This Sunday is the last Sunday in the Narrative Lectionary year. Most of us who have been following the NL have been with it since September, and we have covered a lot of territory in the last nine months. It began, of course, with the poetic words of creation, and we wrap it up with the poetry of Joel quoted by Peter. He addresses a crowd that has gathered after the Spirit has blown violently through the room where the apostles have gathered, waiting for “the promise of the Father” (1:4). The Spirit brought with her the gift of tongues – tongues of fire and tongues of speech. Suddenly these followers of Jesus were speaking languages they couldn’t have even known before, speaking about the great deeds of power displayed by God. The Jewish crowds gathered in Jerusalem from around the diaspora for the Pentecost festival, recognizing their mother languages, came to hear what was being said.
A few notes to remember that help set the context:
- The story takes place less than two months after the resurrection of Jesus and sometime after the Ascension.
- At the time of the Ascension the apostles were told they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and that they would be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
- They’ve gone to Jerusalem, discerned a replacement for Judas, and are waiting for the next sign.
- It is now the festival of Pentecost, also called Shavuot. Jews of many backgrounds are gathered in the city for this celebration of the gift of the covenant, the giving the of the Law at Sinai.
This is one of those stories that we come upon year after year which can make it difficult to preach yet again. However, there is a lot to dig into here. There are countless angles to take, points of entry to grab onto, so hopefully we’ll each be able to hear how the Spirit is calling us to open this story in our churches. (A little side note: The good folk at the Narrative Lectionary have provided a supplemental text, Philippians 4:4-7, the could be used in addition to or instead of the Acts 2 text. I am choosing to focus in on Acts here since I think that is the direction most people will go. The Philippians pieces are great for incorporating into the liturgy, though!) So, here we go with some possible preaching directions:
1. The fact that this Sunday is the year end for the Narrative Lectionary actually gives us one way to frame the story for preaching. Yes, we are ending one cycle of the biblical narrative, from creation to the early church, but this story is anything BUT an ending to the narrative. It’s not the “beginning of the end” of the story of the Bible; it’s the “end of the beginning” of the narrative of God’s relationship with creation. This story is a launching. It’s a continuation of the expansion of God’s grace that has been moving outward since the very beginning. After creation the narrative started with God choosing to work through one family, then one nation, before eventually God is revealed in human flesh and the covenant is opened even further. The story of what happens at Pentecost opens the covenant even more and allows the hearers to take their place in the narrative, too, carrying it forward, empowered by the Holy Spirit, into the God-blessed future. The story of what happened at Pentecost is an invitation for today’s followers of Jesus, today’s apostles to find their own place in the story of God’s relationship with creation and work in the world.
2. A member of the Narrative Lectionary Facebook group noticed several uses of the words full or fill — the sound of the wind filled the entire house (v. 2), they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 4), but others thought they were filled with new wine (v. 13). What does it mean that the God pours out (v. 17) and the apostles are filled? What does it mean to be a vessel of the Spirit? I ended up talking a lot this NL season about abundance versus scarcity, or in other words God’s relentless provision of enough, more than enough even, for what God’s creatures need. It came out from the very beginning in the Genesis 1 story when creation happened in the perfect order, each day of the process providing for what would be created the next. It cropped up again in the story of manna in the wilderness. Justice rolled like waters and righteousness in an ever-flowing stream in Amos. There was an abundance of wine in Cana, an abundance of light for the world, an abundance of water to quench thirst. In this Acts 2 story we again have God providing for God’s people the Holy Spirit in abundance, poured out on the apostles, filling them, and spilling out into the streets. What does it mean to be the people of an abundant God, the apostles called to witness to this sort of generosity?
3. Another way to go would be to focus on that oft-passed over third person of the Trinity. A preacher could tie in the relationship of of the traditional celebration of Pentecost for the Jews (a celebration of God’s presence and interaction with God’s people through the gift of the Law) to the church’s celebration of Pentecost (a celebration of the same through the gift of the Holy Spirit). From there the door would be open to talk about what the Spirit does in and though and with the apostles both then and now. The commentary on the Working Preacher website sets preachers up for a sermon like this very well.
The options for preachers are, like the gift of the Spirit, abundant. Join us in the comments for more discussion and sharing of inspiration.