Today, we celebrate the birth of the Larger church which we are a part of through the coming of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the celebration of the time 50 days from the Passover celebration. It is interesting to note that Moses received the law on Mt Sinai 50 days after the Passover. Up to this point in our Christian History, the law gave the people a way to live in relationship with God and with each other. But on Pentecost, God gave the people a new way to live. Now we live in relationship with God and each other through the power, the guidance, the creative energy of the Holy Spirit.
The children just shared with us their ideas about the Holy spirit and now I have a few questions for you…
When I say Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost, what do you immediately think of?
When I say that our gathering today was full of the Spirit, what does that mean to you?
How many times in your life have you heard a sermon on the Holy spirit? Would you say OFTEN, a couple of times per year or once a year at Pentecost?
In my faith journey, I have been blessed to be a part of many different denominations of Christianity each with their unique ideas about the role of the Holy Spirit. A little disclaimer here…I am giving you my own personal experience of 1 particular church in each denomination. I am not in any way trying to say this is what they believe only to share my personal experience.
When I was super young, we belonged to the Methodist church and my parents tell the story that at this particular church people began desiring a different expression in worship. People started lifting their hands during the songs. Small groups of people started meeting and gifts of speaking in tongues were given. All of this happened much to the dismay of the pastor because of his responsibilities to uphold the UMC way. So what happened, the church split with most people headed over to the nondenominational church and eventually the pastor was moved to another location. My parents speak of this time as the church that could have been but was held back because of the rules of people in power.
In the non denominational church, I experienced the power of the Holy spirit through courageous preaching and people being slain in the spirit. I went up for prayer one Sunday and the pastor laid hands on me and the next thing I knew I was on the floor. Some churches like the Methodist church that we belonged to feared the worship expressions of raising hands and speaking in tongues but in our non denominational church, I experienced quite the opposite. If you did not raise your hands, I felt the eyes of the leaders turn towards me and you could see the wheels turning thinking why I was resisting the spirit.
In my episcopal school, I do not remember any religion classes that talked about the Holy Spirit, but communion was open to all students every week and I remember thinking that the spirit of inclusion was present like I had never experienced before. In my Catholic school, I remember beautiful words about the holy spirit coming to Mary and Mary conceiving Jesus. (slide 10) At Baylor, a strongly Baptist school, I think the talk about the Holy Spirit focused more on the courage to go and tell others about Jesus. I called them Bible beaters because I felt that they were so courageous that they were aggressively using the bible as a weapon over the students who appeared not to believe.
Brian McLaren says this in talking about our many differences regarding the Holy Spirit within our denominations. He says, “Through the years, I have found that the Spirit doesn’t respect labels much, nor for that matter does the Spirit work on my timetables, produce miracles on demand, guide me to a blissfully happy and trouble-free life, or exempt me from the mistakes by which all humans seem to learn most of what they know. But the Spirit of God is real, active, powerful, present and wonderful.”
(movie clip…you tube) Here’s a clip of what I think it means to live life with the spirit….Finding Nemo “Exit Buddy” 1 min. To me, this is what happens when we are gathered and the power of the Holy Spirit comes. We are getting our buddies together to go on a mission that is terrifying, but essential. We hear directions of what it is like from the disciples who first experienced it but it is like they are speaking a different language. We are then pushed into the swirling vortex of terror only to find ourselves laughing and exhilarated!
Our scripture for today begins in Acts Chapter 1, where we have the promise of the Holy Spirit given.
After his suffering, he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
And now the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts Chapter 2:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and Astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?”
My first question of this text is, “What did the disciples expect when Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is coming?”
First, we have to look at the word “spirit.” In the old testament, we can see this word translated as breath or wind. Then, we see various writers describe the spirit of God as fire or a mighty wind or giant cloud.
Ronald J Allen in his book Preaching Luke-Acts offers a look at the ways that the Spirit operated in Judaism:
The Holy Spirit Creates
He says that we can find the spirit in the very act of creation in genesis 1 and 2
Let’s remember Genesis 1:1-2 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Genesis 2: 7 Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
The Holy Spirit Sustains
Then the spirit not only creates but sustains the creation like Job and the Psalms tell us.
Job 34:14 If he should take back his spirit to himself, and gather to himself his breath, all flesh would perish together and all mortals return to dust.
Psalm 104:30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
The Holy Spirit gives new life
to the people of God who have lost their way like the passages in Ezekiel that I Love Most: Dry Bones…Come Alive! Breathe oh breath of God and cause dry bones to not only live but rise up as powerful and full of energy as an Army!
2 passages from Ezekiel speak of ReCreation.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you and make you follow my statues and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live….
Ezekiel 37:3-5 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bone live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the world of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”
The Holy Spirit fills people for special tasks
Next the spirit is seen filling certain people for special tasks like the 70 elders in the time of Moses and like our Prophet Ezekiel.
Numb 11:24-25 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered 70 elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the 70 elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied.
Ezekiel 2:2—3a, 6a
And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. He said to me, “Mortal, I am sending you to the House of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; And you, o mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words.”
The Activity of the Spirit is a sign of the Age to Come
Lastly is that the people of God during the time of Jesus saw the spirit as a sign of the age to come like in Joel and then beginning to manifest in Jesus’ baptism
Joel 2:28-29 Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
What I see from a survey of scripture is that the spirit is always with us but in times like our scripture for today, we see the spirit in full glory.
Our passage today is about how the Spirit came to empower a group of people to spread the message that a new age of living in relationship with God has come!
In my experience, the power of the Holy Spirit is either a frightening thing or an awesome thing and sometimes both. It is frightening in that we have no control of the holy spirit. We don’t know what the Holy Spirit will ask us to do or say. I did a small survey asking people the time they felt the spirit closest to them and guess what the answer is….in our most desperate situations
Our desperate situations, the spirit is there calling us to face our fears the edge of our fear and dare us to step across to see what might happen. And when the spirit happens not only you but all the witnesses of the power of the spirit will be in awe. And isn’t that the point. Our scripture says that the people who witnessed Pentecost were bewildered and in awe of all that happened……Tower of Babel and Pentecost compared.
WE long to do things that we know we can’t do on our own so that people will be in awe of the power of the spirit within us and give glory to God. The great lesson from Pentecost is that when we wait and pray and hear the spirit call…then we are able to walk through our fear with the power of the Holy Spirit.
And we at Kingwood Christian Church have a similar story….
I was reading a document titled “Kingwood Christian Church: The Beginning” written by Joyce Cupel. In this document she writes about the birth of Kingwood Christian Church. She says that she was asked to be a part of starting a church and she thought, “Are you kidding—me start a church?” She replied that she would pray about it. She goes on to write that at every step, she prayed for guidance of who to call to help with this new church start or who to invite and even where to meet. And then she waited and every time the Spirit brought exactly who or what was needed. She says, “I felt the whole process astounding—God really was blessing this fledgling church. I was amazed considering I had seen such a reluctant “starter.” One thing I did notice, though, when I told people how the church was growing almost by itself, they caught the enthusiasm!” Al Bilderback shared with me that he did not even consider that this would be a church one day but that he just enjoyed meeting with the people and praying about each step along the way. What I see from this recounting of our story is that we believe that the spirit moves through prayer and takes even “reluctant starters” and empowers them to do something that they never thought would happen!
And that call from the spirit goes out to us again today through the words of Poet and Playwright, Christopher Logue.
Come to the edge, he said. We can’t we are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. We can’t. We are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. They came. He pushed them and they flew!