The reading from the book of the Acts of the Apostles begins, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” And we’re ready to ask, “What happens next?” We know when. It is the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the Jewish Passover. It is also called the Feast of Weeks, because it is seven weeks, a week of weeks, forty-nine days after the Passover. Jewish tradition holds that the Law had been given through Moses on this day. And in the Jewish Law it says, “You shall count until the day after the seventh Sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord, two loaves of bread, made with the best flour and with yeast.” Not only that, the Law calls for a holy convocation, a calling together of the people of God and everyone should drop what they are doing and do not work that day. So the disciples did exactly that, they were all together in one place, gathered in the name of God, in a holy assembly.
So, what happened next? The Holy Spirit came upon them, like a rushing wind which shook the house. And a blazing fire appeared among them, running from one to another like flames in a grass paddock, tongues of fire, licking up the dry kindling, until looked as if the flames had set the disciples on fire.
Were they really on fire? Were the flames real? Wrong question. We might just as well as if those people wearing red today are on fire. We’re not talking about ordinary wind and ordinary fire; we’re talking about the Holy Spirit, which is the breath and the energy of God appearing among us.
The writer wants us to focus on the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the first harvest of spring, in Israel, when the new bread of the new season is presented to God, and the disciples are the first harvest of Jesus Christ, the first harvest of the Resurrection, the new bread of the church. And, if you like word pictures, the Holy Spirit is the yeast which makes the bread rise. You remember that Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast which a woman hid in three measures of flour [i] and it didn’t stop working until all the dough was leavened. So the Holy Spirit will not stop working until all the world is renewed.
And, as we hear next, the Spirit inspires the disciples to tell the world the good news, “speaking about God’s deeds of power” in the languages of all the foreigners gathered in Jerusalem; each person hearing in their own native language. The disciples were not speaking in tongues, they were not using the ecstatic speech which gives glory to God but needs an interpreter to understand. They were speaking in clear human languages which needed no interpreter.
We are to understand that the good news is for all people; language and culture and background is no barrier to the good news of Jesus Christ; in the same way, here at St Luke’s we believe that there is no barrier to God’s love and acceptance.
Our difficulty is that we are finding it hard to tell the people around us the good news they need to hear. How can we speak in languages that the people around us can hear and understand? Do we all have to learn Thai, or Hindi, or Arabic, Greek and Portugese?
One answer that has been suggested is the Take Love Action Plan, which is a youth initiative of Anglicare. The Holy Spirit led Mac to discover this while he was planning the Parish Camp, which is next week! Instead of teaching us to speak in foreign languages, it provides simple actions which anyone can do, each of which shares the love of God. These are “God’s deeds of power” which the disciples were talking about. There are seven suggestions, one for every day of the week.
On day one, we are asked to encourage somebody. Think of someone who might need a word of support. We could speak to them face to face or send them a letter. On day two we are asked to give a gift. Nothing big or expensive, but something which says, “I think you’re worth it, and God does, too.”
On day three it is suggested that we bless one of our neighbours with practical help. Day four is devoted to prayer, praying like crazy is the phrase used in the booklet.
A phone message, recorded or text, a facebook message or an email is suggested for day five while day six is a time to donate some clothes to Anglicare or St Luke’s Op Shop, nothing dirty or torn or faded, but something that someone would be glad to receive at a bargain price. And finally, on the last day of the week, perhaps we can take courage and tell our own faith story in words, to someone who is ready to hear it.
Some folk might think you’re mad, but as Peter said to the crowd, “Indeed, these people are not mad or drunk, they are doing what the Holy Spirit gives them power to do. It is as the prophet Joel has said, 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 youngsters shall see visions and your old folk shall dream dreams.”
“God’s love has been poured into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”[ii] Now is the time to show that it is true.