(A sermon based on Acts 2:1-21 for Pentecost 2013)
What happened on Pentecost was that the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus who had assembled in Jerusalem following his ascension. He had told them to wait there until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and, ten days after he ascended, they were still waiting.
And then, suddenly, the Spirit came; all at once the followers of Jesus received their inheritance from their Lord.
The coming of the Holy Spirit to those first believers was, to understate it terribly, a major event. And the Holy Spirit has remained in and with the Church ever since which is also, to understate it terribly, a big deal.
There is no point in seeking a scientific explanation for events like this one; what happened was an act of divine grace and God, being God, can offer God’s gifts in any way that God pleases. I could not resist, though, delving into a little science as I thought about the events of Pentecost, particularly as I tried to imagine being in that room when “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind” (NRSV).
I got to thinking about why wind makes a sound.
Before there is the sound, though, there is the wind. So why is there wind? Put too simply, wind occurs as air moves from an area of high atmospheric pressure to an area of low pressure. The closer the two pressure areas are to one another, the stronger the wind will be. So why does wind make a sound? Again put too simply, it doesn’t; but, when air speed changes the resulting vibration in the air molecules can be picked up by our ears as “sound.” The more drastic the change is, then, the louder the sound will be.
Now, let’s go back to the “sound like the rush of a violent wind” that filled the house where the believers were sitting. Perhaps we can imagine that those disciples heard that sound because the atmosphere of heaven had drawn right up against the atmosphere of Earth and that close proximity created a strong disturbance that brought about tremendous changes in the atmosphere. Therefore, the disciples heard a “sound like the rush of a violent wind.”
The text does not say that there was an actual wind, just that there was the sound of a powerful wind; still, once the Spirit fell on the gathered believers things started to move as if they were compelled by a mighty wind. It was if the believers were sitting in a sailboat on a calm day with the sails unfurled but slack when all of a sudden a powerful wind began to blow that filled the sails and propelled the boat forward.
But what if a sailboat is anchored when the wind begins to blow? If it’s strong enough, what the wind can’t find a way through or can’t move it will push over or destroy. A good wind will propel a sailboat forward but that same wind, if the sailboat is anchored with its flags unfurled, will tip the boat over.
The boat needs to be untethered and to have its sail unfurled so the wind can propel it forward and it can carry its passengers on their journey.
The Church needs to have our anchor up and our sail unfurled so the Spirit can propel us forward on our mission.
On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit came and when it came it sounded like a mighty wind. Heaven had come right up next to Earth and caused a powerful movement in the atmosphere. The disturbance was violent enough to be perceived as a loud noise by the believers gathered in that room.
And when that Spirit came into those disciples they began to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ in languages that all the immigrants and pilgrims in Jerusalem could understand. The Spirit came to those Christians so that it could be passed along to others through the ministry of the Word and so that the disciples could be empowered and equipped to carry out their mission.
We are the inheritors of that same wind, of that same Spirit. The Spirit moves in us and through us, driving us forward and empowering us to share the life of God with others.
Who will the Spirit lead us to be? What will the Spirit lead us to do? Where will the Spirit lead us to go?
Is our anchor up? Is our sail unfurled? Will we be who the Spirit is leading us to be? Will we do what the Spirit is empowering us to do? Will we go where the Spirit is calling us to go?