Numbers 11:24-30, Acts 2:1-21
Pentecost Sunday. May 11, 2008
When I was in Kansas a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of the power of the wind, especially in that area of the country. One day I got to see some of those towering thunderstorms that I remember from my time out there. They were amazing! And those storms that week produced some impressive winds! They couldn’t tell if there were actual tornados imbedded in those storms, but with the damage that occurred, it almost didn’t matter!
Jesus told Nicodemus “the wind blows where it wills. You hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) That’s how he described the Holy Spirit to this teacher of the Law. Well, I think Pentecost tells us something else about the Holy Spirit using that same metaphor. Seeing what happened that day, Pentecost tells us, “the wind blows where it wills, and the wind is powerful!”
Luke tells us that the disciples “were all together in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind.” (Acts 2:2) Let me say that there may not have been tornados in that wind, but from the dramatic and powerful things that happened that day, it almost doesn’t matter! These fearful, cowering men who were keeping a low profile, became those who went out and changed the very course of history!
As I said on my web page this week, (and I hope you’re reading that page!) Pentecost is a big day for Christianity! It’s the celebration of the beginning of the Church – which is that “institution” which has had more influence on the life of this planet than anything else – ever! Pentecost is the celebration of the time the Holy Spirit was poured out on God’s people – in a powerful, and dramatic way!
Yet sometimes our lives seem so different in comparison, don’t they? Sometimes when we read the story of Pentecost and the accounts of what happened in the early days of the Church, our faith seems so small. In comparison to the book of Acts, God’s power in our lives seems almost non-existent, doesn’t it? Why is that? Why is it that we can come here this morning and worship and celebrate Pentecost along with countless other churches around the world, and yet feel disconnected from these stories, because they are so different from the mundane and ordinary lives we seem to live? I’d like us to think about that today.
One problem has to do with the calendar. The celebration of Pentecost has always had to “stand on it’s own.” The celebration of Christmas, and even Easter, get a lot of help from the “secular world.” If you don’t know what I mean by that, just go and look in all the stores around the time of Halloween. Notice what holiday is being promoted! It’s Christmas! And it’s earlier every year! And there’s a certain amount of hype at Easter time as well, at least from the candy and the chocolate bunny people.
Pentecost, on the other hand, has always been strictly a “Church thing.” There’s no secular celebration. There’s no TV exposure. There’s nothing. And while some churches have made valiant efforts to put this event “on the map,” it still hasn’t been given the prominence of those other major celebrations.
Then add to that the fact that this year Pentecost has to “share the stage” with another important event in our world – Mothers’ Day! And don’t get me wrong here! I don’t want in any way to be seen as one who is “pooh-poohing” Mothers’ Day! No way! (Especially not with my Mom here!) But still, I guarantee you that you’ve seen way more things in recent weeks about Mothers’ Day than you have about Pentecost! And I’ll bet most of you heard and saw nothing at all about Pentecost, except for what the Church has said.
Despite that, I believe we need to see how important Pentecost is for God’s people! We need to recapture the understanding that the Holy Spirit is the power behind the Church! And we need to be part of that same power – even two millennia later. And I know that many of God’s people are at a loss as to how to do that. Because many have settled for a faith that has very little if any of the power we see demonstrated in the book of Acts.
So, how do we change that? How do we tap into that power? It’s hard for us to imagine ourselves doing what Peter and the other Apostles did in the early days of the Church. Isn’t it? Do we think we’re even supposed to do such things? Or do we feel that the “Acts of the Apostles” were acts that only the Apostles were supposed to do? “That was for that time in history.” “We’re not to be that dramatic and powerful in our faith.” And some would say that even if we are supposed to do such things, they would simply “rather not.”
Well, my friends – and I’m sure you can see this coming – I believe we are supposed to do similar things in our faith! Miracles? Maybe. But certainly we are supposed to be bold in our witness, we are to be joyous in our relationship with God. We are to tap into and to reach out with the power of the Holy Spirit. But for many people in many Churches, that vision has been lacking. And we need to see where it may be lacking in us. Many Christians are mired down in the mundane and ordinary and have forgotten the joy and power of God and the amazing nature of his Grace. We need to remember that we are called to extraordinary living! (It’s a mindset, isn’t it?)
