Pentecost Sunday – June 5, 2022
Acts 2:1-21 NRSV
Rev. TJ Mack – Union Congregational Church of Hancock
Acts 2:1-21 – 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.’
We have been on a journey. Easter morning, as we peered into an empty tomb, and then met the resurrected Jesus, we embarked on a fifty-day period of confusion, wonder, and awe, culminating today as we celebrate Pentecost. Our scriptural guides, the disciples, allowed us to see the risen Christ as they did, in their familiar surroundings, while they learned to know Jesus in a new way.
Pentecost is the Christian reinterpretation of the ancient Jewish pilgrimage, the Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot which is celebrated 50 days after Passover. Pentecost celebrates the appearance of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church fifty days after the resurrection of Christ. In this passage from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke reminds us of the words of the prophet Joel; the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon all people. Luke interprets the words of Joel as heralding a new era in which the Christ community is empowered to continue Jesus’ message of healing, liberation, and joy to all the ends of the earth.
We are a continuation of that journey that began so very long ago.
The Holy Spirit is moving among us – tongues of fire alighting on each of us.
“Really?” you ask skeptically.
What happened two thousand or four thousand years ago we may learn from, yes. But have the same experiences? Most of us would be skeptical. We tend to think of our Scriptures as ‘of old.’ There is a chasm which separates them from us, separates then from now.
What is that chasm? Perhaps it is an illusion of control. When do we let ourselves experience the wonder and awe of God’s power, God’s mystery, God’s grace? When do we let go and let God?
The disciples were mistaken for being drunk at that early hour of the morning. They had lost all control. They left the house they were in, entering the street shouting languages they did not know with an exuberance that likely surprised them. They were overtaken by the Holy Spirit.
If we let it, we can be moved in much the same way as these early followers of Jesus. For that to happen, we have to risk. Risk letting go of our illusion of control, risk being a fool for Jesus, risk putting God first in our lives and seeing where that takes us.
We don’t expect a mighty wind to blow into our sanctuary on Pentecost—or on any Sunday morning and whip us into a frenzy. We don’t expect the Holy Spirit to enliven our breath, our speech, our language. But maybe God expects that of us… maybe that is exactly what God wants to happen.
And so, our journey continues, as individuals and as the Union Congregational Church of Hancock. Our Church Council felt the breath of the Spirit moving among us and applied for a grant from The BTS Center, the successor of Bangor Theological Seminary. We were one of six churches in New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts) recently selected to participate in a six-month program designed with the intention of exploring practices that nurture spiritual and ecological imagination within congregational life. Soon we will be asked to take on some new challenges, perhaps stretching our comfort zones. This program is called, “Fostering Imagination: Building the Resilient Church.”
We will be asked to explore ways to grow, change, and adapt in order to strengthen our church and our local communities. I believe we are all in agreement that the church is not a building. Nor is it a particular membership or group of people. Rather, at its heart, the church is a mission, God’s mission, the adventurous challenge of understanding and connecting with neighbors near and far. To listen and learn and speak each other’s languages. To celebrate and serve with the Spirit’s winds in our sails.
Here is a bit of the “what” and “why” from the leaders at The BTS Center.
Two years into a global pandemic, having lived through a season of tremendous disruption and uncertainty and loss, and facing the urgent crises of our world, many congregations are feeling a collective sense of weariness and disorientation. At nearly every level of society, change is stirring — accelerating change, traumatic change, complex change that requires transformative leadership — and faith communities are trying to find their bearings.
In times of dramatic change, small congregations can respond in two ways: they can become more rigid, holding tight to status quo — a path that often leads to burnout, decline, and death; or they can step into the changing realities with curiosity and faith, adopt practices that nurture resilience, and embrace imaginative possibilities.
Both pathways are possible, but choosing the way of imagination requires intentionality, because in times of anxiety, stress, and fear, our imaginative capacity can be diminished and difficult to access. As author, innovator, and environmental activist Rob Hopkins has noted, “We are living in a time of imaginative decline at the very time in history when we need to be at our most imaginative.”
Through shared reading and exploration, twice-monthly Zoom gatherings, participation in The BTS Center’s Convocation in early October, and engagement with intentional practices designed to inspire hearts and minds, congregational teams will be guided to stretch their imagination muscles and step into the future with imaginative abundance and deeper resilience.
We ask for your blessing on the task force members—Jennifer Ashmore, Mary Beth DiMarco, Peggy Karns, Doug Kimmel, and myself, along with alternate members Patrice Alexander and Nick Davis. We ask for your prayers of support and your willing spirit to walk alongside us as we begin this new endeavor on Tuesday, June 14th.
We, the Union Congregational Church of Hancock members and friends, have shown resilience all throughout this pandemic. We have shown imagination and courage. So today, Pentecost Sunday, as the Spirit gathers and protects us, may it also open us to new possibilities and challenges, inspiring us as we continue on our journey—together—with God—and with one another.
Rev. TJ Mack – June 5, 2022