All of a sudden, they understood! The scared disciples becoming courageous proclaimers, the hesitant and doubt filled ones now bold and assured, the Aramaic speaking ones, now heard in all possible tongues. What was happening?
Jesus had promised from the very beginning that he would leave but that he would not leave the disciples alone. Again, and again, he told them that he would die and leave them, but the disciples did not believe. In fact, often they responded in despondency and anger. "Stop talking about that!" They would say.
But soon, the unthinkable happens and they all, in their own way, go back to life as before. The memories of their life with Jesus becoming like a fairy tale, sadness settling in because they missed their friend. Disappointment settling in because, for a moment, it seemed that all was lost. Then he appears, like he said he would!
He again walks with them and talks with them, he reminds them that they are to carry on the work that he had begun, that although he had to leave, he would not leave them alone, he would send his Spirit. As he was lifted into the heaven, he tells them to go back to Jerusalem and wait there...
I can only imagine the excitement mixed with apprehension as the followers of Jesus gathered in that upper room. This time they could not go back to life as usual. They had not just witnessed their friend, teacher, and Lord die, but now they had experienced his resurrection. They had touched his wounds, seen him enter into locked rooms, and disappear into thin air. They had been reminded of their mission, to continue the work that Jesus had begun. To continue healing, exorcising demons, restoring, forgiving, peace-making, loving. As they went about their work, they were to remind those around them that the kingdom of God was visiting them, the shalom of God, the wholeness and completeness of God taking form right before their eyes.
Just thinking about it overwhelms me. I can imagine this upper room gathering in our congregation. We are supposed to do what? How are we supposed to do what Jesus did? There is no way that we can continue this work!
Yes, it would be easier to just be good. To settle for the tame, safe, and average doings of religious life. The rhythms of occasional church attendance, a Bible study here or there, an occasional check in the offering, and a service project once a year. We can do that, that is achievable. After all, it is the language that we know.
Jesus had other things in mind!
His life, death, and resurrection showed us that we could become more, we could be agents of God's language, not just to those that we know, that look like us, live like us, and behave like us, not just to those that speak our language, but instead to all of humanity.
This language, the language of redemption, new life, forgiveness and reconciliation, peace, and love is a universal language that opens the pathways for all of creation to live into the fullness of God, right here, right now.
True that we, left to our own devices, are unable to "do this." We cannot just learn this language on our own through the latest app. We too need a comforter, one that comes and empowers us to be about God's work in ways unimaginable. We, too, need Jesus with us always. That is the only way that we'll be able to continue his work.
And so, on this Pentecost Sunday, I pray that we are waiting ... waiting for the promised Spirit. Can you hear it? You can't miss it. According to the story of our faith, it came loud, obvious, and difference-making. It came howling, breath-taking, and on fire!
The unexplainable happened, as the wind blew, as the pneuma of God came into the upper room, flames of fire rested on the disciple's heads. They could not see their own, but they could see them in each other. The flames resting, making home - the flames hot, searing, marking the disciples as bearers of the beloved community of Jesus. Making them able to proclaim the message to anyone that would hear!
Soon the ones who gathered were transported outside. The proclamation of Jesus heard among the crowds gathered. These were not your everyday crowds, the crowds represented humanity across time and space. From all corners of the earth, all known languages, faithful ones beyond the cultural center of Jerusalem. The God of Israel reminding all that gathered that they too belonged, that the message of Jesus was for them also.
The gathered ones could hear it because they could understand it. Amazingly enough, these disciples seem to command every language spoken in the gathering. They speak with authority, fluently, with mastery and confidence. The Spirit becoming the interpreter, the tongues of fire providing a universal message that would change absolutely everything.
Some, sensing the Spirit of God at work, marvel at what they are experiencing. Others are incredulous, it is too much for them to believe. They rather blame it on too much wine!
Today, we are the disciples who gather in a room. The question is: What are we waiting for? Many of us have spent many years gathering in this room that we call a sanctuary. We have come and we have gone, we have heard the story of our faith over and over again. We might not even remember the first time that we heard the story of Pentecost. Sunday School? Vacation Bible School? A sermon? It would be easy to come on this day with no expectations.
Yet, the promise of Jesus to those who gathered in that upper room is our promise, too. We, too, have walked with Jesus, have heard the stories of Jesus, and maybe have chosen to follow in the way of Jesus. We, too, have heard the promise that God's Spirit will be outpoured and we might have experienced it, in a new child being baptized, in the anointing of one who is sick, in the gathering around the table of Eucharist. The Spirit has been called forth and has shown up, have we perceived it?
Today, I invite you to pay attention. Can you hear the Spirit's roar, the howl of the Spirit's entrance into our spaces of worship, the flames appearing in our sisters and brothers, our tongues loosened in order for us to speak the language of those who desperately need the good news? Are we "understood?"
Long ago, when I came to the mainland from Puerto Rico, I spoke very little English. Every time that I stepped out of the house I felt lost, there was little to help me navigate the new surroundings. Even the most common activity, going to school, to church, to the grocery store seemed like entering a different planet.
As I began to learn the language, as I began to translate from English to Spanish in my head, the world around me became more familiar. Little by little, I could not just hear but understand, I could navigate the everyday in ways that rooted me and helped me flourish. As time went by, I no longer needed to translate, the moment that an English speaker addressed me, I knew. I also recognized the subtleties of the language, the colloquialisms, clichés, and humor. But also, the facial expressions and the non-verbal language of emotion.
On this Pentecost Sunday, we must get ready. The world around us continues to grow more diverse, continues to become more multi-lingual. What would it look like for us, by the power of the Spirit, to speak in ways that others would understand?
As you leave worship today, look around! What do you see? Who is gathering and what are they gathering around? How are your neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances spending their time? Where is the Spirit of God showing up? How is God breaking into history in the places where you live, work, and play?
After all, we are the disciples of Jesus. The ones who have chosen to follow in the way. The ones who gather around table, again and again, asking for the Spirit to come, to be outpoured on us gathered together. The ones who wait expectantly in our sanctuaries of worship to be empowered from on high, so that the mission of Jesus can continue through us.
Because we have chosen discipleship and the Spirit has been and will continue to be outpoured upon us, then we have the opportunity and honor to become multi-lingual, spirit-possessed, mad-like, proclaimers of the good news of Jesus to a hurting, hungry, and, at times, hopeless world.
Let us be understood so that the promise of that first Pentecost from the prophet Joel, can be heard by all who have ears once again:
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days, I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved"
So, come, Holy Spirit, come Holy Spirit, come Holy Spirit! Amen!