Yr B ~ Pentecost ~ Acts 2:1-21
Needless to say, Pentecost Sunday is one of my favourites in the whole church year. It’s nothing less than the birth of the Church. The followers of Jesus had been intrigued and inspired by their mystical encounters and experiences of the risen Christ in the weeks after Easter, but it was on this day, the day of Pentecost, that everything really changed.
Pentecost is a Greek word meaning ‘fiftieth’ as in the fiftieth day after Passover. The feast of Pentecost was actually a Jewish feast. Jews call this the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. It commemorates the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Back in biblical times this was one of the major pilgrimage festivals so just like at Passover Jerusalem would have been flooded with Jews who made the journey to mark this religious feast day.
Every year we engage this story and marvel at the change in the disciples that turned them from timid and hiding to bold and public. And every year preachers look for another angle to talk about it – the sound, the wind, the tongues, the crowd, the fire, the Spirit.
This year I’m going to riff on one single word: ekcheo – to pour out.
It comes from Acts 2:27 which is actually quoting from the prophet Joel. Joel is a fascinating “minor” prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures. (A minor prophet just means the book was short, not unimportant.) The book is un-dateable so rather than referring to a specific event or time it’s often interpreted in a metaphysical and existential way – meaning it’s about humankind and our relationship with God.
We encounter Joel on Ash Wednesday each year – a day of heart-felt introspection and a passionate call to let go of our former things and embrace the love God offers that we’ve turned away from.
Here’s Joel 2:12-13 – Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
And then comes the promise of what happens if we do rend our hearts and open ourselves to God – here’s a few verses later, Joel 2:26-27
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel [meaning God is Present with us and in us], and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And in v.28 we get what was quoted in Acts 2 about the day of Pentecost:
Then afterward [meaning after we have opened ourselves to God’s Presence] I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old shall dream dreams, and your young shall see visions.
Pour out – in Greek it’s ekcheo – it’s a beautifully complex word. Beyond the obvious meaning it also means to bestow liberally, to shed, to spill, and my very favourite to gush forth. For those who are open and aware God promises “I will pour out my Spirit” upon them. But it’s much more than just pouring.
Pouring is controlled, and neat, and clean, and it all goes in the glass.
If I pour you a coffee I’ll get it all in the cup.
If I pour over a report it’ll be done carefully with attention to detail.
Pouring rain suggests a large volume of water but doesn’t necessarily intimate wildness.
But think about what it means to gush.
If water is gushing it’s wild and out of control and it’s going everywhere. It’s coming out every which way and is causing all sorts of havoc.
If I gush a cup of coffee on you it isn’t going to be pleasant.
If a person is gushing about someone they are effusive and bubbling over with emotion – probably a compliment or with praise for someone – or maybe gushing with the emotion of love.
The Holy Spirit didn’t just pour out in that Upper Room on the day of Pentecost – it gushed out. Gushing.
Not like filling a chalice but like bursting a pipe.
The Holy Spirit is not a cool, refreshing drink of water – it’s like the ice bucket challenge from last year – sudden, overwhelming, and even though expected or hoped for it’s still a shock to the system and elicits a profound and dramatic reaction.
The Holy Spirit, when it comes to those who have opened their hearts to the possibility, will not trickle, or gently pour itself, but will gush forth in wild, super-abundance.
Abundance – not just enough, not just filled, but filled to overflowing, spilling and gushing everywhere in the most wonderfully wasteful kind of way imaginable.
That’s how the Church started.
That’s what it took to move those timid followers into action.
It was a super-abundant gushing of Spirit – wild and untameable – electrifying and energizing.
That’s the energy of God’s Spirit in motion – that’s the passion of Pentecost.
That’s how church is animated.
That’s what makes Faith United so wonderful.
To our great detriment, and I suspect to God’s great dismay, too often the Mainline Church has insisted on trying to domesticate and tame that wild and untameable Spirit, with our neat and tidy liturgies in our carefully scripted worship services.
We serve communion with little cubes of bread and a dab of juice when I think the Pentecost equivalent of gushing would be closer to the water into wine wedding party that Jesus had – with barrels of the stuff!
We do baptisms with a couple of dribbles of water when perhaps the Pentecost equivalent would be a fire hose or a super-soaker water gun!
I’m certainly not saying we need to go crazy and have people writhing around on the floor or hooting and hollering for Ja-eez-us but I’m a little worried that if the spiritual water pipe burst in our churches we’d be more inclined to run from it than embrace it.
But that super-abundant, overwhelming, wild gushing of Spirit is precisely what puts us in the flow of God’s way.
So now with that picture of gushing Spirit washing over you and drenching you with the Presence of God and the power of God’s love, I’m going to turn this into something eminently practical.
We’re going to talk money.
We’re doing a stewardship campaign. (Yes, I’m hopelessly conflicted in this because my salary is one of the main lines on the budget.)
But that being said, I’m hoping that as you think about this church, as you try to take in the incredible breadth of ministries that we engage in here, as you listen to the pitch for the new innovations and the ideas for how to build on the great church we have here – I’m hoping that you’ll be moved by the Spirit to see that this isn’t about scarcity but about abundance.
Our motivation for this campaign is not “oh no, how will we pay the bills”
– our motivation is “oh yes, this is wonderful, let’s get behind it and see who we can reach with the love we know!”
I’m sad to say that some churches really do function from a ‘when push comes to shove’ mentality. Staring at insurmountable bills and threatened with closure people are guilted and cajoled to pony up the dough and keep the place alive. I daresay that they need a super-soaker and fast!
I’m happy to say that this church is in an entirely different place than that. We are so blessed.
The conversation we’re having today is about how to take this gushing Spirit we experience and gush on other people too – to expand our ministry and share the love we know – love of God, love of people, love of one another – love, love, love – that’s what stewardship is about.
We’re not living ‘when push comes to shove’ here – we’re living ‘when gush comes to love’!
We’re all about love.
And the Spirit is all about gushing – not trickling, not even pouring, but gushing forth. We are so utterly overflowing with Spirit we can’t help ourselves but to gush forth with love.
Today’s question is how will that gushing of Spirit influence and impact our stewardship?
The parallels between us and the Pentecost story are clear:
A group of followers of Jesus gathered together in a special place, feeling like the world outside the doors is hostile to the message, open themselves to the possibility of Something More and experience an absolute gushing forth of Spirit and Presence such that it overwhelms them, makes their heads spin like they’re a little drunk, enflames their passion for loving the world, and inspires and catapults them into the world to love, love, love.
A trickle doesn’t move us – an outpouring gets our attention – but it’s the gushing that sweeps us up in the power of possibility and potential and propels us into motion.
When gush comes to love we cannot help ourselves but to gush in love!
Pentecost is all about the birth of the Church – but the Church is never meant to be about itself.
We are filled to overflowing with God’s love – and what we do with that love, that gift beyond price, is called our stewardship.
We are stewards of God’s love – a love that is for us, and also for sharing. I hope you’ll listen to the presentation after church today and ask yourself these questions:
How shall we share the love?
How shall we grow in that love and help others grow too?
How shall we share the message of how wonderful this gushing love is?
Sometimes we share God’s love with our words.
Sometimes we share God’s love with our actions.
And sometimes we share God’s love by how we spend our money.
But like God’s love, our call to share is not about a trickle, or even an outpouring – it’s about gushing!
When push comes to shove people can be convinced to give some more money.
When gush comes to love, just try to stop the love from gushing!