Expect and Rely on the Holy Spirit

May 19, 2024

Day of Pentecost/Confirmation Sunday
Text: Acts 2:1-21
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Here’s a fill-in-the-blank exercise for you; please complete these sentences:
            On Thanksgiving Day, I/we have ______________ to eat every year.
            At Christmastime I/we always _________________.
            July 4th is the day when I/we_______________________.
    I would guess that most of you could come up with an answer for those statements because it’s often true that people celebrate holidays with reoccurring traditions. That’s usual, I think, and what we expect when holidays arrive, which is why when that’s not the case, it’s notable, as was true in 2020 during the Covid pandemic.
     That probably also was true in the first century when people of the Jewish faith, from throughout the then known world, gathered in Jerusalem for the holiday known as Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks. On the 50th day after Passover, which was called Pentecost, the people celebrated the conclusion of the Feast of Weeks. It was, in part, a harvest celebration and the first loaves of bread from the wheat crop were being baked. No doubt there was a certain way to celebrate, perhaps individualized by families, that was repeated yearly.
     That’s why it must have been especially notable on a particular Pentecost in Jerusalem when an extremely unexpected and unexplainable event occurred. We read about it today and, no doubt, those who were in Jerusalem that day retold the story about that unusual Shavuot for decades to come.
     I like the way commentator Scott Hoezee describes the scene: “It started with a loud and violent wind that blew up from nowhere from a bright blue sky on a cloudless day. Then most people in and around the Temple were certain they saw a ball of flame that soon divided up into individual tongues of fire that looked just like a burning candle except with no candle underneath the flame. They just kind of floated there in midair and then settled so close to the heads of a group of men that a few folks feared their hair would burst into flames at any moment.” (1)
     By the way, I surmise that the disciples left the house where they were sitting when the violent wind swept through it, which is why the crowd gathered and grew as these events unfolded. It was probably obvious to that diverse crowd that the ones on whom the flames rested were commoners from the region around Galilee. Their manner of speech would have identified them as rural and uneducated, for the most part.
     “Except for now,” wrote Commentator Hoezee, “Not only did they sound eloquent, they spoke as many languages as there were different languages represented in that veritable League of Nations sort of holiday gathering. Who knew whether the men were actually speaking all kinds of languages or if people just heard their own language – either way or both ways simultaneously it sent chills and tingles down peoples’ spines. This was not how this holiday usually went.” (2) (That’s an interesting idea – was it a miracle of speaking or of hearing? I think the former, but we won’t get off on that tangent.)
     But if this event was startling for those who witnessed it, just think what it must have been like for those who experienced it – the violent wind, the hovering flames and the ability to speak in a different language each one had not previously spoken – what a shock that must have been! The Holy Spirit was on the move and their lives would never be the same.
     Jesus had promised his disciples that they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, and it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that they were up to the task. The world was changed by those few Spirit-empowered people, a fact that is confirmed by our presence here today. We follow in their footsteps.
     As Commentator Doug Bratt notes, “the Spirit sends us out to announce forgiveness and reconciliation, as well as proclaim the good news of grace. What’s more, God propels God’s adopted children into science and art, media and marketplace, and in fact, into every area of life so that we can point to the reign of God by what we do and say.” (3)
     Kaylan, Andrew and Cora are affirming their baptisms today; they are saying, “yes, I am a disciple of Jesus,” and I intend to continue growing in faith and living out my faith. Soon, I’ll be placing my hands on their heads and praying that the gift of the Holy Spirit that is already there and has given them the gift of faith, will be stirred up within them, to confirm their faith, guide them, empower them in serving, give them patience in suffering and bring them to everlasting life. You, my young friends, are confirming that you will proclaim the love of Jesus in words and actions, and we pray that doing so will bless you and the world.
     It’s important for all of us to remember that the Greek word translated Holy Spirit literally means “one who comes alongside”. We usually think of that as coming along side to comfort us and advocate for us, which it is. But the Holy Spirit also – perhaps primarily – comes alongside us to give us the ability and boldness to tell God’s story. Or, as Pastor JoAnn Taylor said, “…the Holy Spirit comes alongside to strengthen us and give us courage for the daunting work of proclaiming Christ to a world that doesn’t always want to hear this good news. Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives us the swift kick we need to get up and get moving.” (I’ve felt that kick now and then, have you?)
     She then quotes David Lose, “The Spirit doesn’t solve our problems but invites us to see possibilities we would not have seen otherwise. Rather than remove our fear, the Spirit grants us courage to move forward. Rather than promise safety, the Spirit promises God’s presence. Rather than remove us from a turbulent world, or even settle the turbulence, the Spirit enables us to keep our footing amid the tremors.” (4)
     We who are older know there will be more than enough tremors for these young people. Yet, today’s promise is that they – we – will not walk that uneven ground alone. The Holy Spirit has, and will continue to, come alongside us all.
     And, as our awareness of the Spirit’s presence grows, so do the acts of love and mercy in our lives. As our belief in the Spirit’s power increases, so does our desire for justice and peace in the world. As our trust in the Spirit deepens, our lives witness to Jesus in ways that we never expected to experience.
     Those who first witnessed the arrival of the Holy Spirit were startled by this unexpected event, on a holiday, no less. And those first disciples were, no doubt, shocked when the Spirit gave them the ability to proclaim the Good News in ways they could have never imagined. Unlike them, we should anticipate the Spirit’s presence, and, in fact rely on it, as we affirm our faith each day in this turbulent world. Come, Holy Spirit! AMEN
  1. “Sermon Commentary for Acts 2:1-12” by Scott Hoezee, May 28, 2023, www.cepreaching.org
  2. Same as #1
  3. “Sermon Commentary for Acts 2:1-21” by Doug Bratt, June 4, 2017, www.cepreaching.org
“Hearts Aflame – Sermon for Pentecost on Acts 2:1-21” by JoAnn Taylor, May 20, 2018, www.pastorsings.com