Scripture: Acts 2:5-8; Mark 9:2-8
Date: May 24, 2015
Well happy Birthday church. Several years ago in the Harrodsburg church, I was doing the children’s message on Pentecost Sunday and I talked about the flames of fire that is described in Acts as being like the candles on a birthday cake because on Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the church. And then before I knew it, as can happen with a children’s message, it took an unexpected turn. I made the mistake of asking if anyone knew how old the church was. Now the Harrodsburg Church dated back to the early 1800’s and the Sanctuary had that old, traditional look to it. And so there were several guesses based on how old they thought that church was, and then I said, “Those were all good guesses, but did you know that the church is almost 2000 years old?” And one little boy, who had never been there before, a grandson of one of the members, looked around at the sanctuary, and then he looked at me with a very skeptical face, and said in a very loud voice, loud enough for everyone to hear including his dear grandmother, and also for those who would later watch the service on T.V. “You’re lying!” Now I’ve had kids say a lot of interesting things during Children’s messages, but I’ve never had one call me a liar. I wasn’t sure where to go from there. So I want to make it clear up front that this is the birthday of the universal church which is nearly 2000 years old.
The story of Pentecost is an exciting story. We know about the tongues of fire which signaled the coming of the Spirit. But what intrigues me most about this story is the voices. First Luke tells us that the Disciples were all gathered in one place, presumably the Upper Room when the whole house is filled with the roar of a mighty wind and tongues of fire, obviously representing the promised coming of the Holy Spirt, because the next thing Luke says is that “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” And then Luke says that hearing the roar and seeing the fire, thousands of people, who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Harvest or First Fruits, now gathered in the street, as we would, to see what was going on. Now we know that there were literally thousands because Luke concludes the story by telling that 3000 people believed that day. Now it was customary, of course, for the Jews that when they were celebrating a Feast that people from all over the world take a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Temple to celebrate. And so Luke tells us that the people were there from many different places. In fact, Luke, the Historian, names more than 15 regions from which people came. The point is, of course, that people from the whole world were gathered that day. Now in Luke’s chronology this came about 10 days after Jesus had told the Disciples at His ascension, that He wanted to take the Gospel to the whole world. And so presumably the Disciples had spent those ten days making their plans – drawing their maps – putting together their evangelistic plan to go to the whole world. Now you can just imagine Thomas, the doubter, throwing a monkey wrench in the plans. “We can go to all these places,” he might have said, “but how are we going to share the gospel. Who of us speaks all these languages?” “That’s a good point Thomas. Let’s think about that.” In today’s church we would have thrown the whole thing to a committee at this point. Put together a plan and then bring it back to the whole group. I think there are a lot of times that God grows impatient with the church because we are so slow to act and I wonder sometimes if God caused Pentecost to happen as it did, in such dramatic fashion because He was growing impatient with how the Disciples were reacting to their commissioning by Jesus. If you are going to be so slow to take the Gospel to the world, I’ll bring the world to you. And if you are so concerned about the language barriers, then I’ll speak through you and everyone will hear the message in their own tongue. Now, for the longest time, I thought that what Luke was describing was one voice speaking and each person hearing and understanding. Many look at the story of Pentecost and mistakenly think that what Luke is describing is kind of a Universal Language of the Holy Spirit. When I was a teenager there was a great deal of emphasis on the phenomenon called “speaking in tongues”. I remember going once to a charismatic church and the preacher began the message and was going right along using words that I could understand. And then all of a sudden he began to talk in what sounded like gibberish to me. But I looked around at the other people and they were apparently understanding everything that was being said. And I remember feeling so devastated that God would have a message that I could not understand. I felt so alone and left out and started thinking that maybe Jesus was not really for me after all. But that wasn’t what Luke is describing here. Thousands of people gathered from all over the world, drawn to the street around this house where they had no doubt heard that the followers of Jesus were staying. And they don’t hear just one voice or one universal Spirit language. No, what Luke tells us is that each person in the crowd heard at least one of the Disciples speaking to them in their own language. “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?” Now to really understand the scope of the miracle here, we have to imagine the tone of voice that would have been used when that question was asked. You see, Galilee was considered to be back woods in those days. Inhabited by the ignorant masses. Nothing good (or intelligent even) could come from Galilee. And so for many the question would have been asked more like: “Aren’t all these men who are speaking poor, stupid Galileans? How is it possible that they can speak to me in my language?” Now imagine the noise and the chaos of the moment. Apparently all of the Disciples speaking at once. In several different languages and in voices loud enough so that each person on the street – in that crowd that must have numbered in the thousands – could hear the message that was directed specifically at them. Think about the voices that must have been heard, speaking different languages but delivering the same message. It must have been something to hear. A few weeks ago, after the morning worship services, as I was getting ready to head home and have some lunch, I decided to stop by The Loft and worship for a few minutes with the new community that meets up there at 12:30. And, of course, the service was in Swahili and I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. But by their excitement and the joy on their faces, I could imagine what they were saying. But that is not what Luke is describing. He is talking about each person hearing the Gospel in their own language so they could understand what was being said.
