“The Spirit of God Lives”

Acts 2:1-8 & 12-21, May 31st, 2020

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

“Here now these words as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.  Beginning in chapter 2, verses one thru eight and continuing on in verses twelve Thru twenty-one.”

Acts 2:1-8 & 12-21

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.  5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”  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.’

“We have listened with our ears, now let us hear with our hearts, as the Spirit flows into us, allowing us to understand the fullness of the Living Spirit of our God!

 

“The Spirit of God Lives”

Back in the Eighteenth Century, Catherine the Great proclaimed for all to hear: “A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.”  Here we are in the Twenty-First Century and her pungent statement still speaks to us.  The winds of change have been blowing throughout the world these last two months, just as it has at different points throughout history.  For a vast number of the inhabitants of the Earth, the winds of change continue to rage!  Millions of us clearly are struggling with this conflict, this battle we are in.  We all know that the focus now, is COVID-19, a pandemic virus.  Yet, this is not the only sickness that citizens of Mother Earth are facing.

What are the underlying struggles, diseases that are raising their ugly heads amid all this, this sicknesses among us?  Here in our great nation, we are seeing blatant signs of racial discrimination being played out on virtually a daily basis.  The belief has been that these issues were eradicated during the time of Martin Luther King.  But the truth is, the issues of race are being exploited every day, and it is getting worse, not better.  Is this the only thing we need to be grappling with?  No, it is not!  Classism, bigotry, polarizing divides driven by fear and anger, plaque us every day!  The consequences are devastating.  Hunger and homelessness are on the rise; the divide between the haves and the have-nots is increasing.

As we open-up a few of these struggles, let us consider where we are in the discussion.  Are we stuck in this messy bog – or – are we allowing the winds of the ‘Living Spirit’ of God to inspire our imaginations?  Through our dreams and imaginings will come fresh methods, new ways to do new things!  Think about it: large numbers of people are now going to social media and on-line technologies to do… every-day life!  Shopping for groceries and then having them delivered to our homes.  More and more people are now working at home, and there are strong indications this trend will continue long after the current social crisis.  Likewise, the winds of change were blowing in the times that followed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.  Today, we hear about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the day of Pentecost!

Let us closely ‘listen’ again, to the first verse of our scripture; this time, open your hearts to hear the meaning of what is written!  “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” /Acts 2:1/ They were all together!  Such an intoxicating statement!  Imagine the contrast from that moment in time – to our own moment in history.  Are we as a people all together?  As the Spirit of God moved among them, not just the disciples, but a sea of witnesses!  The Spirit touched all who gathered and opened them giving them the ability to understand one another!  Can you imagine how powerful that would be if this were happening today?  As we witness the breakdown of so many norms of our recent past, let us allow the Spirit of our awesome God to take us… in new directions!

Let us again hear the text of our scripture: “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  And at this sound (like the rush of a violent wind) /Acts 2:2/ the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them (heard others) speaking in the native language of each.” /Acts 2:5-6/ We live ‘in’ and ‘at’ a time, here in these United States, where people are polarized, secularized, marginalized, and profiled for the color of their skin or pushed aside because of where they come from or their orientation.  The problem that us humans have is we do not all understand the meaning of our words the same, nor our actions!  Today, is not the only time we may not perceive things the same way in which someone else perceives the same thing.  Therefore, we need to take time to allow the Spirit of God to be with us as we listen to one another.  Hearing each other is one thing, understanding is a whole different thing.  We each have a responsibility, to pay attention to all that is being communicated.  It is our task to listen, and to consider what others are sharing with us.  With these realities in mind, on that first outpouring of the Holy Spirit, this diverse group’s ability to understand one another – was nothing short of amazing!

The Rev. Kathryn Matthews, a well know pastor in our beloved “United Church of Christ,” she speaks to our lesson today.  “In this Pentecost experience, the Spirit of God rushed in to empower many ‘different’ kinds of people to do something astounding: communicate with one another effectively (a miracle in any age!)  Bridges were built and crossed in a moment, and the differences among them, instead of dividing, provided startling illustration of God’s great power.”  This is our time!  Let us do something outstanding!  Let us unite and come together; listening to one another with an open heart and mind!  You and me, we are not happy with the disease which is ragging inside our borders!  It is our challenge, and it is our time to come together!  Change only happens when good women and men come together following the lead, the will of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit!  It is time for us to begin to buildup the United Church of Christ here in our community and in our time!  Our Church is founded on the bringing together of ‘four’ of the ‘branches’ of ‘Christianity’ to do the ‘will of God’!  Together we can live out this legacy!

Rev. Matthews adds to this discussion with these words.  “Beyond the differences of nationality and language, there was a fundamental unity that was not only touched but enlivened and experienced, profoundly, by many who were there.  Others scoffed and interpreted even the most amazing of events through the eyes and ears of cynicism, but those with hearts and minds that were open to the movement of the Spirit knew that a new day had indeed arrived.”  The same writer is believed to be the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, from which comes today’s lesson.  The central point of this writing is that everyone, was welcomed to witness to – and were invited to – receive the Living Holy Spirit!  The drama here is that the Spirit moved amongst a diverse group of people to begin the mobilization of the movement we now refer to as Christianity!  At the same time, we must recognize that the Spirit was color blind, had no sense of ethnic origin, and no sense of whether people were rich or poor, gay, or straight.  No, the Spirit was and is bestowed upon all people, people like you and me who were and are praying to receiving it!  It does not matter if you speak Spanish, French, German, Russian or even English… the Spirit will reach out and touch your heart!  The Spirt came, crossing all boundaries, overcoming all and any man-made walls or barriers to bestow the gifts of the Spirit!

A misconception of the coming of the Spirit of God into our lives, is that we will feel peace and find comfort and live happily ever after.  Sorry, I am truly sorry to tell you, that just is not true!  I know the Spirit has touched me, from head to toe, but the Spirit still wakes me up in the night; the Spirit still pushes me to do way more than I believe I can do!  Pentecost is the day we remember that God, through the Living Spirit, has called us to unit together, despite our differences.  However, the road to peace and unity, is filled with potholes and stumbling blocks that must be overcome.  Me and you, we need to trust that the Living Spirit of God will empower us with the willingness to persist, and to stand for the rights of others.  We are called to stand against bigotry, and discrimination, and the Spirit will give us the tenacity we need to persist.

The point is, the coming of the Spirit is just the beginning.   We need to stay motivated!  Back in the Nineteenth Century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once said: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”  First the Spirit rallies and brings people together.  Then the Spirit organizes the many facets of communities together so that, as an assemble of diverse people, with different gifts, a community of faith is formed which can act as one – in the name of the Living God!  This is what the day of Pentecost is all about!  We wear red to remember that the very breathe of God has breathed upon us, giving us the resolve, the determination, and the initiative to come together as one.  And as a united group of followers, the Spirit is driving us to do the will of God, in and around the community we live in – and beyond!

The Spirit is in our midst to empower us to do the will of God and unite, utilizing the language of the heart.  Our lesson illustrates how we are meant to come together, dropping any biases that have separated us.  The Spirit is here to open our hearts, one to another.  The Spirit opens the language of understanding.  True harmony will not be easy, nor close at hand; this shall take time!  Yet, the Spirit is in our midst to push and propel us do what it takes to come together.  The Spirit is available to everyone who desires to have the Living Spirit of God in their lives.  Open your hearts to this outpouring of God’s love!

Amen.

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