Acts 2: 1-13 & 14-21.
I know that we have discussed this before.
But a wee bit of background.
Jesus was crucified at the time of Passover.
Passover was the Jewish festival where they as a nation celebrated the amazing work of God to save the people from extinction in Egypt where they had become a slave nation.
When Jesus dies on the cross and then there is the resurrection, the disciples recall the earlier celebration of Passover and see how through Jesus, God is again showing his amazing power to help the people of the world who had become powerless and unimportant.
In this world people are just things, commodities, numbers, not individuals, not important.
And through the amazing power of God we see that we are valuable, important, significant, have purpose and meaning.
That got the disciples through their grieving.
But what then?
And time goes on. And the disciples don’t know what to do with this freedom.
If you look at the Gospels the disciples are all over the place. They are locked in an upper room. They decide that isn't good enough so they go back to Nazareth, thinking they will be safe and can work things out there, but that doesn't help. So they go back to fishing thinking that will help and it doesn’t help.
So they go back to their old routines.
Six-seven weeks go by and they are off on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It is the Feast of Weeks (or tabernacles), where they celebrate the wheat harvest and the giving of the Law to Moses at Mount Sinai.
And as they reflect on that celebration they see a new truth.
Just as Passover was a sign of God’s power to save and Jesus was the new sign of God’s power to save, so, likewise at Pentecost God gave through Moses the law, the tools to guide the people in their new life. So God would give them, the disciples, the tools live their new life.
Through the Holy Spirit God would give guidance and power to live their new life.
And just as the purpose of those Jewish slaves was to create a nation, so the purpose of the disciples was to create a new people, a people of God.
It is as simple as that.
And the story they tell reflects that.
How do you tell a bunch of strangers that God cares for them, that God has a purpose for them and a plan for them?
You tell them in their own language.
So they speak in the languages of the people so that they understand.
It is as simple as that.
The reason that the church celebrates Pentecost is that at this moment the faith stopped being about creating a nation of Israel where God led his people. And started to become a faith where God was making a nation of faith of all people.
Maybe there is a lesson for us today in this reading.
Maybe we have lost our way because we aren't speaking in a language that the people outside would understand.
I was leading a training session on worship and it was about writing prayers of all things.
You wouldn't think that was too difficult because we all say prayers to God at an individual level.
But we started to talk about language, because if you are giving a prayer to the congregation you want it to be understood.
You don't want to be too formal...This is from a prayer in 1901 that was meant to be read to children.
Father of mercies, from whom cometh down every good and every perfect gift, we thank Thee that by Thy blessing on the labours of the husbandman, our fields have been made to yield an abundant harvest.
Equally we don't want to be too informal...
Hi Big Man, thanks fur the harvest. Your work and the farmers have done great man.
So we got into language. And we discovered that there is a temptation to use language that we don't even know. We would call it ‘religious language.’
Words like Redeemer, or Sanctification. Phrases like, ‘Justification by faith,’ or ‘Washed in the blood of the lamb.’ No explanation given, just flung out there in the middle of a prayer.
I scared the hee-bee jee-bees out of them by saying that if at some point I may stop a prayer or a sermon and ask them what they meant by that word or phrase.
Here’s the thing.
We are still called to the work of Pentecost.
The role of the church hasn't changed.
We are still called to reach out to others and let them know the good news that God has shown through Jesus his power to save, and God has given us what we need to help others see that...in their own language.
Now the world may have changed.
People might have changed.
But our role hasn't.
So how do we do it?
How do we reach out to others with hope?
Well we have to have what the disciples had.
The first thing they had was belief in what they were talking about.
Though we need to be honest here about what that means.
The way we understand the disciples in our heads and the way they were are completely different.
The disciples believed but it took time.
For a start the disciples didn't just go out and preach to people in the street and people came flocking to the church.
If we believe that it gets in the way of the truth and hinders us from being able to use them as an example to follow.
