First Lesson for the Sunday of Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But 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. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17‘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.18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Pantheon is a basilica in the city of Rome. It’s not the biggest or most ornate building; but it does have one distinctive feature. The oculus (the round opening at the top of the dome) is one of the largest of any in the city. On Pentecost each year, that oculus becomes the source of thousands and thousands of rose petals that come streaming down onto the floor of the basilica. The rose petals are red, like fire; and each petal looks a bit like the tongues of fire that appeared above the heads of the disciples on the day of Pentecost.
There’s a YouTube video that shows the rose petals falling, falling, falling, until they make a carpet several inches deep on the floor. At first, I was struck by the beauty of those rose petals, even after I read that they were made possible by a fire truck with a long ladder and a crew of helpful firefighters on the top of the dome. As I continued to watch, however, I began to be bothered by the rope barriers and the basilica staff who kept people confined to the outer edges of the space, away from where the rose petals were falling. A person could watch that shower of rose petals and possibly never even be touched by one. A person could be a spectator without ever getting involved.
We might be a lot like the crowd at the Pantheon. We too like to watch from the margins without getting too deeply involved. We’ve made a deal with God (or so we think) that we’ll show up and go through the motions and take our turn baking a pan of bars for some event, as long as we don’t have to actually change much about our lives. We are quite content to be spectators.
What troubled me about that video is, that’s not how the Holy Spirit works. When the Holy Spirit was showered on the disciples at Pentecost, it just wasn’t possible for them to remain spectators. When the Holy Spirit showered down on them and filled them up, there was no way they could stay at the edges and just watch. They were literally pushed out of the room where they had gathered and into the middle of that crowd of strangers. They were so filled with the Holy Spirit that they simply had to speak out.
And you see, friends, that’s what the Holy Spirit does to us today. When the Holy Spirit fills you up, you cannot remain unchanged. That’s what will happen to Sophie and Cecile when they are baptized in just a few minutes. They will be filled and sealed by the Holy Spirit, and nothing will ever be the same for them. Just like those young girls, when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you will find yourself looking at the world with new eyes. You will find yourself looking at other people, not as strangers to be feared, but as fellow beloved children of God. When the Holy Spirit fills you up, you will not remain unchanged. You will make different decisions about how you spend your time, and where you direct your energy. When the Holy Spirit fills you up and changes you, you will make different decisions about how you spend your money.
You, each one of you, has been filled with the Holy Spirit, and nothing will ever be the same.
Thanks be to God. Amen.