Acts 2: 1-21
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Two boys join the army and are really looking forward to the challenging life of army men. But first day of the training drill broke all their illusion of what they thought would be a glamorous life. With the exercises and drills, the punishments and never ending runs made the two very very sad. By now they were just surviving the days at the training camp. Matthew and Deepak are the boys in the story. Half dead with exhaustion, Mathew mourns to Deepak “What a horrible life this is. We are treated like machines. I want to go home.” Deepak says nothing but just agrees with a desperate sigh. And then Deepak tells Matt, “Let’s bunk the training session tomorrow. Let us go out and just have fun.” Matthew was not sure of the idea but was too desperate for a break and therefore played along. Early in the morning the duo sneaked out of the camp with fabulous precision and both hi- fived each other for the accomplishment that they achieved. Initially after achieving temporary freedom, they now did not know what to do. New to the city, they just were clueless. After roaming around aimlessly they finally settled to enter into a beer bar. Along with the snacks they kept ordering their drinks trying to numb themselves from the daily routine of meaninglessness. After around they lost count of the drinks, it dawned to them that they had to sneak back to the camp. Matt after paying the bills, along with Deepak found it hard to stand on their feet. They helped each other from falling. And The Captain of the platoon who was strolling in the market area happened to recognize the drama outside the beer bar and spotted the two ruffians who had escaped from his camp. He in an intimidating pose stood in front of the duo. Matt thought not recognizing who stood in front of him blurted out “Hi mate, can you help us to get to the Army camp near cantonment?” The captain with an added baritone said “Do you know who I am?” Matt looks very perplexed and started crying and said “Oh dear God, we are in deep trouble, we do not know where to go and this man does not know who he is”
This may be a humorous illustration but it profoundly talks of the two problems that we face. The problem of identity and the problem of finding a purpose in life. We are not sure about our purpose in life and we keep struggling to figure out who we are. We need timely reminders and affirmations to help us align with our purpose and identity. When we examine the passage in front of us, we have 120 witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. They have seen Jesus ascension to heaven and are asked to wait for the Holy Spirit that He would pour upon them. As they waited, the Holy Spirit came upon them like blowing wind and tongues of fire rested upon them. I am guessing that these 120 people were together to feel secure in each other’s company as they were hiding themselves from the Roman officials and the Jews. In the meanwhile they elected Matthias as the 12th disciple to feel more powerful, but we do not hear anything of what Matthias did in history. So they were a bunch of clueless people and it is here the Holy Spirit engulfs them. The wind signifies the breath that God breathed into Adam, signifying life(Gen 2:7). And tongues of fire are to set them ablaze on their mission to be witnesses of the resurrected Christ. The wind reminded the people who they are. They have life breathed in them By God and in God and his resurrection is their new identity brought about by the gift of the Holy Spirit. The fire reminds them what the purpose in life is and that is to be witnesses of the resurrection of Christ till the end of the earth.
The people just wanted to be confined in the comforts of the upper room and be safe. They are happy to know ‘Christ is Risen’ and remain quiet and calm. But the Holy Spirit does not heed to their plans. It overflows in other tongues. When they wished to keep the resurrection of Jesus a secret of their exclusive society, Holy Spirit enabled them to speak in tongues intelligible to the many Jews from different nations. When it was clear to the Jews what was being declared, they tried to suppress the voices of the 120 by dismissing them as drunk and stupid people. Jews certainly did not want to hear about the Resurrected Christ as it would mess up their lives and make it extremely uncomfortable. It is here Peter steps in and declares with the help of Holy Spirit that these voices are not to be dismissed. He gives a bold witness to the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and how by the promise of Scripture, Holy Spirit is at work. The verses 36 and 37 are the climax. “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter boldly declares Jesus as Lord and Messiah and also convicts them that they crucified him. But the response of the hearers is what formed the new community. Holy Spirit made them vulnerable in heart and they asked in desperation “Brothers, what shall we do?”
