Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Pentecost!


THE STORY OF PENTECOST

Last week, we left the disciples on the mountain having just watched Jesus ascend into heaven. As Jesus, ascended, angels appeared to the disciples and told them to go back to Jerusalem and to wait because Jesus was going to send them the Holy Spirit. The disciples didn’t know what the angels were talking about - they didn’t understand what this Holy Spirit was or what it had to do with them, but they did as the angels told them to do. They went back to Jerusalem, back to the room they had been hiding in since the crucifixion and they waited some more.
It is important for us to remember that the disciples were Jews - they were faithful Jews who still observed all the Jewish laws; they were faithful to observe the Jewish Sabbath and they were faithful to practice all of the Jewish festival days. In the Torah - the first 5 books of the Old Testament - God instituted for the Jews days and seasons that were to be set apart and were times when the Jews were obligated to stop and to observe these days. Most of the time the purpose of these days was, and still is for practicing Jews, to remember important events in Israel’s history and/or to dedicate or thank God for something in particular. It is the same reason we have special days and special seasons in our church year - each one of them is designed to remind us of a significant event in our history as the people of God - most of those days for us, however, are important events in the life of Jesus; events that are important for us to understand our faith.
When we think about the Jewish feasts and festivals, Passover is the special festival we are most familiar with and was designed to remind the Jews of how God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. But there were several others feasts and festivals that were given to God’s people and the Jews emphatically were told by God they were to participate in these special times. And the people took this seriously - God set up these spe
cial times and told his people to do what he told them - and they did! And orthodox Jews still do!
During the time we call Holy Week and Easter, the Jews were participating in the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. We are familiar with Passover but not so much this Feast of Unleavened Bread where Jews would gather at the end of Passover to thank God for a successful barley crop. The people gathered with a loaf of unleavened barley bread and a sheaf of barley and dedicated them to God understanding that God was the one who helped them have a successful crop. 50 days later was the Jewish festival called Pentecost - so keep in mind there is the Jewish festival of Pentecost and a Christian celebration of Pentecost and they are two totally separate celebrations. While our Pentecost began at the Jewish Pentecost, we remember them for two very different reasons! Jewish Pentecost was 50 days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It celebrated two things - one was the dedication of the harvest and to ask God to continue to bless their crops. This festival also celebrated the law of Moses - the first 5 books of the Old Testament - what the Jews called Torah. For Jews the torah is the most sacred book - for them it contains the actual words of God written down by Moses. The Torah was their life - it told them who they were as a people, it told them how to live and it identified them as belonging to God. At Pentecost, the Jews came together to remember that God loved them so much that he gave them his words in the Law. And remember when you hear or read those words, “The Law” it is not referring to the 10 commandments, but to everything God said and all the stories found in the first 5 books of the Old Testament.
On Pentecost - Pente means 50 - 50 days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Jews gathered on Sunday morning - all the Jews from around the world -
all of them. Each Jew would bring a loaf of leavened Barley bread and at exactly 9am all the Jews would raise their loaf of bread to heaven, the Priest would pray thanking God for the harvest and asking for a successful crop to come - and at the end of the prayer the loaves would be left behind and given to the poor.
This particular Pentecost that we remember today, the Pentecost about 2000 years ago that occurred 10 days after the ascension of Jesus, as all the Jews gathered at the temple, including the disciples
of Jesus which we are told numbered 120 persons - something different happened. Now remember
that this is a feast of obligation - 1000s of Jews from around the world were at the temple because during this time in history there were Jews living as far away as Spain, all the way around the Mediterranean Sea, up as far as northern Greece, down through Africa as far south as Ethiopia, over to Libya, in Egypt. All of these Jews traveled to Jerusalem and were there at the temple to present their offering. But this year as they raised their loaf of bread and the priest began the prayer, they heard a loud ‘boom’, and violent wind began to blow through

the temple and for a moment everything stopped. Everyone dropped their loaf of bread and began to look around. What was going on? Then fire came down out of the sky - the Bible calls it tongues of fire - came down and landed on the shoulders of the disciples. The wind stopped and immediately the disciples began to turn around and tell the people around them about Jesus Christ.
Now think about the amazement of this. First we have the disciples who have up until this moment been hiding for fear that someone would find out they were disciples of Jesus - because they figured if the Jewish authorities found out they were followers, they would meet the same fate as Jesus. And now, in front of everyone, they are testifying about Jesus. The second miracle here is that all these people from around the world are hearing the disciples in their own language. So the disciples are speaking in Aramaic, and everyone is hearing in their own language - Egyptian and Spanish and Latin and Greek, Ethiopian - whatever their native language was. These tongues of fire represented the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised to the disciples that day on the mountain as he ascended into heaven. He said, “I am going to send you my spirit to help you!” And we see the remarkable change in these disciples that this spirit caused. These fearful, timid fishermen were boldly preaching the gospel of Jesus not caring who heard them or who knew they were followers of Jesus - and the spirit was transforming their words so that all could understand what the disciples were saying.
You see the stark contrast to the story we read in Genesis? The story of the tower of Babel? Here people have decided to build a tower to the heavens - not to go see God, but to show God that they could do all this great work without God’s help. They were sort of thumbing their noses at God saying, “See we don’t need you. We can do great things on our own!” So God said, “Think so? Well how’s this for you then?” So God ‘confuses’ their language - meaning all of them started talking in different languages and they could no longer communicate with each other enough to continue building the tower.
But now, thousands of years later, the spirit of Jesus comes to the people and on this day, through God’s miraculous power, people begin to understand each other. Jesus is bringing back together what was once torn apart. God makes all things right!
But think about God’s work here and God’s impeccable timing. When Jews from all over the world are gathered together, God’s spirit comes down and gives the disciples the courage and the confidence to begin to teach people about Jesus. God makes it possible for everyone to understand what the disciples are saying. And 3000 of those who heard the gospel believed. Now, all of these people who came to believe also received the spirit of God and when they leave the Temple they are going to go back to their homes - around the world - with the spirit giving them the courage and confidence to teach those in their home towns about the Good News of Jesus Christ. So with this one event, God has begun the spread the story of Jesus around the world. And in these communities, groups of believers begin to come together into churches which begin to do the work of God in their local areas. And these churches then begin to teach and more people heard and the spread of Jesus began! What a wondrous event!
This is why Pentecost is often referred to as the Birthday of the Church because it is the coming of God’s spirit, just as Jesus promised as he ascended into heaven, that inspired these 120 people, which then inspired the 3000, who then inspired countless others in their home towns and the people of God, the followers of Christ begin to let their light shine wherever they went!
So today we celebrate the coming of the holy spirit, the tongues of fire that came down and began the spread of Christ’s message around the world and we celebrate the beginning of Christ’s church which is the vehicle by which Christ’s work could be continued. And even more important, we celebrate God’s spirit which has come to live in each of us - to inspire us and motivate us and uplift us and give us the courage and the confidence to to continue this work began 2000 years ago. To continue the spread of God’s message, to continue Christ’s work of healing and reconciling this broken world.
Celebrate the spirit with each and every one of you, and if you just let go and let that spirit work, God can continue the amazing work began in that temple on Pentecost Sunday with a loud boom and a strong wind and tongues of fire! Amen!