Pentecost, Today!

Scripture — Acts 2:1-21 (NIV)

Good morning! Today we are celebrating the ancient festival of Pentecost. By coincidence, Pastor Tom Tran invited me to "deliver the message" three years ago on Pentecost Sunday. I entitled my message that morning:

"What is Pentecost All About, Anyway?"

I will try not to repeat that message today, but will rather try to offer some additional thoughts about its subject... The Scripture from Acts which we just read together describes very well the first Pentecost. It is such a great landmark in the history of our faith that we often refer to it as "The Birthday of the Church".

Preaching about festivals — any festival — can be some of the most important and most dangerous preaching we do.

Important because festivals mark the major turning points in the Christian story. They orient us toward what is central, even crucial, about the Christian faith. But also dangerous, because the nearly irresistible temptation when preaching about a festival is to commemorate it. Festivals beckon us to remember God's faithful action in the past. That's a good thing ... so long as it prompts us to seek God's action among us in the present and prepare for God's action through us in the future.

But all too often, however, when we look back to commemorate God's action in the past our attention lingers there, and we grow nostalgic for days gone by and compare unfavorably those we currently live in. And here's where the danger lies, as there is nothing more resistant to purposeful, hopeful action in the present than nostalgia, the sentimental longing for a bygone era.

Few holidays present themselves as ripe for nostalgia as Pentecost. After all, weren't these the glory days of the church — spirit-filled preaching; attentive, even miraculous listening; 3,000 people converted in a single day? Exactly. And what have most of us seen or done since that could possibly compare? Preaching, and celebrating, Pentecost primarily as a remembrance of the past — think big cake and candles to celebrate the church's birthday — unintentionally numbs us to God's ongoing work to love, bless and redeem this world right now, right here, through us.

But Pentecost doesn't need to be about the past. In fact, I suspect that Luke, like all historians, wrote about the past in order to make sense of the present and prepare for the future. (I think he says as much in his introduction to part one of his two-volume story.)

Luke 1:1-4 (NIV)

So, why not imitate Luke and consider Pentecost not as a nostalgic commemoration but as the means by which to anticipate and make sense of God's ongoing activity in the world?

The great challenge to this generation of church leaders, and members, is to reopen, and retell, the biblical story so that people hear and feel it speaking into the present. Pentecost is an important part of this effort. To the degree that we preach Pentecost as a commemoration of a wonderful day in the church's past, we have the opportunity of kindling warm, nostalgic feelings about one of the church's festivals ... for those who still care about such things. But to the degree that we preach Pentecost as a promise of God's ongoing activity and as a clue to discerning how God is using us just as surely as God used Peter, we have the potential for making this portion of the biblical witness both vital and useful.

Most of our members are so much more accustomed to commemoration than anticipation that we may need to help them by naming where we see Pentecost happening around us. But anticipating God's work ends up being so much more fun than commemorating it that — I promise you — it won't take them all that long to try it for themselves. So show them, invite them and then send them to look for God's ongoing Pentecost, remembering that the original Pentecost wasn't just a one-time thing, but the beginning of the ongoing story of the Christian church.

There are many things we can do to celebrate and continue the spirit of Pentecost in today's world, especially in these areas...

So, let us not make the spirit of Pentecost merely something historical, or nostalgic, but something which continues to burn like a flame in our everyday lives and which guides us as we continue to obey and carry out God's word in this world.

Chuck Carey
May 2016

I am indebted to the Sermon Central web site for some of the material I used in this message.

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