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May 20, 2018

Stepping Out

Stepping Out

Passage: Acts 2:1-6

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Category: General

For the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, the calendar year was structured around religious festivals.  Perhaps not that dissimilar to our own calendar, where we anchor our church year and school year around high holy days like Christmas and Easter.  Spring Break coincides with Easter and the longest break of the school year comes at Christmas.  For them, religious holidays and agriculture were paired together.  Because of their warm climate, they harvested some kind of grain, fruit or vegetable 9 months of the year.  Barley, for example, was planted in the late fall and harvested early in the following Spring.  After the barley harvest, they celebrated what was called the “Festival of Weeks.”  It was always 7 weeks after Passover – another religious holiday held early in the Spring.

At the Festival of Weeks, people took a break from work and brought the first fruits of that harvest as an offering of thanksgiving to God.  Every time there was a festival, many people from all across the region gathered in Jerusalem, the capital city, to present their first fruits at the Temple – and to celebrate there. 

One year was the very same year Jesus was resurrected and 40 days after that, Jesus ascended into heaven.  Before he left, Jesus promised his followers that God would send them the Holy Spirit.  This would be the assurance that God was with them even though Christ wasn’t there in body.  The Holy Spirit would be the presence of God in the absence of Christ.  All of this – Jesus’ resurrection and ascension -  happened in Jerusalem, that very same city where people were beginning to gather to celebrate the Festival of Weeks.  The disciples were there too.  10 days later, on the 50th day after Easter, as the Festival of Weeks was in full swing, something happened. 

Read Acts 2:1-7

In that year, during that Festival of Weeks, on that day, the Holy Spirit came.  It came as a violent wind, strong and powerful.  It came as a fire with flames bringing heat and energy.  The fire and wind of the Holy Spirit touched everyone and filled everything.  The followers of Jesus were all together in one house and the Holy Spirit came to everyone.  It was all-encompassing.  And those who had it could communicate with everyone else gathered there for the festival.  Every language of the world was represented and could hear and understand the gospel the followers were speaking.   And so… Christians celebrate Pentecost, which means 50.  The 50th day after Easter.  And every year, on the 50th day after Easter, we remember that through Holy Spirit the Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful and life-giving (like the strength of a fire and an ever-present wind); that it can come to all; and that it is meant for all.

Most importantly about Pentecost, however, is that the disciples were changed – different – after the Holy Spirit came upon them.  Take Peter.  Before Pentecost, he was known to bumble and stumble.  He had good intentions, but often blurted out the wrong thing; couldn’t get out of his own way.  But after?  He was bold and confident.  He immediately began preaching – in fact, he preached the first “Christian sermon” and 3,000 people were converted as soon as it was over.  Or take John.  Before Pentecost he was timid.  We don’t hear him speaking much.  He was quiet and in the background.  But after?  He’s courageous.  He began preaching the truth of Jesus’ resurrection so loudly on the steps of the Temple, that the priests had him arrested.  2,000 more people watched how John was willing to be jailed for his faith and converted because of his witness.  Or take James.  Before Pentecost, he was hot-headed; called “Son of Thunder” by Jesus.  He was selfish, demanding to sit at Jesus’ right hand.  But after?  He’s mature and wise.  He helps avert a potential division in the church and sets forth a strategy for how to keep the church together and achieve its larger purpose. 

It was as though the disciples had three years of formal education with Jesus.  The world was their classroom.  Jesus would walk with them everywhere and stop to teach them his Gospel lessons all the time.  Just like with us in our schooling, sometimes they got As on the pop-quizzes Jesus gave them.  And sometimes they got Cs and Ds and their teacher grew frustrated at their failure to live up to their potential.  But something changed with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  They were really and truly different.  It was as though the hands and voice of Jesus were upon them saying, “You’re ready.  You’re ready to face the future and to fulfill your purpose.  Because you’ve been prepared and equipped, and with the Holy Spirit you are empowered.”

For those disciples, it may have been even a little terrifying.  We can imagine how fire and a violent wind coming upon us would be at least a bit scary.  God believing in us, maybe more than we believe in ourselves, can make us apprehensive and cautious.  After Pentecost, those followers weren’t perfect.  They still struggled and, in fact, the road without Jesus was much harder than it was with him.  But the Holy Spirit was God’s way of speaking to them, saying “You’re ready to lead.  Jesus has done his part.  Now it’s up to you.  And you can do it, for my strength and power and presence is with you.”

Today, at Central, we also celebrate “Graduation Sunday,” and it’s appropriate that Graduation Sunday falls on Pentecost.  The word “graduation” comes from the Latin word “gradus,” which means “step.”  And the word “commencement,” which we often use in conjunction with graduation, comes from the French word “commence” which means “begin.”  Graduation is a day to be reminded that we are ready to begin the next step on our journey.  As this school year comes to a close, some are literally “graduating” – receiving a diploma and degree.  While some are simply taking the next step on their educational ladder.  Graduating from one teacher to another; from one classroom, grade, or school to another.  And from an educational standpoint, this is day to celebrate where you’ve come from and to acknowledge that “you’re ready” to take on the next school, grade, teacher, or job that lies ahead of you.

But Pentecost is our reminder that – spiritually – all of us are ready to take the next step in front of us; to begin the next step on our journeys of faith.  Maybe the next step for you is one of confronting something that you’ve been avoiding; or taking a step in a new direction that you’ve been hesitant to do because of fear; or going back and repairing something in your life that’s broken; starting over to make better something that’s important to you.  But whatever your step may be, like Peter, John, James and all the rest of the followers on that first Pentecost, today is day to hear God saying: “you’re ready to step out now.  For you are empowered by that same Holy Spirit to face whatever lies ahead with confidence, courage and boldness.”