Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-21 | Psalm 104:24-35 | 1 Corinthians 12:3-13 | John 20:19-23
“Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21
It is amazing how suddenly our plans can change.
This week many of us were looking forward to gathering for the first time in months to worship the Lord at St. Luke’s Church, celebrating Holy Communion together on the feast of Pentecost. We were excitedly anticipating this step towards a new beginning; a return to our familiar sacred space and spiritual pattern of life… even if that meant making some adjustments, and doing some things quite differently. But on Friday afternoon, we began to hear the news that we must all wait a little bit longer. For now, we must be patient and look forward in hope for when that day will finally come, as much as we want to gather together as Christ’s Church today.
Interestingly enough, our Scripture reading this week from the book of Acts also has to do with gatherings and anticipation for a day that’s to come. Not to mention sudden disruptions that call for action as well.
Our reading begins with the disciples “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1), somewhere in Jerusalem, fifty days after Jesus Christ’s resurrection, and a mere ten days after He had ascended to heaven. Before His ascension, the Lord had told them to wait there in Jerusalem until they were filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit of God. They weren’t given much more details that we know of, or any sort of a timeline, and yet they faithfully gathered and waited for what God had in store for them.
Then came the Jewish festival of Pentecost, where devout Jews would gather from all over the Roman Empire and beyond to worship Yahweh, the Living God, in joyful celebration and offering the first fruits of their harvests. It was also a time they would celebrate God’s giving to Israel the Tablets of the Law through Moses at Mt. Sinai: remembering, as one scholar words it, the way God gave “to his redeemed people the way of life by which they must now carry out his purposes.” So as the disciples sat and waited, Jewish pilgrims from far and wide were gathering right outside their door for one of their yearly festivals… completely unaware of the surprising new thing Yahweh, the Living God, had in store for them too.
Suddenly, we hear of the rushing wind, and the flames of fire from on high: the Holy Spirit of God fills up the house where the disciples were waiting, and He goes on to fills all those people who gathered there as well. We hear how they all begin proclaiming God’s Good News with surprising power, in ways far beyond their own abilities or imaginations… speaking to those gathering in Jerusalem, not in their own familiar ways, but in the diverse languages of the world they had never uttered before. God’s Spirit was doing something new in and through Jesus’ followers, and He wanted the world to know about it.
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, especially when those words are unfamiliar and hard to pronounce. When we hear the list of the names of the languages being miraculously used by the disciples, our minds might drift a bit if our ancient history and geography are a little rusty. Hopefully this picture can help us New Brunswickers get a clearer sense of what was happening, and just how diverse the disciple’s audience was on that day.
Represented among that crowd were people from all parts of the known world, and though religiously Jewish, these pilgrims would have had many significant cultural differences from one another, including their languages. Yet as they gathered together in Jerusalem, God’s Spirit filled up St. Peter and the other disciples in such a way that all were able to hear and understand, despite their differences. The Lord was at work uniting those who had gathered by the Good News of Jesus, making one a divided people by reaching out to all. As the same scholar points out, this was no accident or random event: “God is dramatically signaling that his promises to Abraham” (that through his family, Israel, all the families of the world would be blessed. See Genesis 12:1-4) “are being fulfilled, and the whole human race is going to be addressed with the good news of what has happened in and through Jesus.” This is in line with what St. Paul would one day proclaim in his letter to the Corinthian Christians: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13).
We go on to hear how St. Peter begins to unpack the real significance of this surprising moment: Claiming that Israel’s Lord, Yahweh, the Living God, was now fulfilling the promises made through the prophets long ago, pouring out His own Spirit upon us humans, so that we all might be rescued… saved to share in God’s divine life through Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. “This work of God is wonderfully inclusive,” this same scholar writes, “because there is no category of people which is left out… But it is wonderfully focused, because it happens to all ‘who call on the name of the Lord’”. This Good News, this message is meant for everyone… for every-one. Rich and poor... women and men… slaves and masters… everyone. No distinctions hold, all are invited: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).
And just like how centuries earlier, when God had given Israel the Law at Mt. Sinai, calling them into a new way of life aligned with His holy love, God was now pouring out His Holy Spirit, inviting all to call on Him and be saved, while also calling them (and us too!) into a radically different form of life: forgiven, united, inspired, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to reflect into and share the goodness and holy love of God with this broken world, which the Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again to save.
Pentecost is sometimes referred to as the birthday of the Church, for it was then that God created this new community shaped by and for His Good News. And right from its birth, from its very first moment, we hear something vital about who we are, and who we are meant to be: the Living God created us in Christ by the Holy Spirit… for everyone. Filled with the same Holy Spirit, and set apart as His holy people, the Church gathers together in order to share God’s holy love... with our world. We are not the only ones God is working to gather in… we’re simply the first fruits of the Lord’s worldwide harvest.
This means that Pentecost is not simply something strange and wonderful that happened once long ago, it is a pivotal event that tells us contemporary disciples of Jesus Christ something absolutely vital about the shape of our own lives, both when we’re together and when we’re apart: we have been gathered together into one family by the Living God, saved by God’s Son Jesus Christ, and filled with God’s Holy Spirit to share in God’s great rescue mission… as the Spirit equips each one of us individually “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).
It will be wonderful when we can gather together again at St. Luke’s Church, and I am looking forward to that day with eager expectation. But that cannot really be our primary focus or goal. Yes, we look forward to that day… but let us also be urgently looking into how the Living God is calling us to take our part in what He is doing today, and let us be prayerfully listening to where His Spirit may be leading us, as individuals and also as a Parish in the days to come. We have all been drawn together here in Gondola Point, as part of the one Church of God… drawn together from all the nations and peoples of the earth… to be filled, and nourished, equipped, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and to be sent back out into the world as living signs and messengers of God’s ongoing, rescuing work in the world… so that everyone might call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.
May this Pentecost-shaped mission transform our hopes and actions as a Parish. May the Holy Spirit fill us with all we need to do God’s will, and may He work in us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ through all we do. Amen. Alleluia.
 Wright, N.T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (p. 21). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
 Wright, N.T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (p. 27). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
 Wright, N.T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (p. 29). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
 Wright, N.T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (p. 34). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.