Sunday, May 24, 2015

Nobody Saw That One Coming: Acts 2:1-21 PENTECOST

May the Holy Spirit fill you this Pentecost Sunday!

Our passage this morning is Acts 2:1-21. The sermon audio is below and you'll find the full manuscript after the jump. Blessings!

The past seven weeks had been a roller coaster for this group of friends. Their beloved teacher, leader, friend had been sentenced to death on trumped up charges that didn’t make any sense. His execution was public, slow, painful, gruesome. His burial was rushed because of the Sabbath mandate to cease all work from sundown to sundown. When two of the women in the group had gone the day after the Sabbath to complete the burial rites, his body was gone! Not just gone, though, like someone had taken it: Jesus was risen from the dead just like he had said he would be! He was indeed the Messiah they’d been waiting for! In the weeks since the resurrection, the disciples had been able to walk and talk and eat once again with Jesus the Messiah! This was the hinge in the center of all of history and they were here to watch it! 40 days after he’d risen just like he’d said he would, he was taken up into heaven after promising them that his Spirit would come down soon to carry them out into the world with the message of Good News!
         As they gathered for prayer that day, while the rest of the city celebrated the Pentecost holiday, you could almost feel the anticipation in the air. They didn’t know what to expect or when to expect it, but every time they gathered, their excitement and hope increased. “Perhaps it’s today!”
         At first, as they began to pray, it was just like any other prayer. But then, the walls began to rattle and their hair started to move as though they were outside on a breezy day. At first, it was just a whistle through the cracks and corners of the building, but soon the room filled with a VIOLENT RUSHING WIND! This was NOT what they had expected Jesus meant when he said he’d send his spirit down! And like ribbons, fire began to descend from above and rest on each of them. Overwhelmed by the power of this frightening, wild, amazing Spirit of God, the disciples couldn’t help but begin to tell the Good News!
Each of them began to speak the Gospel in another language and soon a crowd gathered at the commotion. Many in the crowd were amazed, while many in the crowd said, “Somebody’s been hitting the bottle a little early today. . .” The disciples weren’t deterred by the ones who made fun of them, though. The Holy Spirit could not be quenched by the unbelievers.
I wonder if we believe that. Not just the story, but do we truly believe that the Holy Spirit can’t be quenched by the unbelievers? Sometimes I wonder if we believe that the Holy Spirit is even there. Or if we do, we act like the Holy Spirit is just sometimes there when it’s convenient, makes a few people put their hands up in the air during worship, then leaves for a while.
Just the other week as I was putting together the services for this month, I was frustrated trying to find hymns about the Holy Spirit that weren’t boring. I own a lot of hymnals, for the record. It’s not just the hymnal we have here. Most hymnals have a pretty sad selection of music for Pentecost. I couldn’t seem to find one piece of music that communicated the full power of this violent rushing wind. . . this fire from heaven. . . this something so powerful that the people of God were accused of being drunk, they were acting so strangely!!!!
I once stood on the porch with my dad watching a tornado about a quarter mile away from our house. I know what a violent rushing wind sounds, looks, and feels like, and most of our Holy Spirit music and liturgy is more like a 20 year old box fan set to low than a violent rushing wind. It’s like a bic lighter, not tongues of flame from heaven!
Why don’t we trust anymore that God is going to move powerfully? How is it that this violent rushing wind has been tamed so much in our liturgy and in our theology? Why is the Holy Spirit confined to just a few less than fantastic pages in the hymnal? \
Is it because when we walk around outside these walls, we don’t see much changing? Perhaps it’s because we’re waiting for the world to change and come to us, we’re defining renewal in the church by our numbers of new converts who wander in from outside, but if that’s the case, we have Pentecost all backwards.
We do see in our passage today that the Holy Spirit reached outside of the church. The disciples speaking in many different languages would have been pointless if it were not so that they could preach to people of all different languages and backgrounds. But the Holy Spirit came first into the house where the disciples were gathered. What we see in Pentecost is not the Holy Spirit reforming the outside and bringing it in to renew the church, but the Holy Spirit reforming the church first to then bring renewal to those outside its walls.
Our Christian celebration of Pentecost is a celebration of renewal of the people of God, but Pentecost is not a solely Christian holiday. While it means something wildly different for Christians, it was first a Jewish celebration. For those of you who are really interested in the history of Pentecost, I’ve attached a couple pages at the end of this week’s sermon manuscript that give some more historical information about it. The short story is that Pentecost was – and still is for practicing Jews – the celebration of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Passover was the celebration of their liberation from their Egyptian slave masters, but Pentecost was the remembrance of how after that, they were formed as a community when God gave them the Torah – the Law.