If that had been the case then the day after the resurrection the disciples would have been preaching away.
In fact the Bible tells us the opposite happened.
From Matthews Gospel (28: 16-20)...
The eleven disciples went to the hill in Galilee where Jesus had told them go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, even though some of them doubted. Jesus drew near and said to them, ‘I have given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples; baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. I will be with you always, to the end of the age.’
The important bit there is the bit in the middle...though some of them doubted...
These are people who have seen the cross, seen the death of Christ AND seen the resurrection!!! How can they doubt? And yet they did. They had to come to a point where they believed that Christ was with them, no matter what.
And that took time.
Months of reflecting.
Seeing that Christ truly was with them in their darkest time.
Seeing that Christ was with them in their doubts and fears.
Seeing that Christ was with them in their uncertainties and insecurities.
It had taken all the time from Passover to Pentecost...fifty weeks.
But now they believed.
And they believed not only that God was there for them, that God had a plan for them, that God loved them...
they believed that God loved others too.
And God would, did, give them what they needed to let others know of that love through words and through actions.
They let others know of that love by showing that love in practical ways.
I think sometimes our struggle is not the lack of belief of others.
I think our greatest struggle is our lack of belief in ourselves.
We can’t give a message of belief to others because we are not sure that God is really there for us.
We can’t give a message of belief to others because we are not sure that God is really there for them...how can he be if he is not there for us?
And maybe that is where we need to start.
And it is times like now that I know I am not a people person.
Because I am going to say something now and I know it is not the right way to say it.
I know what I am going to say is hard.
But unfortunately I don't know another way to say it.
I struggle to sympathise with people.
People have doubts and fears and uncertainties and I struggle to sympathize with them...you know why?
Because they have these doubts and fears and uncertainties and they do naff all about it.
Imagine you had a friend. And one day, all of a sudden, all their hair fell out.
And because you are a friend you kind of mention it.
And they say, ‘I know. I was looking in the mirror this morning and I saw all my hair was gone. I am terrified it is a sign of something bad.’
So you ask them what the doctor has said.
And you find out that the doctor has said nothing, because they haven’t been to the doctors. They don't want to go to the doctors because they are scared of what the doctor might say.
So you suggest they go to the pharmacist. Maybe they could have a wee word with the pharmacist. Maybe the pharmacist would reassure them that it is nothing serious. But they don't want to go to the pharmacist in case the pharmacists suggest that they go to the doctors.
So you suggest that they talk to wee Annie. Wee Annie was famous because two years ago she lost all her hair. It might be the same thing as Annie had, and Annie now runs marathons. They don’t want to ask Annie because it might not be the same thing. Or what if Annie says she had to go through horrible treatment?
So every day they come up to you and talk about how worried they are. But they don't do anything about it. Don't talk to anyone who could help them.
How many days do you think you would last before you lost patience with your friend?
That’s why I struggle with sympathy with those who have fears and doubts and insecurities. Because people have all these doubts and fears and then do nothing about it, just keep them all to themselves.
Don’t get me wrong...It is OK to have doubts.
The disciples had doubts. The Bible tells us that even after seeing the death and resurrection of Christ they STILL had doubts.
But then knowing that...they talked, they reflected, they studied. They wondered at how God was working in their lives,
they talked to others about how God was working in the lives of others and wondered if God might be working the same way in their lives.
They talked, they prayed, they studied, they talked more.
And through all that they saw God working, it took time but they saw God working.
The truth is that if we don't look for God we will never see him.
If we don't listen for God we will never hear him.
If we don't seek God then we will never find him.
God is often standing right in front of our face and we don't recognise him, because we don't expect him to be there.
And the truth is until we believe that,
we will never be able to tell others about Gods love for them,
because we won't believe that God is there for them,
because we don't believe God is there for us.
It’s Ok to have doubts, but don't just sit there. Be like the disciples; talk, reflect, do something.