Scripture Readings: Ezekiel 37:1–14 | Psalm 104:24–37 | Acts 2:1–21 | John 15:26–27, 16:4b–15
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
One of the joys of moving somewhere new is that you get to experience each season of the year with a renewed sense of adventure. What will winter feel like here? How hot will it be in August? What will the leaves look like in the Fall? What’s going to grow here come Spring?
This is our first Spring in our new house, and so far it’s been a great adventure… especially as the weather’s warmed up, and our yard’s begun to bloom. We’re practicing ‘No Mow May’, where people delay cutting the grass in their yards until June begins, to give the bees and other pollinators something to sustain themselves after the long wait of winter. We thought we’d just see dandelions having a field day, so to speak, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the variety of flowers… of new and unexpected life that has sprung up all around us.
Wide patches of white Canadian violets, and wild-strawberries… all sorts of scattered Johnny jump-ups, forget-me-nots, and daffodils, and not to mention the host of others whose names we don’t yet know, and whose shapes are unfamiliar. Together, along with the dandelions of course, they make a beautiful but unexpected garden… a blessing, both to us, and hopefully to the bees… and a reminder that new life often comes as a surprise.
Today the Church celebrates the holy day of Pentecost, which for thousands of years had been an ancient festival for Israel, but which had been given new life and meaning for those who trust in Jesus Christ, as this was the day God’s Holy Spirit was poured out into our lives. As we heard in our reading from Acts Chapter 2, at Pentecost, God was fulfilling His promise, made through the prophets long ago, to fill up His people… old and young, women and men, slaves and free… with His own Divine presence and power… so they could all together take their part in His great mission to bring salvation to our world. To reconcile and rescue us, to restore us in His righteousness… to share His life of holy love with all who will call on His name.
At Pentecost, the Spirit of God at work in the life of Jesus… from His birth and baptism, all throughout His faithful life, in his trials, suffering, and death, and in His rising from the dead… this same Spirit was given to us, to Christians… in order to fill, empower, and lead ordinary people like you and I. To bring God’s New Life in Jesus Christ to birth in and through believers… guiding us deeper into lives shaped by the truth of God’s Good News.
All this and more is packed into the meaning of Pentecost. It’s an unexpected, easy to misunderstand part of our story, one we might just be tempted to skip on past as soon as possible. But to do so cuts us off from seeing how God’s Spirit’s at work even today; bringing new life and power, and hope, both to and through His people.
Before our reading today taken from the book of Acts, the entire Christian movement could have fit inside this room (that is, St. Luke’s Church). Maybe not with COVID-19 social distancing measures in place, but in Acts 1:15 we’re told there were only about 120 believers at this point. Picture that for a second. All those who had come to believe in Jesus Christ, the Risen and Reigning King of heaven and earth… who were also called to share the Good News of Jesus with all the world… they could all fit inside these walls… with all the world outside their doors. Talk about a daunting, seemingly impossible task. How could a group of 120 ordinary men and women even start to take their message and share it in a meaningful way? Especially as they were still at risk of being arrested by the very same people who had arrested and crucified our Lord? All they had to go on was the promise Christ had given them: that He would send them an Advocate, Someone to take their side who would fill them with God’s power, and truly lead them on. In the mean-time, they were to wait, to trust the LORD, and seek His will. Which we’re told they did, gathered all together in constant prayer.
Throughout the centuries, this is what God’s people have been called to do: to gather together, to trust in the LORD, to wait, and to pray… not because there is nothing else to do, but in order to be prepared, ready to take our part when God’s unexpected, powerful New Life breaks through, even when it seems like the time for hope is over. When it seems like there’s no way forward, and that the end has come.
This was the kind of situation faced by the people of Judah when Jerusalem was conquered, and they were taken off into Exile. They had seen their entire homeland, their whole way of life, overthrown and ruined by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar. Though the prophets of YHWH, the LORD, had long been warning that this would be the result if the kingdoms of Israel and Judah continued on in their unfaithfulness, God’s people had not turned back to Him, and so they lost everything. They were as good as dead. At least, that’s how they saw things: “Our bones are dried up,” they said “our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Yet the Living God was far from done with His beloved people. Despite their fears and failures, God would not abandon them, and as the vision of the prophet Ezekiel makes plain, God’s life-giving Spirit is full of powerful surprises.
