This message was shared at Centerville UMC on Sunday, May 24, 2015. The Scripture reading came from Acts 2:1-12.
Before I get too far into this message, I feel like I should set the stage a bit. The Scripture passage we heard focuses on an incredible event that took place on Pentecost. Pentecost was one of the three great Jewish festivals, along with Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost means “the fiftieth”…it’s the 50th day after Passover. Jews from all over would have traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival day. That explains the diversity of the crowd. The Pentecost festival served two purposes: 1) commemorates the giving of the Law to Moses; 2) Two loaves were offered as thanks for the harvest. Due to the events of that particular Pentecost festival we heard about in Acts, Pentecost is celebrated as the birth of the Christian church!
Prior to that moment, things had been pretty crazy for the disciples. Jesus had been crucified, then resurrected and spent some time with them. Before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told the disciples to wait for God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. Of course, they had no idea what Jesus meant by waiting for the Holy Spirit. But, Jesus said wait. So, that is exactly what the disciples did. They went to Jerusalem to wait. However, they didn’t simply wait. While they were waiting, they studied and prayed. That is where we find the disciples in this Scripture reading…waiting, studying and praying.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for those gathered in the crowd to hear people just sporadically start speaking in their own language?
Talk about a powerful God experience! This was an obvious encounter with the Holy Spirit. This was a miraculous display of the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s miraculous in a number of ways. First, we have the miracle in the disciples speaking in many languages. Then, we have the miracle that the people heard and understood the disciples teaching.
The crowd was amazed and bewildered. They were awed and yet perplexed. Some attempted to explain the situation and dismissively said, “Aw, these guys are just drunk.” Now, listen folks, I don’t know about your life experiences, but, whenever I’ve been around highly intoxicated folks, the only foreign language spoken was gibberish. To me, it seems a bit peculiar to attempt to explain this miraculous phenomenon as the result of overconsumption. Of course, let’s be honest, there are times that when I get a little excited on Sunday mornings, some of you wonder if there is more than coffee in my mug!
So, Peter stands and gives an explanation of what is taking place. Peter says, “Hey, these guys aren’t drunk…it’s 9am…they haven’t had enough time to get drunk.” Whenever I get to this point in the Pentecost story, I can’t help but think of the old blues legend, Albert Collins song “I Ain’t Drunk, I’m Just Drinkin’” (“I don’t care, what they people are thinking. I ain’t drunk…”). Peter uses this opportunity to testify, to give a witness, and walks through the whole story of Jesus…and the results were incredible.
Read Acts 2:41-47: 3,000 people were baptized that day. 3,000 lives were changed. The spirit was moving and working in the midst of the people…and they devoted themselves…they began living together in harmony, sharing all they had with one another, worshipping and eating together, and every day, they added more people to the community of believers. The Holy Spirit changed their priorities. The Holy Spirit messed with them. God shook up their ordinary lives!
If the Holy Spirit isn’t changing our priorities, like it did those gathered in Jerusalem, if the Holy Spirit isn’t changing our priorities, the way we live, the way we work, eat, play, spend our time, talents, and money, the way we interact with creation, well, it may indicate that we aren’t following the Holy Spirit. If we harbor hatred towards another, for any reason, we might not be living in the Spirit. Living in the Spirit doesn’t mean we always have to agree, but, we do have to love…even our enemies.
One of my favorite professors at United Theological Seminary, Charles Gutenson, once said, ” If following Jesus ain’t messing with you, well, it ain’t Jesus you are following.”
If we want to encounter the Holy Spirit today, maybe we need to focus on the same things as the disciples. They waited, they studied, and they prayed. When we put ourselves in a position to experience the Holy Spirit, we just might notice it when God’s spirit moves. The spirit is continually at work all around us. Are we in a position to take notice? Are we waiting, studying, and praying?
Some of the most powerful Holy Spirit, God encounters I’ve had lately have taken place in Guatemala. When surrounded by extreme poverty, we take in extreme beauty, and God moves in mysterious ways.
- This simple house made of sticks and mud- cooking on an open fire, built on the dirt floor in the room that served as kitchen, living room, bedroom. Yet, you turn to look out from the house, and you have a million dollar view.
- Following a local politician, who was moving at breakneck speeds, while I was trying to keep up, carrying a couple of concrete blocks, walking through coffee and avocado trees, almost heavenly. Half way down, I realized the rest of the team was nowhere in sight or sound. And, here I am following this local politician. My Spanish is pretty much limited to “donde esta el bano”. So, we get down to the bottom of this trail and wind up at a house. The politician said something along the lines of, “casa equivocada”. I said, “Que?” He simplified it to “mal casa”, which meant bad house. Oh, wrong house. So, we trekked back up this trail, still carrying the concrete blocks and get to the right house, where I find the rest of my team, praise the Lord, and met this little guy, Juan. Now, Juan tried to convince us that he was 8. In reality, he was three. He was tons of fun. Here he was, living in extreme poverty, yet he was filled with joy and laughter. He didn’t know he was living in extreme poverty. He just smiled and enjoyed life!
- The next day, we actually went to “casa equivocada”, and met this little girl and her brother. The two of them were using the pits of avocado’s as their toys. I’ll never forget watching one of the guys on our team, Jeff Landis, get into grandpa mode, playing catch with the kids and their avocado pits. An avocado pit. Again, extreme poverty, yet tons of joy, laughter, and love.
- Then we visited this little stick house, right off the side of the main highway. A steep hill down. This little lady, who looks to be 115 years old, but we were informed she was 60, was thrilled to welcome us into her home. She was extremely grateful. She didn’t act with a sense of entitlement, but rather humbly and graciously accepted the help we could give.
- These experiences quickly reminded me of how fortunate I am. Yet, at the same time, I was keenly aware of God’s presence in our midst. In the middle of poverty, of struggle, of suffering, God was all around us- in the beauty of creation, in the beauty of the people we encountered, in the work God was doing in our hearts. Being in Guatemala isn’t about helping those people, it’s about God using those people and our work to radically transform our hearts.
This kind of Holy Spirit moment can happen right here. There are young boys and girls, families, and little old ladies right here in our community who are in desperate need for the church to allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us- as individuals and the church. There are people right here in our community and in our midst who need to the church to offer miraculous, life-transforming words, ministries, and actions. It won’t happen if we don’t pray. It won’t happen if we don’t think and look beyond ourselves. It won’t happen if we don’t step up to the plate. It won’t happen if we don’t let go of the “well, we’ve always done it this way” attitude. It won’t happen if we are controlled by words like “can’t”, “don’t”, and “won’t”. These are just fearful and selfish excuses made in an attempt to avoid following the lead of the Spirit. We might fail- that’s okay! Peter got 3,000; in Acts 17, Paul got 2. God doesn’t care about our win/loss record; God wants to know that we were willing to follow the Spirit’s lead and give it our best attempt.
Where have you encountered the power of God? It doesn’t have to be in Guatemala, God is at work right here in our midst. We can learn from the disciples example- if we will slow down enough to wait, to pray, to study, we will position ourselves to be aware to God’s work in our midst. And, guess what? God will show up in powerful ways.