Sermon: Just a Little Closer

June 5, 2022

Genesis 11:1-9
Acts 2:1-21

by Eric Anderson

One of Christianity’s talents is one that some Christians take issue with – and one some other religions in the world look at rather suspiciously, too – Christians are startlingly good at borrowing pieces of other religions and integrating them into our own practice. Probably the most familiar example of this is the Christmas tree, which comes from pre-Christian worship around the winter solstice among the peoples of northern Europe, what we’d call Germany. Today’s Christians employing meditation techniques inspired by Buddhist practice are following an ancient practice.

It’s a practice with plenty of potential problems as well as great potential benefits, mind you, and it certainly doesn’t excuse Captain James Cook’s failure to make clear to the Hawaiians he met in 1778 that he wasn’t a manifestation of the god Lono.

Pentecost is one of the oldest of our borrowed holidays. As you might notice from the text, it was a well-established Jewish holiday, defined in the Scriptures among the great holy days in Leviticus 23. In Hebrew its name is Shavuot. Though originally a harvest festival, by the first century it also celebrated the gift of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. In the Greek-speaking lands around the Eastern Mediterranean, it had also picked up a Greek name based on being fifty days after Passover. Fifty days in first century Greek was “Pentakoste.”

That’s why there were so many people from so many places in Jerusalem. It was a harvest festival – those are worth celebrating – and it was a festival of the Law, which first century Jews treasured as the gift from God that it was. That included the local Jews of Judea (and Galilee) as well as those living in Parthia, Media, Elam, Mesopotamia, and so on. Jerusalem had been full of visitors at Pentecost. It was full again at Shavuot, or Pentecost. Like our holy days today, it was a time to get just a little closer to family and old friends. It was a time to get just a little closer to the old home even if it had been a couple generations since that had been home for the family. It was a time to get just a little closer to the place of God’s temple. It was time to get just a little closer to God.

Simon Peter and this little group of Jesus’ disciples got together for their own observance of the day. It was time to get just a little closer to one another.

Then things changed because God had decided to get just a little closer to all of them.

And not just them. As Melissa Bane Sevier writes in her blog, “This was the first event in the life of the church. Yes, it started indoors, but it moved outdoors. With the people from Jerusalem and all over the world. Into the festival, the food, the music.”

Then comes the miracle that gets people’s attention. They didn’t comment on the wind – is it windy in Jerusalem? I don’t know. They didn’t comment on the “divided tongues, as of fire,” which were resting on the Jesus-followers. Maybe they had vanished when they left the house, or maybe they were harder to see in broad daylight. Whatever the reason, people didn’t talk about them.

They talked about what they could hear, and what they could hear was their own languages. They could hear new stories about God in a language they knew well.

Because God had decided to get just a little closer.

Joy J. Moore writes at Working Preacher, “In the midst of the overreach of the Roman Empire, the story of that Pentecost was not human endurance. In the shadow of the public execution of a healer, hope-builder, and harbinger of hospitality, the story of that Pentecost was not lament and loss. In the reality of natural disaster, economic collapse, and social unrest, the story of that Pentecost was not a call to revolt or revival. In the moment where God seemed inconsequential, incompetent, or inconceivable, the people all heard in their own languages that God was powerfully active in human history. In the commotion, the most consistently understandable report was of the mighty things God had been doing. What the day of Pentecost was all about, glorifying God for providing daily bread, quenching thirst, and making possible the healing of the land.”

Glorifying God on this harvest festival for providing daily bread and quenching thirst. Glorifying God on this festival of divine guidance for making possible the healing of the land.

It’s no coincidence that God’s Holy Spirit turned up on Pentecost to demonstrate God’s active desire to draw just a little closer to human beings.

It’s also no coincidence that Simon Peter’s speech that day was not one that harangued and condemned. It was one that reassured and invited. The one who had denied Jesus on the night of his trial would have been quite a hypocrite to stand in judgment over other people who most likely hadn’t been there at all, but hypocrisy is one of humankind’s favorite activities to this day. Simon Peter knew in his bones how great and deep God’s compassion and forgiveness were, how great and deep they are. He knew of God’s desire to draw just a little closer to human beings, and to his great credit he shared that good word the best he knew how.

Personally, I think his ability to quote Joel showed he’d paid at least some attention to things Jesus had told him. Good for you, Peter.

Debie Thomas writes at JourneyWithJesus.net, “What the crowds found baffling was that God would condescend to speak to them in their own mother-tongues. That he would welcome them so intimately, with words and expressions hearkening back to their birthplaces, their childhoods, their beloved cities, countries, and cultures of origin. As if to say, ‘This Spirit-drenched place, this fledging church, this new Body of Christ, is yours. You don’t have to feel like outsiders here; we speak your language, too. Come in. Come in and feel at home.'”

Come in and feel at home because God wants to draw just a little closer – to you.

You don’t need me to describe the tragic circumstances of our day. The world is filled with greed and evil and suffering and lies and accidents and illnesses and grief. It was two thousand years ago, too. That’s why we come around to this holy day, and this holy story, year after year.

As Joy J. Moore writes, “Each week the horrors of our existence needs a hook-up with hope. And so, we gather to rehearse the stories that form us into the kind of people—the kind of community—that provides reason for such hope. Only then can we live out that hope for others. Because you can’t be what you haven’t seen, we focus our imagination on what God has done in order to recognize what God is doing. The legends of our faith, storied in Scripture, provide a memorial that will never forget God’s presence, promise, and peace. From this vantage point, we begin to glimpse what God yet will do.”

What God has done is to create a world of harvests that we can celebrate. What God has done is to give us guidance for righteous and compassionate lives together. What God has done is to dispel the power of human sin and evil through a profound act of self-giving faithfulness. What God has done is to share the Holy Spirit over and over again. What God has done is to draw just a little closer to people over lifetimes and generations. What God has done is to be present with us, each day, each hour, each minute of our lives.

And we come shortly today to the table of Jesus. As we do, taste God’s goodness as God, once more, draws just a little closer to us.

Amen.

Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the entire service of June 5, 2022. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

Pastor Eric does depart from the prepared text sometimes. Sometimes it’s because he’s getting creative. Sometimes it’s because he’s lost his place.

The image is Pentecost by Meister des Rottweiler Hochaltars (ca. 1440) – eingescannt aus: Glaube Kunst Hingabe. Johann Baptist Hirscher als Sammler. In: Diözesanmuseum Rottenburg (Hrsg.): Participare. Schriften des Diözesanmuseums Rottenburg. Band 1. Jan Thorbecke Verlag, Ostfildern 2015, ISBN 978-3-7995-0690-8., CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=118800522.

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on June 5, 2022

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