Preached by Rev. Gary Dalton, May 15, 2016.
Taken from Acts 2:1-21
Can you imagine what it would be like if God had something really exceptional planned for us here today, but we didn’t know God was going to do that most exceptional thing today? In fact, what if we didn’t know that in exactly three minutes and five seconds from this very moment, God, within God’s own Self—however that happens—God will say, “Holy Spirit…Now!”
And instantly, these walls of brick and concrete turned transparent, from top to bottom, as clear as plate glass. That would be some kind of event, wouldn’t it? Traffic would stop; pedestrians would stop; cell phones would come out; videos would be posted; 911 calls would be made.
More than that, what if in that instant that our sanctuary turned transparent, what if God, again within God’s own Self—however that happens—God again says to the Holy Spirit, “O.K., now!” And, we, sitting in these pews in the midst of a transparent sanctuary, suddenly we ourselves in our bodies turn transparent!
The flesh transparent so that everybody out there could see, not muscle and bone and that wee bit of extra fluff most of us carry, but these folks outside looking on us in the inside, could see the presence of God’s own Spirit within us? What would that look like? Maybe it would look as though a bit of fire had settled down upon our heads and had kept right on going, infusing our whole bodies with this flaming brightness and buoyancy.
How would you account for it? What words could any of us put together that would adequately explain such a phenomenon?
I have to admit that my dear wife hurt my feelings Friday afternoon. We were driving into town, talking about something, and she accused me of “mansplaining”. I said, “What?! I never mansplain anything!” Karen said, “Oh, yes you do…all the time.” I said, “Look, dear, maybe you don’t quite understand ‘mansplaining’…here’s what ‘mansplaining’ is, it’s when a man assumes a woman can’t quite get something, and so she needs a man to explain to her in ways that she can understand. You see? That’s not something I would do.” Karen then proceeded to “ladysplain” some things to me.
Well, if God all of a sudden turned these walls transparent, and then God immediately turned us transparent for all the world to see the presence of God aflame within us, I’m pretty sure no amount of “mansplaining” nor “ladysplaining” would do the job. What we would need is some serious “Spirit-splaining” to happen.
Even our most eloquent attempts to get somebody else to understand what Jesus Christ means to us, will only be us imparting information. Our words, like bricks and concrete will remain only bricks and concrete, opaque, dense. The words will be only words, bits of data momentarily shared and then forgotten.
But if our conversations and our words, come out of our humility before God and out of our faith to believe God dwells within us, then some genuine Spirit-splaining will indeed happen. Pentecost will happen. Pentecost is a time to chasten our pride and to reorient our souls, that the Word of God may speak once again through us to the end result, as verse 21 says, “That whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved”.
Most of the time I use the Revised Standard Version of the Bible for study and preaching. But, there are times when it’s hard to beat the King James translation of Scripture. The 23rd Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer, a few other memory verses all speak the Scripture better for me in the King James. This is true in our reading today from Acts, chapter two…the Day of Pentecost.
This particular King James Bible I’m using today is the one my parents gave me when I was a child. This was the Bible I used right on up until I was 21 or 22 years old. Then, I decided I might try reading a Bible I could actually understand. That’s when I tried the daring experiment of reading the New International Version.
Reading a Bible you can understand can have some interesting consequences. I once visited with a couple in their home. They were in the mid-50’s or so. The wife had always been very faithful in church and basically would drag her husband with her on Christmas and Easter. Then, suddenly, here in his later mid-life, the husband experienced something of a spiritual rebirth.
He explained to me and to the other minister visiting with me, that he’d always owned a King James Version Bible. He could never quite make much sense out of it, but he’d held on to it over the years out of sentimental reasons. Then, on his most recent birthday, his wife gave him a modern translation of the Bible.
So, to please her, he started reading it and for the first time he said he could understand what he was reading. He said, “And it scared the h…” and he almost uttered the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks term until he remembered he was talking to a couple of ministers there in his den, and you know how we clergy are just so fragile. So, he said, “Well, you know what it about scared out of me!” And what he read changed him.
