Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
May 24, 2015
Acts 2:1-4, 14-21
“All Shall Receive”
Today we turn to the “Acts of the Apostles” and read about the day of Pentecost. Hear now these words starting at chapter two, verses one through four, and continuing on in verses fourteen through twenty one.
(Acts 2:1-4, 14-21)
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon 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 upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
“Let these ancient words of scripture move your spirit that you also shall receive the Spirit of God!”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I sat in my office on Monday afternoon and said a little prayer. Actually, it was bigger than little. It was a request asking God to help me put together a meaningful discussion surrounding today’s topic how we “All Shall Receive the Holy Spirit.” You see, I believe our scripture passage clearly indicates that everyone present on that day, the day we now call Pentecost, everyone was filled with the Spirit, everyone! Drawing on last week’s sermon on prayer, I surmised that if anyone could help me it would be God. Well… prayer takes a while to answer sometimes… so stick with me and together we will see where this conversation takes us.
Jesus had promised his followers that he would send an “Advocate” to them – after he had gone. Well… this is the day that the “Sponsor” Jesus had spoken of arrives. I chose the word sponsor as it is a widely used term and I thought maybe a majority of you would get the point more easily. A sponsor is an advocate that supports and backs up the person being received and embraced. This type of relationship is often used in fellowship type groups, such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous and many others. These sponsors help the new person find their way around the fellowship and are there to talk to and support their efforts towards becoming healthy, active members of the group or club they have joined. There are many types and levels of sponsors used by different groups and fellowships. Yet, many clubs and or groups have a lot of restrictions. Sponsors, for example, are also used in Boy Scott and Girl Scott groups and other such fellowships; these sponsors must vouch for a new member. To become a member of the Rotary Club when I was in New York, I needed a sponsor to speak to my worthiness. Cadets going to Annapolis or West Point are also required to have a sponsor with political power, such as a Senator. In this setting these sponsors act as references to the academy and in order to get one you must achieve certain standards and know the right people. The contrast between these various types of sponsors is quite vivid. The type of sponsor I liken to the Holy Spirit is in the group or fellowship where anyone and everyone is eligible to get one, all one has to do is ask, and there is little or no restriction; neither is the advocate required to vouch for an individual, rather this individual, very much like the ‘Holy Spirit’ is meant to support, empower and help the person.
On that first day of Pentecost the ‘Sponsor’ that Jesus had promised finally arrives… with quite a lot of fanfare actually! This, my friends, is not the kind of entrance a sponsor is called to make. Usually, it is quite a quiet and personal appearance into one’s life, as I believe the receiving of the Spirit is for most of us… most of the time. Yet, the biblical account is much more breathtaking. “Suddenly from heaven there came a sound… like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house.” Just to be clear I shall not try to draw a contrast between a human sponsor and the ‘Holy Spirit’ in such stunning and mind-blowing ‘superlatives’ as these. That first accounting of the ‘Holy Spirit’s’ presence is unique and stands out as a very special moment.
This Holy Spirit Sponsor… straight away and without delay… transforms those who were there that day. No longer were they scared and afraid, as they had been since the departure of Jesus from their midst. No longer were they hesitant to proclaim the ‘good news’ of how Jesus had come into their midst and radically changed their lives. This accounting tells us that many were able to instantly begin speaking in different languages and people of many and varied cultures were able to understand one another in their native tongues. It would be easy to stop right here and talk about how clearly this scripture passage breaks down the walls of race and culture as each received equally. In the following verses, following today’s reading, are the words of the Apostle Peter’s sermon that followed, obviously inspired by being filled with the Spirit. In it he clarifies that “their sons and daughters shall prophesy and slaves, both men and women shall prophesy.” These words wipe away the notions that the Spirit differentiates between the sexes or social standing of any of God’s people. But we shall not focus further on this, at this point, the clarity of these statements speak for themselves. In the eyes of God, attested to here in this well recognized passage about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, an ‘individual Sponsor’… in this scripture passage: “all are equal, men, women, slaves and free, all shall receive the gifts of the Spirit.” And, as Peter declares in his sermon “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Self-help groups and churches alike all seek transformation and change; all seek to be saved! If you come to church as a sinner… expect to be transformed. If you go to a self-help group as a person in a lot of personal trouble, expect to be changed into something and someone new! The sponsorship role we take on, as church members for visitors and new comers, is the same as that taken on by a sponsor in a self-help group. It is our job to direct the new person toward the tools of change. In order to achieve this task we shall need to help them understand the language of this community; just as a good sponsor, a good advocate and supporter of anyone new, is expected to help the other learn the foreign language of any new group or community. Equipped with these tools everyone has an equal opportunity. We cannot do it for them… only the Holy Spirit, God in person, can make the transformation. Yet, there must be a sincere desire by the individual to want to invite God into their lives to help out; then and only then, will change begin to occur, with the aid of a good sponsor, a good advocate as a guide and friend.
