Acts 2:1-13 “Filled”
I know that we were chugging through the Book of Luke and that our reading for today breaks the story line we have been following, but today is a special day in the life of the church. Today is Pentecost. And besides, when we read from the Book of Acts, we are in fact reading the same author as Luke wrote this part of the Bible, too. The first of Luke’s writings he called the “good news from Jesus Christ.” In Chapter one he calls his gospel an “orderly account,” ”an investigation into events,” and “the Truth of the matter.”
At the beginning of Luke’s Book of Acts, he calls his previous writings “the instructions left by Jesus.” I like instructions. It is one of my axiomata for living: “When all else fails, read the instructions!” Recently I was up at the church cabins at Waineke to repair an oven. Andrea Kaohi, the chairperson of the Waineke Committee and the cabin coordinator, was with me because she just wanted to help that day. She asked “How do you know how to fix ovens?” Of course, I really do not know how to fix ovens. What I do know is that on the back of the oven in a little pocket should be the repair sheet. Pull out the sheet, press “cancel” twice and then “start” on the controls, and then the oven gives you an error message that tells you what part has failed. Replace the part. If that does not work, replace the other part. It is all right there on the instructions.
The word for “Acts” as in the “Book of Acts” in the Greek is “praxis.” This is also an English word because my computer did not kick it out from the text. It means “to get your hands dirty.” In other words, we know from the Gospel the instructions on how to live, now we have to get our hands dirty and actually do the things Jesus said.
You know, Jesus said that we would be helped in doing this. He said that he would be sending us a “paraclete.” This is also now an English word that comes from Greek that the computer did not kick out. This is found in John 14:16: “I will ask the Father, and He will send you a helper (paraclete) to be with you forever.” This is the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit that happens on the Day of Pentecost.
Have you ever heard a voice from heaven? I was thinking a couple of weeks ago on Mother’s Day how it has been now exactly fifteen years since my own mother has passed unto the Lord. Not only do I still hear my mother’s voice, but it seems to be coming out of my own mouth more and more. As most of you know, my dear Uncle passed away a couple of months ago. Now my Aunt is telling me that he is still speaking with her and guiding her life. And, I do hear my uncle in what my Aunt tells me! So, Jesus ascends to heaven, and now all the followers are still hearing Jesus’ voice, but now it is coming out of their own mouths. That is how Peter the fisherman, now chief apostle, is able to stand up and preach–from the Prophet Joel no less!
This morning’s Scripture is about the Holy Spirit’s coming down and giving voice to about five thousand people who were gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration. By the way, this is the harvest festival in Jewish tradition and comes always seven shabbats after the Passover. The coming of the Spirit was an incredible miracle that allowed people who could not otherwise understand each other to hear one another as if they were speaking in their native tongues.
Just imagine for one minute that I am not speaking a language that you understand up here on the chancel this morning. Imagine that I am speaking Swahili or Cambodian. However, you hear the tone of my voice. You see that I am holding up the Bible. You see, that I am looking sincerely into your eyes and am touching my heart. Then, all of the sudden you understand what I am trying to tell you—God loves you! This is the miracle! The Spirit can speak and be understood through the Spirit, by spiritual means.
Our Scripture tells us that Spirit gives utterance. This is a great miracle that the Spirit can talk through us. Now, I have a theory that comes from years of being an English teacher. When we break down the things that stop us from understanding one another, then the language flows naturally. When we break down the things that stop the Spirit from flowing between us, then the Spirit flows naturally.
If you want to learn a second language, the absolute best way to do it is to forget English first. English blocks you from accepting the other language. The best way to drop English is to get really, really tired. Let your defenses down. Have a glass of wine as Paul suggests to Timothy. Get the stomach flu and be really sick. Whatever it takes! Because when you let your defenses down, that is when you can learn new things.
How do the mother and the child communicate when the child is first born? They are just absolutely open to one another. They can see things in each other’s eyes. Their spirits meld together. Love just flows back and forth. They are emotionally just completely open. What does that look like?
The end of our scripture for this morning tells us that it looks like a bunch of people being drunk on new wine. In fact, they were drunk on the Holy Spirit. They were drunk on the love of God. They were emotionally in a very open state. They were so open to the Spirit that they could understand everybody else speaking their own languages! Amen to that!
Let me just share with you some of the things I learned while studying linguistics that makes this a true miracle. First, when I speak, for instance, when I give a sermon, the normal amount of what is called “verbal transmission interference” is around 90%. That is to say, when I am thinking of what I am communicating to you, you are only getting about 10% of what I am actually thinking. You may be hanging on the edge of your seats listening to every word, but there is no way you can actually know exactly and precisely what is going on in my head when I am saying it. That might be rather scary in fact.
Beyond losing 90% already, after two minutes it is estimated that you will not be able to recall exactly what I said anyway. So, the “verbal reception rate” may knock down what you get out of this sermon another 90%. We are already left with 10% of 10% then. The amount of retention after two days is infinitesimal. This is the actual “retention rate.” It is well below 1% of what I had actually thought about when delivering this sermon.
I want to add just one more linguistic factor into this. In order to have a 50% retention rate, the average person will have to see or hear a message some seventy times. That is why the same commercial is played on the same television program over and over again. Yes, that is intentional. Advertisers know that you will have to see their ad seventy times before you will be swayed in the supermarket to even glance at their product or consider buying it.
One more thing that plays into all of this: We need to hear seven positive statements for every negative statement we hear because we tend to hear negative things better than positive things at a seven-to-one ratio. When somebody says something negative or leaves us a negative note, then we crumple it up and throw it away. If somebody leaves us a note that is uplifting, we stick it on the refrigerator for a week or two. We actually need to do that to balance our lives!
I was thinking that tomorrow is Memorial Day–a day of remembrance. We have all of the negative things stuck in our head about our country. We have inflation, debt, immigration problems, etc. We all remember those things. Now, we need to remember that we also have great freedom that has been guaranteed by the lives of those who sacrificed for this blessed land of liberty. We have become so bad at remembering the good things that we have set aside whole days just to prompt us to do that.
Consider what is happening at this time of the coming down of the Holy Spirit: Everyone is understanding everybody else perfectly. This idea is unfolded better still in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11, “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.”
For the first time, through the Spirit’s coming down, we began to search the “depths of God.” God revealed God’s self to His children in a brand new way! Like a mother looking down into the heart and soul of her child when being first held after birth, so God has poured out God’s love and spirit onto all of us.
However, I need you to consider that, the Spirit of God would have its own personality. The Spirit of God is not a thing. It is a person. The spirit cries for us. It weeps for us when we are hurting. It intercedes for us and lifts up our prayers to God.
In Galatians 5:22-23 we read, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are the highest attributes of humanity that come to us through God’s blessing of the Holy Spirit. These are the harvest at this harvest festival going on in Jerusalem.
Please consider then what I have told you today. And, you will understand why I repeat these things to you. The Spirit still speaks to us today. It breaks down our walls of separation and makes us understand one another. It gives us utterance. It speaks through us. It allows us to touch the depth of God and gives us the gifts we need to touch the depths of one another’s hearts. It is a picture of God coming to us, reminding us that God loves us and cares about us. Amen.