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 their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our 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 people 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 heavens 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.’”
Let’s Get Fired Up!
May 27, 2012
Do you like ghost stories? As a kid growing up, I was scared to death of ghosts. Maybe I watched too many episodes of “Scooby Doo,” but I wanted nothing to do with them. I didn’t like the little kids wearing white sheets on Halloween and I never read any of the “Goosebumps” books. I liked the movie “Ghostbusters,” but only because all the ghosts, including the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, were taken care of in the end.
I vividly remember my first visit to Disney World and my ride through the Haunted Mansion. Not the best place for a kid scared of ghosts, right? For those who haven’t been, Haunted Mansion is a very authentic looking and sounding haunted house, complete with holographic ghosts that dance and sing and really aren’t that scary, unless you are me. At the end of the ride, a hologram ghost is projected right into your car, so that it looks like the spirit is sitting right beside you. It took three trips through “It’s A Small World” just to calm me down.
So in the general sense, ghosts can be a scary thing. Yet each Sunday we sing about one, don’t we? “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost” or “Creator, Christ and Holy Ghost.” What do we make of this? I sometimes think we Disciples are as scared of the Holy Spirit as I was of the Haunted Mansion. If I were to say, “Let’s talk about God,” most people would smile. “God is so good.” “God is my rock, my Creator.” People can find comfort and strength in their concepts of God. If I were to say, “Let’s talk about Jesus,” people would jump right in. “Jesus died on the cross.” “Jesus worked miracles.” We can put our arms around the concept of Jesus.
But I were to say, “Let’s talk about the Holy Spirit,” how would you react? Where do you start? We know God (as best we can), we know Jesus, but that Holy Spirit…we just don’t know about the Spirit, and that unknowing scares us. What is it? Is this is the ghost of Jesus still roaming the earth? Is it some sort of poltergeist that possesses people’s bodies and makes them do strange things like throw up their hands in worship and put drum kits in their sanctuaries? What is this thing called the Holy Spirit and what in the world are we supposed to do with it?
Today’s story isn’t much help, is it? For most of us, our primary biblical reference for the Holy Spirit is the story of Pentecost, when tongues of fire descend on the disciples and they start speaking in foreign languages. It’s a powerful story, almost other-worldly, and very intimidating when it comes to the Holy Spirit. When can embrace God, we can embrace Jesus, but how do you embrace a tongue of fire?
God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. Those three entities make up what we call the Trinity. Our denomination has always professed belief in the Holy Trinity, yet we tend to emphasize some parts more than others. For many Disciples, worship is usually dominated by God-language, a large cross is the focal point of our sanctuary and our worship always includes communion. So our church, and the majority of the churches in our denomination, tends to be Christ-centered, or Christocentric, and focus on the work of God. This doesn’t mean we discount the role of the Spirit, but it tends to be the Cinderella of the Trinity: God and Jesus go to the ball, but the Spirit gets left behind. And then there are those other churches that are Spirit-centered. These churches usually have a charismatic style of worship, which can include different styles of music, more emotional expression by the congregation, and Spirit-filled manifestations like dancing, running, or speaking in tongues. And to be honest, we just don’t know what to do with those kinds of churches, just like the bystanders didn’t know what to do with the Spirit-filled disciples on Pentecost.
That’s one of the things that make the Holy Spirit so mysterious; it’s unpredictable, it’s risky, it defies definition. It can create, it can inspire, it can change lives in an instant or gradually over time. But try giving a systematic explanation of the Spirit. It’s, like.. .uh.. .well.. .uh… One of my favorite Christian bands, the Newsboys, describes it this way: “It’s not a family trait, it’s not something I ate, and it didn’t come from skating with holy rollers. It’s an early warning sign, it keeps my life in line, but it’s so hard to define, never mind, it’s just a spirit thing.” That’s a good Disciples of Christ definition. It’ s a spirit thing.
Despite the second-class status that we sometimes give the Holy Spirit, we do believe that the Spirit is God. To pray in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, which we do when we baptize someone, is to equate the Spirit with God and Jesus. Here’s the very simplistic way I explain this to the Pastor’s Class youth. The basic compound that makes up water is H2O, two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. That compound can take three different forms: solid=ice, liquid=water, and gas=steam. Although it can take three different forms, it is still the same substance, it is still H2O, whether it’s ice or water or steam.
That’s how I view the Trinity. All three members are made up of the same divine substance, but they take different forms: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. For me, the Spirit stresses the ongoing nearness of God to us, sitting right beside us, as in Ps. 139: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” Regardless of how we view God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in our lives, all three are fully divine, and the Spirit helps us follow Jesus and do God’s work here on earth.
Despite our hesitance in embracing the Holy Spirit, we do acknowledge, based on scripture, that Spirit is generous. Paul talks about how every believer possesses a spiritual gift given to us by the Holy Spirit. Some of these gifts include prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, showing mercy, wisdom, miraculous powers, healing, and speaking in tongues. So every one of us in here possesses at least one of those gifts, and as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” In other words, you have been given a gift by the Spirit for the purpose of using it to serve others.
At my last church, I saw a great example of the Spirit in action through one of our members. In our early service, which had about 30 people in it, we had an emotional worship service where we said goodbye to a longtime member who was moving and welcomed into membership two of our visitors. As we finished our closing benediction and began to break away, Fred, one of our oldest members, spontaneously began singing the Doxology: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” We all had goosebumps as we joined in with him and sang these words of praise to God. Afterward, I thanked Fred for doing that and he said, “I don’t know where that came from.” I did. Gratitude is a gift. Fred’s response was a Spirit thing.
The promise Peter shared in his Pentecost sermon is as valid for our congregation as it was for his listeners: “God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” On all people. That’s me AND you. But what does that mean? Peter gives us one clue when he says in his sermon, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams.” That means when the Holy Spirit is in the church, when people are using the gifts they’ve been given, nobody’s happy with standing still. Nobody wants to simply maintain the status quo or only make sure we can pay the bills and buy the communion supplies. “Your young folks will see visions, your seasoned veterans will dream dreams!” Everyone in this congregation, from the youngest to the oldest, has a role to play in the future of this church. Everyone. It’s the responsibility of all of us to dream our dreams of what this church can be, and then share those dreams with each other. The Spirit has been poured out on us for just that purpose. That can be scary, to allow ourselves to dream God-sized dreams, to consider letting go of the controls and letting the Holy Spirit drive. But that’s the power we have been given by God, if we are courageous enough to use it.
The story of Pentecost reminds us that 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, giving us gifts to use for God’s glory. If we each strive to do this individually, then collectively our gifts are multiplied exponentially. We become so much greater than the sum of our parts. You have a gift. Young men and women, what visions do you have of Crestwood’s future? Old men and women, what dreams do you have for this church? I’ll let you decide to which group you belong. 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. In the near future we’ll have the chance as a congregation to tap into the Spirit’s leading and envision God’s future for us. But why wait? Let’ s start right now. Picture it. Dream it. Vision it. Get fired up about what God is calling us to do and to be through God’s Spirit.
As we move into the future together, it will serve us well to remember that the Holy Spirit is with us, guiding us, leading us, igniting us, not like a hologram on a Disney ride, but as a real spiritual presence in our lives. As we stay open to Spirit in our lives, not only will our lives be changed, but the lives of everyone who comes into this thriving congregation. 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.” The only thing to be afraid of is missing the opportunity to open ourselves up to God’s spirit. Let’s get fired up! Come, Holy Spirit, come.