May 24, 2015 – Coming down

Romans 8:22-27

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Acts 2:1-4

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.

Acts 2:5-21

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.’

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Pentecost Sunday   May 24, 2015   (Romans 8:22-27) Acts 2:1-21 *******************************

They were sitting there, together, all in one place… When suddenly from heaven comes a sound like the rush of a violent wind, filling the whole house… Divided tongues, as of fire, appear, and a tongue rests on each of them… And all are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking in the native tongues of many nations… Speaking languages they didn’t know….

Which almost sounds like the advertisement for a page-turner-of-a-beach-book… (With a summer movie follow-up in the works.) And the book of Acts is a page-turner-of-a-spiritual-travelogue – though it breaks all the travel book molds I’ve ever seen.

“Travelers who desire the predictability of an interstate highway system where all roads look alike and every interchange features three gas stations and two fast-food stores will find this journey more closely resembles A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…” So says bible scholar Beverly Roberts Gaventa in the introduction to her commentary on Acts. She nails it.

On the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter preaches and three thousand come to Jesus, baptized there on the spot… By the end of the day they’ve gone all-in for Jesus, sharing all they’ve got with each other. Neighbors take notice, because now there’s no one in need among them…

Now this is starting to sound like stuff my mother used to warn me about, when I was young… ‘Don’t go joining any of those crazy sects,’ she’d say. (Mom really didn’t have to worry – even when I did give it all away… My bank account net worth in those days was never more than the high double-digits…But… ) We are, for sure, on a wild spiritual journey, as we continue where we left off in the book of Acts. Last week we stood with disciples of Jesus, watching as he goes up, up, and away into the heavens… Till a pair of angels ask, ‘why are you standing looking up into the heavens? Didn’t he just tell you? Keep doing what he began to do here on earth!

And now the Holy Spirit Jesus promised has indeed come down from heaven, in an awesome display of power and wonder….

And for once disciples seem to be ready. For once they’re doing what Jesus said to do. They’ve gathered together waiting for the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised… They’ve been studying the scriptures, as Jesus said to do… Peter’s quoting the prophet Joel, changing emphasis slightly here and there, to better address the present situation… (Later in this sermon he’ll be quoting the psalms, talking about how they also testify to Jesus.) Peter’s been doing his bible study homework, as Jesus said to do.

Now disciples are doing more than they ever used to do of what Jesus always said to do. Now that he’s gone up into the heavens, Jesus’ words (and those of his angel witnesses last week) seem to be having the desired effect. Disciples have stopped looking up into the heavens, and brought their gaze down to earth….focused now on what Jesus said to do… Alleluia! Good news!

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But – why all the drama? What’s God up to, with all the bells and whistles? Couldn’t the followers of Jesus receive the Holy Spirit well – more discretely? Why all these extraordinary signs and wonders? Why does God have to fill the whole house with the sound of a hurricane and visions of fiery flame? Why does the Holy Spirit focus so much on equipping the church to communicate through languages they didn’t even know they knew?

(Well…?) Maybe God does it this way to get the attention – the full attention of the church – which at that time could still all fit together in one room. Acts’ opening chapter tells us there’s only about 120 of them in all. So maybe the drama is about giving the church more confidence… as they’re sitting there talking about taking up their job description – now here’s the Spirit getting them actually doing it – even before they even know or realize what they’re doing…

And… Maybe this is also one of God’s ways of showing our neighbors… what they’ll be missing…If they don’t read the book, watch the movie, sing the song, join us in this awesome journey of faith, hope and love… (Just imagine what you’d be missing, dear neighbor…)

Sometimes God does whatever it takes to get our attention… Even smack us over the head with the Holy Spirit. And Pentecost is surely one of those times…

And of course we still have a lot to learn about downloading the gift that God has send down to us from heaven… and living into our job description as people of God and witnesses for Jesus.

