May 27th: “A People on Fire”

Contrast the wind of Pentecost with a tornado, both shake the world off its pedestal, but the Holy Spirit breathes life into those who inhale it, so together Church builds the kingdom of God.
Question for Discussion: How has the Spirit been poured into your life for the building of the Kingdom of God?

This Week’s Passage: Acts 2:1-21

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for Pentecost

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 Recall that Pentecost was a harvest feast. Is Luke making a parallel between the harvest of grain and the harvest of believers?

1 “They were all together:” who? Acts1:14-15,26: The eleven, Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers, Matthias about 120.

2 Sound [white noise?] only? No movement? “Fills the whole house” and later fills the whole house with people.

3 How do we manifest “tongues of fire” today? What kind of lamps do we burn in the sight of the communities we live in?

4 Whether this is glossolalia or xenolalia, is not important. What is important is that the Holy Spirit enabled them.

5 These Jews were thus prepared for the receiving of God’s Word. Contrast with Gen 11:3 who are listening for their own word.

6 Which sound brought the people together, the white noise or the xenolalia?

6&8 This passage puts the gift of comprehension in the hearer. Consider communication theory: Communication is affected and effected by the transmitter, the medium, and the receiver. Violent wind noises normally disrupt communication. Differences in language normally disrupt communication. Differences in culture normally disrupt communication.

7 Look at who the speakers are. They are not scribes who had studied other languages, but laborers.

9 Some of the nations cited no longer existed even at this time, however ethnic roots die slowly.

13 What excuse would be given today to ignore God at work among us?

14 The circle of potential converts begins to expand: Jews and Jerusalemites. How might we expand our circle of converts?

15 Were there not men in those days who were drunk every day?

16 The occasion for Joel 2:28 ff. was the impending judgment in the day of the LORD (Joel 2:1-11). The crucifixion of Christ fulfills the judgment of the Lord.

17a The whole communication process is under the auspices of the Holy Spirit working in opposition of normal communications theory.

18 Even the clergy will receive the Spirit!

19-21 Proto-apocalyptic literature.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Omits most of Peter’s remarks and the reaction of those present to those remarks.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

3 “tongues being divided as fire.” Usually read as “tongues of fire that are divided” but could this also be read as “tongues divided like a fire divides.” Many pictures show the apostles with individual flames on their heads, but could this describe something fleshy like a tongue that divides and rests on them like the flames of a fire divide?

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Apostles: Assuming Peter’s speech is indicative of the apostles’ reactions, they were well prepared for what was happening to them. The 50 days of prayer and waiting, seeing of the risen Jesus. When the Spirit came in power they were ready to preach.

Crowd: Although the Crown is said to contain devout Jews, they are not ready for what is happening around them and thus are perplexed by it. Thus rather than recognize the action of God, in the hearing of speech in their own language, they deride it as falsities.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

Countries listed generally from east to west crossing the Mediterranean twice then jumping back east through Crete to Arabia. Is this equivalent to a round the world tour?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • CoG: The Spirit enables communication of the Good News to new people.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • The reality experienced by the disciples conflicted with the expectations of the crowd.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • From The Presbyterian Outlook “In this Corner by Marj” September 6, 1999: The town fire chief recently became a new member of the Presbyterian Church. When being question by the session, he told them he did have one concern. “I read in the Bible,” he said, “and I’ve always worried about Pentecost. Those flaming tongues jumping around just aren’t safe.” [Of course he’s right. It isn’t safe letting the Holy Spirit jump around like that, inflaming hearts and souls. It could cause genuine change in the church.]
  • Contrast the wind of Pentecost with a tornado, both shake the world off its pedestal, but the Holy Spirit breathes life into those who inhale it, so together Church builds the kingdom of God.
  • How has the Spirit been poured into your life for the building of the Kingdom of God?

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

William Willimon (Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Acts: JKP). He cites Ps 127:1 – “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” [This is the difference between Gen 11 (Tower of Babel) and Acts 2.] He suggests a parallel with the birth narrative of Jesus and an allusion to Gen 1:2 (The breath of God moved over the face of the waters at the creation.). He asserts that Pentecost has not reversed Babel: the community scattered there has not been restored. The story does not claim that there is only one tongue now, nor is there a claim of a miracle of hearing, instead of speaking. “The miracle here is one of proclamation. Those who had no “tongue” to speak the “mighty works of God” now preach.” “To those in the church today who regard the Spirit as an exotic phenomenon of mainly interior and purely personal significance, the story of the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost offers a rebuke. … The Spirit is the power which enables the church to “go public” with its good news, to attract a crowd and … to have something worth hearing.”

Robert W. Wall (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Acts of the Apostles” Abingdon, 2002) notes parallels with the giving of the Torah at Sinai, which also occurred fifty days after the Passover, and hence gathering in Jerusalem to celebrate. While the Torah unified Israel, so to does the Spirit unify Christians. He notes Pentecost is a recurring event in Acts: 8:17; 10-44-11:18, and 19:1-6.

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