This Week’s Sermon – The Church Is on Fire

Hi everyone! This past Sunday was not only Mother’s Day, but it was also Pentecost, the day which marks the birthday of the church. We looked at the story of Pentecost and how it relates to our lives today as believers. Have a great week!

SCRIPTURE – Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by 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 men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'”

SERMON
The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21
May 11, 2008

Did you know that today is the third most celebrated day in the Christian year? And yet, what do you say today? Merry Pentecost! At Easter we say, “He is risen!” so today should we say, “Your hair is on fire!”? I’m guessing you didn’t put up your Pentecost tree and your kids didn’t go to sleep last night anticipating a visit from the Pentecost bunny.

And yet, Pentecost is a defining day in the history of the church. I think the reason we don’t give it more prominence is that its central actor is the Holy Spirit, and that scares us a little. You know, it’s only two letters from “Pentecost” to “Pentecostal.”

I remember one of my first church experiences growing up was being invited to a local independent church by a friend of mine. The church had a reputation for being “weird,” but I was curious, and also didn’t want my friend to think I was a yella-belly, so I went. The church was more like a big auditorium than a sanctuary, the music was very un-church-like, and everyone sang and clapped. But what was really interesting to me was how the people acted. They danced and threw their hands in the air like they were doing the Holy Hokey Pokey. I remember one guy two rows in front of me had a massive comb-over, and he got so into the music that he started bouncing up and down and his comb-over started bouncing right along with him. At one point it flopped completely over and stuck out like he was signaling a left turn, but he kept on singing. Now that was weird!

But then things moved from weird to scary for me. People started talking and shouting, but it was no language I had ever heard of. It’s like they were possessed. Then a lady next to Floppy Comb-over Guy fell on the floor and started writhing around like she was having a seizure. I was terrified. A few men sat next to her and held her arms down until she slowed down and finally stopped. As we left the church, I asked my friend’s father what was wrong with that woman. And I’ll never forget what he said. “Aw, nothing’s wrong with her. She was just filled with the Spirit. Don’t worry, Kory. If you’re a believer, it will happen to you, too.”

I didn’t go back to church for a long time. And I still shudder at that memory every time I read today’s passage about Pentecost. Because of my church experience, for a long time I thought the Holy Spirit was something frightening that did strange things to people’s comb-overs and gave people seizures, and I didn’t want anything to do with it, until I got a better understanding of what the day of Pentecost was all about.

Pentecost was a festival 50 days after Passover during which the Jews celebrated the gift of the first five books of the Bible and the reaping of the spring harvest. Jews from around the region were gathered in Jerusalem for the festival, and many of them would have witnessed what happened to the disciples: the tornadic wind, the tongues of flame, the speaking in different languages. Even Peter, who had denied Jesus three times, took to the pulpit and delivered a speech so powerful that 3000 people were baptized.

I think it’s interesting that the Spirit appeared as fire. Fire was a common metaphor for God in the Hebrew Scriptures, but when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we tend to think more of wind, like when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” But at Pentecost, the Spirit appears as another uncontrollable natural element. And what this tells us is that a person filled with the Spirit is a person who is on fire, who burns to serve God, who is able to bring light and warmth to a cold, dark world. A church filled with people on fire for God is the kind that attracts people to it. When a church is on fire with God’s Spirit, people want to see where the smoke is coming from.

In other words, a believer is a person who is under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The observers at Pentecost thought the disciples were under the influence in a different way, but Peter clears that up by saying that these guys weren’t drunk on wine. They were under the influence of the Spirit. If you are a believer, the Spirit that is in you should influence what you say and do in your life.
Peter goes on to explain to the crowd how they will know the Spirit is at work within them. He says, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.” You know what it means to prophesy? It means to tell someone what God will do. When Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied, they told the Israelites what God was going to do if they didn’t shape up. But prophesying isn’t only about proclaiming God’s judgment. Prophesying can also mean to share the good news of God’s work in our lives. I like the fact that Peter doesn’t say, “And your pastor, in his flowing robe and colorful stole, while standing behind a wooden pulpit, will prophesy.” It’s not only my job to preach. It’s yours, too.

The famous theologian Martin Luther once said, “Everyone, by virtue of baptism, is called to preach. All baptized Christians are expected to speak the Gospel to their neighbors, to testify to the mighty works of God, to tell people about Jesus. The thing is, on Sunday morning, we can’t all possibly speak at the same time and be understood, so some of the baptized are designated to be preachers. They are the ones who speak on Sunday morning so that the rest of us may speak about Jesus Monday through Saturday morning. The preacher preaches, so that the congregation may preach.”

The challenge you face is to take God’s word tomorrow into your homes, your neighborhoods, your businesses, your schools and share it with others. Not in an in-your-face, confrontational way. That won’t do anything but scare people off. The best way to share the power of Christ in your life with others is to tell them your story. Tell them what God has done for you. Tell them what the church has done for you. Invite them to come and see what God can do for them. You have the power to changes lives with your story. Share it with others. Tell them about God’s work in your life. The Spirit has been poured out on you, and it’s pretty hard to stay quiet when you’re on fire.

How has being a believer changed your life? I can think of dozens of situations where being a part of this church has had a tremendous impact on someone’s life. I’ve seen it happen on mission trips, through our Stephen Ministry and Crisis Committee work, through the web of prayers that extend from this place. Lives are being changed as Christ works through us. People are smelling the smoke. Our challenge is not to stay quiet but to stay open to the Spirit’s working as it calls us in new and exciting directions.

God has not called us in this way without giving us the necessary equipment. The Bible makes the point repeatedly that the Spirit is very generous, because it’s given each of us a gift. I know, not only because the Bible tells me so, but also because I’ve seen it in each of you. Paul names several of these gifts: speaking in tongues, prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, and showing mercy. These are not personality traits or idiosyncrasies; these are gifts of the Holy Spirit. When you serve someone, when you teach someone, when you encourage them or show them compassion, you are letting God’s Spirit work through you to touch the other person. You have that gift. And if you pass up a chance to teach, or to encourage, or to lead, how are you using the Spirit’s gift in you?

A poet once wrote, “Sure as the sound of leaves rustling lets you know the wind is there, like the smell of smoke lets you know there’s fire, an ever-expanding circle of believers lets you know the Spirit is there.” We’ve been blessed to add 17 people to our church family in the last couple months. That’s the Spirit at work through us. Our openness to the Holy Spirit’s movement in our church will create an ever-expanding circle of believers, a community of faith, in which we can welcome people with love, in which we can equip people with a faith that works in real life, and in which we can share God’s love for us through compassionate service to others.

Like the disciples at Pentecost, we are at a crossroads. As we implement a new constitution, as we move in new directions with our staff, the future is unknown. But we have the Holy Spirit, in us and around us, working with us and through us, calling us forward to do great things in the name of Christ. We each have God’s Spirit in us, helping us know right from wrong, helping us live out our faith. If we each strive to do this individually, then collectively our gifts are multiplied exponentially. You have a gift. I dare you to dream about what we can do in God’s name if we all share our gifts together. How many people can we help? How many people can we serve? How many lives can we change? Go ahead. Imagine. Think for a few seconds about what this church will look like if we stay open to God’s Spirit. Picture it. Dream it. Vision it.

Wait…do you smell something burning? It’s us. It’s us.

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