This is what opened up to the formation of a new community where people were ready to realize their mistakes and were ready to ask “What should we do?” Do we have those pricking of the heart and we ask “What should we do?” Pentecost reminds us that we are in the Grand story of the Life, Death, Resurrection and Coming again of Jesus Christ. Toughest part is to be witnesses to his resurrection which is denied in all quarters. Holy Spirit strengthens us to realize that our identity lies in the love of Jesus Christ and we should do what Jesus did. The New Community, the church is to do what Jesus did. What he said, we should say. If you look at the story of Jesus in Gospel of Luke and the Story of Church in Acts of Apostles, it is very similar. Just study the parallels of Birth of Jesus and Birth of Church. Luke tries to show that how Jesus lived (as depicted in Gospel of Luke), same way his followers tried to live in Acts of the Apostles. In Gospel of Luke, He fed, he loved, he cared , he preached. In Acts of Apostles, they fed, they loved, they cared, the preached. Was it easy? No. But the people found that their identity lies in who Jesus is. And what do they do? They did what Jesus did. If you realize this and Holy Spirit takes hold of you, you are officially pentecosted. (Red Alarm, Sirens ringing)
Let me end this meditation by a story of a couple that really inspired me. When I called the protagonist of the story, he was very reluctant to share about his experiences as he felt he was not worthy enough to be written about “Achen, I have done nothing. Please do not embarrass me.” So with that warning in mind I venture to introduce you to the couple Mr .P.O. Mathew and his wife Annie. Mr P.O. Mathew, who is the 5th of the siblings hails from Pallipad. After his education he joined as a professor at Chengannur Christian College and he married his wife Annie who was teaching at Bishop’s Moore College in Mavelikara. In 1968 after being newly married, Mr P.O. Mathew got an opportunity to go to Nigeria as a teacher. He along with his wife worked as teachers in Nigeria for a period of 17 years. After they came back to India the couple joined the Mar Thoma Academy in Tiruvalla, where Mr Mathew was the Principal for 9 years and were well settled in Tiruvalla. The story thus far is a normal one. Life is secure. Their children have settled. So one would not expect any twist or turn at this stage of the script. No, but the story is not over. In the year 2000 there was a strange request that came the couple’s way. Dr Johny, who was at Christian Hospital, Bisam Cuttack, Orissa, requested P.O. Mathew to help them out with a School of the Hospital as it was not in a good shape. Initially Mr Mathew dismissed it but Dr Johny was insistent. “I was scared to uproot from my settled life but there was a voice that wanted to give this a shot. Therefore on the insistence of Dr Johny I visited the hospital at Bissam Cuttack. The place I found was very backward but I was impressed by the work and witness of the Hospital. The hospital was the vision and labour of Dr Elizabeth Madson, who set up the hospital knowing about the death of women in the village due to the lack of medical facilities. It is the inspired witness of Late Dr Elizabeth Madson that evolved into a 200 bed Hospital called the Christian Hospital. After visiting, we did not have clarity and did not see the sense in uprooting our life but felt the prompting of the Spirit. So I thought of asking the then Metropolitan Most Rev Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostom who was the President of Mar Thoma Academy where I was the Principal. I was sure that the Metropolitan would not relieve me. After initial enquiry and after hearing about Dr Johny, Thirumeni said that the work is credible and gave me the permission to go. I honestly did not expect it. When Thirumeni gave the permission, I knew this was God’s plan and we reluctantly thought of giving it a shot. We decided to go for 2 years in the month of June in 2000. Slowly but surely we could put a system in the New Life English Medium School with 530 students from the village nearby, where Annie was the Head Mistress and I was the Principal. We went for 2 years but remained there for 15 years. We were away from our family, relatives, people and church but God used us. I truly believe I did nothing extraordinary, but realized God was leading us. Initially all the events made no sense to us and the people around. But God used us in ways that we could never imagine and to dear God we are grateful. We have nothing to boast or to put forward. I remember my brother telling me that when I was about to be born there were huge complications. They said we will save the mother and the child will die. After my birth, Doctor said, I will live for 7 days. Achen, today this man who was supposed to live for just 7 days is 72 years, you have called me on my birthday (12th May 2016). Mysterious are God’s ways”
I truly believe Mr P.O. Mathew and his wife Annie were Pentecosted. The couple found their identity in Christ Jesus and the purpose in life was to be the witnesses of His resurrection, whether we like it or not. The Holy Spirit is not what we acquire. Holy Spirit takes hold of us and brings us out of our secure and calculated life. We do not find a purpose. The purpose finds us. I am reminded that one day one of our member entered in an absent minded way with helmet on. I chuckled. But then I realized, church sure is a very dangerous place. You better sit with helmets and seat belts on. Because God will not settle for your small plans. He will Pentecost you and that will mightily cost you. So are you ready to be pentecosted?
P.S. The Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter which signifies the Gift of Holy Spirit promised by Jesus Christ and also the Birth of the Church
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal