THE COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
There is a lot going on today. We celebrated three infant baptisms this morning. We thanked God for the new lives of Kevin, Colin and Elena. The parents made promises to raise their children in the faith of Jesus and we as the Church promised to support them in this venture. That is always a wonderful celebration of life and faith.
also Pentecost Sunday. That actually worked out rather well since Pentecost was
the traditional time in the early Church when people were baptized. So, from
that standpoint, we are just walking the same road that has been traveled for
the last two millennium.
Pentecost is also considered to be the birthday of the Church. It is the time when the Holy Spirit descended down from the heavens and filled the early Christians with power. Listen, again, to the words of Acts 2:2-5 (NIV):
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 of each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
This is one of those “Wow” passages in the Bible. It is a story of God’s blessing. It is a story of God’s power and it is a story of God’s love. Up until this point, all indications are that the disciples were a bunch of scared rabbits. They were afraid to be seen in public. They were afraid to share the Good News of Christ. We can’t really blame them. Look, after all, what happened to Jesus. None of the disciples were in a hurry to end up the same way. Who would want to be nailed to a cross? No one in their right mind. And so the disciples were cautious and fearful because they knew that the Jewish authorities were not pleased with them. Timidity was the order of the day.
But then came the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised and the Spirit changed everything. The disciples went out from there and changed the world. They shared the Gospel message first in Jerusalem and Judea. Then they spread out in different directions to Asia, Africa and Europe. Amazingly, a mere 350 years later, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and even today is the largest and fastest growing religion in the world. You would not know that if you only looked at North America but people are giving their lives to Christ by the millions in South American, Africa and Asia.
Why did this happen? Was there someone who created a great strategic plan to evangelize the world? No. Were people coerced into accepting Christ? Sometimes but not often. Did people accept Christ because they wanted to advance their social standing? That might have been the case 100 years ago but no longer is. People come to Christ today for the same reason they came to Christ 2,000 years ago. It is because the Holy Spirit still fills us and the Holy Spirit still compels us to follow him.
A LACK OF UNDERSTANDING
The Holy Spirit came and rested on the Church on the day of Pentecost. It filled the Christians with power. They went out from there into the streets of Jerusalem and stirred up the people with their message of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus’ name. That was all good news.
What’s really interesting is the reaction of the people in Jerusalem who heard them. Listen to what it says in Acts 2:12-13 (NIV): “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.’”
What’s that all about? It’s about the people of Jerusalem trying to figure out what was going on with those Jesus followers. They were going all over the city preaching the Good News in every language under the sun. Some of the people were perplexed. Others thought they were just babbling away and assumed they were drunk. And so they made fun of them.
Peter’s response to this criticism was interesting. In Acts 2:14-15 (NIV), he said, “Fellow Jews and all who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you: listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine o’clock in the morning.” I think it’s interesting that on the very day that the Holy Spirit filled the Church, people began to make fun of Christians. And, like Peter, we often find ourselves in a position where we have to explain what we believe.
Have you ever wondered why that is? Why, in a world that is supposed to be so tolerant, is it okay to make fun of the fundamental beliefs of over two billion people? And why is it that it is often those who consider themselves to be most liberal and tolerant are the very ones who tend to be most likely to lambaste our faith?
To answer that question, I want to tell you two stories. The first one happened about twenty years ago. We lived in Espanola back then and were on our way to Hamilton to visit family. We had driven down highway 400 and were at the place where the 400 meets the 401. If you’ve ever been down that highway, you will know that it is often a bottleneck. There is really only one lane taking all of the traffic from the 400 that is merging unto the westbound 401. Inevitably we stopped. Andrew who would have been about eight at the time said, “Dad why did you stop?” I replied that I stopped because the car in front of me stopped.
Then he asked, “Why did the car in front of you stop?” I replied that the car in front of me stopped because the car in front of him stopped.
He continued, “Why did it stop?” I told him that all the cars were stopped because we were in a traffic jam to which my eight year old son asked, “Dad, what’s a traffic jam?” Only then did it dawn on me that because we lived in the north he had never been in a traffic jam. He had never seen one. He simply didn’t know what it was. So we explained it to him.
That’s the first story. The second story happened three weeks ago when as we were cruising around the Caribbean. Rebekah and her friend Leah met a bunch of kids their age and they started talking. You have to remember that most of the other teens were from Texas or Oklahoma and had never met any Canadian girls before and actually knew very little about Canada. You might think that odd but when I thought about it I realized that I’m not really sure that I had ever met a Texan before and I really can’t confess to knowing a whole lot of anything about Texas.
Anyway, they got talking about their respective countries. I have no idea why this topic came up but they started talking about milk. Somewhere in the conversation Rebekah and Leah mentioned that most of our milk comes in plastic bags. The Texans could not understand that. “Why would you put milk in plastic bags? Don’t you have cartons? What do you do with the bag. Pour it into carton? How do you manage to pour the milk out of something so flimsy as a plastic bag?” It turned into a rather lengthy and involved conversation that actually ran over a few days. Those kids from the mid-Southwest just couldn’t fathom why anyone would put milk in plastic bags. It just seemed really weird to them.
The common point of both of these stories is that something that seems very normal and ordinary to one person but seems very strange and weird to another. Andrew had no idea what a traffic jam was even though every kid in Toronto knew exactly what it was. The teens from Texas could not fathom the concept of milk in plastic bags but it is a normal part of life in Ontario.
