Sermon for the Day of Pentecost, May 23, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Ezekiel 37:1-14+Psalm 104:25-35, 37+Acts 2:1-21+John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

I brought my Hoboken Fire Department Chaplain’s helmet with me today. I wonder if any of the children might be able to guess why?

Today is the Feast of Pentecost, and it comes every year 50 days after the resurrection. The word Pentecost means “fiftieth.” Easy to remember right?

It is also the Jewish festival of Shavuot. Now for Jews at the time of Jesus, there were three pilgrimage festivals when Jews from all over were required to come to Jerusalem, to the temple. You may recall that on Palm Sunday, Jesus enters the city on the back of a donkey as pilgrims began to arrive for the Passover. The Last Supper in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) was a Passover meal. Last week, our Jewish friends celebrated Shavuot, or the Festival of Weeks, which comes fifty days (or 7 weeks) after Passover. That celebration marks the first wheat harvest in the land of Israel as God commanded Moses in Exodus (34:22), but it also commemorates the giving of the law to Moses on Sinai.

So, at Passover, we had huge crowds from all over the Jewish diaspora flocking to Jerusalem. For the followers of Jesus, what started as a time of joy and exuberance ended with pain and death. But God wasn’t finished. Angels told the women that Jesus was not dead; he had been raised from the tomb. And as we have seen over the past seven weeks, this risen Jesus continued to appear to the disciples until, ten days ago, he ascended into heaven.

So we come to Shavuot, when once again pilgrims descended on Jerusalem for the festival, and God is once more full of surprises. A mighty wind blew over the disciples. Tongues of flame land on them. They begin to speak in ways that everyone around them could understand – Judeans and Cappadocians, Phrygians and Egyptians, and all the rest – a great reversal of the Tower of Babel.

And in one of my favorite lines from all of scripture, we read that the scoffers said, “They are filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13). Or, in the colloquial version, “Y’all, these folks are drunk.”

It is at this point, I believe, that Peter begins to come into his own as the leader of the community. He stands up and addresses the crowd and tells them that all of this was foretold in the prophets.

It is often said that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. It is the day the followers of Jesus were emboldened to leave Jerusalem, spreading throughout the Greek and Roman world to tell of this Galilean savior who rose from the dead and brings new life to all of us. And we still tell this story on this day.

It has become expected. Nothing to see here. We know this story. Nothing to be concerned about.

And this is really why I brought my fire hat – because maybe, just maybe, another rush of wind and tongues of flame is on the way. The Holy Spirit is unpredictable and untamable and filled with surprises. Do you really think this girl from a small town in North Carolina really expected to be standing here in this place serving as a priest to this congregation? That Spirit will take you places you never imagined.

In a little while, I will baptize these three children in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and I will take some holy oil and anoint them, sealing them “by the Holy Spirit in baptism” and marking them as “Christ’s own forever.” There is an awesome – in the truest sense of the word – an awesome power in that anointing. Liam and Giselle and Quinn will become full members of the household of God, and if we fulfill our promises to them to help raise them up in the life of faith, there is no telling what the Holy Spirit might have in store for them. “Sons and daughters shall prophesy,” the prophet says (2:17). I bet you parents weren’t expecting that when you signed up for this.

This Pentecost, I encourage all of us to let the Spirit do her work. Expect the unexpected. Prepare to be astonished. Free yourself  from complacency. Get ready to be sent out, because that is what She calls us to do, to tell the Good News of God’s love for all of creation.

We don’t need a fire helmet to protect us, friends. Through the power of the Holy Spirit blowing in and through us, we are clothed in the whole armor of God.

ASEPSermon for the Day of Pentecost, May 23, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas