Good morning, everyone, on this day of Pentecost. Go with me to Acts, chapter 2.
I need to start this morning with a very insincere apology to you all. I’ve been rereading Liturgy of the Ordinary with Anne-Elise, and Kallee even turned me onto a Trinity Forum simulcast with the author, Tish Warren. So it’s partially Kallee’s fault. You’re going to need to come to grips with my continuing to quote her over and over again. Again, I’m sorry that I’m not sorry.
This has been a strange week for us. It started with our anniversary, and not being able to celebrate as we’d hoped, joking about it, trying to make light of it. I broke my bike, and I’m proud of myself, I did a really good job. It’s really broken. I’m back in my office at the association, so this strange season of working from home is partially done for us. New Orleans entered that season of the year known as hot. It is our longest season, and not particularly a favorite, but it does save time, because I don’t need to check the weather again until October. Hot, rain in the afternoon.
But, putting all of these things together, all of these seasons ending and beginning, and I’ve been thinking again about God and time, why God created time, what he’s teaching us through it. I was thinking about waiting. I was texting with Meg, and with the liturgy for the past few weeks, she was trying to create a sense of waiting. Waiting on pentecost, waiting on the Lord. She asked me if I approved of this goal, and I texted her back, “I like waiting.” But it was a lie. Sorry, Meg, for lying. I hate waiting. All of modern society hates waiting. It’s the only reason hot pockets exist.
The more powerful you get, the less you have to wait in our society. People go to the store for you, others call customer service. Your meetings are scheduled, and people show up early to wait on you. The plane is waiting on you, and you have a reservation at the restaurant, right this way sir, everything is prepared. But isn’t it strange, that our Father, who has all power, waits intentionally, and invites us into his waiting?
He appoints feasts and festivals, like today, but never without waiting and fasting before each feast. Lent before Easter, advent before Christmas. Our Father likes to wait. All through scripture we see him waiting. He waits until he’s in his thirties to begin his ministry, waits to go see Lazarus, waits to reveal himself. He’s always telling people, don’t say anything, it’s not time yet. He’s waiting on the road for his son to come home, in the feasting hall for his guests to arrive. And that’s just the gospels. The Old Testament goes back and forth, as humans do, praising God for his patience, for his longsuffering, but then we cry out, “How long?” The Lord smiles, says, “a little while longer.”
There’s a lot of waiting right now with the virus. We’re waiting for a vaccine, waiting for Lysol to be a thing again, to have friends over, to see family, to visit our grandparents, for the church building to open, for a semblance of normal life to return. Waiting for school to start, for childcare to open, to hear back about our jobs, or to get test results. I drove by our favorite sushi place every day this week, because I’m waiting for them to reopen.
Days like today remind us of our God who waits. He doesn’t see it as wasted time. He wouldn’t have created time if he intended to waste it. Our God likes to wait, because for him waiting is savoring. Waiting is rest, anticipation, remembering. It’s like a rest in music, the moment the overture dies down, before they open the curtain; a time to stop, focus, and think about what’s coming.
The disciples spent many days waiting for Pentecost. Christ told them to remain in Jerusalem and wait on the Spirit. How long, O Lord? I imagine he smiled; just a little while longer. I’ll come again.
Read with me again, in the book of Acts, chapter 2, verses 1-21. [Acts 2:1-21]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Father God, I pray you should show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
The first thing I want you to see in our text is this: God is with us. God is with us. He promised never to leave us, and he hasn’t. To understand Pentecost, you have to understand some of the history of the people of God. Many people will tell you that in Pentecost, a new dispensation, a new way of being the people of God is inaugurated, the age of the Spirit, and I could not disagree more. In Pentecost we see the fulfillment of promises God has been making throughout his whole history with his people. We see God’s faithfulness, we see a feast after a time of waiting.
Pentecost was a feast celebrating the harvest, like Thanksgiving for us, but also it celebrated the giving of the law to Moses, and the tabernacling of God with his people. God with us. We just read about it in the readings for this morning. Those first feasts were so joyful. There would be fresh grain, fresh vegetables for the first time this year, new wine, as we see in v.13, eating and drinking the best you had, and everyone would sit together and praise God for his provision. Thank God for the peace of the land that allowed them to live such lives of rest and abundance.
God dwelling with his people means all is right, all is shalom, at peace. Grandparents sit and watch grandchildren play in the streets of Jerusalem. Families are together, the king is just and committed to the welfare of the people, war has ceased, and people say among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” There is a harvest to celebrate at pentecost, because the people are dwelling in the land, no one has come through and taken them away, no one has stolen the fruits of their labor, there is harvest, there is peace.
But fast forward a few books in the Old Testament, and all of this changes. We read, God’s people stopped celebrating the feasts, and I wonder if they stopped in part because they felt like there was nothing left to celebrate, like how a lot of people get depressed around the holidays because that time is a reminder of the family and peace they don’t have in life. There are no old men in the city; men don’t live to an old age, because they’ve died in the wars. There are no children, they’ve been carried away or sold, no harvest, no feast, because their wealth has been stripped from them. Why celebrate? God isn’t with us anymore, they say. We’ve heard the stories of when God was with us, but he’s not with us anymore.
