Jun 21, 2019
Focus Reading Acts 2:1-21
When the Spirit is poured out in the Acts reading, the disciples begin to speak in other languages. The Jewish people gathered from all around the world for the Festival, probably spoke common Greek and they all would have known a little Hebrew, but their day to day language would have been the one from their local area. They would have spoken this in their homes. When they thought about and spoke to those they loved that would be their language. The miracle of the Spirit on that first Pentecost and even today is that God through the Spirit speaks the language of the heart. When the Spirit was first poured out until this very day we hear and have revealed to us the wonderful works of God in our heart language! God is with us and speaks to us in a way which grips us and transforms us. Gripped by that love, like Peter and the disciples we too should share the wonderful works of God in the power of the Spirit.
Originally preached 2018 recorded June 2019.
********** Sermon Text *************
At the start of acts Jesus says to the Disciples that he is
the Father and that when he goes he will send a helper the power
from on high who will enable the disciples to be witnesses to Jesus
from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
A little later we hear that 120 believers including some women
are gathered together. We know that some disciples like Matthew
and Joseph of Aimathea were wealthy men, there were fishermen,
at least one revolutionary Simon the Zealot, and many others from
many walks of life.
I want to be a tiny bit controversial here. I believe that miracles
can happen, that God can intervene in ways that do not seem to be
naturally possible. So when I have heard today’s story from Acts 2 I
have generally taken for granted that what is recorded there
happened more or less as it is portrayed. There are other people
however who look at the things that Luke writes about in Acts and in
Luke’s Gospel and comes to the conclusion that the story in Acts
reflects the real experience of God gripping and transforming
people’s lives but that it is not necessarily meant to be one specific
event, but a telling of what God’s Spirit did in the lives of the
believers. In other words some Bible scholars would argue that the
events on the day of Pentecost did not happen exactly as they are
described but instead they are like a parable which tells us what the
Holy Spirit, God and the church are like.
Luke in his Gospel and in the book of Acts tells the story about
Jesus and how his message and salvation began in Bethlehem and
ended up spreading through most of the Roman Empire. In today’s
reading Jewish people from all over the Roman Empire have
gathered for Pentecost. Pentecost is a harvest festival and it was one
of three festivals which asked Jewish believers to travel to the
temple. In the story we heard Jews had gathered for this festival and
they had come not only from Israel they had come from all over the
known world. Hear the words from our reading. Acts 2:9–11 (CEV)
9 Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from
Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, 10 Phrygia,
Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome, 11 Crete, and
Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to
be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the
wonderful things God has done.
It is likely that people from these backgrounds would have
gathered for the festival. The Jewish people had been scattered far
and wide for hundreds of years, and so they spoke many languages
and among them devout believers would try during their life time to
travel to Jerusalem for the major festivals like Pentecost. In the story
we heard from Acts these people witness a miracle. The disciples
who between them probably only spoke a few languages suddenly
able to tell this new and strange message about God’s salvation
being revealed in the life death and resurrection of Jesus in their own
language, in the language they spoke at home. Imagine for a moment
that you are a fifth generation Australian, but you live and work in
China, you speak fluent Chinese, but at home with your family you
speak English with an Australian accent. You attend a local Chinese
church. All of a sudden one Sunday after church you hear a preacher
on a street corner and he’s not Chinese, He’s speaking about Jesus
and God’s love in English with a clear Australian accent. What would
it mean to hear your faith expressed in the language of your heart,
the language of your birth.
Those who argue that the story of the first Pentecost was not a
literal event are saying that there was no miracle of people speaking
languages they did not know. They are also saying that it may not be
true that 3 000 were converted on one day. They are saying that Luke
is telling this story to tell us that the message about Jesus crosses
boundaries and speaks to people’s hearts, to the core of their being.
They are saying that the message about Jesus even crosses cultural
barriers, and that God speaks to the heart of people who are very
different to ourselves.
Now for those of us who believe that miracles can happen, this
story could well be quite literally true, BUT that message that the
Love of God revealed in Jesus speaks in the language of our hearts
that God speaks to our core being is I believe the core message of
this Bible story, because within 20-30 years of the first Easter and the
firs Pentecost the story of Jesus had begun a movement which had
spread throughout more than half of the Roman Empire and today it
is the largest religion with well over a billion people across the globe
naming themselves as Christian.
Whether 3000 people heard that message in their own tongue
that day and were instantly converted, or not, well over 3, 000
people in that year or so of the church’s life did hear that message
and they were converted and the church is now represented on
every continent on earth.
You see God is present to people and God speaks the language
of our heart. To illustrate this I want to tell a personal story. In the
winter of 2004 in Clermont, I remember being at a very low ebb.
Indeed on this day I was in tears. My Father had recently died and my
girl friend had even more recently dumped me. I was sitting in my
office in tears and I went to the front door and found there a parcel.
In that parcel there was a number of things. There was a warm
woolly hat. There were a couple of paintings by the children of a
friend of mine. There was a note or card to say that my friends and
their children were praying and thinking of me and there were some
melting moments. As touching as the note, and the pictures and the
hat were it was the short bread buiscuits that really go to me. I love
shortbread and what also touched me was the timing. My friends
knew that my father had died. I don’t know whether they knew that I
had recently been dumped by my girlfriend, or that I like shortbread
but they certainly couldn’t have known that, that morning I was in
tears, and even if they had they could not have arranged for Australia
Post to deliver the parcel on the right day and for me to find it at just
the right time. There was nothing magical about it and yet it was a
miracle. God spoke to my heart, to my core and said I am with you.
That day I had high school RE and I took my present and like Peter
and the Disciples I told the story of the deed of God’s power and love
that had just happened in my life.
When Luke speaks of the coming of the Spirit, this is a big part
of what he is describing. God is with us and speaks to us in a way
which grips us and transforms us, speaks to us in our language, in our
terms. Moreover for Luke the Spirit calls and empowers not just men
but also women, of all classes and backgrounds to be witnesses to
this Good News of forgiveness, love and salvation in Jesus. For God
can and will speak through tax collector, and fishermen,
revolutionaries and women of ill repute, through the educated and
wise and through the untutored and the simple and God can and has
and will speak through you, to hearts of others to their inner being.
The day of Pentecost when through the Spirit God spoke to the
hearts of men and women in their own language and transformed
their lives is not just a thing of the past. It is a thing of the present
and the future too. We are witnesses to these things.