THE HOLY SPIRIT
We tend to be afraid of those things that we don’t understand. And because we are afraid of them, we may tend to react to them. Sometimes we ignore them and just hope that they go away – and sometimes that works. But other times we attack things that we don’t understand because we are concerned that the things that we don’t understand make us vulnerable and we don’t being vulnerable.
That’s sort of what happened in this morning’s reading from Acts 2. It’s the story of Pentecost. That is an important day for Christians because it is the day when the Holy Spirit came to the church in a new and powerful way. It’s not that the Holy Spirit was new. The Holy Spirit, as the third person of the Trinity, has been around forever, since before the beginning of time. The Holy Spirit shows up in the Old Testament on a number of occasions. Some of the clearest are in Numbers 11 and the various places in the book of Isaiah. In Psalm 51:11 there is a reference to the expression “Holy Spirit”.
In the Gospels, Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit numerous times and in John 14:26 (NIV) says this: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Suffice it to say that the Holy Spirit is not new. It has been around forever. But the way the Spirit is with the church changes at Pentecost. There is a dramatic shift in the way that the Holy Spirit is present with the believes.
The story is told in Acts 2:1-21 but before we read it, I want to give you a sense of the timeline we’re talking about. This is now fifty days since Jesus resurrection. After the resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples for forty days until he ascends into heaven. Ten days after the ascension, the Holy Spirit comes. With that in mind, let’s start by sharing the first four verses, Acts 2:1-4 (NIV):
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. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Once again, the disciples are all together in one place. They are staying close to one another. And then this incredibly weird thing happens. A violent wind rocks the house where the disciples are and what appears to be tongues of fire start shooting through the room and come to rest on each of the disciples. What’s that all about? These tongues of fire are images of the Holy Spirit. This is the Holy Spirit coming onto the disciples in a whole new way.
Previously in the Old and New Testaments, when the Holy Spirit came, it dwelt with believers as it was among them. But to say that the Holy Spirit came to rest on them says something very different. To rest on someone is to remain with them. In fact, what this says is that the Holy Spirit will no longer just live with people. Rather it will live in them. It will rest on them and remain with them forever.
This is a dramatic shift in the way the Holy Spirit works in the world. If there was ever a transitory nature to the Holy Spirit – that sometimes it might come and sometimes it might go – that is gone. The Holy Spirit is here to stay. It will rest on and abide within those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is a permanent feature of all those who put the trust and faith in Jesus Christ.
Violent winds, house shaking, tongues of fire shooting everywhere, the Holy Spirit resting on the disciples. But we’re still not done. Things are about to get very, very weird. Verse 4 says: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” What’s that all about? We don’t talk about this stuff nearly enough but what tongues refers to is when the Spirit takes hold of your physical tongue and lips and vocal chords and uses them to say whatever the Spirit wants. Sometimes it words. Sometimes it’s English. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it just sounds like babbling and sometimes it’s a beautiful angelic language. Sometimes it is spoken. Sometimes it sung like a song. Speaking in tongues is giving control of your voice over to the Spirit and letting the Spirit do whatever he wants with it. This is strange but we’re still not done.
The disciples who have all been together in a house cannot contain themselves and spill out into the street in Acts 2:5-8 (NIV):
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?
So these disciples who have now all spilled out into the street are all from Galilee. They no doubt speak Aramaic and Greek because pretty well everyone in Judea in those days spoke those two languages. But that’s probably it. They didn’t speak the languages of the Egyptians, the Medes, the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians of the other dozen languages that were represented in Jerusalem that day. And yet, each of these visitors from foreign lands can hear what the disciples are saying in their own native language, not in Aramaic or in Greek but in whatever the tribal language is wherever they are from.
This is weird. In fact, it is really weird. This has never happened before and people have no idea how to respond to it. How is it that a bunch of Galileans can suddenly talk in all of the languages of the world? Some of those who hear it get frightened. Some of them ask questions which is legitimate but some of them start using put downs. Acts 2:13 (NIV) says: “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’” This is not meant in fun. This is an attack. The disciples are being belittled for saying what they have been led by the Spirit to say. Ultimately, it is an attack on each of the disciples personally: “Just ignore them until they sober up. They’ve been drinking too much.”
In some ways, we can’t hardly blame them. The people in the streets who hear the disciples talking in all of languages are struggling to understand what is happening. They don’t know. They haven’t a clue. They just know that what they are seeing frightens them and because of that, they attempt to belittle it as a way of dealing with it.
