TODAY IS PENTECOST! Be honest now, how many of you had trouble sleeping last night because you were so excited about waking up this morning and celebrating Pentecost. I am certain some of you went shopping on-line just to pick out a Red Pentecost Dress for this special occasion? How many of you men went straight to your closet and picked out the red tie you only wear once a year? OK, OK, I am getting a bit too excited. How many of you even remembered today was Pentecost? Once upon a time, Pentecost was THE CELEBRATION of the Christian year. It was bigger than Christmas. That, of course, was before Santa. But through the centuries Pentecost has just got lost in the shuffle. Often it falls on Memorial Day. Once I remember Pentecost was on Mother’s Day. When either happens, Pentecost just gets tossed aside. But this year Pentecost is the week after Memorial Day. We have a whole hour dedicated to this historic moment in the life of the church. The problem is, I am afraid many of you don’t even know what Pentecost is. Let’s start with the basics. Pente is the Greek word for the number 5. We are all familiar with that five sided building in Washington called the Pentegon. Pentecost stands for not 5 but 50 days. Since I only have limited time let me share the 5 top reasons we should celebrate Pentecost.
REASON NUMBER FIVE – Once a year we get to use the Red Parament cloths. Tuesday I asked all of you to wear something red. I hope you remembered. At my last church in North Carolina half the church went crazy on Pentecost because they thought they had showed up at an NC State pep rally. The other half of the congregation were Tar Heel fans so they stayed home. Truth is Pentecost should be a pep rally. It is the day we celebrate the fire of the Holy Spirit coming to rest on the shoulders of the Apostles. This marked the beginning of the Church in
. Their first act was to leave the upper room and cry
out, “Christ is alive and dwells within us.” Pentecost is our Birthday. Jerusalem
REASON NUMBER FOUR – This might be the only religious holiday that has not been kidnapped by Fifth Avenue. We don’t exchange presents, there are no Holy Ghost Eggs, and I doubt many of you are going home to eat the Pentecost flame broiled roast. Believe it or not I have never seen a line of Pentecost cards by Hallmark. Pentecost is exclusively our holiday. It is a day when Presbyterians get to use the word Pentecost without feeling the least bit charismatic. Once a year, we Presbyterians get to stretch our imaginations and claim to be spirit filled. I know you aren’t going to talk in tongues even in the privacy of your own home. Except for Peggy Toms and Sandy Gallager none of you are going to lift up your hands when we sing. But today we can celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit and no one will think any the less of us. Maybe we should do it more often. Maybe on occasion we could let an “Amen” or a “Praise God” slip out. On Pentecost we get to loosen our ties and think about what might happen if worshiping God was a joy rather than an obligation.
REASON NUMBER THREE– I get to show off my biblical skills by explaining that Pentecost means, “50 days after Easter.” Originally Pentecost was a Jewish holiday celebrating Moses retrieving the 10 Commandments from Mount Sinai. It was the celebration of God giving us the Law. For Christians it is the day we celebrate God giving us the Holy Spirit. Put them together and we are celebrating the continual gift of God’s Spirit helping us understand God’s Holy Word.
REASON NUMBER TWO - The greatest sermon in the New Testament was preached on Pentecost. When Peter finished speaking, 3,000 folks asked to be baptized. To suggest that Acts 2 is just another sermon is like saying that
Lincoln’s address was just another political
speech. Peter reinterpreted the history
and the faith of the church in a way that gave the listeners hope and
purpose. A man who hours before had been
hiding in a back room suddenly found the words to begin the greatest religious
movement known to human history. Words
became deeds. Faith was rediscovered. The
Word of God, spoken by a simple fisherman, became the catalyst for a new age of
belief. Pentecost marks the moment Christ was first proclaimed. I know that the resurrection is our great
theological moment, but Pentecost was the human response to God’s amazing
grace. Remember the Great
Commission? Jesus told the disciples, “Go,
tell my story. Make disciples of all people.”
Pentecost was the first time this happened. Pentecost is our ecclesiological birthday. Think of the ways we celebrate the birthdays
of friends and family members. Shouldn’t
the church have its own day to dress up and sing, “Happy Birthday”? Gettysburg
Finally, THE NUMBER ONE REASON FOR CELEBRATING PENTECOST - Pentecost is the day the Holy Spirit reminded the disciples that Jesus was not just a memory, or a story or an idea. For three years Jesus had been a living and unceasing presence in their lives. Then he was gone. Their memories were fading. Their hopes were eroding. The disciples sat in that upper room both confused and disillusioned. It had been over 50 days since the resurrection. They even thought about giving up. They wondered if God had forgotten them. Then Spirit of God arrived.
We all know what it is like to sit in the same room for 50, 60, 70 days. I have watched so much Jeopardy I am sending a challenge Ken Jennings. I haven’t eaten a bagel from Bodo’s in so long I can’t remember why I loved them. I am so starved for sports I now watch the World Cup Stacking championships. My motto used to be, “So many books, so little time.” Now the only thing in my library I haven’t read is Calvin’s Institutes.
Today we need a huge dose of the Pentecost Spirit. This pandemic has turned our world upside down. We need to remember God has always been the one who creates, heals, enlivens, and is always doing a new thing. Pentecost is that moment in time when God said to 11 ordinary people, “The world can be changed and the world can be healed if you are willing to be an agent of transformation and a dispenser of hope.”
On Pentecost Peter walked into an angry, frightened, and disillusioned mob and calmly declared, “We are not alone.” People from all walks of life, people visiting Jerusalem on holiday, people who could not understand a word of Aramaic understood Peter. They stopped whatever they were doing and turned to listen to this uneducated fisherman from Galilee. “We are not alone. God’s spirit has been poured out upon us. We will see visions. We will dream dreams. Not even death can compete with the power of our God.”
The rest was history. Enemies became friends. Rich and poor shared meals. Those with heavy hearts were uplifted. Those who were cynical believed. Those who believed were transformed. It was a day like no other. With one holy visitation the world went from what I fear to what WE can become.
Different folks read the same Bible different ways. For some folks the Bible is the answer book on how they will get to heaven. For others the Bible is the inspiration for how WE will bring about heaven on earth. This is the message of Pentecost. On Pentecost God declared that WE mattered. On Pentecost God declared WE would never be alone. On Pentecost God declared WE would be bonded to each other in this radical experiment called church. It will be a place where everyone is welcome. It will be a place where love, grace, and compassion would abound. It will be a place where no one would be called, “they”. It will be a place of transformational harmony in the midst of institutional chaos. Sometimes the experiment has worked. Sometimes it has failed. But somehow the church remains. In the midst fear and despair, in the midst of war and chaos, in the midst of pandemics and disease, in the midst of death itself, the church continues to declare, “We are not alone.”
This is our message. This is the reason we exist. On Pentecost, this is the reason we wear red. Maybe we should consider wearing red more than once a year.
To God be the glory. Amen.