Last year, Karen and I went to Disney World. Now it had been a few years since we had been. And I always love the experience. But I am always amazed at the constant and persistent noise. The noises of the various rides and attraction combined with the voices of thousand of people, all trying to speak at the same time. And the greater the noise, the louder the voices become. From the moment you enter into one of the the parks until the moment you exit. And speaking in so many different languages. Sometimes it can become almost overwhelming. Well I can imagine that is must of what Pentecost sounded like. So many voices. Our world is full of voices, isn’t it? Sending us a lot of messages. And constantly searching for a language, a method of communicating that we will comprehend. Telling us what we should buy, where we should live, what we should enjoy, how we should look, how we should act. It is sometimes overwhelming, isn’t it? More and more people are starting to walk around with ear phones in their ears, even when they are with other people, and I think how rude that is, but then sometimes I understand. It is their way of controlling the voices and the messages we are bombarded with every day. Just think about all of the voices that you hear in the course of a day. Some of them are pleasant. Some not so pleasant. Some deliver positive messages. Others bring bad news. And then some just cause a lot of background noise that contribute to the hectic nature of our lives. We live in a noisy world. And we have become so accustomed to the voices that we seemingly can’t do without them. In the car, we have to have the radio on. And now most new cars have satellite radio with dozens of channels to choose from. One of the first things we do when we get home is turn on the T.V. Not necessarily to watch, but to hear. So many voices. And then there are those internal voices too. Tapes that we play from our parents or the church or others, telling us what we should be and shouldn’t be doing. I can hear some of mine. “Eat the crust on your bread. It’s the most nutritious part.” Now I know that the crust is no more nutritious then the inside of the bread, but my mother’s voice that keeps whispering in my head says it’s so, and I eat my crust. “Clean your plate. There are children starving all over the world who would love to have that to eat.”“Put on clean underwear when you go out in case you’re in an accident.” And I hear my parents saying “well done”, when I do something well. And “we love you” especially when I am not being very loveable. And what’s really scary is that as Anna was growing up, I would replay those same tapes for her and I put them in her head. And so she probably will play those tapes for her children But then sometimes those internal voices are destructive ones. They tells us “You’re not good enough” “You’re not pretty enough.”“You’re too fat”“You’re too thin.” So many voices. It’s so hard sometimes to know which ones to listen to, isn’t it? Which ones are speaking our language.
But the voices of Pentecost were the voices of transformation and transfiguration. As the Disciples spoke that day they were transfigured and became Apostles and Evangelists ready to take the Gospel to the whole world. And 3000 were transfigured and transformed by what they said and became believers. But how can we distinguish between the voices of Pentecost and the voices of the world? How can we tell, how can we know, which voices to listen to?
Well, there is another story of transfiguration in the scriptures. We talked about it a few weeks ago. The transfiguration of Jesus. And for a few moments I want us to take a fresh look at that story in light of what happened on the day of Pentecost.
