June 8, 2003
††††††††† Today we celebrate an amazing event, an event that transformed a band of fearful men and women into a community of believers on fire for the Lord, an event that forever changed them from being just simply witnesses of the resurrection, to proclaimers and evangelists of the good news of God in Jesus Christ.† Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the coming of the very presence and power of God that breathed life into the church and continues to empower all us who confess Jesus is Lord with the courage, the strength, and the ability to not only change our lives, but to also change the world.
Our text for this morning describes for us in great detail about what happened as the apostles and some of Jesusí disciples gathered together on Pentecost, which was the fiftieth day after the Passover Feast.† As they sat in the upper room of the house in which they staying, suddenly, from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind that filled the whole house in which they were sitting.† Then they saw divided tongues like fire descend upon them as they were filled with the Holy Spirit.† And they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them the ability.†
In many ways, the story of Pentecost is even more mystifying than the story of the Resurrection.† In some sense, the story of the Resurrection is easier for us to believe.† Jesus died and was buried, and the next morning the tomb was empty.† We only know what happened after the event, but nothing during the actual moment of the resurrection.† No strange sounds, no violent winds, no strange lights, no descriptions at all of what actually happened during the dark hours between Jesus' burial and the discovery of the empty tomb on Easter morning.† All we know is that at one moment Jesus was dead in the tomb, and then the next moment the tomb was empty and Jesus was alive.†
And yet, it is the resurrection that is for us Christians the most important event of the Gospel, and the single most defining event our faith and life.† The resurrection is the pinnacle event of God's salvation history, the one event, which sets us apart as Christians and gives us hope of eternal life.† More people go to church on Easter than on any other Sunday of the year.† Even those who never go to church on any other Sunday, will some how find a way to make it to church on Easter Sunday to worship, pray, and sing Easter hymns, because we all know that the most important confession of our faith is that Jesus is Lord, not just because he was a good man, who did good things, but because God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day.†† But Pentecost is different.†
Maybe Pentecost is different because we actually know what happened during the moment when the Holy Spirit arrived rather than just hearing about it after the fact.† We read the words on the page, but our mind struggles to grasp the imagery that is described by the words.† The imagery of a rushing sound from heaven, a violent wind, and the tongues of fire make for more of a fanciful story of the supernatural or paranormal than of an actual event that really took place.† Even scholars have a hard time talking about what actually happened on Pentecost, instead they skirt around what happened as if to say, ďWell something happened and Iím not sure what, but I guess I have to write something.Ē†††
In many ways, trying to grasp the imagery and make sense of what happened in that upper room on Pentecost is like trying to grasp the imagery and make sense of the process of nuclear fusion in the sun at the atomic level.† We may not quite understand exactly how nuclear fusion works deep within the core of the sun, but we can sure feel its power 93 million miles away.† In the same way, we may not quite understand exactly how the Holy Spirit came within the apostles and disciples, but we can sure know that the power of the Holy Spirit did something do them, that it changed them and transformed them into the very body of Christ and brought life to the church.
For Christians, Pentecost is as defining a moment in Godís salvation history as is Easter.† In the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God has again dramatically and radically broken into the course of human history to do something new, the create again, just as God did in the beginning of creation.† In the same way that the Spirit of God was unleashed upon the formless and void earth, Godís spirit is again unleashed upon the apostles and disciples to create a new people, a new people whose source of strength comes from a power that is outside themselves, a power they have never known before, a power that enables them to go public in all boldness and confidence with Godís message of salvation to the ends of the earth.† And yet the story of Pentecost remains low on the list of defining moments of our faith, and especially of our identity and purpose as a church.
In many ways, the imagery of the Holy Spirit coming as a violent wind is an accurate one for many churches.† For many churches, the presence of the Holy Spirit is as disrupting and intrusive upon the well-controlled and comfortable lives of the faith and worship of its members, as a tornado is on the ground.† There is something unsettling about the power of the Holy Spirit because it moves among us, through us, and in us in unpredictable ways, and we do not like things that are unpredictable, let alone disrupting and intrusive in our churches.† Too many churches today would rather keep the way they do things just like they are, with no surprises and no changes and no new directions, than to let the power of the Holy Spirit lead them in all of the Spirits unpredictable ways.
