It is the anniversary of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter or, possibly, even many years later. The narrative is set at the time of the Jewish festival of Shavuot, one of three agrarian festivals. It also became the time when people celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. This is important because it gives us room to speculate about what the events in Acts want to reveal to us.
At Shavuot, the land owners would bring the first wheat harvest, which meant that the poor had the opportunity to harvest from the edges of the fields to feed themselves. The commandment of Torah was to remember the poor always because all people were poor once. So the themes of the festival were gratitude for abundance, for God’s steadfast love, and God’s justice for all. The Book of Ruth would be read to remind people that everyone was also once a stranger, an outsider, who was embraced by God. In a story in the Book of Numbers, the Spirit of the Lord falls upon seventy elders in the camp, and also two young men outside the camp to share the burden of prophecy with Moses. When the young men start to prophesy in the camp rather than in the tent of meeting, Joshua is scandalized, but Moses says to let them be.That means that God’s Spirit is not contained by the designated holy place, nor by the elders. In fact the Spirit rests where it will and cannot be contained or restrained.
This feast provides a wonderful opportunity for Luke to write about how a group of sometimes inept, poorly educated, frightened fishermen, became a force to shake the world. Our story begins with them gathered together in Jerusalem. They have probably been talking about the feast and its themes. Morning breaks and as it does, they experience the holy Spirit rushing through them reminding them of what Jesus called them to do in his name. Immediately, like the young men outside the camp, or like Ruth, they are possessed with courage and the need to speak of …what? What do they say that everyone can hear with their ears, but not all with their hearts and souls? Remember those themes of Shavuot: God’s love for all people. generosity for the poor, justice, God’s freedom to raise up and to lower. We know who would be scandalized. Anyone who prefers the needs of the comfortable to the needs of the poor; anyone who thinks people can be sorted into categories by gender, class, age, or ethnicity; anyone who thinks that having a vision of a healthy earth at peace with justice for all, is naive or misguided. Those people will complain and scoff.
But we, with those fishermen, are invited to hold the vision of Jesus like a fire leading us on, like a cleansing wind that brings fresh air behind it, We are called to speak the words of hope and promise to anyone who can hear the language of compassion and healing. We can leave the confines of the house where we have hidden. We can be all in the open with our message that welcomes and includes, that promises forgiveness for everyone: life that is more real than death.
Sometimes in the church, when we have been through a time of despair, when it seems as if there is no hope, we might want to remember that the Spirit will ignite us again. It is after all not our message but the message and the mission of Christ that matters. Everything may be remade, everything may change in what seems like the blink of an eye, But it is the Spirit who leads us and it is the Spirit who will give us the words, the courage, and the energy to work for the city of God where all are welcome.