Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your
Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.
For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me sit in darkness like those long
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. [Selah]
Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those
who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go, for to you I
lift up my soul.
Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!
For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of
And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my
for I am your servant. (Psalm 143 ESV)
When travelling where we are the stranger and the language is foreign to us we all know or can imagine the smiles, connection, sometimes relief when we hear our language being spoken. There is a connection – despite age, gender, skin colour, facial features. And if you’re in a place where they speak your language, there is also a smile, a bonding, a connection when you hear your accent or your dialect.
That’s why we can understand the incredulity, the surprise – and perhaps also some inquisitiveness – when people heard their language – especially coming from Galileans in Jerusalem. This is the first surprise of Pentecost – that the Good News of Jesus Christ was broadcast widely – for all people – tune in to your language and hear the same message.
I’m going to suggest that the apostles were expectant more than surprised – and I’m imagining here – that they would have been very much caught up in the experience – Jesus was doing what he said he would and that was clothing them with power from on high (Acts 24:49). I can imagine little self-reflection going on because the 12 were too busy and it is Peter who presents what is happening in response to some scorn that the apostles were drunk and should be sleeping it off.
The bulk of Acts 2 is Peter’s sermon and it is a format that has been used ever since – and by others who want to persuade – make a connection to the audience – present your case – apply it to the audience specifically – and respond to the audience’s response.
And here comes, for me, the second surprise that Peter isn’t shouted down, the trolls don’t target his Twitter account, nobody screams ‘fake news’ – though maybe that happened on the fringe – but what Luke records is that the message of God fulfilling his promise to people in the person of Jesus which meant his crucifixion and his resurrection which in turn revealed that Jesus is both ‘Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36) and to which the disciples were claiming they were the witnesses – resulted in people wanting to be saved and Luke records that about 3,000 were baptised. That’s the surprise – that the story of a crucified and resurrected man – could speak to people, make a connection, provide relief, cut through incredulity and surprise – and make a bond between the hearers and – not Peter – but Jesus.
Was it the Holy Spirit speaking to their spirit? Was it Jesus’ humanity that spoke to their humanity? Was it the person of God speaking to them as persons? Peter, as it were, gets out of the way – he – the speaker – is not the focus – something else is happening and today we would describe it variously – the Holy Spirit was at work – the people encountered Jesus – the people heard truth that resonated with them and it made sense and gave meaning to their lives.
In fact we ourselves now nearly 2,000 years later also describe the relationship with Jesus – often just labelled as ‘faith’ – variously. Each of us has his or her own story – some might say ‘own Pentecost’ – whereby we met Jesus and he became part of our life. Some of us will talk about from birth, growing up in a Christian home; others of wrestling, walking away, coming back; others of decisions made or miracles happening; still others of might shrug their shoulders and say “We don’t know why we believe in Jesus, we just do”. And even if we go through questioning or doubting times, we can find ourselves being drawn back to Jesus; there is something about Jesus that draws us to him, that leads us to trust him, that offers hope when things are bleak.
Today’s Festival of Pentecost is a high-five moment of drama and excitement that catapulted the followers of Jesus onto the world stage. This is the moment when the curtain goes up and the apostles and all in that group of 120 previously waiting now make their first steps on the world stage. But everyday is not opening night and every scene is not the opening scene – and we have no knowledge what happened in Jerusalem the day after Pentecost. When reading the rest of the Acts of the Apostles, we get to see the ups and downs of discipleship – excitement and community loving one another on the one hand and fights (internal squabbling), selfishness and persecution on the other hand. The rest of Acts speaks to us of the ups and downs of our experience of believing, of congregational living. That we are here now and that there is still a Christian Church on Earth is testimony to this Holy Spirit who is still active and working.
But what we don’t have recorded so much in these times is how Peter and the others felt. We don’t know the day to day experiences, the ups and downs of faith – even with the Holy Spirit’s presence. For those sorts of things we can turn to the psalms. 150 songs and prayers that speak not so much about this person or that historical moment but rather speak from within. The psalms so often open a window inside people who have faith in God and we discover how very much we can relate to them – they are like us and we are like them – the words can speak to us.
And what our psalm today reveals – attributed to David – and so almost a 1,000 years before Pentecost – is that the people of God always struggle with something and while the Church on this day might say that the struggle is with the unbelieving world, nearly 2,000 years of Church history and our own experience tells us that the struggle the Holy Spirit must first contend with is within us.
The 3,000 on that Day of Pentecost were changed by the work of the Holy Spirit who used words – spoken, wet, and edible – to communicate and draw them to Jesus. But we live with so many words that we can forget what was said to us. We can doubt the truth of what was said to us. And what was said to us can be drowned out by other words. And so those 3,000 didn’t say ‘Wow, what a day yesterday was!’ and then live as if it hadn’t happened but those 3,000 were discovering what yesterday means for today.
All disciples of Jesus are doing that. What does God’s Word say to me today? Holy Spirit, all of God’s Word is God’s Word but what is God’s Word for me today? And that question, so to speak, is fought and there are attempts to silence it – by the enemy within – variously called our sinful self, our pride, our desire for control, our wanting God to be nothing more than our butler or genie. That is why this psalm can be a Pentecost psalm because it cries to God to send his Spirit to keep us focused on the past – on Jesus and his cross, on our baptism, and to not let our enemies drown out God’s Word, cause us to doubt it, reject it, manipulate it so it says what we want. We don’t want these enemies to win.
Today’s remembering of that first Pentecost calls out to us that the same Spirit of God who dramatically acted in Jerusalem is still active days, years, centuries later communicating a message from God that reaches us and holds us. It speaks our language. We call it grace – relief from all enemies – comfort and hope in the face of depression and fear – and strength to live another day even if we are disgusted with ourselves because God communicates to reach us in languages that we hear – through words, water, bread and wine – that Jesus cares for you whether you are the one or the ninty-nine – and that life with Jesus is better than we fear and better than whatever the world can offer and better than anything our selfish selves try to create.
And the surprise is that people still come to faith in Jesus – this language of sin and grace reaches out to people and makes sense of everything. And Jesus’ followers keep finding that daily repentance is the best way to live after any Day of Pentecost.
- Psalm 143