In 2015, Facebook rolled out a new feature called “On this Day.” It takes images, posts, and status updates from previous years and inserts them into your present feed. These resurrected posts are flashbacks, blasts from the past. “Here is what you were doing on this day last year.” “Here is what you wrote five years ago.” “Here is an update you shared from a previous decade.” It is not only Facebook which uses this technology though. A few days ago, I received an email from Shutterfly with pictures of my children from twelve years ago. I was tempted to order more prints.
These kinds of flashbacks do several things. First, they drive us back into the past. They call to mind imagines and emotions that are, in many cases, long since forgotten. You cannot help but stop and linger for a few minutes in years gone by. But that is not all they do. Flashbacks also propel us toward the future. They invite us to look forward to the day when our present has become the past, and to make the most of the time we have here and now.
The day of Pentecost is such a flashback. Each year it drives us, the Church, back to the past. It recalls images and emotions of those earliest Christians and their wild and wonderful participation in the resurrection of Jesus. It also propels us to the future. It inspires us and encourages us to continue the mission God first gave the Church on Pentecost and continues to give to His people of every time and place.
Speaking of flashbacks, the events recorded in Acts 2 only make sense in light of words and events that preceded them. The Pentecost flashback needs its own flashback. The appointed reading gives us several different options on this point. You could consider Pentecost by flashing back to the Old Testament reading (Genesis 11:1-9) and its focus on the confusion of languages at Babel. Another option would be to follow Peter’s Pentecost sermon and recall the words and promises of the prophet Joel. A third option, which you must be inclined to take since you are reading this post, would be to consider the Gospel reading from John 14. This makes sense, for we have just finished celebrating six weeks of Easter. And we are always called to preach Jesus, even on Pentecost.
And we’re always called to preach Jesus—even on Pentecost.
If you read Acts 2 in light of the flashback in John 14, you will notice several specific promises of Jesus which began to be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. One comes in verse 26. There Jesus promises to the disciples that the Spirit would remind them of everything He had said to them. But I suggest you consider a different promise.
In verse 23, Jesus promised He and His Father will come and make their home with those (μονὴν παρʼ αὐτῷ ποιησόμεθα) who love Jesus and keep His Word (ἐάν τις ἀγαπᾷ με τὸν λόγον μου τηρήσει). This is a profound and incredible promise! At Pentecost, Jesus (together with the Father) would extend His incarnational presence beyond His own divine-human person. By the power of His Spirit, He would now enter into all who love Him and keep His Word. This calls to mind images of the Christian (and the Church) as God’s Temple (see Ephesians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 3:20).
The promise of God taking up residence in His faithful people might be helpful for hearers who feel abandoned by God, or who have a keen sense of His absence. You might point them to their baptism as a sign of His commitment to make His home with them. As He did at Pentecost with the disciples, God has come to them and made His home in them through water and the Word. United with Jesus in His death and resurrection, they now live forever with God. They will never be alone again.
The comfort in this baptismal flashback is accompanied by a challenge. God has made His home in all who love Jesus. Their life is now His, and His life is theirs. Which means they are part of His mission to bring life in Christ to all people. Their participation is not optional. Depending on your congregation’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the advance of the Gospel, this may lead you to speak a hard and direct word of disruption to apathy or complacency. The mission of God in Christ is as urgent today as it was on that first Pentecost, and God has sent you and your hearers as surely as He sent those earliest followers of Jesus.
Pentecost is a flashback. It drives us back to the past. It propels us forward into the future. And it reminds us of the abiding presence of Christ in those who love Him and keep His Word.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 14:23-31.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 14:23-31.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Jeffrey Pulse of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 14:23-31.