From a locked room, the disciples emerged to share their faith – a faith so deep it changed the world and birthed the church. As we listen for the word of God, may we hear with ears and hearts aflame with the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
2:1-21Common English (CEB)
2 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
5 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. 7 They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? 8 How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”
14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams. 18 Even upon my servants, men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 20 The sun will be changed into darkness, and the moon will be changed into blood, before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Happy Pentecost! This is one of the most important days in the year of the church. It’s right up there with Easter and Christmas! Today is the day that we celebrate, and we praise God for sending the power of his Holy Spirit. Today is considered the birthday of the church. Because after the Holy Spirit came upon the people gathered in Jerusalem, the power of God filled them. This was the power that Jesus told the disciples to wait for before he ascended into heaven. And it was using this power that the church grew from about 100 followers of Jesus Christ to today’s church of billions. Now that is some kind of amazing power!
And so I have three questions for you to think about today.
What in the world is the Holy Spirit?
How do we recognize it?
And how do we use this power in our lives?
I’m not saying I’m going to answer these questions for you because honestly I don’t know the answers. But I hope you will ponder these ideas today and this week.
What is the Holy Spirit? How do we recognize it? How do we use this power?
To me, the Holy Spirit is hard to understand. I have an image of God in my head. And I have an image of Jesus. But isn’t it hard to picture the Holy Spirit. That is why I wanted to share the video with you. I find it so hard to grasp the fact that God’s own power is living within us. And I love the image of all those different kinds of light bulbs, and the idea that we are all uniquely made by God and so maybe the spirit of God lives within each of us in very unique ways, too. It’s a great visual image of the Holy Spirit – with us as this variety of bulbs, and the energy within the light bulbs being God’s spirit. So maybe the Holy Spirit is that energy within us that keeps us powered up to feel God’s presence, and the power to do God’s good works so that we can shine for others. Because we are different bulbs, the light is going to look a little bit different in each case.
But even though it will look different in each of us, let’s think about what the Holy Spirit is? There have been volumes written about that question. But let’s keep it really simple. The Holy Spirit is definitely the power of God that lives within us. But I’ve also been thinking about something else. Sometimes we pray a prayer called The Prayer to the Holy Spirit. And the first line is: Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Kindle in us the fire of your love. I think that the Holy Spirit is the fire of God’s love. Not only is the Holy Spirit God’s power, but it is the fire of God’s love. Maybe that’s what makes it so powerful – because it is the fire of God’s love. Did you ever stop to think that we have the fire of God’s love within us and that we can use it for God’s work in the world?
But how do we recognize the Holy Spirit? We don’t have light bulbs that come on to alert us that the Spirit is present. Wouldn’t that be nice? It would be so much easier to pay attention! In Acts 2, the Spirit came in a sound from heaven — the howling of a fierce wind – they heard it. The Spirit came as individual flames alighting on each one of them – they saw it.
Now I have never seen God appear as flames above people’s heads, and I’ve never heard God through a howling wind. But I have had witnessed some pretty loud Holy Spirit experiences. I have witnessed lightning bolts and heard the voice of God. I have been healed and seen healing. I’ve witnessed people freed from addictions in an instant through God’s power. I’ve seen some amazing works of God’s spirit. So I have no doubt that God can and does reveal himself in loud and clear ways like we just read about in the Pentecost story. God is God, right? If God created the world and all that’s in it, I have to think God is mighty enough to reveal his spirit in some dramatic and obvious and loud ways.
In today’s text, after the wind and the fire appeared, Peter stood up before the crowd to tell them about God. Now remember that this is the same Peter who just a few days earlier denied that he even knew Jesus – remember the Easter week story – Peter denied knowing Jesus three times! What a coward Peter seemed to be.
But just a few days later, Peter stood before thousands of people and proclaimed the mighty works of God in such a powerful way that Acts tells us 3,000 people came to believe in Jesus. Three thousand people changed their hearts and lives and were baptized. That was a loud work of the Spirit!
