I’ve heard the story of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21) every year for nearly four decades.
I remember as a boy arriving at church on Pentecost Sunday to find red helium balloons attached to the pews. I affirmed my baptism, along with other members of my Confirmation Class, on Pentecost Sunday. At Trinity this year, we celebrated Pentecost Sunday (pictured above) with red ribbons twirling through the air, two baptisms, and a Christian from Uganda reading the story of Pentecost in his native Lugandan before joining Trinity by affirming his own baptism. (You can watch the liturgy by clicking here). These were all ways of celebrating the story I thought I knew so well.
But this Pentecost I learned something new. I had always just assumed that the crowds “from every nation under heaven” that heard in their own languages were there with the disciples from the beginning. But that’s not the way in which Acts tells the story! It was after the wind rushed, flames appeared among the disciples, and the disciples started speaking in the native languages that the crowds came. First, there was a holy commotion, a holy sound, and then the crowds showed up.
“And at this sound the crowd gathered …” (Acts 2:6a)
This detail is not insignificant. In getting this order right, we discover the Holy Spirit’s three step process in forming the Church of Jesus Christ. First, the Spirit makes some noise in the gathered believers. Then, the Spirit speaks through believers in languages people around them will recognize. Finally, the Holy Spirit provides a curiosity in the crowds to see what is going on.
“And at this sound the crowd gathered …”
Understanding the Spirit’s work in this way, I ask you: what are the ways the Spirit is making noise and speaking through us as a congregation for the sake of our neighbors?
- What holy commotion is the Holy Spirit making in us here at Trinity?
- What new languages of love, service, and understanding is the Holy Spirit speaking through us to our neighbors in Worcester representing every nation under heaven?
- What radical acts of relationship, what astounding acts of understanding, what dramatic acts of compassion, is the Holy Spirit preparing us for to make?
In May, I had a lunch with a church consultant and coach who claimed that congregations, especially here in increasingly secular New England, who turn inward and focus on institutional survival don’t stand a chance. Nobody wants to join a navel gazing congregation. He claimed, however, that congregations who open themselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, who forge new relationships with their neighbors, and who form themselves in new forms of community, are being renewed right now. People are attracted to communities such as these, because there is new energy, life, and vitality.
So, Trinity Church, are you ready to make some Holy Spirit-inspired noise? I’m not talking about being noisy and adding unnecessary and unwanted volume to an already loud world. I’m talking about the holy commotion of new relationships and new forms of community. I’m talking about disruptive and sacrificial relationships. I’m talking about community shaped by the wholeness, dignity, and liberation announced in Jesus Christ.
With the Holy Spirit poured out upon the disciples at the beginning of Acts Chapter 2, at the end of the chapter we find them living together in a radical form of community. “All who believe 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 … 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 the people.” (Acts 2:44-47). Imagine the holy commotion that community caused! It was attractive. “Day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)
Let’s make some noise and let’s speak some new languages! Let’s open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in us and through. In faith, let us participate in this holy work.
“And at this sound the crowd gathered …” Amen! Indeed may it be so!
(This article also appears as the lead article in the June Trinity News – the monthly congregational newsletter of Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester.)