In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you all in advance that the structure of this sermon is stolen from a sermon titled “The Softer Side of Pentecost” By Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock.  The ‘moves,’ vis-a-via Buttrick are mine.


May 23, 2010

“Waiting for Heaven Knows What”

Acts 2:1-21

John 14:8-17


As Most of you know already, today is the feast of Pentecost.  Pentecost is so named after a Jewish Festival called Shavuot, fifty days after Passover, the traditional day that the Ten Commandments were received off Mount Sinai.  Our Pentecost is fifty days after Easter, more or less.

What you may not have realized until this morning is that there are actually two Pentecost stories.  There are two different accounts of the Disciples receiving the Holy Spirit.

The first account is the one read from the book of Acts.  This is a story about a sound, coming from heaven, a sound like a mighty wind.  Nobody got their hats blown off, but the sound drew a crowd.  The laundry list of those gathered represents the known world at the time, the territory conquered by the Romans.  And as they gathered there was all kind of excitement as those who received the Holy Spirit were empowered, as Luke says, “To speak of the mighty works of the Lord,” and this same Spirit allowed each to hear in their native language.  A miracle indeed.  A powerful, public event.

This is, of course, what we call the ‘birth of the church.’  The church, in a few short minutes went from a cowering band of followers to people literally on fire for the Lord.  Peter is exhibit one.  Just 53 days ago he denied that he even knew Jesus.  Now he stands publicly and launches into a sermon replete with biblical references that connects this miracle with the identity of the Messiah, and the purposes of God.  This is one account of Pentecost.

Some would argue that this event precipitated the birth of “a” church.  When I was in seminary we were all required to go on a ‘cross cultural trip,’ not unlike the trip people just made to Pittsburgh with the Pittsburgh Project.  Because of certain family commitments I could not go with the group, so my advisor and I made arrangements for me to go to Costa Rica, stay with “Ecclesia De Dios” pastors and their families, and to study the transition there from orthodoxy to Pentecostalism. 

Did you note the last three letters of the word I just spoke?  They called themselves Pentecostals.  On the afternoon I arrived in Pavas the pastor took me to his little church.  There inside were pews, a chancel of sorts, with a central pulpit.  But in the pew racks where the hymnals should be there were tambourines.  You heard me right.   That evening was their Wednesday evening service.  I sat in the back, just like you.  An older woman sat next to me.  She said: “¿Eres un Pentecostal?”  I said, “I don’t know what you mean.”  She said, “¿Tiene el Espíritu Santo?”  I said, “Yes, I have the Holy Spirit.”  She said, “Oh, usted habla en lenguas?”  I said, “No, I don’t speak in tongues.”  She asked, “Entonces usted tiene el don de sanidad!”  Again, I suppose I disappointed her, I said, “No, I do not have the gift of healing.”  Finally, she just looked at me quizzically, and slid down the pew away from me.  See, being a Pentecostal, and receiving the Holy Spirit mean different things to different People.

It isn’t always about fireworks and great crowds.  In our other lesson, from John’s Gospel, the disciples were hidden away in an upper room, afraid, waiting for heaven knows what.  Later in the Gospel, after we all have received the prophecy that Phillip and the others received, they were gathered, waiting.  Jesus had already told them to be prepared for this very moment.  Maybe they forgot, I don’t know.  What we do know is that Jesus stood among them and said to them again, “’Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I send you’ and as he said this he breathed on them, and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

This Pentecost story is not based on the experience of Exodus, chapter 34.  It is based on Genesis chapter 2.  There God has formed the whole of creation, except one last thing.  There is says that the Lord God formed humankind out of the dust of the ground and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”[1]

In the Pentecost story from John’s Gospel we receive no less a miracle than the account in Acts.  The Holy Spirit gives life, uniquely, to all humankind.

The Disciples were waiting around, shut up in an upper room out of fear or worry or uncertainty, I don’t know what.  But when Jesus breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit they were able to do what he asked them…to be a people who were sent.

It is one thing to pray for the Holy Spirit to bless us.  Which I believe it does.  It comes quite naturally when I am at the bedside to pray for the Holy Spirit to bring you healing and wholeness; to deliver you from whatever is death at the time: illness, worry, and frustration, and pain, poverty of body or spirit.  “Come, Holy Spirit,” I gladly pray.

It is this same Spirit we bid comes around this table.  It is the same Spirit that through the mystery of faith allows us to become one with Christ and with one another as we share this bread and this cup.  I pray for this, earnestly, I pray for this.

It is quite another thing, however, to pray that the Holy Spirit may come to us and move us to do things for which life and sacrament strengthen us for, to be a ‘SENT’ people.  See you do not need the Holy Spirit if your highest desire is to be the ‘Men’s Club’ or even a nice fraternal society.  But if you want to be a real church, out there in that dangerous and challenging world, the real world as we know it, so full of need for the “powerful works of the Lord,” then we better have that Spirit.   If we want to be a disciple, then we’ll need this breath of life.  I’m just saying.


[1] Genesis 2:7