This is the story of the Old Testament: his people don’t understand, they cry out to God asking, why did you leave us? God responds heartbroken: I never left, he says. You are my wife, I would never leave you. I waited for you to come home over and again, late into the night, and you never did. You left me. You’ve found other gods, cheating on me. God sends prophets, messengers, to tell the people to come home, but still they wander. There’s no more peace. Only war. Only exile, because God is not with them. They left him. They’re separated, and God is waiting for them to come home to him.
Then we get to the New Testament. Jesus is born, and they call him Emmanuel, which means, God with us. God is done with messengers, and he’s done with waiting. He left his home, left the feast, to come find us, and when he did we were in slavery to sin, unable to come home. So he ransomed us from slavery, paid the price for our freedom, and is bringing us back home to peace again, to the feast, to once again celebrate the harvest and live in peace in the land, no longer in exile.
God with us. It’s an important thing to understand in the Scriptures. And at the ascension, Jesus tells his people, I’ll never leave you. I’ll always be with you, so you’ll always have peace and plenty. But then he goes, back to his home. I’m coming again soon, he says, but the disciples don’t understand. He said he would never leave but then he goes away. God was meant to stay with us. Wait, Jesus tells them, so they wait, and here, on the day of Pentecost, as they are meant to celebrate God with us, the Holy Spirit comes on them. Peter stands up and preaches out of the book of Joel, reminding everyone that God promised we would be together again, that the Spirit would come down among us again, just like it did in the days of Moses.
Tongues of flame, the same fire that came to rest on the tabernacle in the former times of peace, came to rest on the people of God, themselves. God has come again to live among his people, even within his people, to give them peace and abundance. That Pentecost was one of great joy. God was with his people again. And his people turned back to him, to be his bride again, to come home after years of wandering.
So, I’ll ask you today, on pentecost, what does your pentecost look like? Is it one of joy and feasting because God is with you, or are you asking, Lord, why did you leave us? If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve probably had some years of both, some years where God is with us and we have peace, and some where we’re separated and our relationship with God feels broken.
For those who are asking why God left you, or for those who feel like God was never there in the first place, I want you to know that God is heartbroken with you. He wants nothing more than to make the relationship right, to ransom you, to bring you home. In fact, he would leave heaven, leave the feast today on pentecost, come to earth, suffer, even die to get you back from the places you’ve wandered. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done; he loves you. Pray to him. You can call and pray with me. He wants to be God with you again.
For those of you who are feasting today, sure that God is with you, I want you to know: there is no difference between the way God was with his church that day on pentecost and the way he’s with us today. We’re not celebrating pentecost because God was with them, we’re celebrating because God is with us. We have the same Spirit they have. Each and every one of us. If you know Jesus, he will never leave you. God is with you today.
Today is the first day of a summer series about the Holy Spirit, and one of my goals in this series is to correct misunderstandings about the Holy Spirit. Mainly because there are a lot of misunderstandings about the Holy Spirit in our churches today. This is one of them: many people today will tell you that the Holy Spirit is not able to do today the things we see him do in the Bible, that the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit has ceased. That’s not true. He’s still able to gift people with languages, as we see in this passage, and perform miracles of restoration, like healing the sick and giving people prophetic words and knowledge. He still gives people spiritual gifts to strengthen them—we’re going to talk more about all of these things through the summer.
But the reason I wanted to bring that up here, is because for a lot of us, even if we know God is with us, we think about that in a kind of vague spiritual sense, like when someone tells us they’ll be with us in Spirit. We think, God has us in his thoughts or whatever. No. When God says he will never leave us, what he means is that he is really, actively present among his church in the person of the Holy Spirit and by the real presence of Christ among us to the end of the age. We aren’t remembering the long lost days of the church when the Spirit was with them, we are the same church we read about this morning, and the same spirit is in us.
Now, the Holy Spirit is a person. He’s not a magical force to be used. He won’t do everything we tell him to do. He’s the third person of the trinity. God does what he wills. But the same Spirit which raised Christ from the dead, which fell on that pentecost day, which healed the sick and opened the eyes of the blind, which caused them to speak and have the world understand them—that same God is with us. Emanuel.
As you celebrate this pentecost day, as you pray with me today, as you go in grace and peace to love and serve the Lord, you go with God himself. He’s with you, and if God is with you, who could be against you? When you pray, pray as someone who knows God hears you. As you work, work as one who bears the Spirit of God into your workplace. As you interact with your friends and family, with your community, pass peace, offer to intercede, celebrate, as though God is with you. Because God is with you.
As a Christian, being able to trust that the Spirit goes with you is like, as a child, being able to know your parents will love and care for you. You go through the world not thinking about what you’ll eat or whether disaster is around the corner. You expect provision, help whenever you need it, protection. They’ve got you.