So, if you do plan on doing something in your spiritual life, by all means go get a Bible that you can at least follow along when you read it. There is nothing especially holy about the “thee’s” and the “thou’s” and the “begettest’s” of the KJV. In fact, there’s not even anything especially holy about Greek or Hebrew. The Greek in the New Testament was the common Greek of the everyday speaker, not the formal classical Greek of the philosophers and poets.1 It certainly was not some sort of special Divine Greek.
There was not anything especially holy about the many languages and dialects which these early believers began shouting out on this Pentecost Day in Acts chapter 2.
What was holy about the languages and the dialects which these Pentecostal Christians were speaking that day was this: they were speaking so that their listeners could understand what they were saying about God. Those words, heard with understanding, the Holy Spirit then used to open the minds and hearts of these listeners to believe the Good News of Jesus Christ. That is what made their speech holy. A whole lot of Spirit-splaining was going on.
The “holiness” of the Holy Bible is not in the ink on the paper or the fancy binding. The “holiness” of this collection of writings is in what happens when God writes on the pages of our soul, imprinting there the true revelation that we are God’s child. Whether we be a child freshly minted into this world, or we be a child long lost in thickets of this world, when we take in the words of this book and understands that it is the Holy Spirit speaking to us, then, for us, it becomes Holy Scripture.
That man I just told you about, by then into his mid-50’s, to him his King James Bible was a greatly valued book as a revered family heirloom. It was a decades-old edition, like mine, of a book first published in the year 1611 containing beautifully constructed sentences. That’s what the Bible was for him.
Until the day he picked up a contemporary translation that he could read and understand. Then, he said, to paraphrase the words of verse 8: “How hear I now in my own tongue, wherein I was born….the wonderful works of God.” As with these men and women 2,000 years ago, he was amazed—and according to him, frightened—by this close encounter with the Holy.
So, if you can’t read or hear and comprehend what your personal Bible is saying, then keep shopping…there is a translation out there somewhere, the language of which is your own language, your own dialect, your capacity to read, hear and comprehend. But, watch out! Pentecost might happen to you.
Which brings me back to my childhood King James reading of Acts 2, which I choose to use today because of the words, “Holy Ghost”. You’ll notice that the King James uses both the words, “ghost” and “spirit” in translating the same New Testament word. Mostly they translate the word as “spirit”. But in verses 4 and, later, in verse 33 and 38, they translate the exact same word as “ghost”.
Here’s what going on: wherever the word “spirit” is modified by the word “holy” they chose to translate it as “ghost”. That was a theological decision on their part; it’s not a decision demanded by the text itself. We’ll come back to that in a moment.
For Pentecost, I prefer the word “Ghost”, as the King James puts it. You remember way back in high school when our dear English teachers would try to teach us to talk right. They told us all about sibilant and fricative and plosive sounds?
“Spirit” is a sibilant. To me, sibilants are subtle, sensuous, soft and whispering….breezy. But “ghost” is plosive…it’s momentarily blocked and then bursts free out of our mouths: “ghost”… “gut”… “gosh”… “gust”.
So, “Ghost” to me fits Pentecost better. Because this wasn’t a breezy Holy Spirit softly sifting among the believers…this was the Holy GHOst GUsting down on them, GUshing out through the windows and doors and GRAbbing and GAthering people from all around. Verse 2 means something like a “sudden, violent wind” dropped down upon these believers. It was like a Holy Ghost “microburst”!
We here all know what a “microburst” is, don’t we? We seem to get at least one every summer. A microburst is like a tornado in reverse. The winds of a tornado swirl around and form a funnel that sucks everything in and up. Well, in a microburst, the winds collide and rush down, hitting the ground with a sudden burst that blows everything outward and away. This was a Holy GHOst microburst!
Neither phonetics nor meteorology guided the King James translators, though, in their choice of whether it would be “spirit” or “ghost”. They made their choice based on their own current theology about the Trinity. All translators have to do it.
