Pentecost! Of the three most important days for Christians, this is probably the one that the outside world knows the least. People around the world who've never heard of the church mark Christmas as a season of gift-giving and tree-trimming and whatnot. Easter draws people to church who come once a year -- and who sometimes remark that every time they go to church the preacher's talking about the same thing as last time.
But Pentecost? We're just about the only ones who mark that, my friends, and not all of us do that. It's the birthday of the church, though, the reason you and I are together Sunday mornings and the reason that there's a church at all. Jesus had taught his disciples what they needed to know about God. Then with his death and resurrection he did the work he and his Father meant for him to do, healing the broken relationship between God and humanity, making possible the full communion with God we were all designed for.
And now, through the work of the Holy Spirit, people are commissioned and empowered to bring the message of that new reality to all the people of the world. Note the story: The disciples have been told they will be Jesus' witnesses to the ends of the earth, but I bet that more than one of them wonders how that's going to happen. They're a bunch of Galileans, after all.
That doesn't mean they're somehow less bright that than other people, but it does mean they lack some of the languages and knowledge of these people who live at the ends of the earth. They know the world's a big place and it's safe to assume the people who live far away don't speak Aramaic. It's also safe to assume they, as a bunch of Galileans led by fishermen, lack some of the resources needed to get them moving out across the earth to do this witnessing thing. They have been called to do something that, I have no doubt, more than one of them knows they are not equipped to do.
Until Pentecost. As the presence of the Holy Spirit moves among them, giving the appearance of fire in a rushing wind, they find themselves able to speak and be understood by people who don't speak their languages. They will find themselves able to go out into the world through ordinary and sometimes extraordinary means. The Holy Spirit has come upon them, and now they are equipped to do what they were called to do.
Which is what, exactly? Witnessing, of course, I know that, because that's what Jesus said. But witnessing to what and for what purpose? Well, let me go out on a limb here and say the purpose is this: To end the world.
Wait, what? Like that guy who was talking about the end of the world and bought all those bus signs? Or one of those cult leaders who gets his people together because some comet is a sign from God? Or those people who spend eight hours a day matching world events to the verses in Daniel and Revelation to identify the Antichrist? Hint: It's not the pope.
No, but the ultimate goal of the disciples' preaching on Pentecost and our witnessing today is still to end this world. We may not understand everything in the book of Revelation or the Bible's other books of prophecy and apocalypse, but we can understand that God's ultimate goal is the restoration of our fallen world to its original purpose. God made the world and all that is in so it could be in a relationship with him. His love overflowed to such a degree it actually created beings who could love him back. Out of our free choice, we turned away from that love and the world itself fell away from its purpose. But God wants the world and that relationship restored, and intends to remake the fallen world so that it will be.
This world will be ended, so that the world God desires -- including the people God desires -- can come into existence. The fires of Pentecost will begin that transformation.
After the flood, God did indeed promise that he would never again come close to destroying everything through water, and told Noah the rainbow in the sky was a sign of that promise. But Pentecost is God's promise that he will in fact change the world, change it so much it will not even resemble its fallen self. His love will transform it as surely as fire transforms that which it burns, from matter into heat and light.
And he will kindle that fire one heart at a time, lighting it with the sparks of you and me.