Thursday, May 12, 2016

Sunday's Sermon

God’s Spirit Poured Out
May 15th 2016
Day of Pentecost/Endowment Sunday
Acts 2:1-21New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)
Chapter 2
The Coming of the Spirit. 1 [a]When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,[b] and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,[c] which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues,[d] as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, 11 both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” 12 They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others said, scoffing, “They have had too much new wine.”

14 [e]Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, “You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you, and listen to my words. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘It will come to pass in the last days,’ God says,
    ‘that I will pour out a portion of my spirit
    upon all flesh.
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your young men shall see visions,
    your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids
    I will pour out a portion of my spirit in those days,
        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will work wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below:
        blood, fire, and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness,
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the great and splendid day of the Lord,
21 and it shall be that everyone shall be saved who calls on the name of the Lord.’

Pentecost comes at the end of the Easter season. Jesus had promised to return and promised his disciples would not be left alone. With the coming of the Holy Spirit those promises were fulfilled.

Today’s text is set in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Pentecost was one of three most important festivals for the Jews (the others being Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles). They celebrated Pentecost seven weeks after Passover. The word Pentecost meant “fiftieth.” It was celebrated on the 50th day after the Sabbath on which Passover began. For Christians Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter.

Acts was written by the same author as the Gospel according to Luke. There are many parallels between the two books. But there are also many differences.  If the Gospel is the story of Jesus, the book of Acts is the story of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was responsible for the birth of the church. 

The promise of John the Baptist in Luke 3:16 that people would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire, was seemingly fulfilled in today’s text. The Spirit that descended on Jesus (Luke 3:22), now descended on the disciples giving them the power to develop the church. Just as Jesus began his ministry filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples were beginning their ministry filled with the Spirit.

The Jewish festival of Pentecost is a celebration of giving the Law on Mount Sinai. During that encounter with God there were reportedly dramatic signs—thunder, lightning, smoke, and fire (Exodus 19:16–24). Now, as people came to the new church movement, similar signs appeared. 

The noise of these events obviously drew a crowd. The text goes into some detail listing all the nations present. The people of Israel had hoped the Messiah would bring together Jews from all nations. Peter will connect this with prophecy suggesting they are in “the last days” (Acts 2:17). By the end of the book of Acts the Spirit will be leading the church not just to Jews of all nations but to all people of all nations thanks to Paul’s influence. This passage connects Jewish expectation with God’s vision for an inclusive community that goes beyond Judaism.

Some people have understood this passage to describe the speaking in tongues Paul talks about in his letter to the Corinthians. But the miracle of this story is that everyone could understand in their own languages. History shows the church is dependent on the Holy Spirit for its life. The book of Acts is not so much the story of what the apostles did as it is the story of what the Holy Spirit came to do in and through the church.  The same Peter who had denied Jesus three times, was now on fire with the Spirit and preaching the gospel so all the nations could understand. 

The Holy Spirit is prepared to do the same for us. Let us think: What has the Holy Spirit done in our lives and in the life of our congregation in the past? How has that Spirit led us beyond our human weaknesses? What is the Spirit doing in our lives today and in the life of our congregation? 

When I was a young teenager, I began to attend the First Christian Church here in Coffeyville. All my friends and even my cousins on my dad’s side of the family were members there. I liked the pastor and he had a great youth group started.   I decided to join that church. My grandparents attended our church and were the third generation to do so. But my mother hadn’t attended any church since she left home at 17 to go to work to help support the family during the depression.  

So when I began to attend any church, it was because of my friends.  I was to join on Easter Sunday that year. Our church was having a baptismal service that same Sunday in Independence, where they had a font. I began walking to town to the Christian Church that Sunday and when I got to Washita Street, I suddenly had a very strong feeling that I should turn south there and go with the group going to Independence and join my grandmother’s church. So that’s what I did. At that point in my life, I really didn’t know what that “strong feeling” was. 

They were surprised to see me at our church on Washita Street but decided to let me join that day anyhow.  Luckily we had a pastor whose wife and he decided to start a youth group. There were about eight of us youth and we did a lot of fun things. They lived at the foot of Big Hill in a lovely home there and he taught at our trade school in Coffeyville.  They had our youth group out to their home many times for weiner roasts. We had hay rack rides and a lot of fun activities.  That kept us interested. Finally George McManus and I were asked to be in charge of the early worship service. That gave us responsibility and really cemented both of us into this church for life. I was very sure that the Holy Spirit influenced my decision that day. 

