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When Pentecost Meets the Family
GENESIS 11:1-9 ACTS 2:1-47
It is unusual to have two major festivals fall on the same day. Today we celebrate Mother's Day and Pentecost. In keeping with American customs, the church recognizes Mother's Day, calling it the Festival of the Christian Home. Today is also Pentecost when we celebrate the birthday of the church. Usually I preach about the Holy Spirit coming upon individuals or the church. Today, however, I found it intriguing to combine these two festivals, and preach about Pentecost and family groupings.
Pentecost originally was a Jewish festival with every male within a 20 mile radius of Jerusalem required to come to the temple, and those from further distances, coming when they were able. On Pentecost, they gave thanks for the barley crop, and remembered the law which Moses received at Sinai.
For Christians, Pentecost was transformed in meaning when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a dramatic, powerful manner, and the church was born. For fifty days after Easter, the bewildered, confused, frightened disciples continued to meet in secret. They talked to each other, trying to understand, trying to make sense out of the crucifixion, and trying to comprehend and assimilate the resurrection appearances of Jesus. They prayed. They waited, as Jesus had instructed them to do.
Then, on the Day of Pentecost, when Jerusalem was crowded with people from all over the empire, the Holy Spirit suddenly came upon the disciples with a sound like a mighty wind. It filled the house. Tongues of fire, flaming fire appeared. The disciples were transformed. They were no longer the same people. No longer were they confused, bewildered and frightened. Now, they were filled with power and courage. Now, they had a purpose. They went from the room where they were meeting out into the streets, and there caused quite a stir. These simple fishermen and a tax collector from Galilee began speaking in the languages of the tourist pilgrims.
When a crowd had gathered, Peter stood up and preached a powerful sermon, the kind of sermon preachers dream about. When he finished, 3,000 people were converted to the Christian faith. 3,000 received baptism and the Christian Church was born. The Holy Spirit at Pentecost transformed frightened disciples into men of power and purpose. The Holy Spirit at Pentecost transformed 3,000 individuals and made a church.
Can you imagine what the Holy Spirit can do with families? Can you imagine what happens to a family grouping when the Holy Spirit is experienced in power? Can you imagine the changes? I say family grouping because many of you today, as is true in our society generally, do not live in a traditional family.
Some of you live in a home with two parents and a child or children.
Some of you live in a home with a single parent and a child or children.
Some of you live in a home where there is one couple.
But, many of you live alone.
Many of you live in other kinds of family groupings.
Some share an apartment or house.
Some live in a residence where you have your own unit, but share meals and activities together.
Some live on the streets or in a small room in a downtown hotel, and gather at the Urban Ministry trailer for meals and a sense of community.
Whatever your situation, you probably have some kind of family grouping with whom you identify, and every group has its own unique spirit.
A school principal said to me once, "Every class in my school has its own unique spirit. When I walk from class to class, I pick up different vibes."
Offices have different spirits, depending on the personality of the occupant.
Stores have different spirits. Shopping at Bergman's is a completely different experience than shopping at the Emporium or Nordstrom's. Bergman's has its own, homey, comfortable spirit; it's like going through a time warp into a previous generation.
Congregations have different spirits. Just last week, I was told by a visitor, "Your church has such a friendly, warm spirit." I like to hear that.
Houses and apartments have different spirits. When we moved into a brand new house in Manteca, a visitor said to us, "There are no spirits in this house yet."
The spirit of some homes is so bizarre we say the house is haunted.
What is the spirit of your home? What is the spirit of your family grouping? Do visitors feel hostility, anger, confusion? Or, warmth, comfort, happiness, and love? A first grader was asked what his home was like. "It's like a zoo," he replied, "Mama is Daddy's deer. Baby is Mama's little lamb. Brother is just a kid. And Daddy is the old goat."
Each family grouping has its own unique spirit. But, the spirit of a home is changed when the Holy Spirit is present. When God is present, the atmosphere--the spirit--is changed. By reading and applying the account of the first Pentecost in Acts 2, we can see what the spirit of a home is like when Pentecost meets the family, and the Holy Spirit is present.
