wheat from their crop and offer it to God in thanksgiving and as prayer that the rest of the crop would flourish. But more than that, Pentecost, like Passover, echoed the story of the Exodus from Egypt, bringing his chosen people out of bondage and into freedom. We see the disciples receive freedom on the day of Pentecost to be who God has called them to be, they are now empowered to spread the good news of Jesus across the world to all nations. Pentecost reveals how the Holy Spirit has empowered us to be who God has called us to be. Whatever your gift is, your skills are, you have the power of the Holy Spirit, a constant reminder from God that you can do this, no challenge is insurmountable with his presence.
Pentecost also reminds us of what Jesus did. In verse 2 in our Acts reading we see that the wind came from heaven. Just ten days ago, we celebrated the ascension of Jesus. In the Holy Spirit coming down, Pentecost reminds us that Jesus went up and you can’t have the ascension of Jesus without the resurrection of Jesus; you can’t have the resurrection of Jesus without the crucifixion of Jesus; you can’t have the crucifixion of Jesus without the birth of Jesus and at the birth of Jesus, we celebrate that God came down and made his dwelling among us. At Pentecost, we are reminded that God is continuing to collapse the gap between Heaven and Earth. God began to collapse the gap in Christ, the empty tomb sealed that collapse and the Holy Spirit makes that collapse real to us now.
In reminding us of Jesus, Pentecost is yet another example of how we can believe everything Jesus did to be true and trustworthy. If we look to our passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus says, ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever… You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.’ Jesus promised the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit came. At Pentecost, the world received the Holy Spirit who continues Jesus’ ministry of advocacy among us until his return, showing us that we are saved are grace, that we are in the world but not of it, and that we can one day stand before the throne of God without fear or shame. So, Pentecost causes us to be caught up in this loop of remembering the incarnate, crucified, risen, and ascended Christ who died for us, has saved us, and has sent his Holy Spirit to continually remind us of that truth.
Finally, Pentecost draws us closer to the Father. As it says in Galatians 4:6 ‘And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into or hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ a term of affection so intimate it is like calling God ‘daddy.’ The highlight of my week was Thursday lunchtime because I spent Thursday lunchtime with my favourite member of the Wycliffe community. Her name is Lydia, she is two and a half months old and she fills me with so much joy! I love my time with her; I get to cuddle her, make her laugh, sing to her, pull funny faces at her, (I also get a really good excuse to ignore whatever in-depth theological conversation is going on around me, which is an untold blessing), and I get to have my favourite experience where her whole fist grips on tight to my finger and she won’t let go. And this week, Lydia got me thinking about Pentecost. Because I love Pentecost. I love it when God gets dramatic and spectacular, I love his extraordinary displays of power and he empowers me and those around me to change the world with him. But as I held Lydia as tightly as she held my finger, I was reminded of the Father. The Father who made us, loves us, desires us, and is with us, who in the Garden of Eden, was right there, who walked with us as the Son, and who lives in us as the Spirit. Pentecost further collapses the gap between Heaven and Earth so we can draw even closer to the Father, and as in Romans 8:16 ‘when we cry Abba! Father! It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.’
Perhaps this is soppy, maybe this is a sentimental exegesis not befitting of a Wycliffe ordinand, but amidst all the drama and noise and assault on the senses of the day of Pentecost, the everyday Pentecost is that the Father is with us, always loving us, always wanting to be reunited with us. Pentecost is an invitation to each of us, to take up our designated place in our Father’s arms.
At Pentecost we are empowered by the Spirit, reminded of what the Son has done for us, and take our place in the intimate embrace of the Father. Amidst the rushing wind and tongues of fire, the commotion, the drama, the spectacle, is that same intimate God who made us and declared his work ‘very good,’ the same God who was born in the simplest of circumstances but died in the most extraordinary of circumstances, the same God who came down at Pentecost and has promised to be with us until that day when we see God face-to-face. So be encouraged! Be empowered, reminded, and embraced on this day of Pentecost and beyond. Amen.