I am sure that many of us have those sorts of experiences where we feel a “still small voice” attempting to influence us in the best paths for our lives. We may not always recognize that as God’s Spirit.  But if we are aware and sensitive to the urging of that Spirit, we may avoid many unwise paths. 

As found in the testimony of John 14:8-17

Philip *said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus *said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another [a]Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

Exploring this Scripture:

This text for Pentecost Sunday fittingly begins with questions and yearning. Philip wanted to see God. When we gather for worship, we typically offer a prayer of invocation, which is our longing for the Holy Spirit to be present and real to us. We want assurance that the divine presence blesses our offerings to one another and to God.

Jesus’ response to Philip may also feel familiar. Jesus says whoever has seen him has seen God. In other words, “How could you not notice? God has been here with us all along!” Our understanding of the Spirit is that every part of life takes place in such a divine setting. As Jesus responded to Philip, sometimes the invitation is for us to be more aware of the Spirit that is already present, already inviting us into relationship. We do not need to wait for the Spirit for it is constantly with us outpouring! We simply need to recognize it. 

Jesus lived his life with God as the source of everything he did. They lived in such a state of oneness that Jesus was constantly trying to teach his disciples. He is saying, “If you too are willing to dwell in God as God dwells in you, you will do even greater things than I.” The heart of this text then, is that in Jesus, God is seen because Jesus lived in connection with God. “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:17). We are called to place the foundation of life in the Spirit—the source of everything we do. Others will see God through our lives just as the disciples were able to see God through Jesus.

This text foreshadows Jesus’ death as he gives two parting gifts to the disciples to equip them for their mission in the uncertain times ahead. The first is the promise of the Holy Spirit as an “advocate” (v. 16). According to Jesus, the Spirit’s purpose is to continue to form the disciples. What they do not know now, the Spirit will teach along the way. The Spirit also reminds the disciples of their relationship with Jesus, through whom they came to know and see the divine presence.

The second gift is a blessing of peace. Here we find a distinction between Christ’s peace and the world’s peace and a reminder that the peace given to the disciples is countercultural. It is not a peace that will lead them away from conflict and suffering, but will comfort them and strengthen them as they move forward fearlessly wherever the Spirit leads. “The Spirit is the ‘completer’ of godly life in relationship to God, others, and the whole creation” (Ministry and Priesthood in Community of Christ: Part 1, Theological Foundations, 2013).

The promised Spirit is an everlasting connectedness with God in all conditions of life. The comfort we receive is Christ’s gentle blessing, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (v. 27). The Spirit strengthens and prepares us for mission. We are reminded of Luke 4:18, where Jesus proclaims the Spirit has anointed him to launch his mission. On Pentecost, we focus on the promise that mission begins with encounter! As God’s Spirit is constantly poured out, in and through us, we discover we are not alone, and have all we need to engage in the same mission of Jesus in the world today! God is seen through Jesus life and teachings because Jesus lived his life with God as the source of everything he did. 

We too are called to live with God as the source of our lives. The Spirit is constantly outpouring. We are invited to be more aware of how every part of life takes place in the constant reality of God’s presence. The Spirit connects us in our relationships with others, creation, and God. And Jesus’ peace is countercultural. The Spirit does not lead us away from the world, but gives us strength and wisdom for the complexities we face as we enter the world more deeply. Mission begins with encounter. 

When we encounter others and really care about them, the Spirit will help us to relate to them in important ways.  So, let us ask ourselves, when have we really yearned to encounter God’s Spirit and then realized God’s Spirit had been there all along?

If every part of our lives takes place immersed in the Spirit, how does that affect the way we view our everyday life and our relationships with others? How can we all live in such a way to allow others to glimpse God’s presence through us? What would it look like to live with the Spirit as the source of all we do? What would it look like in our congregation to be rooted in the Spirit as the source of every facet of congregational life? How are we called to live Christ’s peace in the world today? In our homes, our neighborhoods and our communities? What would Christ’s peace look like in our community?

These are questions we each need to contemplate.  We often rush into decisions about our lives without a lot of thought. If we are really wanting to make good and wise decisions, we will put prayer into our every important life’s decision.  God’s Spirit can give that kind of guidance.  

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