You need to be aware of such things when you’re reading your Bible. Translators have to make judgment calls on how to translate certain words and phrases into English. They do that based on their best knowledge at the time of ancient and modern language. They do that choosing based on their best current understanding of the ancient setting. They also are guided by their theology, and by their own church practice.
For example, when the King James translators got to the Greek word, baptizo, they could have translated it as “dip” or “dunk” or “bathe”. But in King James’s church, they did not “dip” nor “dunk” nor “bathe”; they “sprinkled”. Would you want to be the scholar who had to tell King James that John the Baptist may have dipped Jesus or he might have dunked Jesus, but he most certainly did not sprinkle Jesus?
So, these scholars simply went with an easier option. They chose an English word that had been coined from the Greek, the word baptism. No need to get specific about how wet the person actually got.
There will be four lines queued up at the Pearly Gates: there will be the sprinkled line and the dipped line and dunked line and the “I didn’t know line”. We will of course all assume that we’re in the preferred boarding line. But as soon as we go through our respective turnstiles, we’ll see we’re all are gonna queue up and get on the very same bus that takes us to our heavenly mansions.
But, what is the correct answer about baptism and so many other things in the Bible? As with those King James translators and everyone from every age that’s picked up a Bible, we understand the Word of God through the lens of what we already think and believe about that Word. Which is a real dilemma, because we none of us have perfect clarity of understanding.
What is the answer? How does any human being find the truth of God if we come to this testimony of God with our best intentions but also with our very flawed capabilities?
The answer? The answer for us today is as it was back then 2,000 years ago. To borrow from Peter, Paul and Mary–not the ones from back then but from the 1960’s—“the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind”! Acts chapter two, verse two: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”
What these first believers in Acts chapter 2 needed to happen on that day was not some soft, sibilant, Spirit whispering in their ears of the things of God. They needed a Holy GHOst microBURst, to break through their BOUND-up grasp of God and Jesus and the Gospel. They needed to be BROken loose from the present limits of their imaginations and their faith, so they could proclaim God’s grace come on earth. So do we all, with “we” including you and including me.
A moment ago I used the image of four lines on the outskirts of heaven merging into a single line to board a bus bound for heaven. I borrowed that metaphor from C.S. Lewis’s book, The Great Divorce. That’s the literary device Lewis used to describe a group of souls on a field trip aboard a bus.
They’re traveling across a great divide, or a “great divorce” to use Lewis’s quaint expression. They are on a bus, traveling from the outskirts of hell over to the outskirts of heaven. It’s a good read, The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. I highly recommend it.
University Baptist Church, we are passengers traveling on a bus line being operated by the Holy Ghost Transit Authority. This Jerusalem church before Pentecost, was made up only of Palestinian Jewish riders. After Pentecost, not anymore: the Holy Ghost Transit Authority parked its bus right there and even more riders got on. Now, there were Jews and converts to Judaism from all over the known world who climbed on board and took their seat.
But what really got interesting along the way, is when the Holy Ghost bus parked even further out, and those non-Jews, plain old Gentiles with no thought of becoming Jews, starting on board the Holy Ghost bus. Did the Holy Ghost kick them off? No, the door closed and off they went again.
University Baptist Church is one of the better runs in the Holy Ghost Transit Authority, in my estimation. But this bus has been parked and idling for far too long. It’s time to pull away from the curb and move along. Are you on board?
We will reach the destination God has for us, but I can’t drive the bus there and you can’t either. Only the Holy Ghost of God gets that privilege. This wonderful One of God, this Advocate and Helper and Sustainer whom Jesus promised, will get us safely to where we should be.
It’s not an express run, that’s for certain. There will still be lot’s of stops along the way with many other riders coming aboard. There’s room for all on any bus operated by the Holy Ghost Transit Authority. Don’t miss the ride.
1C. Milo Connick, The New Testament: An Introduction to Its History, Literature, and Thought, Literature, and Thought, 2nd Ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 1978) pp. 6, 246.