Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Spirit Made Me Do It (Acts 2:1-21) Pentecost Sunday

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, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 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.
18     Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.



Today is Pentecost Sunday, sort of the third leg in the Church’s triple crown of major festivals, Christmas and Easter being the other two.  Christmas and Easter seem to get all the attention, while Pentecost gets forgotten in the shuffle, but on Pentecost Sunday we focus on biblical stories in which God's Spirit—God’s presence with us—encounters ordinary humans and wonderful and unexpected things begin to happen.


Pentecost is, in a sense, the birthday of the church, which is why after worship today we will have a birthday party for the Church, complete with cake and whatever delicious food you all have brought, and you’re all invited to stay.  Even if you didn’t bring anything, don’t worry about it, there is plenty there for all!


In the familiar Pentecost story we’ve just read from Acts 2, the symbols of wind and fire represent God's presence given in powerful and dramatic ways to the disciples of Jesus, who experience the Spirit as mighty and powerful, moving them to do for God things that are far beyond what they could do themselves.


Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit, is the beginning of the mending, healing, getting over and moving past every division that exists between people.  The Holy Spirit blows through, and a timid, frightened, and discouraged group of Jesus' followers become forceful, confident, and unified advocates for their experience of the risen Christ.


Pentecost is a day to celebrate not only the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the first followers of Jesus, it’s a day to welcome the Holy Spirit upon ourselves, to believe that’s God’s Spirit could even be poured out in this place, upon people like us.


In many ways, Pentecost feels like the pep rallies we used to have in high school, as the cheerleaders would shout out, “We’ve got spirit, yes, we do, we’ve got spirit, how about you?”


But then, as we wave our little flames around we realize the only flames in here are dancing politely upon the table, and the only wind we’ve felt was cranking out of the air conditioning vent, and we wonder if there should be a more powerful experience of the Spirit among us.


A friend of mine, also a Methodist pastor, jokes that when the Holy Spirit shows up at the Methodist Church, he knows to mind his manners.  Take a look at our cross-and-flame logo, the symbol of the United Methodist Church recognized the world over.  You see that squiggly red thing on the side of the cross?  That’s supposed to be a flame, representing the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Look at that flame – a controlled burn, if ever there was one, more like a flicker on top of a BIC lighter than the holy, chaotic wildfire described in Acts 2.


We prefer that little flicker because it gives us the illusion that we are in control.  Tongues of fire?  Mighty rushing wind?  That scares the hell out of us – better to have a little candle flame and watch it flicker when we blow, a Holy Spirit we can control, turning on or off at a whim.  But the Spirit will not be controlled.  It blows and burns wherever it will.


I may like my life just the way it is, and inviting the Holy Spirit into our lives opens us to the possibility that God might transform us with his love and grace!  Open up to the Holy Spirit, why, God might CHANGE me!  I don’t want God to CHANGE me!  What a dirty word!  And so people remain spiritual infants, not growing in God’s love, not maturing in faith, not becoming the people God created us to be.  It’s amazing how many people will give lip service to God, but not offer their lives for God to actually do what God does best – namely, transform and warm our hearts with his love.


One Pentecost Sunday, after worship, the meanest, most judgmental, critical, hateful, negative person in the congregation marched up to me and proudly announced, “I don’t believe in that Holy Spirit business,” and I was thinking, “Lady, that’s not a secret – everybody knows!”


Perhaps I should have quoted to her this pearl of wisdom from Charles Spurgeon: “A Christian without the Spirit is rather a curse than a blessing.  If you have not the Spirit of God, remember that you stand in somebody else’s way.  You are a fruitless tree, standing where a fruitful tree might grow.”


She wasn’t open to the Holy Spirit, and she was done growing spiritually, and despite the fact that she was 84 years old and had been a church member for 72 years, her life produced no fruit.  She had cut herself off from the Holy Spirit, the source that could refresh and renew her life, and without it, she dried into a hard, bitter prune of a soul.


I want better than that for myself.  I want better than that for you.  May we be open to the Holy Spirit.