When Pentecost meets the family and the Holy Spirit is present, communication barriers are shattered. Language barriers are overcome. The disciples spoke in the languages of the visitors and they understood. They understood Peter so well they believed. This phenomenon is not quite what is meant by the phrase, "speaking in tongues." Speaking in tongues is usually an unknown language which has to be interpreted. On Pentecost, the disciples spoke in known languages, and in such a way that communication barriers were overcome.5
Dave Blackburn tells of a woman who told her lawyer she wanted to divorce her husband. The lawyer asked her, "Do you have grounds?" She said, "Oh, yes, we have 1 1/2 acres." Trying again, the lawyer asked, "Do you have any grudges?" "Oh, yes," she replied, "We have a two-car grudge." Seeing if he could get through to her another way, the lawyer asked, "Does your husband beat you up?" "Oh, rarely," she said, "I get up at 6:00 and he gets up at 6:30, so I beat him up." Finally, in exasperation, the lawyer asked, "Tell me, what problem do you have in your marriage?" "Communication," she replied.
The lectionary readings for the day interestingly contrasts the mythical Tower of Babel story in Genesis with Pentecost. The pride of the builders of Babel resulted in mass confusion. Their means of communication turned into babble, and they were unable to communicate with each other. In contrast, the Holy Spirit at Pentecost broke down language barriers and people understood each other.
When the Holy Spirit is present in a family grouping, communication barriers are gradually overcome, for communication takes place on deeper levels than language. In the love of God, we communicate through hearts of compassion, understanding, and caring. Babbling becomes sharing. Words are understood because they are spoken in the context of respect, consideration, and caring.
When Pentecost meets the family and the Holy Spirit is present, sexism is abolished. No longer are distinctions made on the basis of gender. Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, quoted the prophet Joel who preached centuries before. Joel prophesied, "I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." Daughters can prophesy. Daughters can speak God's word. Daughters can preach. Daughters can be ministers. Daughters deserve the same opportunities, advantages, praise, commendation, and support that sons get. Sexism is abolished.
When Pentecost meets the family and the Holy Spirit is present, "agism" is abolished. No longer are distinctions or discriminations made on the basis of age. Peter quoted Joel, "Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions." Not too long ago, the elderly occupied the prominent place in the family grouping. The elderly were respected, deferred to, listened to because of their wisdom. Then, society shifted. My Dad used to joke, "I get left out. When I was a child, the adults ate first, and the kids got the leftovers. Then, when I became an adult, things changed and the kids ate first, and the adults got the leftovers!" Today, our society worships youth. Television is supported by selling us products to look younger, act younger, and smell younger!
When Pentecost meets the family and the Holy Spirit is present, all ages are respected. Each person is respected. The elderly are respected for their dreams. The young are respected for their visions. Even children are respected and their ideas considered. Parents, do you discuss family plans with your children? Do you discuss family finances with your children? Do you make decisions in consultation with the children? Children need to feel they belong, need to feel wanted, and you will be surprised at the wisdom that often comes from the mouth of a child. Adults don't have all the answers.
When Pentecost meets the family and the Holy Spirit is present, you shall have power. Imagine the power the disciples had on Pentecost. Consider the power, the energy, in many families that is wasted. Look at the energy wasted in bickering, fighting, squabbling, struggling for power and recognition. Look at the energy wasted in trying to manipulate other members of the family. What if the power and energy wasted in many families were channeled, like a mighty water fall that generates electricity. Look at the power!
Consider what is latent in your family, under the surface, talents waiting to be discovered and nurtured, often lost or tied up in competition, feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness.
What if the Holy Spirit freed your family from restraints?
What if you began living in unity, communicating together, listening to each other, empowering each other, instead of competing and undermining?
What would happen if you began considering each other's ideas, and putting the welfare of the others first, which means that the others put your welfare first, and everyone comes out winners!
When Pentecost meets the family and the Holy Spirit is present, communication improves. Distinction and discrimination based on sex and age disappear. Power is released.
After Peter's powerful sermon, they asked him, "What shall we do?" Peter answered, "Repent." Turn from your sins. Families, turn from inadequate ways of communicating. Turn from discrimination, power struggles, and competition within the family grouping. Turn from the unproductive struggles that sap your energy. Turn from inadequate power sources, and turn to God.
Turn to God and ask, "Come, Holy Spirit." Pray together as a family, asking, "Come, Holy Spirit." Two weeks ago Ann preached a powerful sermon, concluding with, "Ask for faith." That's all it takes. God rarely gives you anything you don't ask for.
Then, wait on the Lord, as the disciples waited for fifty days. Wait, repent, pray, ask, and begin practicing a new family life in the Holy Spirit. And may God grant you a Pentecost.
© 1989 Douglas I. Norris