(watch here: https://youtu.be/Zz0tP_HHDAc)
1When 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.
5Now 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.’
14But 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.”
There’s a story told about a little boy who was flying a kite, much like my little boy was flying his own kite in the last few weeks. Well, it was a windy day, and the kite kept going higher and higher. Finally it got so high that it was out of sight. A man passed by and saw the little boy holding onto the string. The man could not see the kite, and he asked the boy, “How do you even know you have a kite up there?” The boy replied, “Because I can feel it.”
Every year we dedicate this Sunday to celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was a gift foretold of by prophets of old, prophets like Joel as we heard in our reading. It was a gift graciously given to us by Jesus in the days leading up to and following his death, resurrection, and ascension. In John, we hear Jesus say, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (14:26) Jesus knew he had to leave us but he didn’t want to leave us feeling abandoned. Jesus left of us with hope for a new guide and leader. The Spirit would carry on what Jesus had started and we would never have to feel abandoned. The Spirit would help us to keep Jesus alive in our thoughts and deeds. The Spirit would further teach us about God and how we are to live as faithful Christians. These are the promises of the Spirit and we are forever grateful for the gift of the Spirit.
Yet, like that boy holding a string to an unseen kite, we have little to show for the gift. The Spirit is unlike other gifts. We can’t see the Spirit. We can’t touch the Spirit. We can’t smell the Spirit. We can’t hear the Spirit. We simply feel the Spirit. We simply intuit the presence of the Spirit. The Spirit compels us to live as God wants us to live, righteously and without fear. Feelings, intuitions, and compulsions are hard things to celebrate. Our tendency is to think that because the Spirit is without any form or substance then it doesn’t need to be celebrated. But the Spirit is still very much a part of God who can take on all forms and substances and thus deserves our celebration and gratitude.
Besides, the Spirit works in pretty admirable ways. The Spirit somehow managed to gather Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem fifty days after the Passover. They were no doubt pulled in several different directions as they were coping with what had happened with Jesus. Fifty days is hardly any time to process the greatest miracle the world has ever known! But the Spirit gathered them and caused them to speak in a multitude of languages, much like when the Spirit caused the people who were building the Tower of Babel to speak in different languages so they couldn’t complete the tower. Those around the disciples were naturally confused but the Spirit also enabled the disciples to understand each other. It wasn’t the same experience as the one at the Tower of Babel after all. You see, the Spirit empowered the disciples to speak words of wisdom just as the prophets of old had foretold.
Every Sunday we gather to celebrate the various ways that God blesses us throughout the week. We give thanks for the many ways that He provides for our needs. Now who do you think gathers us together if not God himself through the work of the Spirit? The Spirit is working in our lives to create opportunities for us to collectively worship God. Our gathering is a gift of the Spirit. And if we take it one step further, we all come to this time of worship speaking our own unique languages. Each of us comes before God with our own joys and sorrows, appreciations and regrets. Each of us comes with our own lists of needs and wants. So naturally each of us speaks differently to God just as God speaks differently to each of us. We think we’re speaking a common language, saying the same prayers, confessing the same words, asking for the same forgiveness, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. No, we are all speaking our own language with God depending on what we bring to worship and what we’re hoping to get of worship. The Spirit helps us to understand each other though. With the help of the Spirit, we can understand each other’s joys and sorrows, appreciations and regrets. We think the miracle of gathering and communicating happened a long time ago but it happens every week in this church!
The work of the Spirit is more than gathering and empowering. The work is more than teaching and reminding. The work of the Spirit is about helping us and blessing us. In times of great sorrow, Paul reminds us of the Spirit’s work: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (8:26) There are times in life when we need more than a gathering or a lesson. We need help in our weakness. We need to know we are not alone in our misery. The Spirit provides such strength and companionship. We are empowered to share our sorrow and understand the sorrow of others.
We celebrate more than simply the work of the Spirit though. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are blessed with the fruit of the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul notes, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (5:22-23) These fruits feed our very souls and we experience sheer joy. They help us to live in harmony with God and with each other. They also help us to better understand and share our sorrows and joys with others. With these fruits, our different languages become one and we are the body of Christ in this world.
Though the Spirit is little more than a feeling of an unseen kite, we celebrate all the ways it blesses us through its fruits, help, gathering, and empowering. Indeed, we wouldn’t know the love of God without the gift of the Spirit. Let us give thanks for the work of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. May the Spirit guide us and lead us through the weeks and months ahead.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.