Sermon notes 05-31-20                                  The Gift of the Holy Spirit              Pastor David King

[Acts 2:1-21] When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. [2] And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. [3] And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. [4] And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

            [5] Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. [6] And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. [7] And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? [8] And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? [9] Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, [10] Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, [11] both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” [12] And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” [13] But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

            [14] But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. [15] For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. [16] But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

            [17] “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,

            that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,

            and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

                        and your young men shall see visions,

                        and your old men shall dream dreams;

            [18] even on my male servants and female servants

                        in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

            [19] And I will show wonders in the heavens above

                        and signs on the earth below,

                        blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;

            [20] the sun shall be turned to darkness

                        and the moon to blood,

                        before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.

            [21] And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (ESV)

 This is one of the more mysterious events in all of Scripture, this giving of the Holy Spirit to the believers gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, causing them to speak in languages they had not previously known.  I love the words used to describe the reactions of those who witnessed this event first hand.  They are said to be amazed, astonished, bewildered and perplexed.  They ask one another, “What does this mean?”

Some of those who were present try to explain what they have witnessed by accusing the believers of being drunk.  This work of the Holy Spirit was just too weird for those witnesses to comprehend—and if we are honest, I think many of us today would admit we find the work or even the notion of the Holy Spirit to be weird.

We still ask ourselves today that same question, what does this mean … this “Holy Spirit?”  We somewhat mindlessly invoke the Holy Spirit in our prayers, we invite the Spirit into our presence in worship, we say we want the Holy Spirit to direct us and empower us —but do we really mean what we are saying, or understand what we are asking?  We might even admit that when we ask for the Holy Spirit to empower us, we hope the Spirit’s response will be somewhat limited, don’t we?  We don’t want the Spirit to go too far.  We hear this weird account of the first day of Pentecost, and we hear about the strange things people do today in some other churches while supposedly under the power of the Spirit, and we privately hope the Spirit won’t make us do anything like that!  After all, we don’t want people thinking we are drunk, or fanatical, or weird, do we?!

Today is Pentecost Sunday, a day we commemorate as the birthday of the church.  So I want to talk with you about the meaning of Pentecost, about the role of the Holy Spirit on that first day of Pentecost and about what we are called to do with the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the church today.

We should begin by acknowledging that we do not claim that the day of Pentecost was the first time the Holy Spirit was active in the world.  If we go all the way back to the second verse in the entire Bible, Genesis 1:2, we read that “the Spirit of God (i.e., the Holy Spirit) was hovering over the face of the waters.”   So we see that the Holy Spirit was there from the beginning and appears throughout the Bible … but something special happened in Acts chapter 2.  Donna graciously read the passage of Scripture that is a liturgist’s nightmare, with all those difficult names of nationalities of persons who had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost.

A moment ago I referred to the gathering on that day described in Acts chapter 2 as the “first day of Pentecost,” but it can only be called the first one if we are thinking in terms of the Christian church.  Pentecost was a Jewish harvest festival long before it was ever a Christian holy day.  The list of nations that Donna read for us included places where Jewish communities existed throughout the first-century Roman world.

The reason these devout Jews were in Jerusalem on that day was not because they expected for the Holy Spirit to come and give birth to the Christian church.  They were there to celebrate the annual harvest festival of Pentecost that attracted Jews from all over the known world.  Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after the Passover, and that is where its name comes from.  Pentecost literally means “50th.”  If you were to count beginning with Easter Sunday as day one, Easter Monday as day two, and so on, this would be day 50, the day of Pentecost.

Now, we know that some Christian churches today refer to themselves as “Pentecostal” churches.  We understand of course that those churches are not claiming any particular connection with the number 50.  They rather claim the name Pentecostal because they connect themselves with what happened on that day described in Acts chapter 2, when the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of “divided tongues as of fire” and rested on all those who were in the house.  A key term here is as offire, meaning that what appeared and rested on them was probably not literal flames, but it looked enough like flames for “tongues as of fire” to be the closest and best description that could be given.

Whatever it was that rested on those present in that house on that day, it enabled them to speak in other tongues.  If you go to worship at a Pentecostal church today, you will likely find people speaking in tongues.  While speaking in tongues is mysterious to Christians who don’t identify as Pentecostal, the main thing for us to know is that the word “tongues” in this passage can also be translated “languages.”  On the day of Pentecost, those who were present understood the tongues or languages being spoken.  It was not gibberish to them. They said, “we hear them telling in our own tongues (or in our own languages) the mighty works of God.”

