A Loud and Jarring Awakening

A sermon based on Acts 2:1-21
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on June 4, 2017
by Rev. Scott Elliott

As we heard in the Pentecost story wind and flames wake folks up in a house. It dawned on me when I was preparing this sermon that I have two stories; one of wind and one of fire waking me up in a house.

Some of you may recall that three years ago I drove down to Florida to finally move Nancy up here. Nancy and I packed and cleaned our old house and then drove for two long days to Ohio. We unloaded and exhausted we fell fast asleep. But we were awaken by a middle of the night tornado siren and a long sit in a cold unfinished basement. The next night the same thing happened. And, so, I had to convince Nancy that I was pretty sure we would not have to hide from terrible winds every night in Mount Vernon, but I pointed out I had not yet been through a summer here. Just the warnings caused by the power of the wind woke us up and got everyone’s attention in our house when we began our stay here!

My other wake-up story has to do with fire. There’s a longer version I will likely share one day, but here’s the short version: it also has to do with moving at a time of new beginnings. When I was nineteen, on the day my parents officially split apart, my sister Sam and I helped our father move to an old isolated ranch house many miles away. After the long drive and all that moving I looked forward to a full night’s sleep on the living room couch. But something woke me up well before dawn. It was not a tornado siren. I like to think it was the Holy Spirit. See, there was no smoke alarm in the house and when awoke I saw an open door at the end of the hall completely engulfed in flames. Items hung on a towel bar to dry had fallen onto an old gas heater, ignited, and caught the door on fire. I dashed out of bed and (I think this part was Spirit driven too), I grabbed a blanket and hugged it around the door smothering the flames. Then I woke my father, and the two of us – hacking and coughing in the smoke– unhinged the smoldering door to get it outside and doused with water. Needless to say the flames of fire and its awesome power got everyone’s attention in that house!

Those are two stories of beginnings with the power of wind and fire getting MY attention! I actually hope you do not have similar stories. But they are similar in my mind in some respects to the wind and fire in our lesson this morning. While we tend to think about the story of Pentecost in a non-disturbing way nowadays– with nice looking flames and the pleasant color of red– in the story the power of the Holy Spirit actually shows up in a house in disturbing, fast and furious, loud and violent, wind and fire like happenings. The Church starts powerfully with “a sound like the rush of a violent wind” that first filled the entire building, and then flames of fire appear.

Once the disciples’ attention is obtained, the disciples are Spirit driven to all speak at once in a powerful cacophony of languages. All of these initial happenings caused a crowd to gather and they in turn hear the disciples speaking in their different languages about God’s “deeds of power.” This is such a noisy happening that Peter has to raise his voice for everyone to stop and listen and hear the powerful Spirit driven message he preaches.

Last week we heard Jesus’ instructions to his followers, telling them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit had come upon them; and they’d be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Jesus was not kidding!

Pentecost needs to be heard as story of immense loud and jarring power showing up. You may recall that God’s spirit “Ruah” is the very wind, the breath of God, that swirls about as God speaks creation into being in the first Genesis story. We need to hear IN this story that, that very wind– the incredible creating breath of God– shows up to set the scene that leads to the creation of the Church through spoken words understood by all. You may also recall that God powerfully appears to Moses “in a flame of fire out of a bush” as the journey of the Hebrews exodus out of Egypt and toward first the law and then, the promised land, began. It began with God’s very holy presence in fire appearing to God’s chosen leader and getting his attention. We need to hear in this story that, that very fire– the incredible holy flames of God– shows up to set on each Christian to lead to the creation of the Church and others to experience the very Holy presence of God. In other words, Pentecost is the day we remember that the power of the Holy Spirit showed up to awake, – to begin– the Church with the Spirit of God’s creative winds and holy flames of fire.

And we’d do well to keep in mind that it was not a gentle awakening. The Spirit showed up in a house with “a sound like the rush of violent wind” and “divided tongues, as of fire!” I can tell you from experience, those things startle you awake in a house! So it is not surprising that there is ensuing confusion in the house the disciples are in.

What is surprising is that the confusion is not so much caused by the powerful wind and fire awakening, as it is by the disciples’ response to it. The message of the power of God being spoken in languages from the ends of the earth–where Jesus said the disciples would be equipped by the Holy Spirit to go– that message the spoken word of God– is more overwhelming in the story than the powerful sound of wind and sight of fire. The sounds and sights gets their attention, but it is the disciples’ speaking that blows them away (pun intended). We are told

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? . . . in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

Skeptics brushed it off as the disciples acting drunk, those folks “sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” But Peter . . . raised his voice telling the skeptics the disciples were not drunk, THEN he preached the amazing section we heard from the prophet Joel.
It’s amazing because the very first sermon ever recorded as having been preached as the Jesus Following became the Church is not about beliefs, doctrines or God only filling Christians with the Holy Spirit. Citing very Jewish scripture, from the very Jewish book of Joel Peter preaches to Jews who came to Jerusalem from the ends of the earth, Peter preaches that God has declared the Holy Spirit– the very one appearing before them and empowering the disciples– will be poured out on ALL flesh.

Peter and Joel are makings it clear –with God’s word– that ALL means ALL young and old, males and females, and slaves, are mentioned as in line to have God’s Spirit poured out upon them. And Peter preached “they too shall prophesy,” which means speak for God with inspired words. God is not just for some elite group, God is for and in everyone.

Peter ends his sermon from Joel noting there will be signs in heaven and on earth “‘before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” In the Hebrew Joel actually says they shall be delivered. What we who call on God are saved and delivered from is a lesser way of being. We (alone and together) are bettered by calling on and walking with God. That does not mean we are supposed to consider and treat others as lesser, or that we are to think of ourselves as better than others in our, or God’s, eyes . . . it MUST be a humble walk with God. Salvation and deliverance are not to “one up” others. It’s an ALL upping event– we and the world together are meant to be saved and delivered from whatever it is that might makes us lesser without our calling on God, without our humbly walking with God.

The good news is that Pentecost was loud and sensory filled meant to wake not just Jesus Followers in the room up, but to get the attention of everyone to hear God’s message. The one summed up in Joel, that everyone young and old, male and female, elite and non-elite are in line to have God’s Spirit poured upon them. God’s not just filling an elite group with the Holy, but everyone. We should love knowing that! And celebrate it especially today because that’s the Pentecost message . . . THE. HOLY. SPIRIT. IS. FOR. ALL. HUMANKIND.

AMEN to that!