Loving Worship Series: EMPOWERED
Pentecost - June 9, 2019
Empowered by a Loving God
Key words: Rush, entire, filled, amazed
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (v. 1).
Here we move from the promise of the Spirit as Advocate and Comforter, made by John in the Farewell Discourse, to a powerful birth of a Spirit-filled community that is empowered to live its mission in the world. Those who are preaching know very well the wide spectrum of beliefs held by their parishioners about the Holy Spirit. For many congregations, Pentecost is a deeply meaningful time to incorporate rituals throughout the service: some with the celebration of new confirmands, some with a parade of languages, and some who intentionally have readers in many languages. While many of these rituals and traditions are well-loved or enjoyed by parishioners, at some level, those who experience Pentecost each year must move past the fantastical or performative elements associated with the story and embrace the heart of the Spirit’s work in the community.
Reading the passage again, it can still be easy to be struck by the convenience of the entire community being together in one place. The stage has been set for a compelling story from the outset. More than a narrative device, Luke reminds us that Pentecost was already an existing “pilgrimage feast” occurring 50 days following Passover. 
“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” (v. 2).
Luke evokes images and descriptions used in the Hebrew Scriptures to describe the scene, consistent with how God has revealed God’s self historically. Fire was a familiar metaphor used to describe the “physiological experience of prophetic inspiration.”  Note that the sound and wind didn’t fill just part of the house. Love fills the entirety of the house!
“Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” (v. 3).
The gift of the Spirit was not given as one blazing flame hanging over the whole community. Each person in the community experienced a “tongue” of flame. In contrast to the chaotic nature of the sound in verse 2, here the tongue is “resting,” as though it were claiming each person in the community.
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (v. 4).
As powerful as this imagery is and continues to be as it inspires and challenges us each Pentecost, we might wonder why we have only four verses. Robert W. Wall suggests that Luke’s intention is to bring the focus to the Spirit’s effect on the community’s mission. 
“And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each” (v. 6).
There is no indication before this verse that there was a crowd; presumably, it was another ordinary day until the sound of the languages filled the air. The setting unfolds in a clear progression, in contrast to the chaos of the wind and visuals: first, we imagine the gathering. We find out the gathering is at a house. Suddenly, we learn that a crowd has formed.
“Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” (v. 7)
Wall suggests the slightest hint of judgment and surprise here: Galileans were not known for their linguistic ability.  We are reminded of a similar sentiment about Jesus’ hometown: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” The gift of the Spirit – the gift of understanding and interpretation – is also coming to those from an unlikely place. They are not excluded.
“And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” (v. 8)
Here we see yet another example of God empowering those with a specific context. God is using real people to do God’s work.
“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 . . .” (v. 9-10).
In the long and specific list of people in the area, notice that Luke even includes the visitors to the region. In the giving of the Spirit, the boundaries between resident and visitor are broken. The gift of the Spirit does not discriminate.
“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’” (v. 14-15).
This introduces a pattern in the book of Acts of frequent misunderstanding. In many instances throughout the narrative, various characters have to stop to explain the meaning behind events as they are unfolding.
“'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'” (Verses 17-21).
Peter returns to the symbolic imagery of Joel 3:1-5 in a new way: not to proclaim judgment, but as a way of continuing in God’s “grand reversal” in valuing the entire community, regardless of social or economic status. On the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit was shared in a way that led to those outside the community understanding God in a new way, but also in the specific, contextual languages with which they were most familiar. The power of the clarity given to those who were gathered together was spread among them all, rather than imparted to a select few to enhance their community at the expense of those who had not experienced the love of God.
Wall poignantly summarizes the prophetic action of Pentecost: “The community’s forward movement toward God’s eschatological horizon of a restored Israel is fundamentally a prophetic movement, a movement of empowered and illumined proclamation; and Pentecost is fundamentally the pouring out of the Spirit of prophecy as the distinguishing mark of that movement.” 
On the day of Pentecost, the church is called to continue in the prophetic call of love and justice in the community as those who are empowered by a loving God. As we hear and tell the story again this year, we, too, are asked to speak in our own languages – and perhaps some we are learning to develop – about the radical, inclusive love of God.
 Wall, Robert W. The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Volume X. Acts. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 53.
 Wall, 54.
 Wall, 53.
 Wall, 55.
 Wall, 64.
Rev. Adrienne Stricker graduated from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 2009 and has been in full-time ministry since 2010, serving in Christian education and administration in Evanston and Chicago in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and The United Methodist Church. Her primary appointment as an ordained deacon in the Northern Illinois Conference is to the Connectional Table of the UMC, an organization that works to articulate vision and stewardship for the denomination with its 64 elected board members from across the UMC. Her secondary appointment as a deacon is to Central UMC in Skokie, a diverse, multicultural congregation. She is involved in Native American ministries in the conference, serves on the conference board of ordained ministry, and is the co-chair of the Northern Illinois Order of Deacons.