Welcome to our worship today and welcome to those who are with us by way of the radio! And welcome to our Pentecost celebration!------But what are we celebrating?
Well, in Acts 2 we read----“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.”
Why were they together? Why did Pentecost bring them together?
For Jesus’ 1st century followers, Pentecost was a harvest festival that was the 50th day after Passover. Farmers would bring the first sheaf of grain from the crop and offer it to God in thanks. It was also a remembrance of Moses receiving the 10 commandments on Mt Sinai.
So Jesus’ followers were together celebrating Pentecost when suddenly something happened that would change the world. It was hard to describe what happened--- The sound of a violent wind. Tongues of fire that came and rested on each of them. The sudden ability to speak in foreign languages.
It was an event that was hard to describe then and hard for us to understand now.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote that there are 2 kinds of people in the world. When tree branches are waving wildly in the breeze, there are the people who believe the wind is moving the trees. But in modern times there has emerged a second group -- those who assume it is the movement of the trees that creates the wind.
He's joking of course, but his point is that it has always seemed obvious that the invisible wind moved the visible trees. But after seeing how modern people think – often assuming that only visible things can be real, Chesterton is concerned that the invisible will be written off as non-existent.
There is a modern prejudice that the only real things are the ones that you can see or hold in your hands. But what about electricity and magnetic forces and freedom and love? We know they're real even though we can't see them. But we are much more likely to accept something if we can see it.
Which may be why the Holy Spirit has been called the forgotten person of the Trinity. Francis Chan recently wrote a book on the Holy Spirit entitled Forgotten God. It seems like we’re more able to grasp God as Father and Creator. We can see the world and the people He has created. We can picture Jesus as the Son and Savior who lived human life and whose teachings we can read in the Bible. But the Holy Spirit isn't as easy to comprehend.
Art is one way that Christians have tried to describe Pentecost through the centuries.
Through traditional paintings-----
---frescos on cathedral ceilings----
---stained glass windows----
---and modern murals.
Part of the problem is that we often think like deists. A deist is a person who believes that there is a God but doesn’t believe in God's active presence in their life. To a deist, God is a creator who set up the world and then let it alone to function without Him. Christians believe and preach about God's ongoing and active presence through the Holy Spirit. Deists don't expect God's presence in their lives so they don't see it. But how often do we too miss God's presence through the Holy Spirit simply because we don't expect it?
When we’re driving with our grandson in the car, we play games. And he loves to see who can find things first. Who can find a red truck. Who can see a blue roof or a black horse. I think I enjoy it as much as he does because it’s amazing what you see when you’re really looking for it---when you expect to find it!
I think that’s true of looking for the Spirit’s presence. If you expect to see the Holy Spirit active in your lives, you will be amazed at how often you recognize the Spirit's presence. When faith opens our eyes, we see the Holy Spirit with us in countless ways.
When you are surprised by an answer to a prayer --- that is the Spirit's presence. When you are led to someone who unknown to you desperately needed your help-- that is the Spirit. When you resolve a conflict with someone who has hurt you--- that is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When you are inspired by the beauty of creation or the majesty of art or music--- that is the Spirit.
When in worship or a quiet time of prayer you see some new truth or insight---that is the Spirit's guiding. When you experience the strength and courage to face a difficult task---that is the power of the Holy Spirit.
If we don't expect the presence of the Spirit we can believe a happening is just coincidence or our own doing. But through the eyes of faith, we can recognize that the Spirit is always with us---another way of saying that God is always with us.
William Williamson asks—“What am I to say to the person who says "God has never spoken in my life. I've tried prayer - it's like I'm talking to myself. I don't believe in God."
I ask, "When's the last time you have been in church? What spiritual disciplines do you practice?"
The answers are, of course, "Not recently" and "None".
It's like my saying; "l have an image of myself as a tennis star. I haven't been on a tennis court in years, haven't picked up a racquet in ages! I guess tennis is just stupid."
It is in following the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, scripture reading, serving others, giving of ourselves, relating to other Christians that our eyes are opened to the presence of God's Spirit right here with us.
Last week we focused on Christ’s ascension into heaven. Pastor John told us that at his Ascension, Jesus moved from the limitations of life on earth to the omnipotence of his throne in heaven. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus left his people to fend for themselves.
John 14:15-18 “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
Ten days after the Ascension, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to his followers. The coming of the Holy Spirit is the corresponding event to Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. He kept his promise that he would not leave his followers alone as orphans. So---
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.”
Notice that the Spirit came to each of them individually. The Spirit has always been present. We read in Genesis 1---“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
But what is emphasized in Acts 2 is the Spirit’s coming to be with and in each and every believer. As Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
And was this intended to be just for those who knew Jesus when he walked the earth? No—it was intended for all people of all times and places all over the earth!
Acts2:5-12 “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 them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own 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?”
The gift of the Holy Spirit was given to be a global gift.
Map of Countries mentioned in Acts 2
The countries of the people mentioned are all over the known world of that time----this is a map of all the people drawn together by the Spirit. But for what purpose?
C. S. Lewis wrote, "The Church exists for nothing else but to draw people into Christ, to make them little Christ's. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself are simply a waste of time."
The Church exists for nothing else but to draw people into Christ, to make them little Christ's.
And Lewis warned that in our transformation to being more like Christ, we have to be careful of what we expect. He was writing to someone new to the Christian faith. They were very excited and had a strong feeling of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
You might expect Lewis to be excited as well. But he said, “Don’t depend on the feelings. Otherwise, when they go and you are once again emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing (the Holy Spirit) has gone too. But it won’t (go). It will be there when you can’t feel it…
Don’t imagine it (the Christian life) is going to be an exciting adventure from now on. It won’t. Excitement never lasts. This is the push to start you off on your first bicycle: You’ll be left to lots of dogged pedaling later on. And no need to feel depressed about it either. It will be good for your spiritual leg muscles.”
God through his Holy Spirit is present in the rushing sound of a mighty wind as he was on Pentecost. But he is also present in his gentle whisper as he was for the prophet Elijah. And in John 20, the Spirit is given to the disciples as the quiet breath of Jesus Himself. God knows whether to give us the rushing wind or the gentle whisper. He knows what we need and when.
The Spirit has been breathed into all Christ's followers. We have been inspired by Christ's Spirit. But that breath, that wind is not intended to stay inside of us.
Whether as little children, youth or adults, that Spirit needs to flow out of us to others.
Think of a balloon - limp, dead looking. Until it is filled with air. Even then, all that air is just potential.
There's power inside but it has to be released, and then notice what happens. It moves, it goes somewhere. But we can't predict it. The Spirit moves us in ways of serving we can't imagine.
The Spirit fills and inspires us. We can stay like that and not let that Spirit out of us---not share it. But when we do open up--- the Spirit sends us out into the world to serve Christ in new ways, unexpected directions.
What happens to that balloon when the air is gone? It falls to the ground--- out of power. But we never need to run out of power. The Spirit can fill us over and over again. Just like Jesus' disciples were filled over and over again-----We need to be refilled by the Spirit. We are refilled weekly as we worship. But we are also refilled daily and more often as we pray and read God's word. We are refilled by the Spirit as we share life with Christ's people.
On this Pentecost Sunday, we give thanks for the gift of Christ's presence with us through His Holy Spirit and right here, once more, we are filled with His Spirit to be sent out into the world in his name to make his presence known!