Week of June 12 - Pentecost Day
Epistle: Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “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.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Think about living in Israel.... It’s dry, and it’s hot. Every year there is a wind which blows as the seasons change from winter to summer. It’s called the Hamsin, and it’s like a bad north wind that we get here on a foul hot, dusty day. The moon goes blood red, even the sun, like we get with a bad dust storm. We get a few days like this each year. In Israel, it happens every year! It is so regular and predictable, that the wind, the Hamsin, has been named after the time it lasts. Hamsin means “50”, and it lasts about that long; fifty days.
It was a time of great anxiety in ancient Israel, because a bad windy season could destroy the harvest. Imagine having a couple of rainwater tanks, and maybe a well in your backyard; or more probably there would be one a few streets away. That’s all the water you can have.
And the only food you have is what you can grow. There is no Coles, no Woolies, no IGA. The rich people at Hillbank might have enough money to buy food in, but here in Elizabeth, if you don't grow it, you won't eat it!
This meant harvest festival, harvest thanksgiving, was a really big deal; no tinned foods on the table down the front. At harvest festival, which they called Pentecost, there was a real, fervent thanksgiving for the harvest. And if the harvest was poor, there was a suspicion that God was not pleased. A poor harvest, or a bad windy season with the Hamsin, was a sign the people had not been faithful, they thought, and that God was punishing them.
There was a man named Joel, the son of Pethuel. And he wrote about the worst of the things that could go wrong during the time of Hamsin, the windy season. On the wind had come a locust plague. That 50 days of wind brought absolute disaster, because the locusts eat everything.
A massive locust plague sounds like fire burning in stubble (2: 5). It crackles as they munch their way through the ripening crop. It’s like an army of enemy tanks:
Each keeps to its own course
they do not swerve from their paths.
They do not jostle one another,
each keeps its own track,
they burst through the weapons
and are not halted.
They leap upon the city,
they run upon the walls,
they climb up into the houses,
they enter through the windows like a thief.
In all the heat and the dust of the hot wind, the Hamsin,
the earth seems to quake before the plague of the locusts
the heavens tremble,
the sun and moon are darkened. (2:5-10)
So think of the worst summer dust storm day,
with the wind howling,
the dust making it dark,
and the bushfires raging in the hills and paddocks.
And then add the sound of locusts swarming
whipping around on the wind
getting into every corner of the house
slapping your face as the smoke stings your eyes.
Your whole life is being eaten up and burned around you.
You have sinned.
Now you will suffer Gods' anger;
there's nothing left.
You will starve.
That's how people felt. And you and I know ... that on those foul north wind days, we can feel the same.
There is no getting away
from the wind and the heat,
and the wind and the heat
feel just like our lives;
blown to bits,
burning out of control,
What the prophet Joel was saying to the people... was, "This is not God. This is not what God desires for you.” Listen to his words:
O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing-floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. (Joel 2:23-27)
And my people will never be put to shame again.
The real harvest thanksgiving day of the Lord
is one of those glorious, warm, sunny Sunday afternoons,
when Centrals are winning,
life is good,
our troubles are forgotten for awhile,
and we have a little taste of heaven.
And there is more... much, much more than steak knives...
And then says God, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.
This is a pun— a word joke in Hebrew.
The people feared the Hamsin, the Wind. But the Wind is also called Ruarch, which also means ... Spirit.
Wind is Spirit. Wind and Spirit is Gods' love coming upon us, and living in us.
I will give you my spirit God said. It won’t just be for special prophets, but it will be for everyone; sons, daughters, old and young, even the slaves.
And then he says, Look at the Hamsin wind and what it does. Remember the moon like blood in the dust storms. Remember how the clouds and smoke of the bushfires are so terrible and so threatening when the Hamsin north winds blow. (2:32)
But remember something else, said God. Remember when I brought you out of Egypt ... with pillars of fire and cloud? Remember how at the giving of the Law— all my love and grace for you at Mount Sinai— remember how then ... there was smoke and fire and cloud.
So when the great and terrible days come, remember these are my signs in the sky; they are ultimately my signs of my love. And "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
And Joel the prophet goes on to talk about how God will save and preserve the people of Israel.
"Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations "(4:20) God will love the people, no matter what comes.
Now what's happening in Jesus time, which is centuries after Joel, is that people have got his message. They’ve read his book; they've read the Law and the other prophets. There are devout Jews from every nation under heaven, as it says, living in Jerusalem. And they have believed Joel and all the other prophets, and the message that God loves us, and the message that one day the spirit of God will be poured out on all flesh.
They are just like us. They can see the evil in the world, fire and war and suffering. And just like us they have the temptation to give up. They feel like there's no point. The world’s a mess. God’s angry with us, they feel. Or maybe God just doesn't care.
But like us, they are faithful. They say, “No, we see the signs that God loves us. God will look after us. God will restore us."
And then one morning ... a bunch of people who are praying together ... have a massive trip. There’s a wind... inside the house. It seems like tongues of fire touch them, and they have an overwhelming experience of the love of God. Except it's not a trip, despite what some people thought, and said about new wine. They haven’t been on the weed. We know this because other people, the story says, can hear them talking in their own languages, people from all over the world.
What is this?!
Peter says, "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel. It’s finally happened. This is a new age. The plagues are over. God’s spirit is being poured out on us all. God does love us. A new thing is happening. Call on the name of the Lord and you can be part of it.”
We can be a part of it...
But here’s the thing; I can't have that experience of Pentecost morning. That’s happened. I'm living after Pentecost in the new time, in the new understanding of God. What I'm called to do is live with a glad and generous heart. Let me read some more of Acts 2.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (2:43-47)
The thing about Pentecost ... is that it filled us with love. We can live with love. At Pentecost this was given to us again. The spirit is given.
My experience is— I’ve tried this— that if I go looking for religious experiences, I always get short changed, and I never really find joy.
But when I love ... I am free. And sometimes, God who cannot be bought or manipulated touches me with Pentecostal joy.
Live with Love. Then the Spirit who has been given to us becomes real.
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