The Rector’s sermon for May 20, 2018     


Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15)


Not everyone likes surprises.  Even people who don’t seem to have any plans, still like things to be in some kind of order.  This is especially true when the plans are working and our lives are going well.  And this is most especially true in the church.  Talking about plans, how many time have you heard:  “But we’ve always done it that way!” It’s a phrase that is coined as a sarcastic description of the reaction we get when someone suggests a change in the church.


But today is Pentecost Sunday, a day that embodied a huge surprise and major change for the disciples and the church!  The violent wind and the tongues of fire that appeared on that day were meant to change the people of God forever.  We, as baptized Christians are called here to live in the expectation that there will be times when the Spirit will—figuratively or maybe even literally—blow through a meeting place or a church service like a violent wind, lighting up His people with a new language, giving us the gifts of the Spirit so we can praise God and bring others into His kingdom.  And it all began on that first Pentecost.


Jesus had told his disciples to stay in the city and wait.  For what, they didn’t know, but surely they didn’t wake up that morning and say, “A powerful wind in on its way that will knock us over!  Tongues of fire will light on our heads!  We will speak in different languages, and we will go out and build a church!”  No, that wasn’t anywhere near what they thought would happen.  They just gathered to worship and pray. They weren’t expecting an indoor tornado or tongues of fire.  They were there to pray and wait.  Let it be so for us, today.  Let it begin…again…today…a new birth for the church of God in a time when churches are shrinking and so many people seem to think that this Holy Anchor isn’t necessary for life!  Let a new Pentecost begin…again…today.  How might we experience a new Pentecost today?


Let’s look back at that first Pentecost and see what we might take away.  It was a Jewish holiday that began 50 days after Passover. There could have been up to 120 of them in that upper room: the 11 surviving apostles, plus a hundred or so disciples who had traveled with Jesus while he walked the earth.  Jewish, all of them, at this point, with no desire to separate from that tradition, but continuing to keep the faith all together in one place, celebrating one of their Jewish holidays.  That is our first clue as to how it shall be with us.  They were all together.   They were not rebels for a cause…that would come much later, and it would not be a result of their defiance. They were not necessarily always in agreement, but they were there, together, in one place, with one as-yet unknown purpose, praying, worshiping, all looking for God-given direction.  They had no expectations.  They were simply told to wait for whatever was to come next, and that’s what they did.


Then…suddenly…I have mixed feelings about that word!  It says you weren’t expecting what’s about to happen.  It can be exciting; it can be frightening.  But it’s a tactic our God uses an awful lot!  In Genesis, a sheaf of wheat suddenly stands upright (Gen. 37:7).   Often in the Book of Numbers, God suddenly speaks to Moses and Aaron and Miriam…with no warning.  In First Kings, an angel suddenly appears to Elijah (1Kings 19:5).  And in countless other places, a wind arises out of nowhere, a calamity happens, tents are destroyed, angels appear, healing occurs…all of them…suddenly.  Our God seems to take pleasure in doing what he does best…breaking into our lives when we least expect it!


The disciples are worshipping, praying, and something that sounded like a violent wind filled the whole house. This was something beyond anything they could have dreamed up or even prepared for; something truly from beyond them; the Spirit’s initiative, not theirs.  Their initiative consisted solely of waiting—for what, they didn’t know. Then, not just a wind, but fire—divided tongues of fire, appeared and rested upon each of them.  Now when we think of fire, we don’t think of individuality; fire begins somewhere and then grows into something massive and all-inclusive.  But there was individuality here, another clue of how it shall be with us.  They are not all one big collective flame, in which they all lose their identity.  Whatever it is that had blown through their space brought them together, but individuality remained.


And with those two clues—togetherness and individuality—mission and church was to begin!  We’re told they were “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and spoke in other languages.  Turns out that all the people outside listening to this, were able to understand in their own native language.  What a marvelously, perfect plan!  How else could the church of God begin unless the people were allowed to hear and comprehend the Good News of Jesus Christ in their own language!   Devout Jews of every nation in the known world in Jerusalem, either on business or to take part in traditional Jewish Pentecostal activities—but Jews from all over the world are there, and each one can hear the disciples speaking of God’s deeds of power in their own language.


Worship, watch and wait.  The same conditions are in place even today, even in our fractured churches.  There are more denominations than we could ever imagine, and even within denominations there is division. But the mission is still the same.  There is no prerequisite, other than faith and patience.  The call to us from the risen Christ is the same as the call of the ascending Christ to our spiritual ancestors so long ago.  While the apostles asked Jesus, “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?.” our question might be, “Lord, when will you restore us to our former greatness?  When will you fill our churches again?  When will you bring back those who have lapsed?”


The answer is the same for us as it was for the apostles.   Go to your places of worship and wait, watch and pray, if not in perfect agreement, at least looking together in the same direction.  In time, the Spirit will fill us.  It will be something we can’t fully understand, something we can’t explain.  It will light us up and we’ll know it when it happens.  We will be given a language, at the very least words that can be understood by those to whom we are sent.  If we are faithful, it will happen. Wait, watch and pray.


At the 10:30 service today, we will baptize a little child who will have little understanding or remembrance of what is happening to him.  But God knows.  And today when that little child is filled with the Holy Spirit, we will have followed the direction of Jesus to go and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


May we continue to wait, watch and pray.  May our lives reflect a Pentecostal Spirit.  May the fire of that Spirit live in us, taking us to new heights of evangelism.  And if we are faithful, suddenly… all we be fulfilled.

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