Followers of Jesus are gathered in a room praying and waiting for God’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit to come to them. Suddenly and without warning God bursts upon the scene, rearranging life with the force of tornado. A loud sound that resembles a mighty wind fills the room. All who are there see visions of what look like flames over each person’s head. I can imagine the shock and wonder as their eyes and ears are assaulted by sights and sounds they can’t quite understand. “What is going on?” they wonder. However, as they see miracle after miracle unfolding before their eyes, they begin to put two and two together. The gift of God’s power has arrived.
Folks who have never taken a foreign language course in school receive the power to speak and understand foreign languages. Peter, who just 40-some days ago denied knowing Jesus, is empowered by the Holy Spirit to stand up and preach to all the people gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost. His sermon so powerful, so inspired that 3000 people come to believe in Jesus and are baptized. God miraculously breaks down walls that divide people, unites them in Christ, and creates a new community.
If the disciples of Jesus had ever wondered what would happen to them and to the movement Jesus started after the resurrection and the ascension, the happenings of Pentecost provide the answers. With God’s powerful interruption of their prayer meeting and the miracles that follow, the disciples learn that God has plans to continue what Jesus started. And it’s clear the plans involve them. Them in combination with the powerful Spirit of Christ who emboldens them to preach, to teach, to heal, and even to suffer for Christ.
As we look back over the history of Christianity, we can see that there have been many moments when God has burst into a room or into a life or into a community to move God’s plans for us and the world forward. Pentecost happens over and over again, every time the Spirit moves with a powerful force. Pentecost happened again when God burst into Peter’s praying time on a rooftop in Joppa and showed him a vision that indicated the good news is for everyone, even Gentiles like Cornelius, a Roman soldier, and his household. Pentecost happened again when Saul was blinded by the light of Christ on the road to Damascus and the Spirit pushed him to become a new man, with a new name and a new purpose in life. Pentecost happened again when reformers like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Alexander Mack were courageous enough to seek the new ways God was calling people to serve and worship. Pentecost continues to happen, because God still has plans for followers of Jesus, for the church and for the world.
Pentecost happens again whenever one of us has a newly found courage to face what life throws at us. Pentecost happens to us when we have a sudden change of heart about something. Or when out of nowhere we have a brand new idea about how to follow Christ more faithfully. Those are the times when God’s Spirit is bursting into our lives. Each of those personal Pentecosts begins with the Spirit blowing in our direction. And with each movement of the Spirit, we are forced to make a decision about how to respond to that heavenly breeze. When the roaring sound filled the room in Jerusalem, those disciples could have hidden under the table and then quickly exited, heading back to fishing or tax collecting. But in the moments after the sound stopped and they realized they had acquired foreign language skills, they made a decision. Peter made a decision to let the Spirit do her work. Peter stood in front of the crowds who were wondering why they were hearing different languages and preached.
When I felt the Spirit’s push to go to seminary and explore what seemed like a call to ministry, I had a decision to make. When a friend was facing emptiness because of a sudden divorce and sensed the Spirit moving her into a new career, she had a decision to make. Does she continue to grieve or does she yield to the Spirit, get her resume together and put it in the mail? When emptiness got the best of a hard-working young man and the Spirit seemed be pushing him to do volunteer work, he had a decision to make. Do I ignore the Spirit’s nudge and continue to plod along through life? Or do I step out of my comfort zone and let the Spirit guide me into doing something for someone else? Pentecost begins in our personal lives with a nudge or hard push of God’s Spirit. When God bursts into our lives, we are forced to make a decision. But Pentecost happens only when we sense that Spirit moving and make a decision to yield to God’s power and direction.
