“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” Acts 2:1
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles has five words beginning with “A” that can help us in our thinking about the church then and about the church now: all, appeared, ability, amazed and addressed.
Acts Chapter 2 Verse 1 says, “they were all together in one place;” Verse 4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” “All” of them were together, “all” of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. The word “all” speaks to us of a church that was united and of a church where everyone was equal. If we read on through Acts Chapter 2, we see what a strong feeling there was that they were all bound together and we see how ready they were to share whatever they had in order that everyone would enjoy equal treatment.
What might the word “all” say to the churches in our own time? How often is there a sense that we are all together? How often there is a sense that we enjoy the unity felt by those gathered on that first day of Pentecost? How often is there a sense that we are all equal? How often is there a willingness to share what we have so that no-one may feel excluded? The word “all” is a challenge to us.
The second “A” is “appeared.” Verses 2-3 tell us, “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.” They had been told by Jesus to stay in Jerusalem and to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, but they were not told how and when the Holy Spirit would appear. Would they have expected the Holy Spirit to appear at nine o’clock in the morning of a working day? Would they have expected the Holy Spirit to appear as tongues of fire? Would they have had to change their ideas about when and how God might appear?
Where might we expect God to appear in our lives? Would we expect God to sense God’s presence when we were being “religious”, or would we be open to the idea that God’s presence might be known at nine o’clock in the morning of a working day? Is God’s presence with us without us even recognizing it? How might we expect God to appear?
The third “A” is ability. Verse 4 says that they “began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” The disciples are not well-travelled, they are not sophisticated, they are not cosmopolitan, they are countrymen, they are provincial, they are rustic. The crowd in Jerusalem realize straightaway that the disciples are not the sort of people who might address them in foreign languages, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” they ask in Verse 7. It is a moment when the disciples realize that they don’t have to depend on themselves, that God will give them the ability they need in order to do the things he wants.
A lack of ability is often our excuse for not doing the things that God wants. We feel that there are tasks to be done, but they are our responsibility, yet if God equips those whom he calls, we should have confidence we can do things. When we turn down opportunities to serve God, we should ask ourselves, is it because we cannot or is it because we will not? Which of our abilities might we be using to serve God?
The fourth “A” is amazed. Verse 7 says that the crowd were “amazed and astonished,” Verse 12 says that they were “amazed and perplexed.” The change that has come over the disciples, their sudden ability to speak to all of the visitors, amazes everyone who hears them. “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” they ask in Verse 8. “In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power,” they say in Verse 11. “‘What does this mean?’” they ask in Verse 12. Of course, it being a gathering of different people with different ideas, there are a few cynics there, as well, and, so, Verse 13 tells us, “But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.'” Saint Luke, the writer of the Acts of the Apostles is not afraid to include the negative comments, but the overall impression is one of amazement. The disciples’ experience of the Holy Spirit is sufficient to amaze others.
Is our faith ever anything that would amaze someone who was watching us? Is our sense of the Holy Spirit ever so powerful that people would ask us what it means? There are even more people who would sneer and criticize than there were in Jerusalem on that Day of Pentecost, but they have little at which to sneer because we have lost a sense of how to amaze people. If we are going to cause amazement, we need to be much more serious in our faith.
The final A” is addressed. Verse 14 says, “Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them.” Peter is confident in his speaking and clear in his message, saying, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.” From the frightened figure of Good Friday, he has become a commanding presence, he says in Verses 15-16, “Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel.” Peter addresses them about how this is a fulfilment of prophecy, about how this was a moment for which they had been waiting. Peter addresses them, and they listen.
How do we address the world in which we live today? How do we address our community, our church? Do we address them with confidence and clarity? Do we address them to explain what it is that we believe? When we speak, do people listen? Peter can address people as he does because of the power of the Holy Spirit, we should have courage to pray that we might speak with the power of the Holy Spirit.
All, appeared, ability, amazed, addressed: the words speak of the experience of that first day of Pentecost and they speak to us about how our own faith should be.