The crowd that witnessed the fire and wind of the spirit that day were in Jerusalem for one of the three great Jewish Festival – known as Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks. And so there were lots of people there from all over the place – do you remember all those places that I tried to pronounce in the scripture – there were people in Jerusalem from all of those places. And they all spoke different languages. But God was powerful enough that when Peter began speaking about the mighty works of God, they could all understand it in their own language! And 3,000 of them believed and were baptized.
There seem to be some times that the Holy Spirit does appear like a light bulb lighting up. It seems obvious that the Holy Spirit was present for Peter, the denier, to stand and speak in such a way that 3,000 people changed their hearts and lives and were baptized. It seems a mighty work of the Holy Spirit that all those people speaking different language could understand Peter that day! Today’s scripture is full of loud appearances of the Holy Spirit.
But I think God is big enough to appear in small ways, too. God is big enough and creative enough to appear in small ways. And, I think maybe when you experience the Spirit of God in small ways, it’s even more special. Because it’s almost like it’s a secret between you and God. It’s almost like that little experience of the Spirit – that little taste of the fire of God’s love in a small way is something special just for you. It’s like a personal God wink, meant just for you. And then you realize that God is really with you and for you. And when it happens, you just know it was God. You just know it was an act of the Holy Spirit. It’s sometimes impossible to explain to someone else, but you know. It’s just between you and God.
The book of Acts is a wonderful book to read. Because it is the story of how the church began and how it spread to the ends of the earth. It tells of the mighty and miraculous works of the Spirit that helped to spread the news of God’s love around the world. In Acts, we can read about how the disciples used the Spirit’s power to heal people and cast out demons. We can read about the disciples being freed miraculously from prison and being saved from the doom of shipwrecks. The book of Acts is like an action adventure movie about the wondrous acts of the Holy Spirit in the early church.
But the book of Acts, also speaks of quiet acts of the Holy Spirit. God is big enough to act in small ways. Even when God acts in small ways, we can recognize that God is at work. Just a few lines down from today’s text, we come to a description of this in Acts 2:42. You may remember seeing this scripture on the slide that we use for our announcements, and it is listed on the back of your bulletin, too. Here is what happened after that loud work of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost:
Acts 2:42-47 Community of believers
42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
This passage talks about wonders and signs that God performed through the apostles. But more than that, it talks about how the Spirit was working in the early church in small ways every day. The believers devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings. Today this would be studying scripture. They shared meals. They prayed. They shared with those in need. They sold property in order to provide for everyone who was without the basics. Every day they met in the temple together. They shared meals with gladness and simplicity. And they praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone.
And through the light of the Holy Spirit within them, God added daily to the community those who were saved. It wasn’t just the loud acts of the Spirit that drew people to Jesus, it was also the small acts. The small acts of devotion to each other and to God was perhaps even more attention getting than the howling wind and the fire that came down on that Pentecost day. Because it was through the small things that it became obvious that the fire of God’s love was real on a day to day basis. These people loved one another – they cared for each other, they ate and prayed and worshipped and made sure each person was safe and secure. The fire of God’s love was clearly seen by all around them when they made loving God and loving their neighbors the first priority in their lives. This is what early Christians were known for, and this is how the Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
So what is the Holy Spirit? It is the fire of God’s love.
How do we recognize it? In all kinds of different ways – remember the light bulbs – God works in unique ways in each person’s life – appearing in ways both large and small – in loud shouts and quiet whispers.
And so, we come to the final question of the day – how do we get some of that? How do we get the fire of God’s love – how do we use the power of the Spirit – how do we get that light to turn on within us?
The video that we watched, said: “What if the Holy Spirit gives me the power to decrease so that God can increase?”
In John 3:30 John the Baptist says, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” He must increase. I must decrease.
