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. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.”
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man who decided to visit a mental asylum one day. The man walked into the asylum and asked the Director what the criteria were for qualifying a patient to be institutionalized there. “Well,” responded the Director, “we fill up a bathtub and offer the person a teaspoon, a teacup, and a bucket and ask them how they’d empty the tub the fastest.” “That’s simple. Obviously a sane person would use the bucket!” blurted out the man. “On the contrary,” said the Director. “A sane person would simply pull the plug out of the drain and let gravity do the work. So, would you like a room with a view?”
I know, I know…I think a lot of us would be right down the hall from that poor man, myself included. So tricky those asylum Directors are! Of course, I imagine it’s quite difficult not going insane yourself when you’re working with and around the mentally challenged day in and day out. That’s a job I do not envy and I deeply respect those who are called to such a disorienting vocation. I suppose you learn to appreciate and protect your sanity with little tests like that one. Everyone should know the quickest to drain a bathtub is to simply pull the drain plug. That or utterly destroy the tub itself but then you might be institutionalized for violent tendencies. Better just stick to pulling the plug…
So what does all this madness have to do with our familiar passage from Acts 2? Well, like that bathtub, the disciples and those gathered with them were filled up and that’s an interesting aspect of the text that I hadn’t considered before. The text says everyone was “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Later in the text, we hear some of the onlookers suggest that they were filled up with new wine, perhaps to a state of drunkenness. “Pay no attention to the odd behavior, they’re just drunk!” I don’t know about you but no alcohol I ever tried gave me the ability to speak in other languages, unless you consider utter nonsense an actual language! No, the Spirit’s work is far too miraculous to attribute to drunken revelry. The onlookers were witnessing a miraculous event unfold before them. People don’t suddenly speak in different languages and understand others speaking in different languages! It was an unusual event caused by being filled with the Spirit.
Now, if we can agree that it was the work of Spirit that day, then we can reflect on the quality and nature of that work. Often people compare this event to the miracle that happened at Babel long before. Recall that God’s people at Babel were full of arrogance and pride and believed they could build a tower to the heavens, thereby declaring themselves gods. Naturally God was displeased with such arrogance and muddied up their communication. The people were given the ability to speak different languages but, unlike in our Pentecost event, they could no longer understand each other. The resulting confusion halted any progress on the tower. In both events, different languages occurred but the Spirit brought people together at the Pentecost event. Thus is the nature of the Spirit’s work, to bring people together, to unite us into one body. And it is this nature that is conveyed in our creeds. We celebrate the uniting quality of the Spirit in our creeds. We may not understand how the Spirit works but we do understand why the Spirit works: to bring us together as one. And in order to unite us, the Spirit must also be within us. We don’t think of the Father or Son being within us but the Spirit is most definitely within us. The Spirit unites us with each other, with our pasts, with our futures, and with the triune God. The Spirit unites the triune God. Our creeds convey this work of the Spirit.
The uniting nature of the Spirit is supported not only by our creeds but by Scripture as well. Recall Jesus telling his disciples (and us!), “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13) We hear how the Spirit guides us into all the truth. Truth itself is universal and uniting. Truth brings us together. Lies divide us but truths bring us together. Jesus also says, “and when he (Spirit) comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8) Sin separates us from each other and from God. The Spirit brings truth which in turn judges and condemns sin. The Spirit testifies to the truth. Jesus says earlier in Acts, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:8) Friends, WE are testifiers to the truth! The Spirit within us has revealed to us the truth!
That’s what it’s all about. We know the love of God and we must share that love with the world. The world needs the love of God if it has any chance for survival! God’s love holds all things in balance and harmony…all things in unity. We aren’t meant to simply wallow in God’s love. We’re meant to share it. The Spirit helps us do that as well. So as we wrap up this series on the creeds, let us give thanks for our uniting Spirit. Church folks like to say that the Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Spirit sanctifies or makes holy. Sure, the Spirit makes us holy but more importantly it unites us with each other and God. Let us give thanks for our unity. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.