June 8, 2014 – Pentecost

Acts 2:1-13
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.”

Acts 2:14-24
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.’ “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power…..”

Acts 2:36-47
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 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 replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

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Pentecost   June 8, 2014   Acts 2:1-24, 36-47   Holy fire

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Fire falls from heaven on the gathered church at Pentecost.

Sometimes we call Pentecost ‘the birthday of the church.’ Which it may be. But this is hardly the first time we see fire from heaven in scripture…

Way back when formal sacrifices are first to be offered in the wilderness tent of worship, fire falls from heaven and consumes the offering (Leviticus 9). All through the Exodus God’s presence is made known in fire. God appears to Moses as a bush aflame with holy fire. An angelic pillar of fire leads Israel out from Egypt and on through the wilderness… God is made fearfully, wondrously known in fire and thunder on Mount Sinai, as the law is given.

Later King David builds an altar as an act of repentance; holy fire falls from heaven on his sacrifice (1 Chronicles 21). David’s son King Solomon dedicates the first Jerusalem temple; holy fire again descends from heaven, obliterating the offering on the altar (2 Chronicles 7)…

Later the prophet Elijah calls down fire from heaven, first on a sacrificial bull, then also on an opponent’s troops (1 Kings 18, 2 Kings 1)…

Later still, John the Baptist in the gospels expects Jesus to be baptizing with fire that burns sinners into toast and ashes… Thus his cry of ‘you brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come? Every branch that doesn’t bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire…’

Fire is a powerful and ancient biblical symbol. Fire from heaven’s been falling long before we get to the book of Acts. Fire and flame are mixed-metaphors. Fire can burn or purify, give light or warmth, bring terror or bring comfort…. We’re never sure what to expect… when we’re talking God and fire.

But when the fire from heaven finally falls afresh on Pentecost… Thanks be to God, this flame doesn’t kill or wound… Now divine fire manifests as flaming-tongues-of-fire, dancing on those gathered…

All lit-up by the Holy Spirit, disciples are speaking in tongues they don’t know they know. Cultural barriers go up in flames, as people from every land now hear the good news in their own languages, thanks to the Spirit.

The apostle Peter catches fire and starts to preach. Before day is done, three thousand come to be baptized, confessing sins and receiving the Holy Spirit…

By the time we pause in the story, the whole church is on fire. Sharing now what they have, so others will have enough. Meeting together daily for meals and prayers and fellowship and study.

Soon the community around them is also gathering, first in curiosity, then in awe and wonder…Finally, joining in praising God, as they too, experience the Spirit… Whose fires burn and cleanse… purify and heal…

So maybe Pentecost really is the birthday of the church… Even though the church is probably born as soon as the first disciples follow Jesus… Still, we’re not fully the church yet till we’re born from above at Pentecost, receiving the Holy Spirit, beginning to be made into a new creation…(As…)

On Pentecost the old is burned away in the holy fires of the Spirit. New creation is brought into birth like a phoenix, in gentle flames of Spirit, fanned by the rushing Wind of Spirit…

The church, all on-fire for Jesus, made new in the waters-of-baptism, and much more so in the baptism-of-God’s-fiery-Spirit…

“What should we do?” crowds now ask, as if with one voice….

“Repent and be baptized,” Peter says, “in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit….”

And three thousand come to Jesus, being baptized, and turning from sin…and yes, receiving the Spirit…

And now, as-if-all-of-one-mind, the church continues to meet together daily for prayers and worship, for study of scripture and apostolic teachings – sharing all things together, so all may share in the blessings of life abundant, together.

(And – )

What should we do now? We continue to ask…

A question the Spirit may give differing answers to for each of us, individually… But for all of us together as the church, the original answer still stands…

And since we’re all still part of this same one, holy, apostolic, universal church that caught on fire for God two thousand years ago… And since the Holy Spirit didn’t pack up and leave the planet when the day of Pentecost was over…

We need to keep doing as the early church did…

Gathering together in one place…

Waiting expectantly for the Holy Spirit’s leading and direction…

Responding in grace and faith as the Spirit speaks to us… Remembering –

The Holy Spirit is still always close at hand… Hovering and awaiting…

What should we do – to be ready for God’s Spirit?

We wait. We pray… We remember…

Holy fire, from heaven falls,

consuming now our temple walls,

Where once we offered meat and bird,

Christ consumes all, by his Word.

Every sin and thoughtless deed,

Give to Christ, now – for indeed –

Jesus sends his fire from heaven–

Fiery grace to us is given.

Elijah called heaven’s fires to burn

sacrifice, and foe, in turn;

John expects heaven’s fires to scorch

sinners with God’s flaming torch.

Yet Jesus sends his holy flame,

burning up our sin and shame.

Jesus sends his fire from heaven

Fiery tongues of grace are given.

Flaming tongues that sanctify

as to heaven, now, we cry–

Come, O Lord, and by your voice

Clarify our every choice–

Jesus send your fire again,

Let it on our souls descend

Burn all sin that bind us still,

Make us new and heal our ills.

Jesus send your fire from heaven!

Fiery grace to us be given…

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Amen

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