The miracle that took place on the day of Pentecost was not that persons were able to speak in languages that had never before been spoken.  The miracle of Pentecost was that the Holy Spirit empowered Christians to bear witness, in words that could be understood, the good news of what God had done through Christ.

Pentecost signifies the gift of the Spirit coming to people in a new and more powerful way.  This gift was the fulfillment of what had been promised, by the Old Testament prophet Joel, and by Jesus himself, who had told his chosen apostles on the day of his Ascension into heaven that the Holy Spirit would soon come upon them to give them power to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.  We who are here at this end of the earth called Surf City, NC are beneficiaries and recipients of the witness that the Holy Spirit empowered on that day.  In fact every Christian who has ever lived has been a beneficiary and recipient of the witness empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This means more than the fact that we have all been able to receive the Gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It means that every baptized Christian has also received the gift of the Spirit ourselves, empowering us to be witnesses, to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ, sometimes in the words that we speak, but more importantly in the way that we live into our calling to be the hands and feet of Christ on earth.

Here at Faith Harbor we do not have the word “Pentecostal” in the name of our church, but we are nonetheless a Pentecostal church, if we understand that to mean a church empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.  In fact, if we are not Pentecostal, we are not able to bear witness, and we cannot even rightly call ourselves Christian, because there is no Christian church without Pentecost and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The truth is that there is nothing we can do as followers of Jesus Christ apart from the gift of the Holy Spirit.  That’s the negative way of putting it.  The good news, and the positive way to put it is to say, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit empowering us with everything we need to be followers of Jesus Christ.  We are a Pentecostal Church, because we are the Church of the Spirit.

When Peter addressed the multitude on the Day of Pentecost, he quoted the prophet Joel to explain this strange thing that had happened, and he ended that quote with the words, And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’  We should understand those words not to mean that everyone who invokes the name of Jesus like some sort of spiritual password will get into heaven.  But we should understand those words to mean that through Christ, God’s plan of salvation is now available not just to the Jews, but to all of humanity.

Some opponents of the Church say that Christianity’s claim that Christ is the only way to heaven is too exclusive, but Christianity is actually the most inclusive faith there could be.  Christ died for all.  You don’t have to be born into a particular religion or ethnic background to claim Christ as Savior.  No matter who you are, where you live, or how you were raised, Christ died for you and it is God’s desire for you and for all to be saved.  That is the good news that those first converts to Christianity on the Day of Pentecost were called to proclaim, and that is the good news that those of us who claim the name of Christian are still called to proclaim today.

And this is where I finally get to what we are called to do with the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the church today. Do you ever wonder why followers of Jesus Christ are still here on earth?  Do you wonder why Jesus did not take us with him when he ascended into heaven?  Why did he leave us here?  It must be that there is something we are supposed to be doing here.  It is something we could not do if Christ had taken us with him when he ascended into heaven.

Brothers and sisters, we are given the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can be a part of establishing God’s kingdom on earth.  In view of COVID and the terrible events in Minneapolis and so many other evil things we see and experience in the world, we Christians can easily take on the attitude that this earth is a lost cause, and that our function is to just try and make it through until we can escape this God-forsaken place and get to heaven.

But guess what?  In spite of appearances, God has not forsaken and has no intention of forsaking this place.  Jesus taught us to pray, thy kingdom come.  He did not tell us to pray for God to establish his kingdom in heaven for us to escape to when we die.  He told us to pray, “thy kingdom come” to be established “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Friends, we are a Pentecostal church, empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to Christ and to be a part of establishing God’s kingdom on earth.  Thanks be to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, for the Church, and for the power to be witnesses for Jesus Christ, here in Surf City, and even to the ends of the earth.

Let us pray.

O God, you sent the Holy Spirit to enflame the hearts of Christ’s followers waiting in Jerusalem for his promised gift.

Pour the same inspiration on your people assembled here at Faith Harbor, and on the Church of Christ throughout the world.

         Revive the power of the Gospel in our hearts, that it may be for us a sacred trust for the blessing of all creation.

         Enable your Church to spread the good news of salvation,

so that all nations may hear it in their own tongues, and welcome it in their own lives.

         Protect, encourage and bless all servants of Jesus Christ, and prosper their words and works, so that Jesus, being lifted up, may draw all people unto him, and the kingdoms of the world may become

the kingdom of our Lord and of Jesus Christ.  Amen.[1]

[1] Prayer modified from The United Methodist Book of Worship, United Methodist Publishing House, 1992;

  1. 407.