As you know, I have become quite interested in history. That’s especially true after moving back to this wonderfully historic area. (We have tons of history, just lying about the place!) Well, if we were to say that those kinds of amazing, powerful, “Book of Acts” kinds of things don’t happen apart from Pentecost, we would be forgetting our own American history! I’ve mentioned to you before about the period of time called the “Great Awakening.” That was the time in the mid 1700’s when the students and colleagues of the Reverend William Tennent traveled around the American colonies and challenged people to live their lives in relationship with God.
The resulting movement of the Holy Spirit in those days was amazing! It was like that of the time of Pentecost and the early days of the Church. Thousands of people from all over this area gathered to hear William Tennent, Charles Beatty, and others. (And there weren’t that many thousands in the colonies in those days!) Entire communities were convicted to their souls and gave their lives to Christ. And after that, much of the normal, every day conversation in American was centered around the life of faith. It was an amazing time! A mighty wind had blown over this land, much like the mighty wind at Pentecost. It does happen! But there’s a warning in that story!
Let me tell you that, ironically enough, much of “Religious Establishment” of the day opposed the works and teachings of the Great Awakening! And by “Religious Establishment,” I mean the established preachers trained in the “old world,” whose highly academic brand of Christianity had left the colonies in a “spiritual depression.” They opposed the teaching and preaching of the Great Awakening. And the similarity between their opposition and the opposition of the religious leadership in the early days of the church, is uncanny!
Well, my friends, I’m going to make a very difficult observation today. And that is, that the established church of our day is in danger of repeating history! There are many Churches that are preaching the personal relationship with God message and the importance of spiritual connection and sharing the life of faith with joy and power. And there are enormous Churches around this country that are growing in amazing ways. And there are those who oppose that! The established, historic denominations are opposing that movement, many whom owe their existence to the Great Awakening – like us radical Presbyterians! (Too many have forgotten that we Presbyterians – now referred to as “God’s frozen people” – were once at the heart of the Great Awakening!)
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been among my colleagues in ministry and I’ve listened with sadness to their criticism of those large and growing churches. They’ve said, “Those churches are giving easy answers to difficult questions.” “Yeah,” I’d say, “And to ever increasing numbers of people!!” or they’ve said, “That movement is ‘losing steam,’ and people are starting to return to denominational churches.” (Show me where!) Or then there’s the “kiss of death” response. “We have some serious questions about their theology.” I want to say like my Jewish friends “Oy veh!!!” (Loosely translated that means) “You’re kidding me!” “If we’re don’t watch it we’re going to “proper theology” ourselves right out of existence!!”
By the way, I’ve already told my colleagues that we at Eddington are a “Small Mega-Church.” And seriously, I hope that’s not a joke. I hope you see that the message I’m trying to give here is the same message of the Great Awakening, and it’s the same message of Pentecost. And that is that learning and history and teaching and theology, though they are good things, are nothing without knowing God personally, and living this life in joy and abundance! That’s the way we were created to live! As one preacher said, “Our faith has to give us a reason to get up every morning, and to live positively and joyously.” Does it??
The Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and it was like the rush of a might wind! It was a time of great and powerful works of God’s people. And the Holy Spirit we talk about today as the third person of the Trinity, is the same spirit of the early Church, and the same spirit of the time of William Tennant. And a Great Awakening can happen in each of our lives, too. The Holy Spirit can do powerful “Book of Acts” kinds of things in us. We can know the joy and the glory of God in us!
So I challenge you this day of Pentecost to look at your own relationship with God. Is it a big part of your every day life? Does it give you a reason to get up every day? Are you growing in the joy of living in the glory of God? I invite you as we close today to renew that relationship, or to establish a relationship with God if you haven’t already. And if you already have, then I invite you simply to rejoice in that relationship. Let us pray in silence for a few moments…
Holy Spirit we ask for your power to come upon us. Kindle your holy flame within us. Awaken our hearts. Restore us in our faith in you. Empower us that we might live in Pentecost ways. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.