Unifying Spirit, 5/15/2016

posted Jul 7, 2016, 11:20 AM by Lois Kerchner

“Unifying Spirit”


Acts 2:1-21

Sermon by Rev. Timothy J. Smith

May 15, 2016


Pentecost Sunday provides the opportunity to understand that God continues to do a new thing in our church, in our lives, and ultimately in the world through the working of the Holy Spirit.  While we recall the specifics of the day of Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts, we are not only commemorating a past, but look to the future to the new thing God is doing in our midst.  Pentecost is truly a day of new beginnings.

            The dramatic account of Pentecost that empowers the believers to speak in other known languages reinforces the truth that God blesses diversity.  God speaks to us in a language that we can understand.  We do not have to learn God’s language, because God comes to us.

            In the opening worship service of General Conference this week, four languages were spoken as part of the communion ritual -- revealing once again the global nature of the United Methodist Church and also our cherished diversity.  God blesses diversity.

            We sometimes think we can accomplish more if everyone held the exact same beliefs.  Recent research reveals the opposite; the more diverse the group, the more they are able to achieve.  When we listen to an assortment of voices, we are able to hear the voice of God.  God is not limited to one people or one nation, or one time, but God’s love encompasses all people throughout the ages.

            When the day of Pentecost dawned, the believers were “all together in one place.”  We gather each week to worship together.  We experience strength when we are all together in one place.  In recent decades we’ve lost that focus by viewing our faith as private, individual and inwardly focused instead being part of a community of faith.  When we view our faith in those terms, then regular attendance at worship doesn’t seem very important. There is no telling what  might happen to our church when we are all together, working for the glory of God. The believers were all together in “one place” when the Holy Spirit empowered all of them.

            The apostles had spent the last ten days praying, as Jesus instructed them.  Our community will be transformed when we pray for our neighbors, and people with whom we come in contact on a daily basis.  Standing in line at a store, we can silently pray for the person in front of us; likewise we pray for our neighbors as we walk or drive by their houses.  Perhaps you can think of other creative ways to pray for people that we meet every day.  Only God has the power to change lives.  Perhaps our reluctance is that we do not expect much of anything out of the ordinary to take place, yet alone be transformative.  We just might be surprised.

            While the apostles expected something to happen, they were still surprised.  First, they heard “a sound like the rush of violent wind.”  It filled the entire house as it blew in through the windows; it might have felt like the roof was about to blow off.  Next they saw what appeared to be “divided tongues as of fire” descend and rest on each one of them.  God certainly had their attention, by using both sight and sound.  Immediately the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit.  This is what they had been praying and waiting to happen.

God breaths God’s creative power at the creation of the world and again on the day of Pentecost.  Fire is a symbol for God’s revelation.  As the wind blows throughout the house and they view “tongues as of fire,” the very presence of God is with them.

            The Holy Spirit empowered them to continue the ministry that Jesus began.  The Spirit transformed them from lackluster disciples into mighty apostles, who were no longer afraid to take on the world, as is attested throughout the Acts of the Apostles.  The first gift of the Holy Spirit was speech. As they began to speak in other known languages, the believers spilled out into the street where they drew quite a crowd.  They did not keep this gift to themselves for their own personal growth, but went outside to share it.

            There were “devout” persons from all over the world living or visiting Jerusalem who heard and saw the commotion.  The people were “bewildered” when they heard their own language spoken.  They understood what the apostles were saying.  It was truly amazing.  Perhaps some of the people had not heard anyone speak in their native tongue in years.  God communicates with us in a way we can understand and hopefully respond.  God was truly doing a new thing in their midst.

            Imagine several people speaking at the same time, each in a different language.  With everyone speaking at the same time, it must have been difficult to focus on the person speaking in the language they understood.  People on the outside can hear and understand people on the inside.  When we share our faith with others, we need make sure we do not use insider terms that outsiders may not understand.

            People experience God in various ways, but may not understand or need clarification.  These people, who have experienced God in some way, need to be welcomed and offered help to make sense out of what they have experienced. They might have different life experiences than us, but that does not matter as we love and accept them for the unique individual God created them to be.  Persons in the crowd that day did not fully understand what was happening. Naturally they asked each other, “What does this mean?”

            Have you ever noticed that there are always people who will dismiss or belittle our experience?  I remember growing up a peer asking, “You don’t really believe that stuff do you?”  In the crowd that day were some who suggested that the whole experience could be attributed to too much wine.  They sneered, “They are filled with new wine?”

            We need to pause to ask ourselves if there have ever been times when we dismissed someone because their experience was different than our own.  We feel everyone should be like us and do as we do, quickly disregarding others’ experiences.  God blesses the gift of diversity.  I would hate to think that God was doing something new in our midst- something that we dismissed as misguided.

             In the midst of the crowd, Peter stood up and interpreted what they were experiencing by quoting the prophet Joel, who foretold of just such a day.  Fueled by the Holy Spirit, he spoke in a way that the people understood. People responded; at the conclusion of his sermon three thousand people became believers that day.  It must have been overwhelming, just like it would be for us if suddenly hundreds of people began attending our church.  We would have to set up additional chairs throughout the building, and then run wires and speakers so everyone could hear.  Then there would be the nightmare in the parking lot and there would be other challenges as well.

            While we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, we realize that the work of the Holy Spirit is not limited to just one day, but continues to inspire and empower believers today.  For the next six months every Sunday will be listed as “after Pentecost” highlighting the important on-going work of the Holy Spirit.

            Come, Holy Spirit, fill us once again.