A Sound from Heaven – September 13, 2020
Joel 2:21-29, Acts 2:1-21
September 13, 2020
Today, we celebrate Pentecost – only about 3 months late! But as I would be quick to point out, the church’s liturgical celebrations are not set up on the actual dates they occurred. They are placed throughout the year so that we would be encouraged to celebrate regularly all the major milestones in Jesus’ life and ministry.
So, I was thinking, what better time to celebrate the “birthday of the Church,” as Pentecost is sometimes called, than the day we re-start our in-person worship services. Maybe we can see this as our “re-birth-day,” sort of.
As we look at the story of Pentecost, the “birthday of the Church,” I would say something you’ve heard me say before, and something that comes to mind every time I read this story in particular. That is, “God has a great flair for the dramatic!” Think about the great stories in the Bible, and I think you’ll agree! The Exodus, the story of Joseph, the birth of Jesus, the Ascension – all great, dramatic events.
Think again about the story we looked at a few weeks ago, the Road to Emmaus. You can go back and re-read my sermon about that on the website (epch.us). It was called “An Unexpected Journey.” That was where the “incognito Jesus” was teaching the unsuspecting travelers on that road. But he was doing more. As I said then, God uses dramatic stories like this, because he doesn’t want just to teach our minds, he wants to touch our hearts.
Well, that’s definitely true when it comes to the story for today. And as we look at this one, I would say something that I’ve also said before. That is, when God starts something, God really starts something! When doing something important, like this, God makes liberal use of the exclamation point! As I said, God doesn’t want simply to teach our minds, he wants to touch our hearts. But, he also wants to “fix it in our heads!” So we’ll never forget! This story does all of that!
The disciples were waiting in Jerusalem as Jesus told them. And as I said last week, they really didn’t know what was going to happen. They only knew what Jesus said, that the Holy Spirit would “come upon them.” But they really didn’t know what that was going to look like. We do, of course. But I don’t think they would have even imagined something like this!
There was a great sound from heaven, described here by Luke as the “sound of a mighty wind.” And notice it doesn’t say that wind was actually blowing! He doesn’t say there were trees blown around, or dust flying, or pieces of houses swirling around, just the sound – a sound from heaven – like a mighty wind. So, this wasn’t seen as a freak wind storm. It was a powerful, heavenly sound!
I’ve never actually seen a tornado. I was 20 years in Kansas, but I never saw one. I’ve been near them, though. I’ve heard some big winds. But they say when a tornado is close, the sound is like that of a freight train passing by. That’s the sound of a mighty wind. I’ve been near hurricanes. That’s the sound of a mighty wind, too. And I’ve been in other big storms. When I was in Kansas for my daughter’s wedding, we had a storm that had 100mph straight line winds. Tractor trailers were blown over on their sides, billboards were destroyed, and the canopy over the gas station pumps next to our hotel was blown away. That was the sound of a mighty wind. Perhaps it was one of those sounds that the people heard on Pentecost.
Whatever it was, the sound, the flames of the Spirit, and the speaking in other languages by the disciples, all combined to become the dramatic event that was the beginning of this amazing adventure we call the Church. God was firmly establishing it in the memories of his people, a great and dramatic event, an event that would never be forgotten in the Church – for two thousand years now! It’s an event we have since recognized as the birth of the Church.
As I read this story again, it made me think back to the birth of the church in my own life. It made me think of the birth of my faith. It made me recall some of the events that happened in those days, and how they touched my heart and led me where I am today. Are there events that you could point to in your life that were part of your “faith history?” I think we all have such events, such “milestones” in the journey of our faith! Don’t we? As we think today about the beginning days of the Church, I want you to think of the beginning days of your own faith. What were the events that caused that birth or faith in you?
A big one for me came when I was in High School and I went with my church youth group to a weekend conference at the Harvey Cedars Bible Camp. That’s where I heard Richard Armstrong speak for the first time. That weekend he told the story of the dramatic call of God on his life. And it was a supernatural event! And it came at a time when I was dealing with the Holy Spirit somehow calling me in way I didn’t yet understand. That’s where I personally experienced the idea I talked about last week, where I said that we sometimes need to take a “step of faith.” We feel God calling us to move forward, so we set out in a direction we think he’s leading, and we ask him to guide us, as a rudder steers a ship – but only when it’s moving. Remember Abraham. He didn’t know where God was telling him to go, only that he should set out!
