Everybody Wants to Love and Be Loved – June 5

A sermon based on Acts 2:1-21
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on June 5, 2022
by Rev. Scott Elliott

I was wondering what it would be like if Jesus’ return is like Pentecost and we all know beforehand? I laughed thinking people would probably want to know if it will be online so they can watch it at home, and some would come to church but want to leave early so they don’t have to talk to strangers. Others might ask questions like “Will the fire on my head make me bald?” “Will the wind muss my hair?” “Can we wear a hat?” “Can we pick what language we learn to speak?

I am guessing even back in the day; folks would have asked a lot of questions if they knew what was coming. Which may be why John the Baptist left if obscure in Luke (chapter 3) when he prophesied that someone more powerful than he was coming and he only said they’d baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Anyone who heard John the Baptist make that proclamation was likely baffled by what it meant.

We are lucky because we have the sequel to Luke that tells us at least what the spirit and fire looked like. The Book of Acts is the sequel where we find John’s prophesy fulfilled on Pentecost. But that fulfillment seems more baffling than the prophesy. As we heard, the Jesus Followers, in the chaos of the loss of their leader, are sequestered in a house in Jerusalem. They are suddenly startled on the morning of the Jewish holiday Pentecost by what sounded like a violent wind. Then something like tongues of fire appeared in the room and one of the tongues sat on each Jesus follower as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The immediate consequence of all this was the Jesus Followers began to speak in a tongue foreigners could understand. When they went out on the street this amazed and baffled the Pentecost pilgrims that they encountered. Somehow pilgrims from nations far and wide could understand the Jesus followers, the tongues-like-fire gave them a tongue to speak to the world.

In the midst of this scene Peter steps forward and provides an explanation only half of which is set out in the Lectionary cutting. A short summary of Peter’s whole explanation is that they were witnessing Joel’s prophesy that in the end times all of humanity would equally experience God’s Spirit. Even those who were outcasts and dismissed by the culture would hear from God and speak for God. There would be signs in creation too, before “the Lord’s great and glorious day[; T]hen everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In the verses that follow our Lectionary lesson, among other things, Peter goes on to set out Biblical promises of a Messiah and then explains how Jesus fits the bill and how all the Jesus followers on the street that morning were witnesses to Jesus being raised up and that Jesus is now exalted at the right hand of God and they are supposed to let everyone know Jesus is Lord and Messiah.

Theologians and preachers pretty much agree that those reported happenings on Pentecost serve to mark the beginning of the early church. But theologians and preachers have debated for years what it all means. At one level it is fair to conclude it’s all a mystery full of wonder and awe. Which it is, and that is an okay approach. Mystery can be good and Holy. Another approach is to glean parabolic meaning, metaphors if you will. For instance, some themes in our lesson seem to overlap with creation motifs of wind and light and God’s fiery presence in the Bible. Each of which we can relate to the creation of the Church and God’s presence on Pentecost and the light Jesus meant us to be.

The creation story in Genesis like the first Pentecost begins with chaos. We are told right off the bat in Genesis that “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” We have discussed a number of times how “wind” in Hebrew is “Ruach,” a feminine word meaning Spirit. So, before Day One begins God’s windy Spirit is swirling about in the chaos of the cosmos as God readies the birth of creation. After the wind swept in, the next step is God speaking. The first thing spoken was, “Let there be light; and there was light.” Out of darkness, out of chaos, God’s Spirit and God’s Word create light and a brand-new day.

Until very recently in human history there were only two sources of light, celestial bodies and fire. We sort of get both in our lesson. At dawn in the midst of the chaos of the loss of Jesus, the Divine wind swirls about and heavenly sent fire like tongues shows up to light up the dark for a brand-new day, and a brand-new way. The tongues alight on the Jesus followers making them in essence human torches of God light. There was darkness and now there is light. There was chaos and now there is order and hope in the Way of the Messiah Jesus.

See, not only is the wind Ruach (the spirit of God) but God is the fire that that alights and ignites as it lights up the Jesus followers and the world. Just as God appears as the image of wind, God is also found in the image of fire in the Bible. In the Exodus story God often appears in fiery images. As a bush on fire, as fire on mountaintops and as a fiery pillar that leads the Hebrews out of the chaos of the wilderness. God appears as fire on the first day of the Church leading the Jesus followers out of the chaos of the loss of Jesus. But ever since Pentecost God is understood to also appear in us. To borrow Jesus’ assertion, now that he is gone, we are the light of the world baptized with spirit and with fire. Both of which are with us always, so we can bring the Breath of God into chaos and the Light of God into darkness so that others can experience God too.

The Pentecost story can be heard as a parable about the Church beginning as a new creation of God’s. We were, and are created, with the windy Holy Spirit and light of God and each follower of Jesus is baptized with that Spirit and with that fire getting a dose of that new creation. The point is we are alight with God as Jesus was before his Ascension and that we are to be like Jesus and bring God out into our community and to the ends of the world. The Pentecost story symbolizes that the Church and the followers of Jesus are equipped to do just that with language everyone understands!

But can we speak in the tongues of the world? Do we have the language to get the word out to the ends of world as Jesus commanded? The Pentecost story, of course, suggests that we do. Some of us may believe the Book of Acts’ account of the Jesus Followers all suddenly speaking foreign languages is literally true, some of us may not. But either way we can understand it’s a miracle that Jesus’ tiny little following after Pentecost speaks to the world in a language everybody can understand. Christians can be found literally speaking virtually all languages almost everywhere in the world. That’s a prophetic meaning.

There is also another parabolic meaning. We can understand Jesus’ teachings are what’s being spoken by the Jesus Followers. Those teachings are universally understood because they are in the language love. Everyone can speak it. Everyone can understand it. Everyone wants to love and be loved. One of my all-time favorite songs is about this. It’s by a wonderfully gifted singer songwriter, Ingrid Michelson. The song is simple and powerful like Jesus’ message. It’s called “Everybody” and you have likely heard it on the radio. That lively uplifting song includes these words: “everybody knows the love/ Everybody holds the love/Everybody folds for love/Everybody feels the love/Everybody steals the love/ Everybody heals with love . . . Just let the love love love begin/Everybody, everybody wants to love/ Everybody, everybody wants to be loved . . ./Just let the love love love begin.”

I not only love those lyrics I believe they are true, and I imagine they have always been true for humankind. We want to love and to be loved consequently we want to just let love begin. That first Pentecost represents the first day the Jesus Followers felt on fire with love sent by Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Ignited by that fire they step outside and let it shine as a bright light in the community. They let love begin, because they wanted to love and be loved–and Jesus wanted them to love and be love. The people on the street were ready for it because they wanted to love and be love–because love is, and always will be, humankind’s universal language! It’s the language of God too of course. And it’s the language of Jesus and he taught to his followers. Since the first Pentecost, love has been the language of our faith.

Love is universally understood. May we speak it as much as we can. Because “Everybody, everybody wants to love/ Everybody, everybody wants to be loved.” AMEN!
1. Ingrid Michelson wrote the song “Everybody.” It is a lovely song that can be purchased on Amazon music.