May 22, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Acts 2:1-4, 12-17 (NRSV)
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. . .
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them. “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.’”
We know that the Holy Spirit’s power is always ready and available to us. We know that the Spirit has the power to work miracles, to give us dreams and visions, to inspire prophesy, to use us to spread the Gospel. If we don’t find our Christian communities alive with the joy and the possibility of doing those things, it’s not the Holy Spirit’s fault.
I had trouble today not simply sharing the entire Acts 2:1-21 passage above (which is read in the Episcopal church on Pentecost Sunday as I’m sure it is in many other denominations). It’s such a dramatic and—in Peter’s insistence that none of the disciples are drunk—even funny story.
Here in Acts 2, in the gathered Christian community, miracles start happening. People see tongues of fire above each other’s heads. The crowd hears the disciples speaking and each hearer understands the preaching in their own language. It’s clearly, and explicitly, marked as the fulfillment of prophecy from Joel 2.
In fact, this story is tied very clearly to readings from Ash Wednesday that kicked off our entire cycle of liturgical journeying through Lent and Holy Week to Easter and now Pentecost. At the beginning of Joel 2 the prophet Joel, faced with a locust plague, commanded his hearers to blow the trumpet in Zion (Joel 2:1) and return to the Lord with fasting, weeping, and mourning (Joel 2:12)—verses dear to the heart of many of us who hear them in church every Ash Wednesday. Here in Acts 2, we revisit the end of Joel 2 and hear God’s response—a beautiful restoration of everything that has been taken away by the plague of locusts (Joel 2:25), a restoration that culminates in the pouring out of God’s Spirit.
I could just stop here and let us wonder and amaze. But, in fact, a question troubles me.
There’s a famous quote along these lines: “To retain respect for laws and sausages, one must not watch them in the making.” (No one knows who said it, unfortunately). Many years ago, when I first heard that quote, it got me thinking about all the many church meetings I had attended and all the church-law-making I had witnessed. Most of those meetings were characterized far more by political infighting, conflict over minor details, concern for position and prestige, emphasis on the letter of the law, and other kinds of sausage-making than they were by a desire to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. I joked that I was going to write a book about my life in the church and call it If the Holy Spirit Comes to the Gathered Community, Where Does All the Sausage Come From?
I never wrote the book, but I still have the question. We know from this story in Acts that the Holy Spirit’s power is always ready and available to us. We know that the Spirit has the power to work miracles, to give us dreams and visions, to inspire prophesy, to use us to spread the Gospel. If we don’t find our Christian communities alive with the joy and the possibility of doing those things, it’s not the Holy Spirit’s fault.
Are you making sausage when you could be responding to the power of the Spirit? If so, what can you do about it in your life and the life of your church?
The great 20th-century hymn “We Know That Christ is Raised” (lyrics here) was written for celebrations of baptism and has become popular as an Easter hymn. It also has a wonderful stanza on the Trinity that reminds us that “the Spirit’s power shakes the church of God.” Listen, worship, and think about how the Spirit can shake your own church community.
Spirit, shake me. Shake us. Shake the church. Shake the world. Amen.
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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