We see folks drop in here to worship with us. Some visit more than once, many do not. Perhaps we didn’t reach-out to them in the right way. Or maybe they felt left out of the goings on here. Possibly, the ones that never come back, simple belong somewhere else. If you are new here or just visiting today for the first time, I fervently pray you find what you seek here within this fellowship. It is however your responsibility to sample and take in what we as a community offer. I strongly believe and pray that those whom stay, and give this faith fellowship a try, will find what they seek if they truly allow the Spirit to enter into their lives and they become willing to allow God to transform those areas of their lives that need to be changed. There may even be some of our regulars here today that need to allow the transforming power of God into their lives. Only they can make that choice.
It is quite simple really: ‘all shall receive’ the power of God’s grace and mercy, all shall receive the power of God’s love through the simple act of accepting and receiving the Living Spirit of God, the Advocate, which Jesus promised to send; and was sent to all people on the day of Pentecost, and is still available to all people who are willing to open themselves to receiving the fullness of God into their lives.
Looking back into our personal journeys we may see that there have been various people who have sponsored us, people who have reached out to us and helped us along the way. They may be the ones who first said no to us. Sponsorship after all is not all about saying yes. Change means: we need to not do it… the way we always did it, and try something new. Even as children our parents or those that were charged with bringing us up, were acting as sponsors. Some were better at it then others. Look back into your earlier years and see if you can identify who the good sponsors were; perhaps you can use them as a role model, as you reach out, seeking to sponsor others who are seeking a faith community here.
As we look to God today, we may wish to see how the Spirit has moved us. Let us pray that everyone here today has been moved by the Spirit. Yet; this is not always the case. Some of us have memories that suggest we have needed more help in ‘being open to the Spirit’ so that we might become willing to receive. Perhaps there was no one there to sponsor us and help us find the tools to become willing and ready to receive God’s grace and mercy, as-well-as receiving God’s love and power! Prayerfully, those that needed that guidance have now received it. What we raise up today is the whole concept recognizing that all of us can and shall receive the Spirit of God into our lives, if we become willing to accept it as well as receive the Advocate promised by Jesus!
Pentecost, the celebration of God’s abundant Spirit, is the opportunity to bring forth new life into this world. It is an opportunity to influence and help transform ourselves, our community into the progressive changes of life that will one day cause and help everyone: to know what God’s love is and has felt the fullness of the Spirit filled life and now has a desire… fueled with gratitude to pass it on to others. This is what today is about! It is about how God’s Spirit has been made available to each one of us to help us to achieve some common goals. “To live life fully in the sight of God and to help others to do likewise!”
“We don’t have any idea what the Spirit will do next, so let’s not pretend that we do, or try to limit our assumptions about what the Spirit might do.” /Danielle Shroyer/ Therefore, without fear or hesitation on this Pentecost Sunday, let us seek to be filled with the Spirit. Let us seek not to be in control rather let us seek to be transformed. A Spirit filled life is learning to ‘let go and let God’. Ask the living God… invite the Holy Spirit into your life. As a Spirit filled people we shall be changed from our old selves and we shall be made new; whole and filled with love and gratitude; ready and willing to help others to find the tools of transformation that we have found here.
Mothers and fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, honor today. Honor this day by offering to help someone; be a sponsor to someone that could use a good guide and friend along the way. Support that person… talk with her or him on a regular basis. Share your journey and your love with them. Help them to feel and bask in the fullness of God’s Spirit that is here for all to receive. Come Holy Spirit come! Fill us, transform us and guide us. Be our sponsor in this walk, this journey we call life.