Today, Christians celebrate Pentecost with much the same emphasis on formation of a community as we see in the Jewish celebration – but we add another chapter or layer to it. It’s the day we remember our formation as a spiritual community. This is when God said, “You are my people. I am my God, you are my people. In Jesus I have set you free from the constraints of law – released you into the arms of grace. And now you are a new sort of people. Go and take that news to the world around you!”
We say Happy Birthday to the church in 26 different languages because this is the day that the Holy Spirit came down. The day that the Violent RUSHING WIND and TONGUES OF FIRE came down and ignited the movement that 1900 years later gave birth to Liberty Presbyterian Church! Sure, our Western Pennsylvanian church established mere minutes ago compared to the age of Christianity as a whole looks quite a bit different than the very first church established half the world away around 2000 years ago. It should!
Theresa has been doing some really valuable and commendable research on the history of this congregation – preserving old records, organizing session minutes from the early 1900’s, stuff like that – and you should ask her about it sometime because our heritage as a congregation is of the utmost importance. But when we trace our heritage all the way back, it goes back way further than even Theresa can trace it from the stuff in our basement. We can trace it straight back to that moment in that house with the disciples. That moment when a windstorm that would make a Kansan quake in her boots kicked up in the middle of a house. That day when people were touch by heavenly fire and were not burned, but whose hearts were set on FIRE. Pentecost is when we say, “This is who we are.”
Often on our national patriotic holidays - Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day – we pray for our nation, as we absolutely should, but we also worry and ask God what has happened to our country. Where did God go “out there”? Why have people stopped coming to church? What is wrong with our nation? When did our nation turn away from God?
These are the wrong questions. At the very least, they ought to be pretty low on our priority list. Our first questions should be introspective – looking inward at ourselves – not looking out at the world. If the world’s not getting it, our first question should be “where do I need to let the Holy Spirit into my life?” “Where do we need to ask the Holy Spirit to guide our congregation?” “In what areas are we failing to submit to the wild, wonderful, terrifying, life-giving, fire-filled ways of the Holy Spirit!?”
The Spirit came first to those believers gathered together on Pentecost. The Spirit came to them as they waited expectantly – not optimistically, thinking “The Holy Spirit could come at any time now”, but expectantly, saying confidently, “The Holy Spirit is going to show up at any moment now.” They didn’t just throw their bulletins to the wind and put their hands up or clap during one of two of the songs. I mean. . . if you want to put your hands up or clap during the music on Sunday morning, go for it! Energetic hymn singing pleases God. That’s a great start, but it isn’t a violent rushing wind. I actually like a little bit of talk-back during a sermon. Feel free to say or shout, “Amen!” or “MMMM_HMMM!” or “OK now!” or something like that in the middle of a sermon. I won’t mind – I enjoy that. Let’s me know you’re still awake out there. (You’re still awake out there, right?) But that’s not tongues of fire.
The Holy Spirit affects the church first: fills up the believers gathered for worship and ignites something in them that causes them to rush out of the doors and start telling the Good News with such passion and such energy and such enthusiasm that some people think they’ve hit the bottle a little bit early today.
         Our next hymn is “Holy Spirit, Flow Through Me.” The words are: “Holy Spirit, flow through me, and make my life what it ought to be. Holy Spirit, rest on me and use me Lord, win the lost to Thee. Holy Spirit flow out from me, that others Lord may see you in me.” I want you to really think about what the Holy Spirit filling the disciples looked like, what it meant, what happened as a result. I want you to really think about what this would look like if we truly believed that it can happen in the church today as well. If you need to in order to really listen to the words and hush your soul to listen for the Spirit, stop singing. I’ll keep singing up here. I’m not shy around the microphone.
         Our church is very different than the gathering of the disciples 2000 years ago. I don’t know what exactly the movement of the Holy Spirit will look or sound like in our midst. But I know that the Holy Spirit will show up if we make space. Maybe we’ll experience a violent rushing wind, but we’ll more likely experience something else we don’t expect.
And after that hymn before I call for the offering, just wait. I don’t know what to tell you to wait for. We might sit in a few moments of silent prayer, continuing to pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit. I might lead us in an acapella round or two of one of the choruses we’ve sung this morning. I might pray out loud. I don’t know yet. Maybe one of you will stand up and pray or lead a song. We’ll let the Spirit lead us. I know this is hard for us Presbyterians, but I know you guys – you can do it.
         As we first sing, let us pray that the Holy Spirit would descend on each of us. That we would be filled with the power of the Spirit and that that power would flow out of us, renewing the church and the world it touches.

         Let us pray by singing hymn number 164: Holy Spirit, Flow Through Me.

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