I wrote and threw out a sermon for Pentecost Day this year. If you care to see what I didn’t preach, you can read it below.
I’m told that in the early-80s, The Episcopal Church did marketing very well. As the story goes, in 1979, The Reverend Doctor George H. Martin, a priest in Minneapolis decided it was time for the Church to go beyond its walls to start telling the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world at large. He took his idea to a brand new ad agency in downtown Minneapolis and The Church Ad Project was born. The original six advertisements have been turned into posters that are almost as timely now as they were 34 years ago. One simply shows the picture of a coffee hour coffee pot and reads “Free coffee. Everlasting life. Yes, membership has its privileges.” My favorite one is a black background with a very simple picture of Jesus in the middle. Above it in large, bold text, it reads, “He died to take away your sins. Not your mind.” I love that little ad because I think sits at the heart of the Pentecost message. In Christ, we have been set free. With the Spirit, we are equipped to grow into the fullness of God’s dream for us, and often that requires us to ask questions. Sometimes, lots and lots of questions.
The full Pentecost story, of which we heard a part this morning, takes up the entire second chapter of the Book of Acts, and it is full of questions. There’s the unspoken question, as the disciples look around at one another, puzzled by the events unfolding as they hear the rushing wind, see the flames, and have their mouths thrown open to speak languages they’ve never known before. Then there’s the crowd, devout Jews and Proselytes, Jewish converts, from every nation under heaven, who are bewildered by what they are seeing. They ask simple questions like “Aren’t all these people Galileans?” and “How is it that we hear them in our native tongues?” But they do not stop there. As the events roll on, the crowd begins to ask deeper questions, questions that Peter is eager to answer.
The first important question asked by the crowd is, “What does this mean?” This is a fair question. They need someone to interpret for them what they are seeing. We all know the feeling of seeing or hearing something so unbelievable we need help processing the events before us. We ask, “What does this mean?” in moments of tragedy: after the assassination of JFK, on 9/11, or the day of the Sandy Hook School shooting. We ask, “What does this mean?” in moments of joy: a promotion at work, the birth of a child, or winning the Powerball. We ask, “What does this mean?” anytime the events before us are just too big for our minds to comprehend, like standing on the beach at Camp Beckwith, in the full beauty of God’s creation watching three new members join the family of the faithful.
The crowd gathered on the streets of Jerusalem needed someone to explain to them what was going on, and so Peter, speaking up over the cacophony, preaches a sermon based on the book of Joel. Peter tells the crowd that Pentecost means that God has brought forth a new era of human history in which the Holy Spirit is no longer available only to a select few and given only for a finite time, but that in these days, these last days, the Spirit is poured out upon all flesh. Peter tells the crowd that Pentecost means that it is no longer ethnicity that brings us into the household of God, but instead living in the fullness of the Spirit is the new symbol of membership in God’s family, and that all people: men and women, old and young, slaves and free will be agents of God’s love upon the earth. Peter tells the crowd that Pentecost means prophecy: that God will do whatever he needs to, even to the point of handing out foreign language skills at a moment’s notice, in order to share the Good News. Peter tells the crowd that Pentecost means living as a community of visionaries and dreamers. Young men will see visions. Old men will dream dreams. Everyone will be privy to the imagination of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Peter continues with a rather dense and lengthy speech that the Lectionary wisely skips. As Peter wraps up his sermon, Luke tells us that the Good News of Jesus had cut the crowd to their heart and they ask one last question, “Brothers, what should we do?” This is often the second question that gets asked after, “What does this mean?” We ask, “What should we do?” when we see pictures of destruction following natural disasters or when we hear news of failures of leadership in Washington DC or Montgomery, Alabama or when a friend is diagnosed with cancer. We ask, “What should we do?” when the Good News of Jesus prevails upon us, or when seeing others do good works enlivens our hearts to bear fruit, or when our community of faith invites us into a deeper relationship. We ask, “What should we do?” when we know that something has to be done, but know that we aren’t equipped to do it alone.
To the crowd gathered, wondering “What should we do?” Peter replied simply, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord God calls to him.” Which is exactly why we are here, doing what we’re doing today. From the earliest days of the Church, people have gathered on Pentecost to remember the birth of the Church, to ask the Spirit for renewed vigor, and to welcome new members into the family. So today we gather to celebrate, to splash water, and to pray for Christians: young and old; male and female; unchurched, de-churched, and re-churched; and to invite the Spirit to take hold of our lives, by giving us inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love the Lord, and the gift of joy and wonder in all his works.
With the wind and the flames and the tongues, Pentecost would have been a great feast all by itself, but it is made all the greater because the crowd gathered and asked questions. What does all this mean? What should we do about it? How can we have what y’all got? Repent, be baptized, enjoy forgiveness, and receive the Holy Spirit.