June 5, 2022
"Amazed and Astonished"
Rev. Scott Landis
We often forget that Pentecost was originally a Jewish holiday – and still is. Always celebrated 50 days after Passover, this was a “pilgrimage festival” when the head of households would, if they could afford it, make their way to the Temple in Jerusalem, and offer their “first fruits” of the winter harvest as a symbol of their gratitude to God.
Originally known as the Festival of Weeks, it was established to celebrate God’s offering of the law received in the Torah – the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible. It was also a time to remember, once again, the gift of freedom granted the Hebrew slaves when they were liberated from Egyptian captivity at the time of the Passover.
It’s the pilgrimage aspect of this festival that explains the diversity of people that gathered all together in one place. They traveled from all over to the city of Jerusalem – the supposed home of God – each one speaking their own native language. This also explains the miraculous nature of the event that happened as those gathered were able to hear, for the first time, the gospel in a language they could understand.
The story begins, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they 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. And at the sound they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” (Acts 2:1-2)
Those gathered for Pentecost heard the Galileans who they surmised to be drunk offer a whole new spin on their understanding of religion. They heard the story of Jesus who was crucified, raised, and offered a new way of life that was based on love – not law. And they were “Amazed and Astonished,” as they wondered aloud, “What does this mean?” [Pause]
I bet the Galileans wondered the same thing. I’ve even wondered; did they know what they were saying? Or where they just speaking words with no understanding whatsoever? Did THEY think they might be drunk as the foreigners suspected even though it was only 9 a.m. and they hadn’t yet had their first glass of merlot? What was going on here and what DOES this mean? [Pause]
Well, the story did not happen in a vacuum. Peter preached a message explaining that this had all been prophesied by the prophet Joel many years ago. But Jesus himself foretold of the Spirit being given to humankind in his farewell address on the eve of his departure.
We read those words from John 14 today. Words of Jesus to an equally confused group of disciples who were also bewildered by what they were witnessing. Jesus promised that they would not be left helpless or “orphaned.” But when he left, the “Father would send them another Advocate or ‘helper.’” This Advocate would be the Spirit of Truth and would be with them forever. This Advocate would “abide” with them and would be “in them.” Confusing – I know. And that’s why the disciples questioned, “what does this mean?”
Jesus then closed his remarks with some of the most reassuring words of scripture, “Peace be with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
What I find most meaningful about these words AND challenging is the idea of an Advocate that is promised to be both “with me” and “in me.” The word in Aramaic for ‘advocate’ actually means “helper” or better still “the one who comes alongside.” It may make more sense to think of it as someone who comes alongside to support you or uphold you and will stay with you until you are strong enough to go it alone. It’s that arm around your shoulder that we all need from time to time. The person who has your back and will “stand by you.” Reminds me of that old song, “I’ll stand by you – wonʻ’ let nobody hurt you. I’ll stand by you. That’s what Jesus was promising – and such support, he promised, would bring us peace.
[Insert - Kimokeo Kapahulehua story about the “kihei.”]
What’s implied in this assurance, however, is that there will be times when we will be the recipients of this gift. But there will ALSO be times when we will be called upon to offer the same to others who are in need. Which begs the question, who needs us to be their advocate, their helper, or one who comes alongside today? [Pause]
Randy and I watched a documentary the other evening that described in shocking detail the rapid death of the coral reefs on our planet – specifically the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia – but our own reefs were also named. They are all dying at an alarming rate as the mean temperature of the ocean rises even by a couple of degrees – yet another crippling effect of global warming. As the reefs die, the effect on the oceanographic ecosystem is devastating. Which ultimately affects we who sit at the top of the food chain. We need to be advocates for the ocean (for the entire planet for that matter) which has no voice but whose destruction is responding in violent ways and whose death will affect every aspect of our lives.
All of us are becoming increasingly aware of the effects of automatic weapons that have proliferated our society insidiously and insistently under the guise of the second amendment. I can think of absolutely no reason for anyone to – outside of military forces – to ever have such a weapon. And when it impacts the lives our children as it did – ONCE AGAIN – we must become advocates for those who have no voice, because those deaths affect all our lives.
This week marked the beginning of Gay Pride Month – a month where we celebrate the gifts that those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary, but it is also a time when those of us in the lgbtqi+ community feel more threatened than we have in many years as some are even advocating the removal of the word “gay” from everyday speech and literature. We need advocates for those whose voices have been silenced out of fear – those who may not die physically but will die emotionally and spiritually as they are robbed of human dignity.
I could go on and you could name many others yourselves – those people or vital aspects of our lives that need someone to come alongside – to be inspired by the Spirit – to receive the breath of God and advocate or speak on behalf of those in need – to restore troubled or fearful hearts – into Peace!
This is what Jesus was talking about. This is what Peter was preaching about. And this is the very message that we must carry from our worship and into the streets as we seek to offer the world something that even today causes folks to be “Amazed and Astonished.” But the only way to do that is to be connected to the “Source” and that is what Pentecost reminds us to do as we seek to follow the Prince of Peace.
I must be open to the Spirit of the Living God to fall afresh on me – as we prayed in song just a few moments ago. I need to receive the bread and cup as nourishment for the journey, and I need the support of my spiritual ‘ohana (my peeps) to be the servant God is calling me to be. I need the blessing of God’s Spirit to “Kihei” my life so that I can do everything in my power to offer the same to others.
I invite you to be open to that Spirit today. Allow the life-giving God of Pentecost to open your mind, your heart, your voice – your soul to be the amazing, astonishing, advocate that God wants you to be.