Our second scripture today comes from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2 beginning in verse 1. Today we will be hearing from the “First Nations Version” which is an indigenous translation of the New Testament. One of the main differences you will notice is the way names are spoken. For some, I will share the more popular name alongside the indigenous translation. We hope this alternative translation will breathe a fresh spirit into these words and text. Hear now the scripture from Acts.
The time for the full meaning of the ancient festival had now arrived. They had all gathered together in one place, when suddenly the sound of a great windstorm came from the spiritworld above and could be heard throughout the house where they were sitting. They saw flames of fire coming down from above, separating and resting on each of their heads. The Holy Spirit had come down upon them and began to fill them with his life and power. New languages began to flow out from their mouths, languages they had never learned, given from the Holy Spirit.
The Sacred Village of Peace (Jerusalem) was filled with devoted members of the tribes of Wrestles with Creator (Israel), who had come for the festival from every nation under the sun. A crowd began to gather when they heard the loud noise.
In wonder and amazement the crowd began to ask, “How is it that these people from Circle of Nations (Galilee) are speaking in our many languages? For we all can understand them in the languages of the places we have come from! There are people here for the festival from nations and places close by and far away who are members of the tribes of Wrestles with Creator (Israel), and those from Outside Nations who have been taken into the tribes.
“They come from Land of Victory (Parthia), Land in the Middle (Media), and Land of the Ancient Ones (Elam). Many come from Land Between Rivers (Mesopotamia), Land of Promise (Judea), Land of Handsome Horses (Cappadocia), Land of Black Waters (Pontus), and Land of the Rising Sun (Asia). Some come from Dry Wood (Phrygia) and Many Tribes (Pamphylia), and the territory of Land of Tears (Lybia) near the village of Strong Wall (Cyrene). There are travelers from Village of Iron (Rome), both Tribal Members and Outsiders who have become Tribal members, along with those who come from Flesh Eater Island (Crete) and Land of Wanderers (Arabia).
“We can hear them, in the languages of these nations, telling about the great and powerful things done by the Great Spirit!” Many were amazed and confused and began to ask each other, “What can this mean?” But others in the crowd just laughed and said, “They are drunk on new wine!”
Stands on the Rock (Peter), along with the other eleven message bearers, stood up to the crowd and with a loud voice said, “Tribal Members from far away and all who live in Village of Peace (Jerusalem), listen closely to me. I will tell you what this means!”
“No one among us is drunk on wine, for it is still the middle of the morning. This is not what you think it is. This is what the prophet Creator Is the Great Spirit (Joel) spoke of long ago when he said, “‘In the last days,” says Creator, “I will rain down my Spirit upon all human beings from every nation. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Young warriors will see visions and elders will have dreams. When that time comes, my Spirit will rain down on all who serve me, both men and women, and they will boldly speak my words. There will be powerful signs and omens in the spiritworld above and on the earth below–blood and fire with clouds of smoke, The sun will grow dark and the moon will be red like blood, as the great and dreadful day of Creator shines like the sun. Then the ones who cry out to the Great Spirit will be made whole and set free.”’”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The small group of Jesus followers have gathered for the ancient festival of weeks also known as Pentecost. It was the festival that was fifty days after Passover when people would bring their firstfruits to Jerusalem, giving thanks for God’s provision! So the followers are gathered together but what is the mood of their celebration? What are the conversations they are having?
We know that a few weeks ago, they had been marching to Jerusalem with Jesus to start a new world order, a place where the poor were lifted up, the hungry were fed, the lonely were connected, and justice would roll down. Then the Roman Empire killed their leader. Jesus was dead. All their hopes had been dashed. It seemed that Jesus had now risen from the dead because they had seen him, but he then left for heaven. What were they supposed to do? How do they do what Jesus did? Wouldn’t they be killed as well?
But they continued to gather. They were not ready to go back to normal. They knew they could not return to their old lives after this experience and relationship but at the same time how could they possibly move forward? This first group of Jesus followers were stuck in between, what many call the already, not yet of God’s kindom on earth. I imagine they were discussing their options, some wanting to be aggressive and go out with a bang while others urged caution and fear. They debated and questioned but could not figure a way out of the grief and the loss.
How might we be feeling in the already, not yet of our lives? It seems that Covid is decreasing and some are acting like it is over even though we know that it is still around. As the world seems to be opening up after two years, relationships have changed, careers have shifted, new technology has entered our lives. The veil has been pulled back on so many things over these last two years. We are encountering Jesus’ message of truth and we have been changed but we are not always sure of where to go next. What truths have shifted for you over these last few years? How might you be feeling stuck today?
Then BOOM. The Spirit blasts in. This is not a gentle breaking in of the Spirit but the Greek explicitly says the Spirit comes suddenly and even violently upon that group of Jesus followers. The gathered are completely changed. They are no longer afraid to speak openly about this Jesus’ movement. They immediately go outside and start speaking to people from all over the world who are also oppressed by the Roman Empire. The disciples start to preach of a new world order ruled over by grace and love, where all can live abundantly and together, where the yokes of oppression are broken. Even though the threat to their lives remained the same, they have been given a Spirit of boldness and inclusiveness that invites people in from all over in their own languages.
As many of you are aware, I was not here last Sunday. Last weekend, a buddy and I went to Zion National Park and backpacked through the whole park! And while we had several days of solitude, our last day hiking out was through the main entrance to the park and there were thousands of people there! On that last day we hiked up to a peak called Angel’s Landing a half mile straight up the cliffside. They have built in stone steps and placed chain rails for you to help haul yourself up. At some points it is quite a skinny path with steep cliffs on both sides. This climb was quite strenuous and nerve wracking but I had a bit of a Pentecost experience on that climb. On my way up there were people speaking probably ten different languages from all over the world attempting to summit this peak. There were times throughout where you would be catching your breath and someone would pass you or times when you were passing others. But all throughout, no matter what language someone spoke, people were helping each other. If someone was a little scared everyone around would provide encouragement and show where to step. Every person you saw gave you an estimate of how far to the top and any tips they might have. It was one of the most communal experiences I have had in a long time.
This is the power that comes with the Spirit, a “revolution of intimacy,” as Dr Willie James Jennings calls it, in which the Holy Spirit “replaces our fantasies of power over people with God’s fantasy of our desire for people.” (Jennings, Willie James. Acts. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2017. Print. Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, p. 28-29.) How often do we think we have the best way or that if everyone just acted like us the world would be better? I know I am guilty. But what if the Spirit is not calling us to some hegemonic top down power but rather a ground level, base building power that is built upon relationship with one another especially with those who are different from us, different class, different race, different gender, different sexualities. That is what changed for the disciples and is what can change for us.
The scripture today unites these people from many nations all of whom suffer under the boot of the Roman Empire. The Spirit unites us in love for the crucified Christ. The Spirit comes to us in the building of relationships, of unyoking the burdens of the oppressed, and in the bringing forth of God’s diverse world where all are welcome and loved just as they are. So beloved let the Spirit fill us up this morning to build relationships and set the oppressed free! Amen.