Good morning, Friends!
Today is a very special day in the Christian year. It’s the birthday of the entire Christian church.
Today is called Pentecost. Pentecost comes six weeks after Easter, and we remember the day when the Holy Spirit was given to Jesus’ followers.
Let’s listen to the story together.
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. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
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? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
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.”
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!
No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘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.”
– Acts 2:1-18
Just imagine what it must have been like to be there. People gathered one morning, prayinq quietly together. The doors closed. Eyes closed. Hands opened in prayer.
And then, with no warning, an explosion takes place! A roaring wind, like a hurricane, like a tornado. They thought the wind was going to tear the roof off. All the scrolls fell to the floor. People’s hats blew off. Maybe some of the furniture fell over.
And then, before they could recover from the wind, it says that suddenly there were tongues of fire over everyone’s head. I don’t know if they were little or big. Any kind of fire would have been unexpected. I wonder how bright the fire was – whether it burned them, or blinded them?
They felt the Spirit as a mighty wind. They felt the Spirit as a burning sensation. And then, before they knew it was happening, they all began speaking out loud at the top of their voices, telling each other how wonderful God was.
What was even more amazing, they were speaking in different languages. Instead of Hebrew or Aramaic, they were speaking in every language of the known world.
By this time, other people had showed up. And they were amazed! It was a festival time, and there were pilgrims and visitors from all over the world.
They heard Jesus’ friends, and they said, “These people are from around here. But they’re speaking like natives of Iran, Iraq, and Israel, Greece and Turkey, Egypt and Africa, Rome, the islands and Arabia. They’re all talking about the great things God has done, and we can understand them. What’s going on here?”
We would have been asking the same question.
Jesus had promised to send them the Holy Spirit. Whether they remembered that promise or not, I don’t know.
But Jesus said that when he went away, he would still be with them. The same Spirit that filled him, would be right there in them. When they forgot important things, Jesus said, the Holy Spirit would help them remember. When they couldn’t understand things, the Holy Spirit would make them clear.
When they were in trouble and got arrested for being Jesus’ followers, when they got hauled up in front of officials and governors, Jesus said that the Spirit would give them the right words to say in that very hour.
The Holy Spirit was very real to them in those early days. The Spirit gave each of them different gifts and abilities. Some became great, Spirit-filled preachers. Others were great, Spirit-filled witnesses.
Some started new churches in different parts of the world. Some were healers, like Jesus had been.
People felt that each of them had been given a special gift of the Spirit. There were teachers and leaders, interpreters and caregivers, encouragers and singers. There were people who had the gift of knowing what the church should do, and there were people who had the gift of getting the church back on the right track. Everyone had a gift. Everyone was a minister!
They didn’t all have to be the same. They knew that the church needed all these gifts of the Spirit. Every time a new congregation started, they didn’t ask what the rules were. They didn’t ask what the budget was.
They said, “Lord, come with your Holy Spirit and fill this place. Teach us what we need to know. Feed us with your living word. Refresh us with living water. Help us to turn our lives around. Show us your mercy. Show us your power. Give us the right words, so we can share your life with everyone around us. In Jesus’ name, be with us!”
They prayed like this, and over and over again, in different places, everywhere they went, the Holy Spirit came to them. It was like manna in the desert – the Spirit came to them, fresh every day.
Every time it happened, it seemed like a miracle. The Holy Spirit was here! God wasn’t back in the distant past. God was here today!
They couldn’t control it. They couldn’t predict it. They didn’t always know who the Holy Spirit would speak through, or when it would happen.
It could be through one of the leaders, but the Spirit could speak through anyone. It could be a man or a woman, a young person or an old person. The Spirit could even speak through a child, or a servant, or a slave.
The time or place didn’t seem to matter. The Holy Spirit showed up at worship on Sunday, but also at midnight in prison. It could happen in the crowded marketplace or by the road side. The Spirit spoke out in crowds, and it spoke where only two or three people were gathered.
I’m not making this up! These are all places where the Bible records that the Holy Spirit showed up.
And people recognized it. They knew when it was authentic. They knew whenever someone was faking it. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me. . .” And Jesus had said, “Whoever is of the truth, knows my voice . . .”
They knew when it was just noise, and and they knew when the Spirit was present. They couldn’t be fooled! They recognized when people were just talking about Jesus, and when Jesus was really there.
Whenever the Holy Spirit was present, they felt an extra depth, an echo or a resonance in the moment. They felt there was something more than what could be seen or heard on the surface.
They felt the Holy Spirit when someone laid a hand on them and prayed. They felt the Spirit during the blessing at meals. They heard the Spirit speaking to them sometimes, when they read the words of the Bible – all of a sudden, there was a special word, speaking just to them.
They found promises everywhere. They found answers to their prayers. They saw the fingerprints of God on everyday things, and they felt they were walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
Heaven didn’t feel far away to them. As Jesus said, “The kingdom of God has come very near to you. . .” They felt that the dividing line or the border between us and God had been erased, and that the Holy Spirit moved freely, back and forth, from one side to the other.
I’ve been talking as if all this happened in the past – in the distant past, some time dead and gone. People still remembered Jesus then. Many people had seen Jesus, while he was still alive.
But they would have told us, “You’re missing what’s going on, every day, all around you! The Holy Spirit never left. All you have to do is look, and listen, and reach out, and feel for yourself! If you open your eyes, there are miracles, all around you! If you listen, the Spirit is still speaking, every day!”
Whenever you see something really good happening, stop and thank God for it. Any time you see or hear something really wrong, or someone hurt or hungry or lonely, just stop and ask yourself, “If Jesus were here, what would Jesus do in the next 30 seconds?”
It might be something I’ve prepared and trained myself to do, but it also might be something wild and crazy and completely unexpected, even to me.
I put our open worship after the message this morning, because I want to ask you something. When have you felt the Spirit near you? When have you felt the Holy Spirit was doing something, right in front of you, or beside you?
Have you ever had a time when you felt that it wasn’t just a human voice, but the Spirit speaking? Have you ever known that God was at work, when it was a “God thing” and not just a “human thing”?
Pentecost tells us that the Holy Spirit sometimes comes in hurricane winds and flames of fire. But the Spirit also comes, whenever people reach out and bridge across the mountains and valleys and oceans between us. When we reach out, the Spirit helps us.
The Spirit speaks through young and old, through women and men, through people of every race and nation. When have you felt the Spirit speaking in someone else? When have you felt the Spirit speaking in you?
Let’s have some quiet prayer, and listen to the Holy Spirit.