The Power and the Presence
We used this reading in place of the sermon for Pentecost Sunday at Beech-wood Presbyterian Church. It is written for three readers, but you could easily use more. We did feel that it was important for the same person (Reader 3) to read all the Scripture passages from the pulpit, thus setting God's Word apart from the rest of the narrative. We used the New Revised Standard Version of Scripture for the reading.
We introduced the reading as a means of understanding the rich depth of imagery that is used in Acts 2. This passage comes alive when we understand the history of these images of God's work and Spirit. The fust hearers of this passage would have been flooded by a long heritage of memories of the wonder and majesty of God.
Reader 1: Let us speak of the mystery, the sheer power, and the presence of our God, Imagine, if you will, the wind sweeping down over the wilderness, pulling the dust into the air, animating it for a moment. When the wind stops moving, the dust falls back lifeless to the ground.
Reader 2: Scripture uses the images of wind and breath to speak of the invisible yet all-powerful God who is the giver of life itself. The Hebrew word for spirit is the same word that is used for wind and for breath.
Reader 3: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Gen. 1:1-2)
Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Gen. 2:7)
Reader J: When all of Israel despaired in Babylonian captivity, God gave to the prophet Ezekiel a vision of hope reminding him that all life comes from God. Ezekiel sees a valley filled with the bones of those long dead. Then God says,
Reader 3: "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." 1 prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. (Ezek. 37:9-10)
Reader 2: In Acts we find the presence of God portrayed as a mighty wind.
Reader 3: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:1-2)
Reader 2: The presence of God is also a fire that burns away the nonessentials in our lives, that purifies us, that gives us power. It challenges us and refuses to leave us comfortable.
Reader 1: When God's people suffered as slaves in Egypt, God heard their cry and spoke to their future leader, Moses, out of the midst of a bush that was burning, yet was not consumed. God said to Moses,
Reader 3: "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." (Ex. 3:5)
Reader 2: When Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt, God went before them in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.
Reader 3: Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Ex. 13:22)
Reader 1: When Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to see whether God or Baal would provide the fire for the sacrifice, no fire came to the altar of the priests of Baal. But on the altar that Elijah built,
Reader 3: The fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. (1 Kings 18:38)
Reader 2: When the great prophet Elijah ascended alive into heaven, the presence of the Lord was displayed as both wind and fire.
Reader 3: As [Elijah and Elisha] continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. (2 Kings 2:11)
Reader 1: When the Spirit of the Lord fell upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, both fire and wind revealed God's presence.
Render 3: And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:2-4a)
Reader 2: We see God's presence not only in fire and wind but also in God's power to fulfill his promises and to bring about so much more than we could hope or imagine!
Reader 1: God promised Abraham that his descendants would one day be a great nation.
Reader 3: "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen. 12:2-3)
Reader 2: The kingdom of Israel was established under King David. But God had more in mind-not just a passing kingdom, but an eternal one.
Reader 3: The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: "One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne. If your sons keep my covenant and my decrees that I shall teach them, their sons also, forevermore, shall sit on your throne." (Ps. 132:11-12)
Reader 1: When the kingdom of Israel fell, the people of Israel looked for a Savior, one of the descendants of David who would come and restore the kingdom. The prophet Zechariah declared,
Reader 3: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zech. 9:9)
Reader 2: Matthew is careful to tell us that Jesus the Savior was born of the house and lineage of David.
Reader 3: David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam....
Reader 2: And on and on, generation after generation, until. . .
Reader 3; Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. (Matt. 1:6-7, 16)
Reader 1: Matthew is also careful to tell us that Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem as the prophet foretold the messiah would come.
Reader 3: Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Matt. 21:5)
Reader 2: The people expected Jesus to establish another earthly kingdom like David's. But God had greater things in mind.
Reader 1: The kingdom that Christ rules is the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom that shall last forever. Those who believe in him are citizens of the kingdom and children of God.
Reader 3: To all who received him, to all who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. (John 1:12)
Reader 2: The kingdom of heaven is not limited to any single nation.
Reader 3: Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29)
Reader 1: While we are here on earth we may face many trials. Yet we will not face them alone. Jesus says,
Reader 3: "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth." (John 14:16)
Reader 2: Our Advocate is the very same Spirit of power and truth that is in Jesus.
Reader 3: "Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that 1 do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because 1 am going to the Father." (John 14:12)
Reader 1: This was not the first time that the spirit of the master was passed on to the disciple.
Reader 3: On his way to be taken up into heaven in a whirlwind, the prophet Elijah parted thejordan River with his rolled-up mantle. His disciple Elisha asked that he might receive a double share of his master's spirit. As Elijah was being whirled away, his mantle fell on his disciple, Elisha. And when Elisha struck the Jordan River with the mantle, it parted for him also. (2 Kings 2, paraphrased)
Reader 2: On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of Christ comes not just to one disciple, but to all of the disciples. Never before had the Spirit of God been poured forth with such abundance.
Reader 3: All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:4)
Reader 1: No power on earth could stop the spread of Christ's church. Like a raging wildfire, the Spirit of truth swept outward, to the Jews but also to the Gentiles.
Reader 3: While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. (Acts 10:44-45)
Reader 2: That was then; this is now. What is all of this to us today?
Reader 1: The Spirit is God's gift to all who confess Christ's name. Jesus says,
Reader 3: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
Reader 1: We are the church, the body of Christ, The Spirit is the breath of life in our lungs. The rush of a mighty wind smashing obstacles from our path. A fire in our bones that cannot be quenched. And the gates of hell itself shall not prevail against us.
All: Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Artwork by Steve Erspamer from Graphics for Worship 2.0 CD ( @ 1999, Augsburg Fortress, 1-800- 421-0239). Used by permission.