Pentecost is a from the Greek pente – 5 (the Pentagon is a 5 sided building) 50 days after Easter. The Jewish feast is Shavuot 50 days after Passover when the first fruits of the winter wheat harvest were presented in the
. It was like our Thanksgiving Day and like Thanksgiving Day a time to remember God’s saving work in the life of his people Temple . Shavout, Pentecost, has become a special remembrance and celebration of God’s giving the Law on Sinai. The Jews were proud of being a people of the Law. Others had to guess but they knew God’s perfect will eternally expressed in his unchanged and unchanging Law. Israel
Shavout, Pentecost, is celebrated by the men spending the night studying the Bible and eating dairy foods - lots of cheesecake – to remember the manna in the desert and the women preparing a feast, inviting people who had come from far away to
for the Passover. The Passover seder meal ends, “Next year in Jerusalem !” To celebrate Passover in Jerusalem Jerusalem was the dream of every devout Jew in the many countries to which the people of had been dispersed. It was a long, expensive, difficult trip: people came in March for Passover and stayed the 7 weeks visiting family, worshipping in the Israel , seeing the sights until the weather got hot, then the Pentecost feast and the trip home. Temple
The disciples with the many new believers in Jesus gathered for the Pentecost feast. They talked about Jesus and his free and freeing teaching about the Law. The traditional interpretation had made the Law so complicated it was impossible to keep. They remembered Jesus’ teaching, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
I’ve had neighbors over the years; Jesus quoted this commandment from Leviticus because he knew how tough it is to keep. The church has discovered that in fact we cannot keep even these two commandments, to say nothing of the 10 commandments, or the 613 that the scholars have found in scripture. We have learned that we not saved from sin and spiritual death by obedience to the Law. We are saved by the grace of God made real for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus, grace received in faith. We are justified by God in Jesus without the Law, and then God the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth shows us through obedience to the law how to become the holy people God calls us to be. We cannot be obedient to God in our own strength, but with God’s power and strength given by his Holy Spirit we can grow in joyful obedience.
But all that learning was yet to come. On the first Pentecost the disciples knew that Jesus was true, and he had promised them the Spirit of Truth. They knew Jesus’ power because he had defeated the great enemy death by rising from the dead, and he had promised them the Spirit of Power. They remembered the giving of the law at Sinai, Moses on the mountain top, the fire lighting up the sky, the powerful wind almost blowing the people away. They remembered Jesus teaching 10 days before just before the Ascension when “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” They remembered that teaching and so they wondered about Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. What was this Spirit going to be like? How would life be different with Jesus no longer physically present with them?
Then suddenly came a sound from heaven like a mighty rushing wind, . . . tongues as of fire appeared among them, and all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” From
Iran in the east to eastern Lybia in the west, from the north coast of Turkey to south and all the places in between, “we hear them tell in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” Yemen
And the telling goes on. From Jerusalem north to Antioch in northern Syria, through Asia Minor to Greece and Rome, to France and Spain, across to Britain and Ireland, to Germany and Scandinavia, by Cyril and Methodius sent from Greece to the Slavic people, to Kiev and Moscow, with the Nestorians to India and China by land, with Francis Xavier and the Jesuits to India and China by sea, with Thomas Bray and the Society for the Propagation to North Carolina in 1702, about 140 years ago with John Coleridge Patteson, martyr in the Solomon Islands, with James Hannington and his companions martyrs in Uganda 125 years ago (1886), 10 years later with Bernard Mizeki in modet rn Zimbabwe.
In our own time with Bishop Janani Luwuum, murdered 1977 by Idi Amin in
Uganda, Bashir Deqani-Tafti, son of the Anglican Bishop of Iran, killed by Iranian government agents 1980; Archbishop Oscar Romero of murdered March 24, 1980 by government agents during the prayer of consecration. Martin Burnham a Bible translator killed in the El Salvador May 2001. Tom Fox a Christian Peacemaker Team member murdered in Philippines March 2006. German missionary Tilmann Geske and two Turkish converts from Islam Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, murdered May, 2007. And Jessica Mandeya lay leader of a rural parish in Iraq , a grandmother in her 80s, serving the church, raped, mutilated and strangled in February this year. And that’s just a sample of those who in their time and our time proclaimed “in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe
A few years ago I heard Professor Bruce Rigdon tell of an experience in
where he was helping make a movie about the church under Communism. Mikael was their minder, arranging interviews, getting churches opened, making the project possible. After the last night’s farewell party Mikael told Rigdon, “You showed me parts of my Russian heritage I never knew; I had never been in a church until you came to make this movie.” He fell silent ; Rigdon moved to the door, tired and ready for bed. Mikael stopped him and said, “You are a Christian?” He knew Rigdon was an ordained Methodist minister and seminary professor, but he had to ask, “You are a Christian?” Rigdon said, “Yes, I am a Christian.” Mikael said, “It was not true when I said I’ve never been in a church. I was once but I don’t remember it. My parents are atheists and Communist party members, but my grandmother was a Christian and one day when I was an infant and she was keeping me while my parents worked she took me to church and I was baptized. Tell me now, I’m just curious, you understand, but for curiosity’s sake, tell me, do you think anything happened when I was baptized?” The Jewish custom is to spend the night of Shavout in study of the bible and prayer. Rigdon and Mikael spent that night in study of the bible and prayer. Russia
An American Christian speaking in
to a member of the Communist party, “We hear them tell in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” The same Holy Spirit who came to the disciples on Pentecost comes to us when we are baptized and believe. Russia St. Paul writing to the contentious church at reminds them that the Holy Spirit gives many gifts, but they are given in the one body of Jesus Christ. We are all baptized into one body, filled with one Holy Spirit just as the disciples were on that first Pentecost. Corinth
We are filled with the Holy Spirit so we may remember Jesus’ teaching, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” We are filled with the Holy Spirit to keep the commandments and grow into the holy people God calls us to be. We are filled with the Holy Spirit so we may know the truth of Jesus and witness to that truth in the world he has redeemed by his death and resurrection. We are filled with the Holy Spirit so we may know the power of Jesus who defeated the great enemy death by rising from the dead and giving us new life. We are filled with the Holy Spirit so that the whole world and everyone we know may say, “we hear them tell in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” Amen.