I thought of another milestone this week! My first day of ministry, after I graduated from Seminary, was July 15,1981. But it wasn’t until a couple of months later that I was ordained. That date was September 13th – 39 years ago today! So, as of today, I’m in my 40th year of ordained ministry. (That’s not counting 3 years of student pastorates before that, and 2 years in college when I was a youth leader at a local church in West Chester!)
I think we all have milestones in our lives of faith. Think about yours. How did your faith begin? Maybe for you, it was more a time than an event. Maybe it was a time when the seeds of faith began to grow in you. There was a time when God began to become real to you, but you can’t say exactly when it was, or how it happened. Maybe that time is happening now. Maybe that seed has germinated within you, but hasn’t quite sprouted yet.
C. S. Lewis was a staunch atheist for much of his life. But at one point, the Spirit was starting to speak to him. It was starting to “nudge” him. The seed was planted. And then one day, as he says, he got on a train, and at the end of the trip, when he got off of the train, he just knew that God was real and that he was a believer. He couldn’t explain how it happened along the way, he just knew. There are many different ways God breaks into our lives and plants those seeds within us.
The Church has a certain structure around this. Maybe that’s your experience. There’s Christian Education, there’s a time of challenge young people to think about faith, then there’s a time of Confirmation. And those things are all well and good. But even then, God sometimes breaks into people’s lives in midst of that structure, or even what seems to be outside of that structure. Maybe during that experience a person is touched by God at a Summer camp – perhaps at Kirkwood. And yes, that experience might seem like it’s outside of that formal structure of Christian nurture. But then again, if you weren’t part of the Church structure, would you even have been at that camp? So, we never know how God is going to touch our lives!
For some people, it may have been more than one experience. I was in a Christian musical group in High School called “The Second Touch.” It was right around that time when God was becoming real to me. (I’m doing a lot of “spiritual reminiscing” today!) The name of that group “The Second Touch” came from the story in the Bible where Jesus touched a blind man, and then asked if he was able to see. And the man said, “Yes, I see, but men look like trees walking.” And so, Jesus touched him a second time, and then he could see clearly. And in that group we felt that God was using us to touch some people that second time, helping them to see their faith more clearly. Maybe that happened to you. God touched you in some way and faith sort of made sense. But then later he touched you that second time and it all became clear.
Maybe your experience was more like the Apostle Paul. Maybe you had to be “knocked off of your donkey” on the road to Damascus. Maybe instead of gently “nudging” you, the Holy Spirit had to hit you with a sledge hammer. Maybe it was for you like this Pentecost experience, a sound from heaven, a mighty wind, something dramatic!
And maybe God used some dramatic event in your life, maybe even a traumatic event, to bring you to faith. And I want to be careful here. Because I don’t want to imply that God caused traumatic events in people’s lives, to bring them to faith. I don’t believe God causes such things. But God can use those kinds of events for his good. He can use them to help us to realize what’s truly important in this life.
So, have you found yourself in any of these suggestions I’ve been making? Do you remember how it all began for you? Do you remember when God helped you to realize what is truly important in this life? It all started in our story today with a sound from heaven. How did it start for you?
As people have done for two thousand years now, we can look to this Pentecost event to remember the beginnings of the Church. But it’s also good to look to the events of our lives, times when God became real to us, or when God brought us through difficult times, or when he brought us back to himself after a time of wandering. What were those events, and how did they touch our hearts, and fix in our minds that God is real and that we are his?
I hope I got you thinking about those things today. That was my intention. We are all part of this amazing adventure, called the Church. We are part of that “Great cloud of witnesses” Paul told about in his letter to the Hebrews. (Hebrews 12) As the psalmist wrote, “When we look at the heavens, the work of God’s hands, the moon and the stars that he has established, who are we, that he is mindful of us?” But he is. He has broken into our world and established his Church. And he has broken into our lives and made us his own.
Eternal God, we are always amazed when we think of your greatness, and how you care for us. We thank you that you have loved us, and made us part of your kingdom, part of that great company of believers called the Church. Help us to be the people you call us to be. Help us to be sensitive to the leading of your Spirit in our lives. Bless us and prosper us as Jesus’ body here in this place. For we pray in his name, Amen.