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Empowered for a Meaningful Life – Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-13;  Romans 8:26-27


At least from the perspective of Jesus’s disciples, his decision to step out of his earthly ministry soon after Easter may have been as dramatic as unsettling. He told them it was his Father’s decision. I wonder whether God’s decision to take Jesus away from them just a few weeks after Easter gave them any comfort.

Nobody wants to quit when everything is going well!

Even pastors enjoying a great time with their congregations struggle with their bishop’s decision to transfer them out somewhere else even if that appointment comes with a “promotion.” But before leaving them, Jesus reassured them he was not “abandoning” them, let alone giving up on his mission. No way! He told them, now my mission is going to be your mission, but write it down, “I will always be with you.”

How, they may have asked. “You will receive power to be my witnesses.” To be my mouth, and my eyes and my ears, to be my hands and my feet, to get into your neighbor’s shoes the way I have taught you.

Anticipating some degree of confusion and anxiety among his disciples, Jesus begged them to wait patiently: “Friends, stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

And that promised power came on Pentecost, a Greek word that simply means “the 50th day” and here refers to the fifty days (or 7 weeks) they would have to wait for that to happen.


Those men and women whose lives had been so deeply touched and reoriented by the Risen Christ were still getting their act together. Hard for us to grasp, so used as we are to being “the church” for twenty centuries, with well stablished traditions, theologies, mega-organizations, popes, bishops, committees, conferences, ordained ministers, rituals, printed Bibles and hymnbooks, beautiful facilities, stained glass, pipe organs, liturgical calendars, annual pledging and even electronic giving, and many friends in our own neighborhoods.

But for those men and women gathered in Jerusalem, the “church” was little more than an experiment. They were a bunch of enthusiasts, kind of “loco en la cabeza” even among their own families, and when they started preaching and singing because of the Pentecost Power, many called them “drunks”!

Besides, those folks were dealing with two realities: a culture and a religion that they had inherited, but now also a new understanding of life and purpose in life because of Jesus. I’ll give just one example — while they had some new days to put on their calendar, like Christmas and Resurrection Day, they also had some important Jewish holidays that continued to draw their attention.

“Pentecost” was one of them –the Jewish celebration of the wheat harvest and the divine giving of the Ten Commandments. That festival was called “Pentecost” because it took place fifty days (or seven weeks) after another big festival called Passover, when the whole nation would promise God a portion of whatever they could harvest in just a few months.

So those men and women gathered in the Holy City for a big national celebration. But when Pentecost rolled around, something extraordinary happened, and they came spiritually alive. They were suddenly filled with “the Holy Spirit” — the Holy Presence of the Risen Christ who had left them behind with more questions than answers.

And now they finally had the answer – even though they had no idea where the Risen Christ might have gone (bringing good news to other corners in the planet? or in the vast universe?) that day they felt Christ’s empowering, inspiring presence as never before.

No wonder that day is the day when the church was born! Happy Birthday church! Happy Birthday to us! Let me quote Luke: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2).

Imagine those men and women – they had gathered for a national festival, to thank God for the harvest and the Ten Commandments but filled with nostalgia for the good times they had enjoyed with Jesus, perhaps still shocked and disoriented by such an abrupt ending to their exciting time with Jesus. Suddenly they found themselves during a noisy, explosive, exhilarating outpour of joy as they had never experienced.


Everything was turned upside down – now they finally grasped Jesus’s farewell promise. Jesus had promised them that he would never abandon” them, and there he was with them, as never before.

Ever since that “pentecostal” moment two thousand years ago, so many people have seen their lives transformed by the Holy Presence of Christ, the same Holy Presence who today brings us together and that everyday comfort us, reassure us, makes us stronger, even give us a few sweet kudos for having been faithful through good times and difficult times.

A Holy Presence that reminds us that we can get better, that there is always some extra room for spiritual and emotional growth –as individual believers, also as members of the Body of Christ. That’s why the Holy Spirit comes to us with spiritual gifts, my friends, to increase our faith, also to help us enjoy our faith as we move on with passion, compassion, and enthusiasm.

When the Holy Spirit came for the first time on that first Pentecost following Jesus’s resurrection, the faithful were moved, and their tongues came alive. And many interesting things happened to them, among them, and because of them.

Once again, let’s hear directly from Luke: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (2:42-47). Wow!

Now, Jesus’s followers would soon discover that the same Holy Spirit that was there to empower them as the “church” would always empower them to face their own weakness.


Let me turn for a moment to the apostle Paul, someone who experienced this Pentecost healing and comforting power in so many ways. As you know, Paul never had it easy — going around a rather hostile world preaching Christ brough him many problems, even prison and eventually death. And yet he kept pressing forward, like Jesus himself, for he knew that “the Spirit comes to help our weakness.”

In his letter to the church in Rome, where no Christian had it easy, Paul explains: “[When in trouble and because of our weakness] we don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans.” (8:26).

A few months ago, someone from a Methodist congregation in South Carolina contributed an Upper Room devotion on this very scripture. This man wrote that he and his wife developed the habit of praying together before bed each night, and that typically he prayed aloud for their marriage, children, friends, church, and community, while his wife prayed silently.

A “powerful” experience for both, he said, “until recently, when after a grueling week at work, finding words for prayer was a struggle.” “Finding words for prayer was a struggle,” he went on, and “I couldn’t articulate my own needs or vocalize my hurt and pain.”

And that’s when something quite unique happened –his wife broke her normal silence and spoke to “my deepest need with a prayer for God to equip me with renewed confidence and courage.”

“Her prayer,” he concluded, “captured what I had been struggling with – courage to stand up by myself and my family, and confidence to believe in my value, worth, and abilities at home and work.” “Even when our thoughts and words are muffled and muddled by pain too hard to express,” this man added, “the Spirit does intercede for us before God.”

And all of you know what this man has been writing about!


Let us pray: Gracious God, we thank you for sharing your Holy Spirit with us, and once again ask you that you strengthen us in our faith. Move among us, transform us into the people you invite us to be as you transform the world into the place you dream it to be, and make us one in love — humble, caring, selfless, sharing. This we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.