Acts 1 & 2 Selected Verses
Fifty days had passed. Fifty days since Jesus had been killed, and buried, and raised marvelously alive again. He had appeared with proofs so convincing they washed away even the deep doubts of the heartbroken. Jesus told the disciples that they would be witnesses to the power of God—witnesses to the very ends of the earth. And then Jesus was gone again. He was gone as certainly and inseparably and irretrievably as if he had been separated from them by death. He left them, with nothing but the promise that they would receive the Holy Spirit, but what does that even mean?
You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Well, fifty days has passed, and the Disciples were not making any progress. All they had managed to do in that time was to decide who was going to take the place of poor Judas. They argued and discussed who it would be, and came down to a short list. It would have to somebody who had been there from the beginning, but so fractured and wracked with disunity were they, that in the end they had to cast lots. Pick a card any card, high card is the new disciple. Jesus had told them to become witnesses to the ends of the earth—they had barely managed to replace Judas. They had not opened themselves up to a fearful world that was desperate for hope, they had not opened themselves up to a scattered world desperate for unity. The Disciples of Jesus Christ were stuck looking inward, they were stuck looking backward.
Fifty days had passed. It was the day of Pentecost. And into and amongst the disciples stuck looking inward came a wind from Heaven, a wind like the one that had brooded over the primordial waters before God the Creator had yet begun to create, a wind like the one that was ever blowing at the back of the prophets urging them onward before they had yet sung of Christ, a wind like the one that had enveloped and enraptured the virgin Mary bending heaven into earth and earth into heaven. And the wind filled the mouths of the disciples and they began to witness to the deeds of power that God had done amongst them. And though they were all Galileeans, they were speaking in a dozen tongues, languages they didn’t know. And at the sound this great wind, crowds of people began to gather. And they heard a rainbow of languages carried on the wind, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Cappadocians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, they heard the disciples witnessing to God’s power, but in their own mother tongue. And 3,000 became the church. 3,000 people from every corner of the earth, 3,000 people with whom the Disciples shared nothing in common, could not even have shared a conversation with, they became the church. They held all their goods in common, and helped each other whenever there was need, and they broke bread together with glad and generous hearts. Because of the power of the Holy Spirit to unite what had been scattered, people who were strangers to one another before, they became the church.
I say that they became the church, rather than joined the church, because before that moment the church didn’t exist. There was just the disciples. The Holy Spirit came with power and created the church, taking fracture and crafting unity instead, unity which is deeper than homogeneity, unity which is richer than conformity, unity which comes from giving oneself to something larger, and in giving up the self, gaining the whole world.
That is what the Holy Spirit does. In his final days, Jesus prayed for humanity, that they may all be one. The Holy Spirit is at work in the world, bringing this prayer to completion. The apostle Paul says that at the end of all things, God will be all in all. It is God the Holy Spirit who shall be the one to draw and tether all things, so that God is all in all. God the Creator has spoken the worlds into being and filled them with laws and beauty, Jesus Christ has redeemed all things into right relationship through gracious love, and the Holy Spirit draws everything into unity with God, everything that is scattered, everything that is alone, the Holy Spirit shall unite it with God. Will unite you with God.
It is not easy to talk about the Holy Spirit, without sounding…well…like this. But we who claim a place in the household of God through the church, we hold that claim through the action of the Holy Spirit. I am standing here and speaking to you now because of the Holy Spirit, who nudged me and guided me unseen over years into this place. This church stands and yet works for God because of the upholding power of the Holy Spirit, guiding us in moments of uncertainty and giving us wisdom beyond our own. This worship service is held in the very presence of God because of the lingering close-ness of the Holy Spirit, not that we have gathered and conjured up the Holy Spirit, but because the Holy Spirit is at work and has conjured up a church. You can even hear the Holy Spirit in this room if you quiet yourself and listen. It won’t be in any supernatural whispering or some otherworldly voice. The Holy Spirit does not trade in prestidigitation or parlor tricks, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need such things. You can hear the Holy Spirit in the breathing of the person beside you in worship because it is the Holy Spirit who has drawn you so close to a stranger that you can hear their breath, unity. You can hear the Holy Spirit harnessing the music, the forging of many notes heard by dozens of listeners into one song, unity. You can hear the Holy Spirit in the praying of the Lord’s prayer, joining your voice into one larger voice, to hear how your own prayer is at once both lost in the crowd and to be found again as at home.
The Holy Spirit today is active and at work. Do not wait for eerie appearances or ghostly whispers, listen instead for something truly remarkable. For conversation where before there had been shouting or sullen silence. Listen for understanding and sympathy where before there had only been distance. Listen for the sound of people who are not family and who are not blood and who are not tribe, listen for the sound of people sharing the deep things in life—grief and joy and bad news and grave diagnosis and birth announcements and barely whispered confidences of things long ago. There is the church, there is the work of the Holy Spirit, knitting together unity even now, understanding even now, listen, can you hear?