by Rev. Sarah Buteux
Pentecost, Year B, Acts 2:1-21
I don’t like being lost, but it helps if there’s someone else with me.
I don’t like walking into a meeting blind, but I don’t mind it as much if I know I have an ally in the room.
I don’t particularly like job interviews or making a motion at a town hall meeting or preaching to a congregations I don’t know, but it helps if there’s a friendly face in the crowd.
When you’re not exactly sure where you stand, what to do, where you’re going, or what’s coming next, it can be hard to hold it together. I don’t like that feeling. I suppose no one does. But when times like that come, it sure helps to know that you are not alone.
I remember the first time I preached to a really large crowd. It was at the Swedenborgian national convention back in 2008, so it was only, like, 150 people. But by Swedenborgian standards that was huge and I was nervous.
It was a big honor to be chosen by my colleagues to serve as the convention preacher and I didn’t want to mess it up. George was just a baby back then and I was working full time at the U.C.C. church in Hadley, so it took me over a month to write the sermon and plan the service.
I put the whole thing together in those stolen moments that new parents and pandemic parents and, well, maybe all parents somehow manage to find, and I was pretty sure in my sleep addled brain that it all made sense and would hold together.
But right before the service began, the doubt started to creep in. It had been a long time since I’d preached to Swedenborgians. I imagine they were all buzzing with anticipation as they found their seats in the church sanctuary, but not me. Nope.
Me, well, I was hiding out in the church kitchen staring at the amazingly large number of gravy boats the Bridgewater congregation had collected in the event of a church supper and trying to pull myself together when my friend Hunter appeared and took my hands.
She prayed over me and then told me she’d be out there in the pews hanging on my every word. If I started to falter or fail or wonder if anything I was saying made any sense at all, I had only to look for her and I’d know that at least one person was right there with me.
When the time came to preach I looked out amongst the sea of faces and there she was, beaming like the sun. She flashed me a huge smile, and as the words, “let us pray,” left my mouth, I knew in my heart that it was going to be ok, because I knew in my heart that I was not alone.
In the first verse of Acts, chapter two, Luke tells us that:
When the day of Pentecost had come,
they were all together in one place.
Now I know that sounds pretty basic and that some pretty fantastic things are about to happen in this reading, but I actually think this is the first miracle of Pentecost.
When the day of Pentecost had come,
they were all together in one place.
Do you know why? Do you know why they were all together in one place? Because Jesus told them to be, and – miracle of miracles – for once the disciples actually listened.
Back in chapter 1, before Jesus ascended into heaven, he “ordered them not to leave Jerusalem,” but to “wait there for the promise of the Father…” the promise that they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
And so they went back to that same house where they’d celebrated the last supper, back to that same upper room where they had hidden after the crucifixion, back to that same place where Jesus had first appeared to them after his resurrection…. and they waited… together.
But there’s a double meaning in that first verse that is actually evidence of a second miracle. When Luke tells us “they were all together, in one place” his words can also be translated as, “all together in one accord.” Which is to say that the disciple weren’t just in the same place physically, they were also all in the same place mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. They were all of one mind. They were all in agreement. “They were all in one accord.”
And honestly, up until now I’m not sure if the disciples have ever been in one accord in anything, except maybe their grief, fear, and confusion; so this is something new.
And remember, we’re not just talking about the original 12 anymore, or the women who have been quietly following along and bankrolling Jesus’ ministry from the very beginning, or even the addition of Mary the mother of Jesus and his many brothers.
We know from last week’s reading that there are 120 men and women waiting on the Spirit now. The big event has not even begun, and this is already a remarkably diverse group of people waiting together in one accord.
They know a change is gonna come, but they don’t know how and they don’t know when. They don’t know what will be required of them or where the winds of change will send them. They don’t know how to prepare or what they will say or how on earth they are going to keep everyone safe once the Spirit hits the fan.
I imagine most of them don’t even really know each other. All they know is that because of Jesus, they are not alone.
And so this diverse group of men and women are waiting. But just because they are waiting doesn’t mean they have been idle. No one knows exactly how they used that time between Jesus’ leaving and the Spirit coming. The scriptures tell us that “they devoted themselves to prayer,” but there had to be more going on than that.
I would imagine that they talked to one another even as they talked to God. I imagine they pooled their resources to keep food on the table and that same roof over everyone’s head. I’m sure they broke bread together and, as they waited, I imagine that they really got to know one another. As they rested together, I imagine they began to dream of a new future together. I imagine that hope began to take shape within them. I imagine love and longing rising in their many and varied hearts like yeast in the dough such that when the Spirit moved – and boy did it ever – they were ready.
Ready to move out. Ready to share their story with Parthians and Medes, Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia.…you know the drill. Ready to welcome an even wider array of people into this new thing that God was doing.
We all know that the big miracle of Pentecost is the part of the story where the disciples come down with rapid onset fluency in multiple languages, but don’t miss the little miracle that led to the big one.
Don’t miss the miracle of a diverse group of people holding it together in the midst of so much uncertainty. Don’t miss the miracle of a people who waited well together in the midst of so much anxiety.
The waiting and the not knowing could have torn them apart, and yet by the grace of God they left that upper room in one heart, in one mind, in one spirit… in one accord. Unity in adversity and unity in diversity – from the beginning of this story to the end, for me that spirit of unity is the miracle at the heart of Pentecost.
And honestly it’s a miracle I experience every day with all of you. First Churches, we may not boast Parthians and Medes, Elamites or Cappadocians, but we have Presbyterians and Methodists, lapsed Atheists and good Catholics, ex-evangelicals and practicing Buddhists, to say nothing of the Baptists and Congregationalists whose decision to come together gave us that funny little “es” at the end of our name.
We are a community full of the children of pastors and pastors with children, hard working people who collect a pay check and hard working people who don’t. We have members from Northampton and Easthampton, sure, but also Amherst and Greenfield and the parts of Hampshire County belonging to Pelham and Belchertown.
We are black and white and latinx and gay and trans and straight and rich and poor and young and old, believers, questioners, and questioning believers. Sometimes more than one of those things at a time and pretty much every thing in between.
But we are one church and we have held it together in the midst of so much uncertainty. We have waited well together in spite of so much anxiety. We have devoted ourselves to prayer and talked to one another even as we have talked to God. We have pooled our resources and still managed to break bread together, and cheese-its and chocolate and whatever else we’ve been able to scrounge up for Thursday communion.
We have big dreams for the future and multiple visions of what this church can be, and that multiplicity doesn’t scare me, because at the heart of it all I know there is a deep and unifying love for Jesus and for one another.
We have used this in-between time to deepen our faith and our relationships with God and one another, and because of that we are ready.
Ready to move out and share our story. Ready to welcome whomever God sends our way into this new thing that God is doing…. even if we don’t quite know what that is yet. Even if everything isn’t cleaned out and spruced up yet. Even if we don’t know precisely how to do in-person church yet and don’t quite have all the money we’ll need raised yet…because First Churches, we have each other.
Your pastors have you and you have us. So when you find yourself faltering or failing or wondering if any of this makes any sense at all – and you will – promise me you’ll look up until you see me out there. And know that I’ll be looking up until I see you.
I promise to smile if you will.
And then we’ll pray, knowing deep in our hearts that we’re going to be ok, because come what may, we are not alone. We have God and one another holding us together in this place, holding us together in one accord.
Peace to you my friends. Amen.