Scripture for the Sunday of Pentecost:
Acts 2.1-21; Psalm 104.26-36,37b; Romans 8.14-17; John 14.8-17
The Jewish festival of Shavuot is the time when Jews celebrate the gift of the Law was given to the people of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai – fifty days after Passover. Greek-speaking Jews called it Pentecost. It was (and is) a popular, joyful, but serious occasion for celebration, when the people of Israel were invited to participate in a new and wonderful thing that God offered to them.
This is why in first century Jerusalem many people would have gathered for the festival. God may move in mysterious ways, but sometimes moves in obvious ways. The gift of the Holy Spirit, given to the disciples of Jesus, needed to be shared: Shavuot, or Pentecost, brought together a large gathering of prospective believers.
In John’s gospel, Jesus breathes the Spirit into his disciples in the room where they are staying. In fact, listen carefully to Luke’s version, in Acts. The Spirit comes upon the disciples and “filled the entire house where they were sitting.” So, not outside …
Some like to say that at Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the church – what does that mean? Perhaps as for the Jewish people at Sinai, what it means is that God set in motion a particularly spectacular new thing through the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, and passed it on to a chosen group of successors through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then when a suitably large gathering of prospective believers was assembled, God dramatically splashed the Spirit upon those disciples – who then HAD TO GO OUTSIDE and spread the Spirit upon that receptive audience – to share it.
So perhaps it is something of a simplification to call this the birthday of the Church, but we certainly celebrate a point at which the new and wonderful thing that began at Sinai was abundantly amplified, first through Jewish believers, and then throughout the Gentile world.
What is God’s “new thing?” Peter, at that first Christian Pentecost, quoted words from the prophet Joel which speak of salvation. Jesus’ form of salvation was about turning people towards one another in compassion and love in this world and throughout time.
Many people, all over the Christian world, have been praying between Ascension and Pentecost the line from the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Your kingdom come.” Delivering this kingdom of justice and peace is what is amplified abundantly at Pentecost. Acts tells us that “every nation under heaven” was represented: it might have been hyperbole at the time, but not as the Spirit took hold of people and drew them into the business of turning themselves and the world upside down. For God’s kingdom to come, we all have to be willing to be turned upside down, one way or another, even though very often God builds upon the solid foundation of what has gone before.
The Law of Moses was the beginning, but not the end; and Jesus knew that his ministry was a beginning of something his followers would need to take up. God’s new thing is in fact not a single thing, but a process of delivering the kingdom through successive generations of believers. Pentecost reminds us to be alert, to be expectant, to be receptive to what the Spirit inspires and empowers us to do: and to remember that like the disciples in a Spirit-filled (overflowing) room, we have to be willing to go outside to share it! Then, indeed, God’s kingdom will come, one step at a time – one new thing at a time.