Of course as we read on through the New Testament, we notice…. God’s never doing the same thing twice. God doesn’t do any summer reruns. God doesn’t do any two days exactly the same way ever…

God’s never duplicated the experience of Acts 2, with all it’s mix of sounds and sights and disciples speaking other languages… Drawing crowds listening to the spectacle of Spirit-filled simultaneous translation… Devout Jews from every nation, hearing the word of God spoken, not in Hebrew or Aramaic, as they would expect to hear in Jerusalem, but in their own native tongues…That hasn’t happened again, ever since… (as far as we know)…

Which is not to say little Pentecosts are not happening every day…Certainly God still sends the Holy Spirit down to us…every day…but I for one often need to be reminded to pay closer attention and take full advantage of what God is giving… Sometimes it takes some praying and singing Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me… Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us… Melt us, mold us, fill us, use us… Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us…

Sometimes it takes singing the song repetitively… till the song starts to sing itself… for me to really feel the Spirit’s presence…

When we’re spiritually dry and needy we should, whenever, however we can, figure out ways to practice gathering together in prayer and praise… Waiting for the Spirit, like disciples of old.

Because Pentecost is about (in one of John Wesley’s favorite phrases) ‘social holiness.’ Regeneration of the whole people of God. It’s no accident that our reading from Acts says “they were all together in one place.” Reading and singing the psalms and hymns together… We should also study the bible and sing and pray alone. But– It’s usually in group study and congregational worship where we get our fullest, deepest, richest hearing of the word and learning from the Holy Spirit…

When we meet together in one place, asking the Spirit to fill us, and thanking God – we’re far more likely to notice the Spirit and discern our Comforter’s gracious leadings. One of the many things the Holy Spirit does is remind us of everything Jesus said (John 14) – and Jesus said ‘where two or three of you are gathered in my name I will be there with you.’ The more we get together, pray and study, the more we experience the Spirit’s guiding presence.

Sometimes (we know) the Spirit has to come storming into our lives like a typhoon … especially when we’re not paying full attention to God’s Spirit…

But the more we invite the Spirit to dwell in us… The more we cultivate the life of the Spirit… The more the song springs up within us… And we get to sing –

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place...I can feel his mighty power and his grace…..I can hear the brush of angels’ wings, I see glory on each face… Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place….

And as we persistently practice seeking the presence of God – the presence of God’s Holy Spirit – the gifts of the Spirit are given, freely, generously, to all believers. And spiritual gifts always need to be practiced… patiently, with care.

I haven’t heard of anyone since Pentecost suddenly empowered to speak in foreign languages… But I do know believers with another kind of gift of inspired speech that we need even more today.

Next month at New England Annual Conference of the Methodist church we’ll be electing people to represent our region at next year’s General Conference, our global church’s quadrennial gathering for holy conferencing and seeking reconciliation of views and understandings… As I read over the pre-conference journal this week I was struck by the words of someone I know who named their gift for the church as being able and willing to “speak both the conservative and progressive languages, to bridge the widening divide between… perspectives…”

This is a gift of the Holy Spirit we sorely need to cultivate patiently… and I will be praying that with the Spirit’s help we will be able to bridge all the divides in all the church we love… Which in God’s time I believe will surely happen. And which will be a greater miracle even than divided tongues of fire dancing on heads and shoulders at Pentecost…and me finally being made able to speak the French I did so poorly in back in high school…

Yet this is the kind of miracle the Holy Spirit specializes in, and does, virtually every minute, every day… The Holy Spirit is at work among us night and day… Teaching us to be healers and reconcilers, peace makers and communicators for the Word-of-God-who-became-flesh-and-lived-among-us…

This is the theme of all the rest of the book of Acts: The church continuing the work of Jesus. Taking his message to the ends of the earth. Sowing the gospel of life. Reaping harvests of love, joy, peace and patience…Bringing Jesus to friends and former enemies alike… With the Spirit’s help, reaching out with the Word of Life to people will receive the word gladly and to those who won’t even listen…Reaching out to those who warmly welcome the word and those who don’t even know us but have already decided they don’t like us… Yet…

Under the prolonged patient coaching of the Holy Spirit, we too will see miracles like the early church saw… Signs and wonders of healing grace and awesome reconciliation…worked by God through the church… even us…

And of course we know – none of this will ever happen… in our own strength…in our own power.

Will you sing our prayer again with me please?

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us.

Melt us, mold us, fill us, use us…

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us.

Thanks be to God. Amen.