In his book about the Holy Spirit called Forgotten God Francis Chan said, “I am convinced there is a desperate need in the church for the Holy Spirit of God to be given room to have his way.” Maybe we try to overthink this Holy Spirit thing. Maybe we just need to give the Spirit some room to have his way in our lives.
Our Bishop Gary Mueller believes that there is a desperate need in United Methodist churches in Arkansas for the Holy Spirit of God to move. The Bishop has called us to renewal and to seek the revival of our churches in Arkansas.
I think the Bishop is saying that he too is convinced that there is a desperate need in the church for the Spirit of God to be given room to have his way.
I think the Bishop is saying, we must decrease, and he must increase.
God can only work in us and in our churches if we let him. If you have never said “yes” to God, maybe it’s time. Because when you believe and you have allowed God to come into your heart, the Spirit of God resides in you – the fire of God’s love is in you. But the Holy Spirit only has room in us if we are empty of our ego and our pride. The Holy Spirit only works through us if we take time to listen. The Holy Spirit only has effect on the world if we are willing to do the thing that the Holy Spirit isurging us to do. What a shame it is that we do not make the effort to just turn on the switch and live in the flow of God’s spirit. It can be a scary thing to do, but what an amazing ride it is to experience the fire of God’s love in your life.
This week, I learned about a need that a family of one of our WOW kids was experiencing. And I hope I am not out of line for bringing this up. But I’m being lead to be open and honest about this. Because the early church would have provided for a member of their community in need, and I think that is what we, too, are called to do. And if we don’t talk about the needs in our community, it is hard to act. So, I want to show you how the fire of God’s love works in normal, everyday ways.
This was a serious need that the family had. I learned they hadn’t had electricity in about a month and there are 3 children in the family. And I felt like the Holy Spirit was nudging me to call and to see if there was a way we could help. But I forgot, and I put it off, and I forget to look up the phone number. I was too busy to do what God wanted me to do. But you know what? I needed to decrease so that God could increase. And one thing you will learn if you don’t already know it, is that the Holy Spirit is a pest – and the Spirit will nag you if you don’t do something you really need to do. The Holy Spirit will point it out to you when you are wrapped up in yourself and aren’t doing the work that God wants you to do.
So on Friday morning I finally called hoping that Help Network and the church might be able to provide some help for the family so that they could get back on their feet. You see, it had been a really rough time for the family – they had gone through a lot.
And we were able to get some arrangements made, and as I mentioned at our offering time, we are in the process of gathering up some money to help out. But here’s how the Holy Spirit works — in visiting with the mother, I learned that the family had prayed and prayed on Thursday night, crying out to God to help them and to make a way for them – just praying for a light in a situation that seemed hopeless.
And you know what, thank God the Holy Spirit kept after me because they prayed on Thursday night, and I called on Friday morning and by Friday at 10 it was all worked out. And you wouldn’t believe the assistance to the family that came from that meeting with Help Network.
The Holy Spirit within me became the light of God to that family. I didn’t do anything special or amazing. It was not me at all. I just made a phone call that the Spirit nudged me to make. I had to decrease, so that God’s presence could be visible to someone else. There was no fire or howling wind or voice of God. But it was just as loud to that family — because they knew that it was God all the same. And I know it was God all the same.
The Holy Spirit within that family brought them to cry out to God in their need. And because I finally obeyed the nudge, the switch on that light bulb turned on in me so that someone could see God’s love. I am absolutely certain that this family will become the way that others see God’s light, too. Once the fire of God’s love is ignited in your heart, it shines! Others notice it. And others are drawn to God through the spirit that shines in you. But to use the power, we have to get out of the Spirit’s way – we must decrease, so that God might increase.
So, may the fire of God’s love burn within you.
May you experience God’s spirit in loud ways like howling wind and fire.
But may you also experience God’s spirit in everyday ways – in quiet nudges, shared meals, and sharing God’s goodness with everyone.
I pray that we would decrease so that God might increase and that the Lord would add daily to our community those who are being saved.
Let us pray together.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and
kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy your consolations. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.