Sermon delivered by Heather Entrekin, pastor of Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, K.S., on May 31 2009.
Acts 2: 1-21
Bumper sticker theology is not always the best, but I saw one in a pastor’s office that sticks with me. It said, “The most radical thing we can do is introduce people to one another.” I think that’s what the Holy Spirit was doing on Pentecost a couple of thousand years ago.
Pentecost is a great day for the church.
What is Pentecost? Pente comes from the Greek meaning “five.” You might recognize that word in Pentagon, Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) or pentathlon (five track and field events). Originally, it was a harvest festival. Then, it commemorated God giving the commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai, 50 days after the Exodus. Then it celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples 50 days after Easter. That is the Pentecost we celebrate.
Here’s what happened on that first Pentecost. The disciples are sitting around, minding their own business, maybe talking about how God came to Moses with the law long ago or how Jesus had come to them not so long ago, when a violent wind started to blow inside the house, tongues like flames flickered on their heads, and everybody started speaking in other languages!
A crowd gathered. Foreigners were amazed to hear the Galileans speaking their native languages. You can imagine how strange and confusing it must have been.
But one person stood up to explain it over all the noise, and that was Peter. He remembered a promise Jesus had made that one day, after he was gone, the Holy Spirit would come on them and somehow they would be able to be Jesus’ witnesses there in Jerusalem as well as all over Judea and Samaria – even to the ends of the world! This must be that Holy Spirit. It was introducing them to one another!
This is the beginning of the church. When they were all together, the Spirit empowered believers to serve God and to speak of God’s deeds of power and salvation. What Jesus said and did when he was alive now this body of people continued in his name. They became the church. Happy birthday church!
That was a wonderful day for the church. But the good news is, the Holy Spirit did not get the church started and then take early retirement. The Holy Spirit continues to look for a crowd and empower the people to speak languages of love and justice and peace to the ends of the world.
It happened to us. The Holy Spirit may come as wind or flame but to us it came as a phone call from Matthew Giuffrida of the American Baptist refugee and immigration services in Valley Forge, PA. Could Prairie help to settle a refugee family from Laos? Our mission board gulped and said, “We’ve never done it before but we’ll try.”
We became a part of an amazing story of refugee resettlement. By 2002, when the remarkable Matthew Giuffrida died, American Baptists, a tiny denomination of only 1.2 million, had resettled 89,223 refugees. We have befriended and settled far more refugees than denominations 10 times our size.
The story in Acts says that the Holy Spirit came to all of the disciples, every single one, and filled them up so they could speak God’s good news in other languages. The Spirit did not give Prairie the ability to speak Laotian, but it did help us to speak the language of love and justice – God’s good news. Every one could speak that language in some way – picking up a family at the airport, donating a chair or a bed, buying silverware, teaching English, sharing a meal, worshiping together, becoming a friend. We became witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth when the ends of the earth came to us.
But Prairie people were not the only ones filled with the Holy Spirit. Our Laotian sisters and brothers, who had been so badly hurt in their home country, spoke the language of love and justice too. (They also learned English!) They named their children after members of our church: Margaret, Vera….. They taught us about commitment to family and taking care of one another and holding on to hope and trusting and loving God.
In many ways, Prairie was reborn in those days. In addition, a beautiful new church was born – the Lao American Baptist Church of Lenexa. This church continues and extends the witness to what God has done in Christ. Last year, a group went back to Laos to serve Christians there. Prairie sent a small financial gift with them. This elephant banner is a gift from that trip.
As Nout, Tenh, Chris and I were planning this service, I might have heard the Holy Spirit speaking again. Nout said, “The next time we go to Laos, why don’t you come with us?”
God loves a crowd. God loves this crowd! And it is not too much for God to fill every one of us with the Holy Spirit to keep on speaking the language of love, living the life of Christ to the ends of the earth, all together.