Sunday, May 19, 2013

Son Burn (Acts 2:1-21)

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered.  They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages.  They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them?  How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language?  Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!”  They were all surprised and bewildered.  Some asked each other, “What does this mean?”  Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles.  He raised his voiced and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem!  Know this!  Listen carefully to my words!  These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning!  Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your young will see visions.  Your elders will dream dreams.  Even upon my servants, men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.  I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.  The sun will changed into darkness, and the moon will be changed into blood, before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Today is Pentecost Sunday – a great Christian festival with Jewish roots that occurs exactly 50 days after Easter Sunday.  The day marks the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the first followers of Jesus, as we have just read in our scripture passage from Acts 2.

Today’s sermon is interactive.  You all have received Holy Spirit ribbons this morning when you arrived, and when you wave it, if you use a little imagination, it might look like a tongue of fire in your hand – a representation of the Holy Spirit, And so, every time during the sermon when I say, “Let every Christian pray,” you wave your Holy Spirit ribbon and respond, “Come, Holy Spirit.”  Let’s practice.  May we pray.

Many Christians mark today as the birthday of the Church.  I know of many churches who are having birthday parties today, complete with cake and ice cream, balloons and streamers, party hats and noise-makers, to say, “Happy Birthday, Church!”

Our celebration today highlights a different facet of the story.  Namely, when the first followers of Jesus received the Holy Spirit, they had a fire lit within them, and the mighty, rushing wind of the Holy Spirit blew them out into the world outside to declare the good news of God’s grace for all people.  And so, we have gathered on the lawn today, a sign of being blown out of our own comfort zone as the first disciples were so long ago, a reminder that we are to take the message of God’s love for the world in Christ outside of ourselves, and share it freely with the world around us.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

The book of Acts recounts the Church’s beginnings, a time when the Holy Spirit could be sensed upon every member of the church.  It was a time when the Gospel was proclaimed boldly and clearly, when believers were said to be of one heart and mind and shared everything they had with each other.  Read to the end of chapter 2, and you’ll see that on the first Pentecost, because of the Holy Spirit, the church grew in one day from 120 to 3000.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Like any golden age, it didn’t last for long.  Just a few chapters after the Holy Spirit is poured out, you’ll find those early followers of Jesus bickering, gossiping, fighting, and acting like – well, ordinary people – people who probably sincerely desire to follow Jesus, but for whom the cares and ways of the world too easily crowd out the influence of the Holy Spirit.

But, just because the Holy Spirit-filled church was short-lived, doesn’t mean it was unimportant.  The description of the church on that first Pentecost stands as a beacon of what can be, and foretaste of the heavenly kingdom, and if it happened once, it can surely happen again.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Part of the reason we celebrate Pentecost is simply to remind us about our own story – that we as the church, as the followers of Jesus, as the body of Christ on earth – are at our God-given best when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Let me say that again: we, as the church, as the followers of Jesus, as the body of Christ on earth – are at our God-given best when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost is an opportunity to reset our spiritual compass to true north, to invite the fire and wind of the Holy Spirit to burn off and blow away everything that keeps our lives from reflecting the glory of God.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

How can we know if we are filled with the Holy Spirit?  Galatians 5 gives us a glimpse with The Fruit of the Spirit.  Just as you know an apple tree by the fruit on its limbs, people know Christians when they see the fruit of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Another way that I think of the fruit of the Spirit is that they are like a sunburn.  Stay with me for a minute.  So, when I was a junior in college, I shared a house with five other guys, four of whom were already starting to lose their hair.  I wasn’t one of them, and so of course I poked fun at my balding friends.  But, you know how they say, “You reap what you sow?”  True story!  One spring afternoon I went out to play golf – covered, like always, in sunscreen on my face and neck and arms, and when I came home that evening and ran my hands across the top of my head – ouch!  It was a little tender up there.  It turns out some of my natural cover had gone missing, and I now had a sore, red, badge of honor on the top of my head that let everyone know I had spent some time in the sun.

Likewise, the fruit of the Spirit – love  joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – these indicate that we have spent some time in THE Son – the S-O-N Son of God, and that our hearts have been filled with the Holy Spirit.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Last Sunday was Ascension Sunday, in which we stood among the disciples as they watched Jesus ascend into heaven.  He promised us the gift of the Holy Spirit, but told the disciples to do something in preparation.  He told them to watch, and to wait, and to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  There were a full ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost, during which time the disciples devoted themselves fully to watching, waiting, and praying for the Holy Spirit.

What would happen if we did the same thing?  If we had the same dedication, the same devotion, the same desire for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on us?  In no way do I want to suggest that we somehow can turn on and off the Holy Spirit like a light switch, but at the same time, we can certainly let God know there’s room in here.  The Spirit is always on the lookout for open containers – hearts that are willing to be blown open, and lives that are willing to burn with holy fire, all for the glory of God.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

On Pentecost, we are reminded that we are at our God-given best when we’re filled with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is fuel for the fire and wind beneath the wings of anyone, anywhere, who is doing the work of God in the world.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

The Holy Spirit is still on the move – in every place where mighty winds blow open locked doors, and where the barriers to God’s unconditional grace are being burned to the ground.  The Holy Spirit is still on the move, bringing God’s good news to all people.  The Holy Spirit is still on the move, and we get the privilege to tag along.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Tom Long tells the story of teaching 3 10-year-old girls in a small church he served the basics of the Christian faith.  He got to the story of Pentecost, and asked, “Do you know what Pentecost is?”  They didn’t.  So he said, “Well, Pentecost is when the church was all gathered in one place, and the Holy Spirit came down as tongues of fire from heaven and landed on their heads and they spoke the gospel in all the languages of the world!”

Two of the girls took that rather calmly, but the other’s eyes turned as big as saucers.  When she could finally speak, she said, “Reverend Long, I must have been absent that Sunday."

He said, “The beautiful thing is not that she misunderstood.  The beautiful thing is that she thought it could have happened in our church, that God’s Spirit could have come even to our little congregation and given us a word to speak that [our neighbors] desperately needed to hear.”

The beautiful thing about Pentecost is not that it only happened once, long ago, in a land far, far away.  It is still happening, in exciting, and – yes – unpredictable ways – in hearts that are open to the Holy Spirit.  On Pentecost, we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the church.  We are tinged with holy fire and blown out into the world with God’s good news.  “Let every Christian pray” – “Come, Holy Spirit!”

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