Luke says: That Jesus took Peter, James and John to the mountain to pray. In a sense, It was the voices that drove him there. The voices of the Disciples who one moment proclaimed Him the Messiah and then the next moment tried to prevent Him from doing what the Messiah must do. They were the voices of the crowd, clamoring for more after the miracle of 5000 fed. More food. More healing. More miracles. And the voices of the Pharisee, criticizing every thing He did. Speaking to the crowds to try and turn them away from Jesus. And perhaps it was the inner voices questioning if all this was worth it. Would they ever understand who He truly was? Was He doing any good? Did He really have to die? So Jesus went to the mountain to pray. Because, first of all, He knew that to respond to the voices He needed to tune in to God. With so many competing voices in our lives it is so easy to lose track of the voice God, isn’t it? We must tune in to God above the roar of the world. I read a pastor’s account of her own Pentecost. Though she was brought up in the church (both her parents were church leaders), she told of spending several years separated and alienated from God. She experimented with other things, looking for some meaning in her life. She fell in and out of love several times. She isolated herself from her family. She dropped out of college to find herself. She was restless and confused and drifting aimlessly. Wandering from voice to voice telling her what she needed to be, what she needed to do. And she said she was about at the end of her rope. It had been several years since she had gone to church, but she said that one evening, for some reason, she wandered into the Wednesday evening prayer meeting at the church she had attended as a child. And she sang the songs and listened to the words of the minister, but none really spoke to her. And then towards the end of the service they went into a time of prayer. And the minister told those who gathered (there was about 100 she said) that as they felt led, they should all pray out loud. Not one at a time. But all at the same time. Well, she said, it was mass confusion. Everyone stood and voices rang out from all over the sanctuary. It was hard to tune in to any individual voices in the midst of the chaos. And then from somewhere behind her, she heard a voice that she did not recognize call her name out in prayer. And then from somewhere else, she heard her name called out again. Again and again her name was raised in prayer. And all of a sudden she realized that all the while she was wandering, there were people at home, praying for her. Calling her name out to God. And for the first time in a long time she tuned into God and her life was transformed and transfigured. We tune in to God when we pray. I have wondered what Jesus’ prayer was when He went to the mountain. But, whatever it was, Luke tells us that in response to His prayer, God sends Moses and Elijah to Him.
Max Lucado says that Jesus was homesick for heaven. The demands of His earthly ministry were weighing Him down. His Disciples just weren’t getting it. He longed for the perfection of heaven. And in response God sent Moses and Elijah to encourage Him. Now, whether that is right or not, there are two things we need to know. First, Jesus tuned in God. Out of all of the voices, Jesus sought God’s voice. He went to pray. How often do we pray in the midst of the voices. When the voices threaten to overwhelm us, do we just stop and tune in God. Seek Him. Find out what He has to say? That’s what Jesus did.
And then the second thing we need to know is that God answered His prayer. This time in a rather dramatic way. But it’s not always like that. It’s not always tongues of fire and cloudy apparitions. Sometimes it’s the gentle encouragement of a friend. Sometimes it’s a calm assurance that comes over our hearts. Sometimes it’s a stranger calling out our name in the midst of all of the other voices. But we need to tune God in.
And to do that, we need to tune the other voices out. Peter is on this mountain of transfiguration to remind us of that. Because Peter has a hard time tuning out the world. He loves grand gestures. A lot of noise and commotion. Excitement. And so his reaction to this moment is to build monuments. “Let’s make a tabernacle for each of you”. But look what Luke tells us. First he says that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. And then secondly he says that God cut him off. “While he was still speaking” a cloud came and overshadowed them and they were so afraid that even Peter shut up. Too often I think we’re like Peter and expect some kind of grand gesture by God to drown out the voices when what we really need to do is turn the voices off. Tune them out. Maybe even shut up ourselves. I suspect Pentecost happened as it did, with fire and many voices, because that’s what it took to convince the Disciples that Jesus was telling the truth. That they were up to the task. That they could go to all the world. But it doesn’t have to happen that way. Most often the Spirit comes to us in the quiet moments, when we tune the other voices out. And it’s in those moments, God gives us the assurance that we seek. I spent several years of my life really waiting for the roar of the wind and the tongues of fire to come and convince me that God was really calling me to ministry. I wonder if God sent Elijah to Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration to remind Him and the other Disciples that He sometimes speaks in that “still, small voice.” Remember Elijah’s own mountaintop experience. Discouraged, tired, afraid for his life, he went to the mountaintop seeking God. And a tornado came, but God was not in it. An earthquake, but God was not in it. A fire, but God was not in it. But, then the scriptures say, “after the fire, a still, small voice.” That’s where he found God. Maybe you’re looking for God in the midst of the storms, in rushing winds and tongues of fire, when what you really need to do is tune the storms out, all of the noise of the world, and then He will speak. I read an article written by a single father who was trying to raise two boys, ages five and seven, all alone. He heard all the voices, and they nearly overwhelmed him. Telling him he had to work long hours to provide for them. Telling him about all the challenges of single parenting. Reminding him of bills he could not afford to pay. It was more then he thought he could handle. And one night it all caved in on him and he wrote this:
It all came together and I was at once lost. Unexpected convulsive sobs overtook me and I sat there, alone, silently sobbing. But just then a pair of little arms wrapped around my middle and a little face peered up at me. And I looked down into my five year old son’s sympathetic face. I was embarrassed to be seen crying by my son. “I’m sorry Ethan. I didn’t know you were still awake. I didn’t mean to cry. I’m just a little sad tonight.” To which my little boy said, “It’s okay, daddy. It’s okay to cry. You’re just a person. And suddenly all of those things that weighed so heavily on me melted away in his embrace.”