What seems strange to one person seems perfectly ordinary to someone else. The same is true of our faith. The cynical side of me says that people make fun of Christians and Christianity because they are rude and uncaring. And I think there are some people like that. But I don’t think that represents the majority. I believe the majority of people who make fun of our faith are doing so because they don’t understand it. They think we’re nuts, that we’re talking like drunken fools. It’s up to us to convince them otherwise, to let them know that we’re not drunk because like Peter said, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning.
SPEAKING THEIR LANGUAGE
One of the key things that the Church is called to do is to communicate with the world about God’s love shown in Jesus Christ and the sacrifice that he made for us on the cross. There is nothing that we can do to save ourselves and so Jesus paid did it for us. He gave up his life to pay the price of our sins so that through faith in him, we can be reconciled to God and have eternal life. It’s that easy. It’s not complicated. In fact, it might be just about the simplest thing in the world.
That’s the message that the disciples shared with the people in Jerusalem on Pentecost. They went out into the streets and spoke to everyone who would hear them. They shared the Gospel message and people listened. Some believed and some didn’t. It’s as simple as that.
We’re called to do that same thing. But people get anxious about that because they don’t think they know enough or they don’t think they’ll be able to say it right. But look at the example of the disciples. The Holy Spirit filled them one morning and that very morning they were out on the street evangelizing the crowds. Understand this; you don’t have to be a university trained theologian to share the Good News. None of the disciples were. They were just ordinary people with ordinary lives. Some of them were fishermen. Some were tax collectors. They came from all sorts of backgrounds but none of them were theologically educated. They were just people on fire for the Lord and they had their stories to tell about how Jesus had touched and changed their lives.
That’s all you need too. You need your story and you need some basic understanding of the Gospel. It’s not hard but sometimes we make it way too complicate, especially those of us who have been Christians for a long time. I don’t think we do that intentionally. It’s just that we sometimes talk this weird language that other people don’t understand.
As Christians, especially evangelical Christians, have this strange way of speaking that can really turn people off. Can you imagine what it would be like for someone to ask a Christian about their faith and the person responds with something like: “I’m a born again, Spirit filled believer, redeemed by the blood which was shed for me on the cross. Jesus’ atoning sacrifice paid the price of my sins and when I surrender my life to him I am saved for eternity and I will enter my heavenly home along with all the saints where I will worship God eternally at the wedding feast of the Lamb.”
Does that make sense to you? If you’ve been hanging around Cottam United Church for a while, you probably understand most of that. But if you said that to someone who had no Christian background, they would not have a clue what you were talking about. Born again. Spirit filled. Redeemed by the blood. Atoning sacrifice. Surrender my life to him. The wedding feast of the Lamb. Is it any wonder that people’s eyes sometimes glaze over when Christians talk like that? What are we talking about? It makes perfect sense to us. But to those with no Christian memory or background it’s just a bunch of mumble jumble.
Do you remember what the disciples did on Pentecost? They went out into the streets and spoke to everyone they met. Not only did they speak but it says in Acts 2:11 that everyone heard the message in their own language. Was that miraculous? Yes it was. But it leads to an important point. Everyone heard the wonders of God proclaimed in their own language. The disciples share the Good News in words that people understood.
The results were staggering. It says in Acts 2:41 (NIV) that, “Those who accepted this message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Three thousand. Not a bad first day. Not a bad day all. None of that would have happened if they had not communicated the Gospel in ways that people understood.
The same holds true with us. If we are serious about leading people to Christ, we have to speak their language. We have to share it in ways and in words that people understand. There is no sense in using big Christianeze words because while the message might be right, it will make no sense. And if the message makes no sense, then the message really hasn’t been communicated.
IT STARTS AT HOME
We have to be willing and able to share our faith when people ask us. We as the church need to do a better job or equipping our people to do that. And here’s the last point – we need to start by sharing it at home. That means that we need to share our faith with our children.
Three children were baptized this morning. Most of us have children who have been baptized. As parents it is our job to do our best to ensure that those children are raised in the faith. In fact, I will go as far as to say that the single most important things we can do for our children is raise them to be Christians, to accept our faith for their own. It’s the only thing that we do for them that has eternal consequences.
Part of raising our children in the faith that is to bring them to church so that they are exposed to Sunday School and youth group. That’s what the Church does to support parents. But parents also must understand that that is not enough. The Church cannot train a child to be a Christian in half an hour on a Sunday morning. What it really needs is parents who daily show their children what faith is all about.
Our children need to hear their parents talking about their faith at the dinner table. As parents, we need to teach our children how to pray. We need read Bible stories to them and do bed time prayers with them. We need to consistently say grace before meals. We need to show them what it’s like to go to church on Sunday morning together as a family. We need to show them on a daily basis what it means to walk the Christian life, what it means to really follow Jesus Christ. Our role as the Church is to support families in that venture. But we can’t do it for you. It has to start at home.
That’s not exactly the way of the world. In fact, there are people who might think you’re nuts to go through all of that trouble for your children. But those who might think that just don’t understand the importance of faith and the difference it makes in a person’s life. But we understand and we as the Church are committed to helping you share the Gospel of Christ with your children in a language that makes sense to them.
people of Jerusalem heard the disciples sharing the Gospel each in his or her
own language. Some thought they were nuts. But others listened and came to
Christ. That mission still continues today through us.
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.
Our prayers are lifted up for the people of Northern Alberta, especially those living in Fort McMurray whose homes and communities are being threatened by raging forest fires. We pray for rain and no winds. We also pray for safety for the brave men and women who are risking their lives to battle these blazes.
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 Gary Rawlins, Verna Merritt, Ron Raymont, Sharon Hedge and Doug Montgomery. 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 24, 2015 / 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