Make no mistake about it.† For any church that becomes a spiritual vacuum, that keeps itself safely tucked away in the walls of the church building, that closes itself off to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit upon its members, and that leaves Godís work of justice, liberation, and peace in the world to others, the result can only be like that of a tornado Ė destruction.†
If this church, and the church as a whole, has any hope of continuing to have an impact on the lives of people, has any hope of being Godís people in the world, has any hope of carrying the message of Godís salvation in Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, we have to begin to open ourselves up and reclaim the power and fire of the Holy Spirit given that day of Pentecost 2000 years ago.
Brothers and sisters, for the last seven months, we have heard the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, starting with Advent, and then Christmas, on through Lent, and Easter.† In this story of salvation in Jesus Christ, we have seen and heard about Godís dramatic and radical in-breaking into world history in the person of Jesus Christ, who calls us to repentance for the kingdom of God is at hand, who calls us to follow him as his disciples and live in a new way of life of faith and obedience, and who calls us to go makes disciples of all nations and carry his good news to the end of the earth.† And now, we end that story with Pentecost, but Pentecost isnít the end of Godís story, it is just the beginning, because in the coming of the Holy Spirit, a new in-breaking of Godís presence and power has come, but this time it has come in all of us.†
The power God gives us is not the power that the world understands or even wants.†† The world scoffs at the power we have been given, and labels it spiritualism or pietism or worse.† It evokes in the world a windstorm of ire and confusion, because it goes against the grain of the way by which power is achieved in this world through materialism, individualism, domination, and politics.† But these are all fading realities of a world that is fading away, for we see what the world cannot see, a new reality of the kingdom of God through the power of the Holy Spirit that changes our lives with the divine fire that lifts us to new heights of being as Godís people, and of doing as Godís people in the world.† It is this unbridled power which we must let loose among us, which we must let free to invade our lives, which we must be willing to let disrupt and intrude in our faith, so that our faith can become that of Gospel proclamation and Christ-like action.
When I was about 5 or 6 years old, we lived in Orlando, FL, and my parents and I would go to Cape Canaveral to see the then Apollo mission rocket launches.† We would drive our Plymouth Duster to the visitorsí viewing area, find a parking place, and wait for the lift-off.† Even though I was at a young age, Iíll never forget my first experience of seeing a Saturn rocket blast off.† As the countdown clock hit the last few seconds before lift-off, we could see the rocket come to life as a cloud of smoke begin to blow out from under the rocket from 7.7 million pounds of thrust generated by the engines, but we could not hear anything yet.†
And then, suddenly, like a violent wind, we could see the shock wave move across the water to where we were sitting, churning up the water as it moved.† In seconds, the wall of sound engulfed us as the full fury of the sound of blast off resonated not only around us and among us, but also deep within us.† The earth shock under the force of the thrust of the engines, and we could see the rocket gaining speed as it soared into the sky.† Within just a few minutes, it was nearly out of site, but the sound was still deafening.† Seeing a rocket blast off was an amazing event for me.† Just to feel the unbridled power of those rockets was breathtaking.†† It is an experience I will never forget.† Of course, I will also not forget returning to the car to find that a red and blue crayon had melted on my white blankie from the heat of the afternoon sun.†
But the amazing thing about rockets is that they are totally powerless, unless they are ignited by the fire from an outside source.† Just before main-engine ignition, auxiliary power units begin firing sparks of flame underneath the engines, which ignites the rocket fuels in the fuel tanks, and turns a dormant and life-less piece of metal into a living rocket that can break the surely bonds of earth and touch the face of God.†
My friends, the external power and fire of the Holy Spirit is just waiting to ignite all of us into the living and breathing body of Christ that can break the bonds of this world and soar to new heights as Godís people.† The question for us is are we ready?† Are we ready to be ignited by the external power that comes from on high?† Are we ready to be lifted to new heights in a spirit filled life together in Christian discipleship and ministry in the world?† Are we ready to take that leap of faith and let loose the unbridle power of the Spirit of the living Christ in this church?† Are we ready to become the people who God wants us to become and to fulfill our true purpose for which we created?† I hope you said yes to all of these questions, and if you did, like those astronauts sitting on top of that Saturn rocket, you better strap yourselves in and hold on, for God has in store for us one heck of a ride.† Amen.†††