Our reading today from Ezekiel 37 stands out as one of the most striking images of hope in the entire Bible, pointing us towards God’s faithfulness even beyond death… which would come fully to light in the resurrection of Jesus. Though the people had given up, God Himself would have the final say. The Old Testament scholar, John Goldingay, sums up God’s response like this. “They feel like a people who are dead and buried. OK, says God, I shall open your graves and bring you back to life… When the people of God seems to be finished, it’s not finished.” Just as in the vision the dry and scattered bones were gathered together, and the Wind, the Breath, the Spirit of God restored the bones to full life, God promised to gather His people again, restore them to their homeland, and put His own Spirit within them, so they might truly live… that is, so that their lives might fully share in God’s own life… taking their part in His life-giving holy love for our world.
Back in the book of Acts, at Pentecost, over 500 years later, God’s promise through Ezekiel was bearing surprising fruit. Those 120 believers, waiting and praying together, found themselves caught up in God’s New Life breaking out, both for Israel, and for all nations.
“[S]uddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” In an instant, waiting gives way to God’s Spirit filling Christ’s followers, enabling them to speak in tongues they did not know before. This would no doubt be a blessed, unforgettable experience, one which would strengthen their faith, and draw them closer to God and each other, even if it only involved the 120 gathered together. But of course, the whole point was God’s Spirit was moving in their midst to empower them to share the Good News of Jesus with the world! And that is exactly what happened… which is why we’re here today.
After the Exile, Israelites and Jews were scattered all through the ancient world; living among all sorts of communities, speaking all sorts of languages, far from their homeland, but holding onto God’s promise to restore them. Many would come on the holy festivals, like Passover, and Pentecost, to worship at the rebuilt Temple of God in Jerusalem. And suddenly, this multitude of pilgrims, gathered in their homeland once again, heard this small group of believers sharing the Good News of God in their own scattered languages... reaching out to each of them in ways they could clearly understand. And though our reading today doesn’t let us hear the whole story of Pentecost, Act 2:41 tells us the message was received: “So those who welcomed [Peter’s] message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.”
From 120 to over 3,000… a surprising new community made up of Jews from Galilee, Jerusalem, and all over the ancient world… and this was just the beginning, the first-fruits of God’s rescue mission to reach out to all people with the Good News of Jesus… so that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21). The book of Acts recounts how this community grows, gathering together Jews and Gentiles, and spreads throughout the world. And over the centuries, it’s still growing! The Good News of Jesus is still reaching out and transforming our world today, renewing lives, restoring hope, and reconciling us with God and each other… bringing God’s New Life to birth even here in Gondola Point.
You and I are part of the evidence of God’s faithfulness and power, gathered together in worship, prayer, and holy love in Jesus’ name, thousands of years after the Spirit was given at Pentecost, and part of a worldwide family, the Church, with billions of sisters and brothers!
I don’t know if any of the 120 believers who had got up that Pentecost morning could have possibly imagined what God’s Holy Spirit was about to begin through them, but you and I have plenty of reasons to hold onto hope in what God is up to. Not because there are no challenges ahead, or failures behind us. Not because we have it all figured out, or have all the needed expertise. No, our hope is that the Living God we’ve come to know in Jesus Christ, loves to draw ordinary people like us into His own surprising story of worldwide salvation, through His Holy Spirit at work in us.
The Anglican priest and theologian John Stott sums up how indispensable the Holy Spirit is for the life of the Church with a particularly forceful point: “Without the Holy Spirit, Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, even impossible. There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christlikeness of character apart from his fruit, and no effective witness without his power. As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead.” The Holy Spirit isn’t an extra, optional part of the Christian faith. The Spirit is God’s own life giving presence and power among us, and out in our world… drawing us into the resurrection life of Jesus our Lord, and working through us in surprising ways to share His saving love with all.
Here at St. Luke’s, may God’s Holy Spirit come powerfully among us. May He share God’s hope with us when we are feeling broken, lost, and alone. May He draw us deeper in our devotion to Jesus, helping us seek His face in prayer, and follow in His ways. May the Holy Spirit convict and challenge us when we need it, leading us back to the truth, and restoring us in God’s mercy. And may He open our hearts to be ready and able to take our part in Christ’s mission, to share the New Life of God… even in ways that might be full of beautiful surprises. Amen.
 John Goldingay, Lamentations and Ezekiel for Everyone, Old Testament for Everyone (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 184.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 60.