Sunday, May 23, 2021


Acts 2

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?

Westonites, Mount Dennisians and Humberleans; residents of Pelmo Park, Rockcliffe-Smyth, Silverthorne and Lambton, The Westway and the Old Mill, Humber Heights and Emery, Richview and the parts of Brookhaven near Amesbury; visitors from the Junction (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Rexdale and Syme—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your young men will see visions,

your old men will dream dreams.

18 Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

and they will prophesy.

19 I will show wonders in the heavens above

and signs on the earth below,

blood and fire and billows of smoke.

20 The sun will be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood

before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

21 And everyone who calls

on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

I think you can see what I did there. And I’m not sure it’s Mount Dennisians, but it should be.

The traditional reading, with all those exotic place names, tells us that Pentecost is about a gathering of people (from everywhere) that were present for the birth of the church. And while this is certainly true—and we can then speak of the worldwide spread of the nascent church—it might be more helpful to take a step back and try to understand what else the author may be trying to tell us.

Tip O’Neill famously said: “All politics is local.” Luke, who famously wrote both Luke and Acts, may have said: “All religion is local.” What we are tempted to read as “everywhere” is, in fact, more like “your place, and your place, and your place over there.” This is local religion, not in the tribal or parochial sense, but in the intimate sense that it belongs as much on my street as your street.

Some time ago we had the good fortune of visiting the Basilica di San Clemente, just a stones throw from the Colosseum in Rome. From the outside, it resembles many of the other churches you might find in Rome. But this one is a little different. You enter a 12th century church at street level, and then you head downstairs. One level below is a fourth century church, well-preserved, and below that is a first century house church, which began as a typical Roman home. Three layers and two thousand years of Roman history in a single stop.

With the tongues and wind and flames the message began. From the waters of baptism the church was born, carried off to those hard-to-pronounce places, but also an ordinary house in Rome. A community formed and met in that house. The community expanded, and knocked down a wall or two, making the circle wider. Walls were reshaped into a primitive form we might come recognize as a church—as kitchen table became altar and cup became chalice.

The journey from kitchen table to high altar, twenty centuries and perhaps thirty feet up, is not about the passage of time and the human effect on topography, but about the locality of our faith. It doesn’t happen in some far-off spiritual realm but right here, at 1 King, where the communion table faces east-ish to Jerusalem and makes a direct line from the day to Pentecost to today. It doesn’t happen in some far-off spiritual realm, but in your favourite chair when you close your eyes to pray. It belongs in kitchens and cubicles and neighbourhood churches; our faith belongs wherever breath is felt and language is spoken and love is made known.

But there is more. The message that these woman and men carried home, the message of death and resurrection, the message of a world made-new, was neatly summarized by Peter that day: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The conclusion of the dreamed dreams and the clearest visions, the surest signs and loudest prophecy is the simple truth that God saves.

It points to another prophecy, this one found in Zechariah. The angel of the Lord comes to the prophet and shares this wonderful verse:

Not by might, nor by power, 

but by my spirit, says the Lord.

It has a musical quality to it, and this is not an accident. God wants the prophet to make no mistake about the source of human transformation, about the source of change in a hurting world, about the presence of God in the midst of adversity. I commend it to you, the kind of verse that reminds us that we are never alone, and that the presence of the Spirit is ever near.

Not by might, nor by power, 

but by my spirit, says the Lord.

The other thing that happened that in the Day of Pentecost involves memory and longing, a sense of promise given and promise fulfilled. Only weeks earlier, Jesus made a simple (yet profound) promise:

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But soon the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Today the Advocate has come. The Advocate has come to your home and mine, to this place, and the many places like it. The Advocate has come to hearts broken and minds confused, and to troubled places and everyplace, where peace is elusive and the pandemic rages.

Yet the Advocate is still speaking. The Advocate is speaking through the least and the last, speaking through unsteady voice and faintest whisper, speaking to anyone who will listen. The Advocate chose the vessel we call the church to seek peace, to care for others, to continually remind them that God is the peacemaker, the caregiver, and the only one that saves.

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Let the Spirit find you this day and always, Amen. 


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