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5/28/23 Sermon

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Acts 2 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All 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 people under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Fellow Jews and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, 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.’

Caedmon is the earliest poet who wrote in English whose name we know — though only one of his compositions (actually a translated version of it) survives: “Caedmon’s Hymn.”

A seventh-century Northumbrian cowherd who took care of the local monastery’s cattle, Caedmon wasn’t much of a talker or a singer (cowherds would sometimes sing to pass the time, keep the cattle close, and keep predators away). But one night in the cowshed, the story goes, an angel inspired him to sing about creation — and he never looked back. Convinced he was divinely called, the monastery took him in as a monk, and he wrote lyrics for songs on Genesis, Exodus, the New Testament, and more, always honoring God the Creator. So when it comes to the English language, the earliest poet we know of was a composer praising creation.

In “Caedmon,” Denise Levertov imagines that fateful night, drawing on imagery from Luke (Mary in Luke 1 and the shepherds and the manger in Luke 2), Isaiah (the throne room in Isaiah 6), Exodus (the burning bush in Exodus 3) and Acts (the fiery encounter at Pentecost in Acts 2) to tell the story of an ordinary, humble person who’s given the courage to speak, create, and sing.

One other note: “a twist / of lit rush” refers to a rushlight, an old, inexpensive sort of candle (essentially a wick of rush drenched in fat)

Caedmon-- Denise Levertov

All others talked as if talk were a dance. Clodhopper I, with clumsy feet would break the gliding ring. Early I learned to hunch myself close by the door: then when the talk began I’d wipe my mouth and wend unnoticed back to the barn to be with the warm beasts, dumb among body sounds of the simple ones. I’d see by a twist of lit rush the motes of gold moving from shadow to shadow slow in the wake of deep untroubled sighs. The cows munched or stirred or were still. I was at home and lonely, both in good measure. Until the sudden angel affrighted me — light effacing my feeble beam, a forest of torches, feathers of flame,

sparks upflying: but the cows as before were calm, and nothing was burning, nothing but I, as that hand of fire touched my lips and scorched my tongue and pulled my voice

into the ring of the dance.

Today we celebrate Pentecost – as promised in our scriptures, the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit, the return of Jesus in Spirit form, ensuring the constant presence of God with us.

The word Pentecost is from the Greek pentekostos, meaning "fiftieth." Pentecost was a Jewish festival fifty days after Passover, celebrating the spring harvest, and also the revelation of the law at Mount Sinai.

It was while Jesus’ followers, the reconstituted twelve, were gathered for Shavuot (pronounced “sha-voo-OAT”), that they were overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit among them. Thus, for those that followed Jesus, fifty days after Easter, Pentecost came to be the celebration of his promised return, in Spirit form; what we now celebrate as the birth of the church.

I believe it is no small coincidence that Shavuot, also called the Festival of Weeks, was a diverse and inclusive gathering. What better place to birth a church destined to be open and affirming and loving of all God’s children? There were people present from every known region, and all were explicitly included.

The scene presented to us in this scripture from the Acts of the Apostles is spectacular and chaotic: a violent, rushing sound like wind, evoking the first creation narrative in the Book of Genesis. And then immediately, “divided tongues, as of fire” appear, evoking the same Divine Presence that Moses encountered as a burning bush. The unexpected doesn’t stop there. All of those gathered, touched by the Spirit, begin to speak in languages foreign to themselves and yet understood by those native speakers from everywhere, living in Jerusalem.

A twenty-first century analogy is offered by Matthew Myer Boulton. He writes, “Think of a meeting at the United Nations, in which everyone hears the proceedings (through a headset) translated into their language.”

“What does this mean?” some asked sincerely while others sneered and accused those speaking in tongues of being drunk on new wine.

Today also we have skeptics and cynics in our midst. Perhaps in the pews or participating online; certainly in our communities and among our families and friends.

Yet, some then and some now are able to remain curious and open rather than give in to their skepticism.

Peter addresses the crowd, explaining that this is not a drunken frenzy but a fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel; God’s Spirit poured out on the people. And the people, diverse as they are, gain a sense of unity and togetherness, finding ways to communicate despite their differences.

And isn’t that what the gospels are about? As we have been hearing, especially in the Gospel of John in what is termed Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, Jesus prayed that we may all be one.

Peter preaches that all who welcome the Holy Spirit shall be saved. What does that mean to you? Saved? To me it means perfect unity with God, which requires striving to be in harmony with God and with all that God created. Speaking, listening, understanding ourselves and one another is a lifelong endeavor. Christ’s death was not the end. Christ’s resurrection was not the end. Pentecost was not the end. Praise God for their never ending presence. Praise God for new beginnings! The Holy Spirit breathes new life into all who receive it, yesterday, today, tomorrow, always.

Today we celebrate three new members into the life of this particular congregation. We welcome them with open hearts and minds into the life of this church community.

Today we celebrate Pentecost. Happy birthday to the church! May we grow another year older and another year wiser and more compassionate and caring and loving. All of us. Together.


Rev. TJ Mack – May 28, 2023


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