It is not unusual today for people of faith to be belittled by those who disagree with us on matters of faith. In fact, there are people known as New Atheists whose passion seems to be to attack people of faith. It isn’t enough for them just to agree to disagree. Faith must be actively and aggressively attacked. Maybe you’ve heard the names of some of these people: Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. These men and their followers try to put down people of faith at every turn. We’re naïve. We’re old fashioned. We’re trying to hold on to things that no longer matter. We’re uneducated; how could we believe all of those childish things about God? Who knows, maybe they think we’ve had too much wine.
Are these people much different from the ones who tried to belittle the disciples on the day of Pentecost? Not really. They’re just better organized and better financed. But the intent is the same and result is the same.
So how do we, as Christians, respond faithfully when people seek to belittle and attach us for our faith? Maybe a good place to begin is to look at what Peter did immediately afterwards.
In verse 13 some of the detractors said, “They have had too much wine.” The person who responds to this assault is Peter. Actually, the rest of Acts 2 is his response. It’s known as a sermon really. We don’t have time to read all of it but I do want to give you a general idea of what Peter says. The first thing to note is that he doesn’t respond in kind. Because he is being attacked, there is probably a temptation to attack right back. Because he is being belittle, there is probably a temptation to belittle those who belittled him and the other disciples. His response is begins in Acts 2:14-15 (NIV) which says:
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!”
The first thing he does is calmly stand up. He doesn’t come across as upset. He’s not demanding. He simply responds to the very first critique which suggests that the disciples are all drunk. “That’s not really possible,” he says, “because it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” The point of this is that, if it were nine o’clock at night then maybe the disciple could have had too much to drink. But this is nine o’clock in the morning. It’s way too early in the day to be drunk. Now, I realize that there certainly are people who are drunk first thing in the morning but this is the usual tendency. That’s all that Peter is getting at. It’s unusual for people to be tipsy at that time of day.
Then what does he do? He appeals to things that will make sense to those who are seeking to belittle him. Remember that they are all Jewish people from all over the known world. And they all have on thing in common – the Old Testament which contain some of the Jewish scriptures. Specifically, Peter refers to the prophet Joel. He quotes from Joel in Acts 2:17-21 (NIV):
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.
This is something that all of the people should have know because it is taken right from the Jewish scriptures. It is a prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit. In verse 17, 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.” Peter says, “Look around and see what is happening. This prophecy that was written down by Joel over 500 years ago is coming true today. Look around. Isn’t this what you see happening?” The people look around and lo and behold, that is exactly what they see. Basically, what Peter is doing is seeking to de-escalate the situation by appeal to those things that they have in common. In this case, it is a common scripture.
We can do the same thing when people seek to belittle us for our faith, we can look for things that we have in common. Maybe it’s not scripture. But maybe it’s a cause such as climate change or human trafficking. Or maybe it’s a common interest such as gardening or sports or literature. The other day, I was connecting with another fitness nut that I met. We didn’t know each other at all but because of a common interest there was a connection. And do you know something; it’s much more difficult to belittle someone when you have something in common with them. Having something in common may not convince them that your faith position is valid but it may bring down some walls that will make communication and listening much more likely. It becomes a bridge that will help to span the chasm that separates us from others.
So Peter creates a bridge by finding some common ground. Only then does he begin to talk about the real reason for his faith. It is Jesus. Acts 2:22-39 is a sermon, delivered by Peter to the Jewish people in Jerusalem on Pentecost, the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s a sermon about Jesus. I’m not going to read the whole things but there are highlights that I want to point out. He begins with a summary of who Jesus is in Acts 2:22-24 (NIV):
“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 was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Peter lays it all out there. He talks about who Jesus is and what he did – the miracles, signs and wonders. He talks about the betrayal, Jesus’ trial and crucifiction. And then he talks about Jesus’ resurrection. This is news to no one who is listening to Peter. They all knew who Jesus was. They all knew about the crucifiction and the rumours of the resurrection. These things happened less than two months previously. But what Peter is affirming is that he personally believes all of it. Every single word of testimony that comes out of Peter’s mouth is heartfelt and sincere. This is what he believes and this is what he wants to share with anyone who will listen.
The final thing that Peter does is offer a challenge to those who are listening. In Acts 2:38 (NIV) he says this: “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 message of Jesus demands a response. This message is not just about pretty words and comfortable thoughts. It is a message that can change the lives and even the entire world. Repent, understand how far you are from God and how much you need him in your life. Repent and then be baptized as a sign of your faith in Jesus Christ. And when that is done, you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It will live in you and abide in you, never leaving you alone but always being right there.
