Today, we conclude our series on Citizen of Heaven, Resident of Earth. As Christians, our first allegiance is to God. We are subjects of the most high God and called to live according to the laws and commandments laid out in the Bible. However, you and I reside, for now here in this place on earth. Our task is help in ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven, here on Earth. The ways that we live in the mundane and in the spectacular matter deeply to that task of living as if heaven was already on earth.
Imagine the spectacular on that day! Imagine the day that disciples and apostles were gathered for the Jewish festival of Pentecost. Pentecost, in the Jewish tradition, celebrates the giving of the Torah, fifty days after the Exodus. Jews were gathered from around the known world as they did three times a year. The festival was familiar and expected. When all of the sudden, there was something very different that occurred. Of all those who were gathered, winds and fire were experiences, but from where? There were Jews from all over the world, but it was backwater fishermen from Galilee that were speaking in languages that they couldn’t have learned.
Tongues of fire rested on their heads and the wind rushed and filled the place. The Holy Spirit was making her presence known, and people were noticing. The Holy Spirit is described as flames of fires on the heads and in the hearts of those who gathered. The flames brought gifts and languages to each according to the Spirit. Those who did not yet know God or experience Jesus did through the apostles on the day of Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit is described as a mighty wind blowing change and filling the house. Wind is caused by air flowing from one atmospheric pressure to another. Wind is movement. Wind is change. With wind, there is no static and same. With wind, there is no always has been and always will be. The Holy Spirit is not about maintaining order, but rather sustaining life. In the Acts passage of the coming of the Holy Spirit, again and again, we hear about prophecy. When you and I hear prophecy, we tend to think future events predicted. While that is one possible understanding, the biblical description of a prophet is most often, a truth teller, particularly one who tells truth to power. This is the gifting of some, Peter shares as he explains the incredible.
The incredible, the spectacular that happened on the day of Pentecost like the special effects reel from an old movie, but better than that – It was GOD! The wind and the flames were a theophany – the very presence of God among the people in the Holy Spirit. Up and until this point in history, the Holy Spirit has not made a lot of public appearances. And certainly, we have even today been confused about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspires and confirms, comforts and convicts, recalls and counsels. We have often imagined in popular culture that the Holy Spirit is like the Jimney Cricket to our Pinocchio. If we lie or deviate, the Holy Spirit will come along and tsk! Tsk! Tsk! Us like a conscience. If we lose our way or feel down, the Holy Spirit will be bring out our best selves and comfort us. While this hints at some of the jobs of the Holy Spirit, that analogy shifts the purpose and domesticates the power of the Holy Spirit. We have missed that the Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is God! God, the Creator’s, purposes for us are made known to us through the Holy Spirit. God’s purposes for us are always good, always stretching us, always creating us into the person that God has called us to be. However, God is not merely hoping that one day we will get the idea to follow.
The Holy Spirit is tenacious like a mosquito bite that you just begin to notice. You casually touch and scratch. You try to avoid and not touch. You scratch a bit more until the itch is not able to be satisfied until you are actively scratching! The Holy Spirit work on us in this way, with an idea planted in our mind or heart. When you start to notice that idea around you in media and what people say. The idea works on you until you take it up and fully explore what it is that God is calling you to do. The Holy Spirit comes and stays – and continues to work us, mold us, move us, change us and rewrite the story with us dragging along, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, but ever moving.
As a United Methodist Church, we have been a people in need of the Holy Spirit this week. Every four years, our General Conference convenes for the purpose of making decisions for the whole body of the United Methodist Church. We are the only Protestant denomination that is truly worldwide, and the only worldwide denomination that involves both clergy and laity in making decisions for the church. Starting last Tuesday, 864 delegates from around the world gathered in Portland, Oregon for the purpose of discerning how is God calling us to be the church right now! We are discerning some of the greatest challenges of our time as we seek to live together, even in the midst of incredible difference.
Like the early church gathered on the day of Pentecost, General Conference is comprised of many languages, traditions, and expectations. We are united in following one God, who continues to move among us as Holy Spirit, and walked among us as Jesus Christ. And yet churches have often been the most challenging places to feel the winds of the Holy Spirit blow through. I invite you to continue to keep our General Conference in your prayers. They will continue meeting through May 20th and seeking God’s way for our denomination in midst of differences. Traditionally, the United Methodist Church has paralleled our American political experience. In the midst of such a contentious political season, the church and church people have an opportunity to model unity in distinctions. The fledgling American democracy and newly minted Methodist-Episcopal Church grew beside one another. They could not help but influence and reflect each other’s institutions. However, this does not mean that you and I are restricted to political wisdom.
As people who have known Pentecost, we are no longer surprised when the Holy Spirit moves among us and changes us. The church that used to prohibit women from speaking in church, celebrates many female bishops, and a conference in our bishop, Peggy Johnson, our district superintendent, Dawn Taylor-Storm, and head of lay ministries, Judy Ehninger are women. The church that used to force Africa American churches to have their own separate administrative structure, celebrates the 50th anniversary of full integration of the Old Delaware Conference. We have known as a church the movement of the Holy Spirit convicting and blowing us towards God’s ways.
Have you known the power and movement of the Holy Spirit in your own life? Certainly the Holy Spirit is our comforter and our guide. But we are not always in the season of needing comfort or gentle guidance. In a time of such division, in a time of such angst, we turn to God who is already moving among. Our God who is calling us to change and to grow, to live as the redeemed and the rescued in the world, so that others might also know God and follow in God’s way, not the pain-filled and broken ways of the world. When we listen to the pains in our hearts from the world around us, we know the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives. We know that the wind moves at a window, because of the curtains that flutter. We know that the Holy Spirit moves in our lives, because our minds have ideas that a bit uncomfortable, our stomachs hold some flutters, our hearts fill to the brim and almost burst.
My friends, on this Pentecost morning, we hear the detractors as they were on the first Pentecost, are these babbling apostles drunk?
Have they lost their minds?
Like Peter, we respond to with fear and trembling to imagine that we are not drunk, but rather Spirit-led, and Spirit-seeking, as we take on the real possibility that God’s way with us involved inspiring us to change our ideas and our actions, our beliefs and our traditions so that they are more in the line with who God is and how we help usher in the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.
This is the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
New Testament Lesson: Acts 2:1-21, 37-47
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? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, May 15 ~ Saturday, May 21
Sunday: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” Acts 2:1. God appears among God’s people. Where are you gathering with others for the purpose of expecting God to show up?
Monday: “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.” Acts 2:2-3. God often comes in sudden ways. Where has God shown up in your life?
Tuesday: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Acts 2:4. God gifts each of us. What gifts has God given you to share?
Wednesday: “In the last days it will be, God declares that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” Acts 2:17. God is speaking through male and female, young and old. Listen, God is still speaking.
Thursday: “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21. Prayerfully spend time with God today.
Friday: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38 . God is generous and gives all that we need.
Saturday: “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” Acts 2:43. Apostles, those called by God can do incredible acts in God’s name. Awe lives in our relationships with God.