If you doubt this, if you have trouble understanding or believing that God is with us as believers, I hope you will stick around through the summer. We are going to talk each week about a different way the Spirit of God works in our lives, how you can recognize the Holy Spirit in you and live accordingly. If you want to understand what it means to your day to day that the Spirit of God goes with you, keep joining in with us.
So God is with us, one, and the second thing to learn from our text is this: the church is one. The church is one.
Going into a sermon series on the Holy Spirit, one of the things on my mind is how divided we are as a church, especially when it comes to teachings on the Holy Spirit. Just, to highlight our differing opinions, I’ll tell this story: I grew up in a cessationist church, meaning they thought the work of the Holy Spirit had changed to the point that miracles, charismatic gifts, things like that are past. As I’ve said, I don’t agree with that, but that’s how I came up, which shapes my expectations of a church service. But then, the first time I preached at the Vieux, I remember Jonathan responding to the invitation, and before I was able to stand up and pray with him, Lucious got up and began anointing him with oil he apparently just carries on him for this purpose, and loudly praying over him. It was different.
More seriously, I’ve had people tell me I’m not a Christian because I don’t speak in tongues, that I’m weak in my faith faith, because my friend died after I prayed for him, that I’m not worthy to be a teacher in the church because I’ve never healed anyone. They’ve told me I’m going to hell because of the way I preach, because I invite people to taste and see that the Lord is good rather than condemning people to manipulate them into faith.
Even more recently, in discussions about closing, and then reopening, the church building from the virus, there have been more criticisms, more division regarding the Holy Spirit. If you have faith, people tell me, then you don’t need to fear the virus. The Spirit will heal and protect you, I’ve been accused of walking in fear rather than faith in God. By all accounts, the Holy Spirit is a dividing line in today’s church.
So as we move into a series on the Holy Spirit, I know many people are listening to hear if I agree with them or not on certain things they feel are important to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I know some will disagree with me. That’s ok. I hope you will stay; I hope you will bring your questions and concerns to me and we can talk about them as though we belong in the same church, as though we’re brothers and sisters, because one of the things we remember on Pentecost is that the church is one. This story is a miracle of restoration, where God undoes our work of sin in the world.
There’s a story at the very beginning of the Bible that we usually call the tower of Babel. It’s a story of how our sin affects, not just our own lives, but our societies as well. In the story all the people of the world speak one language. And a group of them decide that they would band together, to form a great nation to rule over, to enslave humanity. They built a tower to the heavens, as if to ascend to divinity. So God descends to them, and mournfully confuses their language and disbands their society, scatters them across the earth.
This story is meant to show the depths of depravity of humankind. It’s the last story in a section of the Bible showing what happened when sin entered the world, how sin grew into death and darkness. We were never meant to be scattered, never meant to be divided. The next thing that happens after the tower of Babel in the Bible, is God begins to work the restoration of the world from sin, and he starts with a man named Abram.
Many scholars have pointed out—pentecost is a reversal of that curse. At pentecost, the spirit causes people to speak in a language that people from every nation are able to understand. And rather than people building up to God and enslaving humanity, God comes down to humanity to set them free. At pentecost, as three-thousand people believed in Christ from every race and nation, they became one church and were given one spirit—the Holy Spirit of God, to make great the name of God.
Even though in the church and in our society our sin still divides us, the reality is, we’re one church. Whether we speak in tongues or not, cessationists or charismatics, black or white, Baptist or Presbyterian, democrat or republican or whatever Meg and Adam are—whatever your put-on identity, we are all one in the Spirit. God has already begun the restoration of the world from sin, he’s un-telling the story of Babel and of the fall until we are all one again, living in a restored earth with peace on earth and joy in our hearts, speaking the same language, and truly understanding each other. We’re even a family.
So as we celebrate today that God is with us, we celebrate knowing that we are one in the Spirit, and he has already begun un-telling the story of sin in the world, and everything sin has brought. So as we walk in the Spirit, the spirit will do this same work through us. Where there is division between us and another person, the Spirit will urge us toward being people who seek out reconciliation. Where there is division in our society, as we’ve seen even this week with the killing of George Floyd, our brother; anger, which is just, and mourning, which I hope we share; but then also violence, which is the way of strength, not of weakness, and therefore not the way of our savior—where there is division in our society, the Spirit moves his people to seek reconciliation, and not with the desperate goal, seemingly impossible, of making us one, but with the sure hope that in the Spirit we are one. Unavoidable. Even if we would rather not be; unstoppable. Even if we think being one with the likes of them lowers our status in the world. We are one. The division in our society is brokenness caused by sin, not the way our world is meant to be. In the Spirit, we strive toward communities which are whole, where every life is valued and supported, because life is sacred no matter the shape or color of it. All of this infighting in the church is children throwing a fit after our Father has already told us what he has decided. No one is able to turn back his will. We are one. Babel is undone. God is turning back the curse of our sin.
This pentecost, I pray you would not mourn, but that you would know God is with us, and wherever God is there will soon be peace. Because God is turning back the curse of sin, there will soon be unity in our church and in our world as his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We say, in our hastiness, how long O Lord? And God smiles and tells us: just a little while longer. Wait.
Pray with me.