Just know that opening up to the Holy Spirit is inviting some major renovation in your life.  The Holy Spirit can be meddlesome, poking and prodding around in the dark parts of ourselves we try to keep hidden or manage ourselves.  Inviting the Holy Spirit into your life opens the possibility that God will ignite something within you you’d rather not have sparked, or blow into rooms you weren’t ready to open just yet.


The Holy Spirit will make a mess of your agenda, your preferences, your plans, your prejudices, and set your heart on fire with a burning zeal to share God’s love in every way possible with everyone you possibly can.  The Holy Spirit will blow you right out of your comfort zone to share that love, equipping and empowering you to do so more boldly and with greater passion than you could ever muster on your own.


The most mature Christians are the ones who can readily admit that they haven’t yet arrived, that, thanks be to God, God isn’t finished working on them, yet.  We are all beautiful works in progress, because wherever we are on our spiritual journey, there is still more that God can do within us and through us.  And the Holy Spirit is the one who does that work – cleansing us, convicting us, changing us, consecrating us, to God’s purpose and for God’s glory.


Friends, none of us has arrived to a place where we no longer need the fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  The biggest mistake we can make is to believe that we’re done growing in faith, that we are a finished product.  God’s mercies are new every morning.  Every day is an opportunity for us to be changed from glory into glory.


That is daily, constant work.  Does anyone here have a clean house?  Does anyone here have a not-so-clean house?  For those with a clean house, did you clean it once and then it stayed clean, or did you have to clean it again to keep it clean?  It’s a constant process, isn’t it?  Ashley has a magnet on our fridge, a Joan Rivers quote, that says, “I hate housework.  You make the beds, you do the dishes – and six months later you have to start all over again!”


I wish you could clean the house once and it would magically stay clean forever, but we all know it doesn’t work that way.  It’s no different for our spirit, either.  We need constant cleaning, a fresh anointing, a willingness to press ahead because none of us is yet who God dreams we can be.


On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came as fire and as wind.  They say that the occasional forest fire is actually good for the health of the forest.  It clears away the undergrowth and leaves and dead growth that accumulate on the forest floor and suffocate new life from being able to spring up.  The occasional fire clears all that away, and the forest matures and grows healthier as a result.


If you are sick, your body will develop a fever – a little fire inside of you to burn off whatever is making you so sick.


So think of the Holy Spirit like a forest fire.  Think of the Holy Spirit like a divine fever.  Think of the Holy Spirit as a cleansing, refiner’s fire, burning away the dross so the image of God within us can be revealed and restored.


Right now, if each of us were to take stock of our lives, would we be able to identify things that need to be burned away?  Things that are keeping us from being spiritually healthy, things that are preventing God’s love from being seen and experienced through us?  An attitude?  A behavior?  A grudge?  An agenda?


Whatever that thing is, it’s keeping you from growing and maturing in your faith.  It’s keeping the love of God from taking root in your life, and growing you into the person God dreams you can be, so today I’m just asking you to let go of it, and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.


Would it be that the Holy Spirit came to us as a cleansing fire, burning up whatever needs to be cleared away.  This day, would it be that the Holy Spirit came to us as a mighty rushing wind, clearing out whatever of that rubbish remains, that God’s love and grace might find a home in our hearts.


So today, we wave our flame, and we say, “Come, Holy Spirit.”  Come as fire, and cleanse whatever doesn’t belong within us.  Ignite and warm our hearts with a steady, loving glow.  “Come, Holy Spirit.”  Come as wind, and fan the flame of your love within us.


Friends, God’s holy presence will not be contained.  It will not be controlled.  Fire is meant to burn. Wind is meant to blow.  When God’s Spirit comes to town, it will be loud.  It will be unruly.  It will be chaotic.  It will be filled with the warm winds of love.


When God’s Spirit comes blowing into town, he’ll be looking for hearts that are open to receive.  May our hearts be the Spirit’s home.  May the Spirit not pass us by.  God’s holy fuse is lit – his presence is among us, stirring through this very room – may we be carriers of his heart-warming flame.


“Come, Holy Spirit!”  Come claim us.  Cleanse us.  Convict us.  Convert Us.  Consecrate us. Change us with your heart-warming loving presence, so we can change the world, to the glory of God.

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