TEXTS: Acts 2:1-21
So, it’s Pentecost. We celebrate it every year in the church, we talk about it often through the year. We teach the story to our children in Sunday school. Everybody knows what it’s all about. Many of us have even gotten to the point that we can rattle off all of those hard to pronounce names of all those alien lands that we find in verses nine and ten. I’ve even seen churches produce birthday cakes (for the birthday of the church) as part of the celebration.
There are two parts to the Pentecost event as I see it. There is the “theatrics” part, the part that we have already a bit of fun over during the children’s sermon. And then there is the message part, which we, by and large, like to ignore. The message part is where Peter gets up in front of that gathering crowd of people who have come because of the theatrics part. Peter tells a bit of the gospel story, the story of Jesus, the story of life and death and resurrection and then refers, for the sake of all those devout Jews who have gathered, to the prophet Joel. The message part ends with the punch line, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And that is the part of the Pentecost event that I would like to take some time to talk about. And to do that, I need to do a bit of background and history work with you.
I’m going to start with why it is that, “There were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” as Luke tells us in his writings. There were devout Jews from all over the known world in Jerusalem because the day that we now know as the Day of Pentecost was already a holy day for devout Jews, a holy day that Jews still celebrate to this day, a holy day now called Shavuot. If look into the history of Shavuot, you will find that it is celebrated fifty days after the Passover feast to commemorate the day that Moses received the ten commandments from God. Shavuot is also a celebration of thanksgiving for the spring harvest, the wheat harvest. In ancient times, when the temple existed in Jerusalem, it was a time when people brought their “tithe”, their tenth of the fruits of the harvest to the temple as a gift to God. It was therefore one of three pilgrimage festivals of the Jewish year, one of three occasions when people made the journey from wherever they lived, whether the journey be short or long, to Jerusalem and the temple.
If we go back into the Old Testament to the book of Deuteronomy, we can actually find what we would call the order of worship or the liturgy for that occasion when the faithful would bring the tithes of their crop to the temple to place it before the Lord. Let me quote to you a piece of that liturgy: “When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God you shall make this response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father (ancestor). He went down to Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and powerful. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.’”
The recitation goes on for a bit, but I hope that you were able discern from those few lines that the people of Israel were bringing gifts before the Lord in thanksgiving for the salvation that their ancestors had experienced at the hand of their God. The first words of that recitation, “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.” could also be translated as “a perishing Aramean” or a starving Aramean”, “an Aramean whose life was always on the edge of death, an Aramean who lived with one foot in the grave, but whose life was preserved by the powerful hand of the Lord. “Whoever calls upon name of the Lord will be saved!”
What Peter was saying to those people on that first Pentecost Day, what the disciples were proclaiming in words that could somehow be understood by everyone was nothing more than an updating, a new interpretation of the salvation at the hand of their God that the people of Israel had been proclaiming for centuries! “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved!” Just as the people of Israel had been saved possibly as much as 1,200 years before the coming of Jesus, just as the people of Israel had been saved over and over again from invasion, from oppression, from slavery, and a good many times from themselves.
The saving acts of God have been part of the history of the people of God from the days of Adam and Eve, from the days of Noah, from the days of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Except what the disciples of Jesus were proclaiming now was not so much salvation from earthly calamities, but rather salvation from death itself. And friends, we are still proclaiming that same good news that the disciples proclaimed nearly 2,000 years ago, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved!”
Now confirmands, we’ve talked about this on occasion in class. Does the fact that we are saved mean that when you are looking at or talking on your cell phone and not paying attention to your surroundings and you step out into the street just as a speeding vehicle is bearing down on you and at the last split second you call upon the name of the Lord (probably saying something like “Jesus Christ!”); does that speeding vehicle somehow evaporate or will you be suddenly and magically be transported to your own front yard because you called upon God? I wouldn’t bank on it. As I have noted many times to many people, I worship God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I do not worship a magical Genie or a lucky leprechaun or even Santa Claus who brings good things to good little boys and girls.
No, I really think that salvation at the hand of God, given through the good news of Jesus Christ, means something else altogether. It really means seeing yourself and the people around you and even the whole world in a different way. It means having the courage to live your lives in this crazy world in ways that are often contrary to what the world tells you. It means loving people just because God loves you rather than fearing people, especially people who are different from you. It means reaching out into the world around with passion and curiosity when lots of people are at the same time building walls around themselves with the intent of somehow protecting themselves from all that they see as dangerous. It means knowing that you are not alone, even when it seems like the whole world has set itself against you. It means being your own unique self, even when the world around you is telling you that you need to be like everyone else. It means calling upon the name of the Lord when things are just awful, and it means remembering to call upon the name of the Lord when things are really pretty good.
Above all it means being part of a family; not necessarily a family based upon your DNA, based upon who your mom is or who your dad is or who your cousins are, but rather being part of a family because of who you love and who loves you. Now that means that you are also a part of a family that has its ups and downs, a family that doesn’t always see eye to eye, a family that might even have spats once in a while. It means being part of a family who will always be there for you.
Peter and the other disciples said it somehow in a way that everyone could hear and understand, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Let us together call upon the name of Lord our God, made known to us in Jesus the Christ, knowing that we will indeed be saved and that we will experience both life in this world and eternal life in God’s Kingdom to come. Amen.