The Never Ending Story
Text: Joel 2: 28-29
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
Welcome to Pentecost Sunday! In our faith tradition this is the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. The primary story of Pentecost is found in the second chapter of Acts; in that story Peter is quoted as saying the event fulfilled the prophecy of Joel, which is one of the reasons I chose that text this morning rather than the traditional one from Acts.
I think most of us are familiar with the story found in Acts. The disciples and others had gathered together for the celebration of Pentecost when there came the rush of a mighty wind and tongues of fire appeared on the heads of the disciples and some spoke in other languages and for a few minutes it seemed there was chaos. Some thought that others were drunk. But Peter stood and preached about the coming of the Spirit and what the significance of that as understood through the context of a crucified and now risen Christ.
But I want to back up a bit because there are a couple of things I want us to understand about Pentecost and why we can add even more significance to our story. The first thing I think we need to be aware of is that that the disciples had gathered together with others to celebrate the day of Pentecost. Now we need to think about this, because they had gathered together for Pentecost, before there was a Christian Pentecost to celebrate. They had gathered together as was the custom in the Jewish faith tradition for the day of Pentecost.
Does anyone know what the Jewish day of Pentecost celebrated for that faith tradition? Most of us do not; we think that Pentecost is a Christian holiday, but we have more or less coopted the holiday from the Jewish faith tradition and put our own Christian spin on things. But what I find interesting is that the two holidays are not that different in terms of what they celebrate.
I did a little research and found that the Jewish holiday of Pentecost is the fiftieth day after the Passover and it celebrates when the Torah was first given to the people of Israel. The Torah, in the Jewish faith tradition is the sacred text that we call the Old Testament, or in a more politically correct way, it is often referred to as the Hebrew Bible. I think this is interesting because in the Jewish faith tradition the Torah is considered to be, at least in part, the dwelling place of the Spirit of God.
If you have ever attended a Jewish service in a synagogue you may remember that part of the ritual is around the Torah. When you first enter a Jewish synagogue, you may notice that at the front of the sanctuary, where our altar and candles usually are is a very ornate, highly decorated cabinet. In that cabinet are scrolls of the Torah. Often the scrolls are held in some sort of velvet pouch or bag as well.
Then at some point during the service the scrolls are removed from this cabinet and walked down the aisle. As the scrolls pass the people on each side of the aisle, those seated on the end reach out and gently touch the scrolls, and then press their fingers to their lips, as if they had kissed the scrolls. This blessing is then passed down the pew to others by a touch of the hand and the symbolic kiss.
I would lift up to you the possibility that the two observances of the day of Pentecost are not as different as we might think. In the Jewish faith tradition the giving of the Torah in many ways represents the presence of the Spirit of God. Of course from a Christian perspective the coming of the Holy Spirit is exactly the same thing. Part of me wants to consider the day of Pentecost not as a Christian observance or a Jewish observance, but rather a continuous and never ending celebration that the Spirit of God is always with us. It may have begun 6,000 years ago in a unique Jewish setting, but I believe it continues today within both faith traditions.
I think it is important for us to recognize that our Christian day of Pentecost has its roots in the Jewish faith tradition. I think we should look at the Christian day of Pentecost, not as a new holiday in the church, but a continuance of an already established tradition of celebrating the gift of the presence of the Spirit of God.
That is the first observation I wanted to make, this idea that we should view Pentecost as a continuance of the Jewish holiday, but the second observation is a little more obscure. Often when we speak of Pentecost we use the term that the disciples received the Holy Spirit at that time. While that is true from a certain perspective, I would like for us to think about the celebration of Pentecost as the giving of the Spirit rather than the receiving of the Spirit. I know this sounds like a subtle difference, but allow me to elaborate just a little.
If we look at the book of Acts, we can find the story of the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit in the second chapter. Then again in the 8th chapter of Acts we find another instance where the disciples prayed for someone and they received the Holy Spirit. Specifically, this is found in Acts 8: 15-19 where we find this event;
15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Then later in Acts we find another instance where others received the Holy Spirit, this story is found in Acts 10: 44-47;
44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
What this implies to me is that we all are continuously receiving the Holy Spirit, but what we celebrate is the giving of the Holy Spirit. In other words we can look to the giving as the event recorded in the second chapter of Acts, but the receiving is something that has been continuously underway ever since that event.
Even as we view the Christian celebration of Pentecost as a continuance of the gift of the Spirit of God, from the original day of Pentecost when the Torah was given to the Jews, we can see the connection of our Pentecost celebration today to those celebrations from thousands of years ago. In like manner, I can say with confidence that I think the gift of the Spirit of God from long ago will continue to be celebrated, the reality of the receiving of the Spirit of God will be an event which continues to happen from this century into the next and the next and so on.
In the 1980’s there was a great movie that was a favorite of our boys when they were younger. You might remember this movie, it is called “The Never Ending Story”. That is how I think we should view Pentecost; it is the never ending story. Because we can remember and celebrate the one time event of the gift of the Spirit of God, but also look forward to the continuing events of receiving the Spirit of God.
So go in peace and receive the presence of the Holy Spirit as we celebrate the gift of the Spirit and the receiving of the Spirit as past, present and future events. May the never ending story of the Holy Spirit continue in your lives from this day forward and for all time.