The still, small voice. God knows that in the midst of our temptations and despair and our sorrow, when the voices seek to overwhelm us, He knows the same thing about us. That we’re just a person. Tune them out and hear Him speak. If you take nothing else from this service today, maybe you take the resolve to turn something off in your life. Maybe if you’re having trouble in your marriage or with your children or with some other relationship, perhaps you need to turn off the T.V. or the radio or the computer, and listen to your spouse. Listen to your children. Tune out the other voices.
And then the final response to the voices is to listen to the one voice. Luke says that the cloud enveloped Jesus and the Disciples and then the voice of God spoke: “This is my beloved Son . Listen to Him.” “Listen to Him.” Don’t miss this. Peter wanted to make a tabernacle for each of them. He wanted to place Jesus on the same plane as Moses and Elijah. And I think in some ways that angered God. Because Jesus is not on the same plane with the others. And so He says to Peter. “THIS is my beloved Son. Listen to HIM.” Not listen to them. Listen to Him. Too often we are tempted to do what Peter tried to do. Listen to other voices and think that they somehow equate with Christ. Paul talked about that in His letters. “Don’t say you listen to and follow Peter, or Appollos, or me. Say you listen to and follow Jesus Christ.” None were held with greater esteem by the Jews then Moses and Elijah, but they were not the ones that were to be listened to. THIS is my Son. Listen to Him. Stop talking Peter and listen. I can remember many days of agonizing over that call to ministry. And I prayed and prayed but could not get a clear cut sense of direction. And I was sharing this with an older minister one day. And he said, “Have you prayed about it?” Constantly, I said. And then He said, “Have you taken time to listen?” And I realized that I hadn’t. We have a hard time listening, don’t we? I read about a doctor who was walking through the mall and he saw one of his elderly patients who he was treating for heart disease coming toward him with a beautiful young woman on his arm. And the doctor thought to himself, “he isn’t up to that kind of excitement.” And so he said to the man, “What are you doing?” And the patient said, “I’m just following your advice. You said to find a hot mama and be cheerful.” “Well that might be what you heard, but that’s not what I said,” the doctor replied. “I said you have a heart murmur. Be careful.”
Sometimes we have a hard time listening. Peter had a hard time listening. One writer says that “the biggest problem with our worship services is that we don’t take time to listen. Everything is geared toward speaking. The songs, the prayers, the sermon. We are uncomfortable with silence. But it is often in those times of awkward silence that God chooses to speak”. But we don’t take the time to listen. Some hear an audible voice like Peter did. But for most of us God speaks in other ways. A passage of scripture. A hymn. The wise counsel of another. Or perhaps just a sense of His encompassing presence. God will speak, His Spirit will be present with us, not always in loud dramatic ways, but our Pentecost is just as real as the one we read about in Acts, if we will listen and experience His presence.
In one tribe of native Americans, there is a ritual for when a boy becomes a man. His father leads him out in the woods, blind folds him and sets him down by a tree where he will spend the night alone. Well, needless to say it is a frightening experience for a young boy hearing all of the noises of the forest with out being able to see the source. Each noise is, of course, amplified by his fear. He is told that He may remove the blindfold at any time but if he makes it until morning without removing the blindfold, then he will be a man. But, here’s the thing, when morning comes and the boy is allowed to remove the blindfold. He discovers that all through the night his father had sat in silence, only a few feet away from him, watching over him, ready to protect him if need be, and the boy was never aware that he was there. He didn’t hear him. “I didn’t hear you father. The other noises must have drown out any noises you made.”“You did hear me son, because you did not listen for me. But I was always here.” “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” When all of the other voices seek to take you in other directions, listen to the one voice. The voice of transfiguration and transformation. “Men of Israel. Listen while I tell you about Jesus. And those who listened and accepted His message were baptized, and three thousand were added to the church that day.”
And If you will listen, then your Pentecost will come. Your life will be transfigured and transformed. Because the one who spoke on the mountain, still speaks today. And the Spirit that came on Pentecost is here right now, ready to come into your heart this very moment. Won’t you let Him in?
Let us pray – Lord, you did it once. Send your Spirit again and again until not one has not heard you speak to their hearts and to their lives.