Acts 2: 1 – 12 Ready for Surprise Sunday May 23, 2021



Ready for Surprise

Acts 2: 1 – 12

(preached on May 23, 2021)

 If you’re the sort of person who reads the bulletin carefully when you come to worship, you might have noticed the title of this sermon.  And if you’re also the sort of person who thinks carefully about the sermon title, you might have noticed that today’s sermon title is a contradiction.   Ready for surprise?  How can you be ready for a surprise?  A surprise is something you’re not expecting.  How can you be ready?

When the disciples gathered for the feast of Pentecost, they got a big surprise.  We hear in our passage from Acts that “Without warning, there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force…It filled the whole building.  Then like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages” (Eugene Peterson translation).

The disciples must have been surprised when this mighty wind blew in among them.  But that wasn’t the only surprise that day.  As the wind roared around them, they must have been even more surprised to find that they could speak different languages.   Not only did the Holy Spirit billow into the room all around them.  The Holy Spirit also somehow entered their minds.  The Holy Spirit blew into their minds and gave them the ability to speak different languages.

The disciples must have been surprised, but the surprise didn’t stop them cold.  As soon as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak, they began to speak.  Peter stood up and addressed the crowd, speaking of God’s mighty works in the lives of their people.  He proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah chosen by God to bring salvation to all humanity.

The disciples were surprised by the coming of the Spirit.  They were surprised, but the surprise didn’t immobilize them.  They quickly went into action, preaching the good news to everyone in Jerusalem.

What about you and me?  How do we react to surprises?  Of course the way we react to surprises depends on the type of surprise.  There are good surprises, pleasant surprises like walking into a room full of people you love, being greeted with big smiles and everyone yelling “Surprise!”  A pleasant surprise like that happened to me once, when I was expecting my first child, my daughter Amy.

Here I have to admit that I am not an easy person to surprise.  I like to plan things.  When it comes to vacations, I’m the one who reads the travel brochures and checks out the hotels.  For the most part, I’m the one who makes the plans.  But in the last weeks of my pregnancy, my family managed to surprise me with a baby shower!  They came up with a plausible cover story.  They told me my husband’s cousin had invited him for a night out, to hear a lecture and look at slides of sailboats.  This was easy to believe, because both of them loved sailboats.  They also knew I didn’t have much interest in lectures and looking at slides of sailboats.  The plan was for me to have a visit with the cousin’s wife.

I went along with this plan, but I wasn’t thrilled about it.  As we drove to the cousin’s house, I was grouchy.  My feet were swollen and my back hurt.  But when I got to the house and was ushered into the living room, all my grouchiness vanished!  A big group of the people I loved were gathered around a pile of baby gifts! “Surprise!” they yelled.  It was a wonderful surprise.

We enjoy pleasant surprises like baby showers and birthday parties.  But not all surprises are good ones.  Maybe you’ve experienced some unpleasant surprises.  The flight that was cancelled and left you stranded at the airport.  The hospital bill you got in the mail, charging you for something mysteriously called a “facilities fee.”

Not all surprises are happy ones.  So it’s understandable that we’re often on our guard about surprises.  It’s understandable that we want to protect ourselves from those unpleasant surprises.  But in our relationship with God, that desire to protect ourselves from surprises can be a problem.  If we’re too guarded from surprises in our relationship with God, it can be a problem.  Because God likes surprises.  If we want to grow in our relationship with God, it’s good to be ready for surprise.

It seems to me that we live in a world that doesn’t encourage being ready for surprise.  Because when you’re ready for surprise, you admit that you don’t know what to expect.  You don’t have things all figured out.  When you’re ready for surprise, you’re vulnerable.  And our world doesn’t encourage us to be vulnerable.  Our world might even call us foolish for being vulnerable.  Our world encourages us to protect ourselves, to know what to expect, to have things all figured out.

But if you and I want to grow in our relationship with God, we have to be ready for surprise.  When we’re ready for surprise, we’re open to the new thing God might be doing in our lives.  When we’re ready for surprise, we can let down our guard.  When we’re ready for surprise, we can trust that whatever happens God will be with us.  We can trust that God will give us what we need.

When the Holy Spirit came rushing in on Pentecost, the disciples were surprised.  But the surprise didn’t stop them cold.  It propelled them into action.  As the Spirit gave them ability, they began to preach the good news of God’s love in Jesus.  They felt the Spirit’s power, and they were ready to reach out to the world with the words of salvation: words that everyone could understand.

That may be because of something Jesus told them just before he ascended into heaven.  Just before he was lifted up on high to be with God, he told them that power from on high would come upon them.  He told them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

That first Pentecost, as the wind of the Spirit whooshed around them, the disciples must have remembered Jesus’ words.  As they began to speak in different languages, they may well have said to one another, “Oh, this is what Jesus was talking about!”

Remembering what Jesus said, the disciples were ready for surprise.  Empowered by the Spirit, they went on to create the movement that grew in the hearts of men and women until it overcame barriers of language and geography and nationality.  As people who want to continue to spread God’s love as they did, can you and I, like them, be ready for surprise?  Can we be ready to grow in our relationship with God? Can we be open to the new thing God might be doing in lives?  With God’s help, can we trust that, whatever happens, God will be with us?  Can we trust that God will give us what we need?

We don’t have to have things all figured out.  We don’t have to be sure about everything.  We only have to be sure of one thing:  that God loves us unconditionally, more than we could ever imagine, and that God will be with us no matter what.

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost Sunday





“Go Your Way in Peace”   – Arr. Jim Scott
Maria Ferrante, Soprano

Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist