Scripture - Acts 2:1-21
1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.
5-11There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn't for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, "Aren't these all Galileans? How come we're hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?
Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene;
Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes;
Even Cretans and Arabs!
"They're speaking our languages, describing God's mighty works!"
12Their heads were spinning; they couldn't make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: "What's going on here?"
13Others joked, "They're drunk on cheap wine."
14-21That's when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: "Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren't drunk as some of you suspect. They haven't had time to get drunk—it's only nine o'clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen: "In the Last Days," God says,
"I will pour out my Spirit
on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions,
your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes,
I'll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and women both,
and they'll prophesy.
I'll set wonders in the sky above
and signs on the earth below,
Blood and fire and billowing smoke,
the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,
Before the Day of the Lord arrives,
the Day tremendous and marvelous;
And whoever calls out for help
to me, God, will be saved."
How many of you have tweens, teens and young adults in your life - grandchildren or nieces or nephews? Does it ever seem like they’re speaking a different language? I got a taste of this the other day when I was playing tag with Michael and his friends, and I tagged him and he said, “No! I’m on T!” And I’m like, what? On T? (Time out).
Anyway, Gen Z has its own dialect, much like every generation. But what this generation has that others don’t, is their very own devotional guide to Scripture - The Word according to Gen Z. Let’s take a look at some verses:
[Gen Z intro - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OngIO8itByw ]
(The Word According to Gen Z *is* a real resource, a 30 day devotional, and if you look up Sunday Cool Tees on YouTube, there are some more Bible Translations, as well as a few fun “how to speak Gen Z” videos to help you understand the young people in your life).
However, I don’t recommend going up to the teens in your life and saying “suh fam jam” lest you end up embarrassing yourself and those around you in a desperate attempt to flex your new skills, causing you and the teen in your life wanting nothing else than to yeet yourselves off into the distance.
But there is something about language and culture that meshes together that makes words and how we communicate with one another fundamental to creating authentic connection and relationship - and when I read our text from the book of Acts this week, I was struck by how the outpouring of the Holy Spirit empowered the early followers of Jesus to take this risky act of encounter and connection beyond themselves.
The text describes this dramatic event with images of wildfire and sounds of rushing wind and outbursts of language - it was such a spectacle that Jews from the surrounding regions staying in Jerusalem for the festival were drawn and amazed by these native Galileans - who wouldn’t have known the languages of these other regions - speaking in words the crowds could understand. Some were amazed and astounded and confused...and for some, there was no other frame to make sense of what was happening than by assuming the early disciples were drunk. Peter stepped out and proclaimed God’s saving day was near - and if we continue to read the story, many new followers of Jesus were baptized and added to their number on that day.
The Holy Spirit propelled - perhaps even compelled - the first followers of Jesus outward.
In that moment, the disciples didn’t talk to each other, they didn’t keep the experience to themselves, they didn’t devise growth strategies or wonder how to reach their Jewish Egyptian neighbor, they didn’t think about the next new vision statement that would be sure to attract people to the movement or schedule a meeting to brainstorm fresh new ideas. They didn’t hoard this Holy Spirit gift and devise ways to keep it to themselves. They couldn’t help but act, they couldn’t help but share what they had seen and heard and lived of God’s action in their lives - Jesus, in their midst - God, raising their beloved rabbi from the dead - the Spirit, poured out and here and God’s going be about something big and new - don’t you want to be a a part of it too?
I love this image from Debie Thomas: “This is what the Holy Spirit required of Christ's frightened disciples on the birthday of the church. Essentially, she told them: Stop huddling in what you call safety. Throw open your windows and doors. Feel the pressure of my hand against your backs, pour yourselves into the streets you've come to fear, and speak! Don't you understand? Silence is no longer an option. You are on fire!”
And that first step outward? Is all about creating connections. Relationship. Speaking the language - knowing the culture, needs, assumptions, worldview - of those out in the world.
And I think the world - and our community - needs a whole lot more of that kind of connection.
This kind of connection doesn’t come about when we make assumptions, or think we know our neighbors. It only happens when we risk encounter - and in our Pentecost story, that connection came when both the disciples and the crowd stepped into surrender and humility. The disciples moved out of comfort and safety and had to trust that the words and languages on their hearts - new words, strange words, scary words — were words precisely ordained for the time and place they occupied, no matter how awkward or anxious or vulnerable they felt. The crowd, too, had to suspend their own assumptions and take the risk of curiosity, stopping to marvel and wonder instead of deride and dismiss - and not everyone could make that shift because some in the crowd chose to write off the disciples as drunks. But when surrender and openness happened - God’s kingdom unfolded in their midst.
When I think about a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit - this is what I’m hoping for for us - a willingness to suspend internal concerns for genuine encounter and connection with our neighbors - an openness and intention to understand the languages of those around us, to understand their assumptions, their hopes, their fears, their concerns, their questions, their struggles and celebrations - all with the hope that maybe we have a fresh message of God’s action in our lives and in our midst to share as well.
Because I think what the community hears a lot from us as a church is this: the church is here for you. You belong and are welcome. When times are tough, we’ll be there.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a nice message. It’s comforting. Hopeful. It’s nice knowing that there’s a safety net, and a community of caring people that will walk with you in the midst of life’s challenging moments.
But is it the message our community needs to hear? Is it a message that excites people to join up with what we’re doing? Is it a Holy Spirit message that builds bridges of relationship and invites others into a space of transformation and wholeness? Or does it place us in safe spaces where we don’t have to take the risk of encounter?
I say this because we’ve been on this journey of disaffiliation where we’re stepping away from the United Methodist Church - and that affords us the opportunity to renegotiate a lot of things. Some have shared that this is a moment for us to live the church we want to be. But if the Holy Spirit isn’t part of that equation, disaffiliation isn’t going to change anything but the name on our door.
Two thousand years ago - when the Holy Spirit first came over those followers of Jesus - what mattered wasn’t the strategic planning of the disciples, not their rhetorical skills or how pious or religious they were (or weren’t). What mattered is they followed Jesus’ instructions to stay in Jerusalem and wait on the Spirit’s power to move in and through them, enabling them not to build an empire of the familiar and known, but to ignite a movement that took them beyond themselves and their concerns.
We need that fresh outpouring too - we need the Holy Spirit to instruct and guide us, reshape and remold us. “We need new words to rekindle love. We need the wind and fire of God to challenge our complacencies, reset our priorities, ease our anxieties, and move us out” to engage and speak the languages of those outside ourselves so that the invitation we give is more than just “we’re here for you”....but it’s “we need you and your stories and hopes and dreams and fears and doubts because God is moving in all the world and is doing a new thing in my life and in these places and let’s be a part of that unfolding of peace and justice together.”
It starts with waiting on the Holy Spirit. And it starts with moving outside ourselves and finding connection. And true, authentic connection and relationship might be one of the greatest gifts we can give. It is only out of that connection and relationship that holy transformation and ministry can happen. All it takes is one simple step and waiting on the Spirit of God to embolden us to share whatever new thing God is doing in our lives and what we see God up to in the world and to invite others to be a part of that new thing too.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me
May this be so for our lives as followers of Jesus….for our life as a church...that we may speak the words of hope our community needs to hear for the sake of healing and wholeness for our island and for our world. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and almost 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.