By Paul Koch –
So last Tuesday I met with my friends and colleagues down at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newbury Park. Together we translated the first 21 verses of Acts 2. Now this text is a familiar text, every year on the Day of Pentecost we read and work thought this same text. So we went through the usual motions; we pondered about where they were gathered together, for it doesn’t actually say they were in the upper room. We noticed that while the text says there was a sound like a great rushing wind, it doesn’t actually say there was a rushing wind, kind of creepy right? And of course we laughed and made jokes about Peter’s great defense that they couldn’t be drunk because after all it was only 9 in the morning, obviously he was never in college.
The thing is most of us are all really familiar with Pentecost. We know that it is a celebration fifty days after Passover; it was originally a harvest festival that was used to celebrate the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. And we know the story well about what happens on that first Pentecost after the death and resurrection of our Lord. They the disciples where gathered together observing this festival in Jerusalem when something magnificent happens, the sound of rushing wind, the tongues of fire that appeared and rested on each of them. We know full well the tale of how they began to speak the words the Spirit of God gave them to speak and though there were many nationalities gathered in Jerusalem each person heard these disciples speaking in their own native language. It was nothing short of a miracle, a fulfillment of what was spoken of by the prophet Joel, a sign of the great and magnificent day of the Lord.
And so we celebrate this great outpouring of the Spirit. Pentecost is often called the birthday of the church. And you can see why. It is a pinnacle moment where the Comforter, the Helper that Jesus had promised comes to the disciples and the missionary zeal of the early church is ignited. No longer will they hide away in closed rooms brooding over the events of Easter and its meaning, no now they will head out to preach the good news. And yet, though this is all so familiar there is something amiss, something that doesn’t quite seem to fit. In fact, I think there is a conspiracy surrounding the events of Pentecost. I mean we love to talk about the coming of the Spirit; we love to cherish this moment and marvel about God’s powerful work, the trouble is those who actually experienced it, don’t seem to treat it the way we do.
I think there is an ominous silence about this event in the rest of Scripture. I mean think about it, Peter who gives this great sermon on this day never references this moment, this particular event, in either of his two letters. And that goes for the other disciples as well. And wouldn’t you think that when St. Paul is brought into the fold and taught the faith that he would have been told about Pentecost, why then doesn’t he ever mention it in his writings? How come throughout the pages of Scripture we never hear a recounting of this great day? The Deliverance from Egypt, the giving of the Ten Commandments these are told over and again. The death and resurrection of our Lord are constantly held before us in Scripture, why not Pentecost? Don’t you find that a little strange?
This is the great outpouring of the Spirit of God and those who experience it never seem to focus on it. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this. After all many have sought to get a hold of the Spirit in such a profound and powerful way as the disciples, without success. From speaking in tongues to seeing visions to a burning in your hearts there is a constant desire to get ahold of the Spirit like this and yet he always seems to be just outside of our reach, beyond our control, beyond our ability to possess. So perhaps they don’t focus on it because focusing on the coming of the Spirit isn’t the point of Pentecost – perhaps that’s the great conspiracy.
So we watch as Peter rises before the crowd and tells them that what they are witnessing is the great outpouring of the Spirit of God, a day that marks the beginning of the end. But what then does he do? Does he explain about the sound of the rushing wind and the tongues of fire? No. Does he give them a five step plan on how they too can speak as the disciples do? No. Does he at least tell them that this gift of the Spirit is one they too can experience though special meditation? No. Does he say if only you believe enough, pray enough, do enough good things you too can share in this experience? No.
So what does he do? Well, he begins to preach. In the text that follows our reading he directs them not to their character or the events of that day but to the Words of Christ.
Peter begins to hammer them with the Law. He calls them to account for the death of Christ. And if he was standing here today he might very well say the something similar to us. After all we have been given hope in his glorious work but do we even understand the sacrifice? Was it not for your sins that he died? When he felt the sharp and piercing pain of the nails in his hands and his feet was he not looking to you, to you sin, to your constant failing? Does he not cry out from Calvary and say, “Look, look at the curse I bear for you! Look at how my heart breaks when I find you so ungrateful.”
But on Pentecost the Spirit has more than the Law to speak. Broken by the Law and crushed by their own guilt the hearers of Peter cry out, “What shall we do?” And here Peter’s words deliver life and light and hope. He says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For this promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
And also this celebration may have begun as a remembrance of the giving of the Law but now it is a day when the Law is fulfilled in the life and sacrifice of Christ. This day then becomes one of faith and hope not in ourselves or our own creativity or work at all but only in the gifts of Christ himself. Peter fueled by the outpouring of the Spirit begins to kill and make alive, to break down and bind up, to give life and salvation to all 3000 gathered in Jerusalem who heard his words that day.
So I think we have found out the reason for the conspiracy. The apostles never speak about this day because there simply isn’t much to say. The Spirit of God doesn’t point to himself, he is never the center, he is never the goal. Rather the Spirit comes to fill the ears of the people with the Words of Christ. The Spirit is poured out to point us to the cross and empty tomb. The Spirit is given not so that we have faith in the power of Pentecost but in the one who died and rose for us all.
The Spirit then sends into your hearts the Words of life; Words that take ahold of your broken and hurting hearts and say, “I forgive you, I love you, I will never forsake you.” The Spirit that grabbed ahold of the disciples on Pentecost has grabbed ahold of you. And he directs you not to the remembrance of that moment but to your Lord himself, he fills your with his gifts, and declares that you are free. And if that wasn’t enough he then places that very Word into your mouth and sends you out into this world to set others free. Now that is quite a conspiracy.