It appears that people are listening to what Peter’s testimony for their response is truly amazing. Acts 2:41 (NIV) says this: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” That s some testimony and some message. Most of us don’t lead 3,000 people to Jesus in a lifetime. Peter does it within a few hours of being filled with the Spirit. The people discover that he is not drunk after all. He is in full control of his faculties. All he wants to do is share Jesus with them.
Peter’s example shows us that, as followers of Jesus, we need to be willing to share our faith and our testimony with others. It may take patience not to lash out when we are belittled for our faith. It may take us finding the common connections to bridge the gaps that separate us from non-believers. And it may require us to share our testimony of who Jesus is for us and what he has done for everyone. But like what Peter did, it also may require a challenge on our part. We need to let people know how to come to Christ, to repent and come to Christ and maybe even be baptized as a sign of the faith that we proclaim. When we do that, following Peter’s example, perhaps we will win some for Jesus. It may not be 3,000 in one day but even one more is one more for Jesus.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you on this day, O God, with grateful thanks and praise. Your mercy is awesome. Your love is eternal. Your blessings are too numerous to count. We thank you for warm summer winds and cool breezes. We thank you for refreshing swims after a hot day. We thank you for bike rides, baseball and ice cream. We thank you for the joy of gardening and the ability to watch things grow. We thank you for yard sales and BBQs and the those who share them. You are so good to us. Your creation gives us all that we truly need.
We offer our thanks this day especially for Pentecost and the gift of your Holy Spirit which guides and strengthens us for your service in your creation. Enable us to seek your Spirit at all times in our lives that we may know your will and have the courage to fulfill the ministries and missions that you give to us.
Loving God, what a comfort it is to know that we do not have to be dependent on others for peace in our hearts because our peace comes from you. When circumstances seem too difficult, help us to rely on your promises and to rest in your peace. You, O God, are greater than any circumstance or situation. Thank you for making a way for us to be at peace through Jesus Christ. Help us to trust in you every moment of every day.
Be with those who have been ill or recovering this week, praying especially for Richard, Angela, Gary, Mark, Joe, Pattie and Helen. Touch them and bless them, O God, with your Pentecostal Spirit that they be well and whole in your sight.
Father God, help us to remember that no matter how great the need in life, your provision is always greater. You can take what we have and make it be more than enough in any situation. Enable us to choose to trust in your ability and willingness to meet all of our needs if only we can give our all to you. We love you God and thank you for your unconditional love and acceptance. We lift these prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
May 23, 2021 / Pentecost
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15; Acts 2:1-21 or Romans 8:22-27
CALL TO WORSHIP
The earth is full of your majesty, O God;
Praise the Lord forever!
As long as we have breath we will sing to you;
Praise the Lord forever!
May our words and rejoicings be pleasing to the Living God;
Praise the Lord forever!
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Breathe on us, breath of God, and fill us with life anew. Help us to love what you love and do what you would do. Send the Holy Spirit into our gathering. Anoint us and refresh us. Blow through us and around us. As we worship this day, may we glow with the divine fire of Pentecost. Make us like Jesus who brought your divine healing to a hurting world. Make us like the disciples who shared his salvation with all people. Come, Holy Spirit, come! Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We confess, O God, that the fire of your Spirit does not always glow as brightly within us as it could. We want our comforts instead of your compassion. We seek power over others and neglect your passion for justice. We hold onto our opinions and judgments when you call us to listen for your truth. We remain silent when we are supposed to speak your Word and share your Gospel. Forgive us, O God, and open our hearts, that we may celebrate your Spirit within and among us. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Like a gentle breeze, God fans the flame of the Spirit within us. Like a strong wind, God reminds us of the need to forgive and be forgiven. Like a mighty storm, God cleans away the past and forces us to look at a new future. Forgiven and renewed, we are free to dance where the Spirit leads us.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Your Spirit breathed upon the Church at Pentecost giving life and purpose. As you gave your Spirit to us, we surrender our spirits to you. We bring our gifts with the courage and hope that you will bless us with the wisdom to us them for your holy purpose. Amen.
As we go to our daily living, may the Spirit come to us in new and exciting ways. God comes as a gentle whisper, as a strong wind, as a mighty storm. Let us go, filled with the Spirit to share the Good News of salvation with all people