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Sun, Jun 04, 2017

Then Came a Sound

Duration:14 mins 38 secs

Today is the Day of Pentecost and our Second Reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, verses 1-21. The Jewish people celebrated the festival of Pentecost long before the events recounted in our text for today. The festival was marked by the presentation or offering to God the first sheaf of wheat from the crop. This was presented with thanksgiving and with a prayer that God would allow all the rest of the crop to be safely gathered in due time.

The festival was held approximately fifty days (thus, the Greek prefix “penta”) after Passover. It was also associated with the Exodus journey of the people of Israel from Egypt. On that journey into the wilderness, fifty days after the Passover they came to Mount Sinai, the place where Moses received the law from God. So, together these two ideas created a festival of thanksgiving and hope with a recommitment to the new way of life initiated by God.

All of that would have been “in the air,” so to speak, for those who encountered the Holy Spirit in our text today as well as for those who first heard of this extraordinary account. This is the first fruits of a new community initiated by God with thanksgiving and hope. So let us, with fresh ears, hear this Word of God to us today.

1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

When we were growing up my brother played the organ. We had a small organ in our home on which he practiced and he took organ lessons at a neighboring church. All of those organs were electric. No magnificent pipe organs like the one we have here at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church. Over the course of my ministry, several of the churches I have served have had pipe organs, but I never really paid too much attention, assuming that all organs worked the same as the one in my parents’ living room. It was not until I began serving here that I learned that the sounds from this organ are not produced by the organ console. Because all I knew were electric organs, I assumed the sound of each note was produced in the console and expelled out of the pipes. The bigger the pipes, the louder the sound, right?

But that is not how it works at all. Instead there is a whole pressurized air chamber in a room off the fellowship hall. The fancy machine back there generates air under pressure. Then as Peyson plays the keys, the entry way to various pipes is uncovered and the air rushes through the pipe causing vibration. The air induced vibrations produce the sounds that we hear. Thus, through the pipes, the room itself sings. I had no idea that a pipe organ produces sound only through its wind supply or as some say, its “breath of life.”

So as I prayed about the connections today between Pentecost and Sacred Music Sunday, I was drawn to the sounds in our text. Have you ever noticed all the sounds of Pentecost? The disciples are all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages. At this sound a crowd gathers and each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Members of the crowd pose questions to one another. Some even sneer at the sounds they hear, assuming the disciples are full of wine. Then Peter stands up and addresses them – in a way that we assume all could hear and understand. Yes, this is a crazy, chaotic, sound-filled scene.

All because the Holy Spirit showed up. Now, in Greek the word for “spirit” is pneuma. In Hebrew it is ruach. You might be able to hear how both words sound like a breath. Pneuma. Ruach. Both words, in addition to being translated as “spirit” can also be translated as “wind” or “breath.” So, in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth the ruach, the pneuma, the wind, the breath of God moved over the face of the waters. In our text for today, when God created a new people to carry the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth, the ruach, the pneuma, the wind, the breath of God filled the entire room. Yes, when the breath of God, the breath of life, the Holy Spirit shows up amazing things happen!

And so it is today. On this Sacred Music Sunday we celebrate the ruach, the pneuma, the wind, the breath of God. When the Holy Spirit shows up, even the sanctuary begins to sing. The air through the pipes and the brass, the vibrations of the bells, the piano, and the timpani, and even the breath moving through vocal chords of the choir – all inspired - all because the Holy Spirit shows up.

Yes, there is something about music, created by the breath of God, which speaks to our souls in ways that mere words cannot. The great 19th century theologian Karl Barth, who wrote volumes and volumes of words in theological dogmatics and treatises, who had read all the words of all the great theologians who had gone before, still began every day by listening to Mozart. He found such inspiration in Mozart’s music that he even remarked, “If I ever get to heaven, I would first of all seek out Mozart and only then inquire after Augustine, St. Thomas, Luther, Calvin, and Schleiermacher.” Such is the gift of the ruach, the pneuma, the Holy Spirit, the breath of God.

And yet, my friends, in these brief words this morning I do not want you to believe that you have just been an observer of the Holy Spirit and her gifts. No, that breath which you just took a second ago filled your lungs with the Holy Spirit. As you exhale the ruach, the pneuma, the Spirit will move across your vocal chords, enabling you to create sound. Perhaps you might feel the urge to lift up your voice and sing praises to the Lord. Or maybe the sound you make will be a word of life, of faith, of hope, of thanksgiving. And perhaps you might even speak a word of gospel, just like those first disciples whose voices were filled with the Holy Spirit, so that peoples near and far might hear the good news.

For as beautiful as any music or sound you hear in this sanctuary today might be, it still falls flat if your heart and voice are not tuned to praise as a result. The choir does not sing, the handbells do not play, the piano does not make melody, Peyson does not play the organ merely for our enjoyment. No, they play as an offering to God and so that we all might be inspired to so offer our hearts and minds and voices to the Lord of heaven and earth.

We live in a world that is so divided today. And this divided world today needs the ruach, pneuma, the breath of God to speak from your lips and mine. Yes, we need the music of that first Pentecost today. As we sang in the final verse of our second hymn:

Only the Spirit’s power
Can fit us for this hour:
Come, Holy Spirit Come!
Instruct, inspire, unite;
And make us see the light.
Come, Holy Spirit Come!

Thanks be to God.
Let us pray:

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