A young woman began her career in a safe and secure position as an English teacher in a cloister for rich children in India. She taught for fifteen years and then war broke out. Supplies were no longer available and it was impossible to care for and educate 300 children with no resources. For the first time in fifteen years the young woman went outside the cloister. There she saw the carnage of war — 5,000 dead, another 1,500 wounded. She felt the Spirit pushing her to do more. A moment of decision. So she got permission from her superiors to begin a two year “experiment” of ministry. She found the sick and dying everywhere in her travels. Then one day she found a woman in Calcutta whose face, arms, and feet had been eaten by rats. The young teacher felt compelled to do something. Another moment of decision. With her limited means she rented a one-room apartment, took the woman in, and searched for volunteers to help her. Eventually there were 568 such homes for the poor, lepers, hungry, and dying. Over 4,000 Missionaries of Charity were working with Mother Teresa in 128 countries (Carver). When Pentecost came to Mother heresa she had a decision to make. And the decision of one person to allow God’s Spirit to empower and guide her made a huge difference in the world.
Pentecost happens again each time God’s Spirit opens the door to new possibilities for a church. We’ve been watching and waiting for those Spirit-driven possibilities for a while. Over a year ago we met as a congregation after lunch one Sunday and had conversations about what and who God might be calling our congregation to be or become. I looked back at my sermon for last year’s Pentecost and saw that I mentioned those conversations. Listen to what I said last May:
We have spent some time (Fall of 2015) talking about what God might be calling us to do and be in the years to come. But we’re not so sure how to go about doing that. We’re not sure how to move forward and be the church God wants and needs us to be for today and the years to come. We need a Pentecost experience. We need the Spirit to blow into our midst and fan the flames of discipleship that were started on that first Pentecost.
And then later in the sermon I said this: We increase the chances of keeping the flame of Pentecost burning brightly by being open to the possibility of change and by challenging ourselves to hear God’s call to new ministries and new ways of doing things. We can increase our chances of that mighty Spirit blowing into our place by believing and expecting that the Spirit will roar into this room and empower us to keep the fire going that began at that first Pentecost.
About 8 months after that sermon someone at Leadership Team wondered how we would respond to a group who might want to use our building on a regular basis. There was no reason for the question, only a pondering after observing so many church buildings that are under-utilized in our area. A small gentle breeze of a Spirit, perhaps. Three weeks later, on a snowy Friday morning in March, three people were approaching the front door of the church as I just happened to walk through the Narthex-not something I usually do. I opened the door and the Spirit whooshed into this place!
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“We’re looking for Pastor Becky,” they said.
“Well, you found her,” I replied.
And that began a conversation with Carolina, Luis, and Olga that eventually included many others about a partnership we might have with Un Nuevo Renacer Fellowship of the Church of the Brethren.
Separate from this event a Spanish-speaking acquaintance in another church tells me every time she sees me that she is praying for me and this church. She notices a need in the Columbia area for folks to know about Jesus and is praying about that and about how our congregation might be used to reach out to Spanish-speaking folks in this area of the county. So here we are today, trying to stand up straight in the midst of God’s mighty Spirit blowing into this place. Here we are in the midst of another Pentecost happening that requires us to make a decision.
The movie Mr. Holland’s Opus is the story of a dedicated teacher whose greatest desire is to write a symphony. He becomes a high school music teacher to provide a secure income for his family while he writes. He is a dedicated teacher and mentors thousands of young people, instilling in them a love for music. Mr. Holland is forced to retire because of budget cuts in the school district. A group of his students and former students decide to surprise him and perform the symphony he has written. After lots of practice they are finally ready for the public debut performance. Mr. Holland walks into the auditorium of the school and for the first time hears his music being played. He’s overcome with emotion. After the concert, one of Mr. Holland’s students says: “Mr. Holland, you have written the symphony, but we are your music.”
God has written the symphony for each of us, for this church, and for the world. Jesus was the one who began the music. But God has plans to continue what Jesus has started. And those plans involve us. We are called to be attentive to the whoosh of the Spirit moving into our lives and our congregation. We are called to respond to the Spirit so God’s plans can continue to unfold. We are called to let go and let that Spirit blow us into new ways of being, new ways of serving, and new ways of continuing the work of Jesus.
Carver, Gary L. “Only The Beginning…Day of Pentecost.” Out From the Ordinary, First Lesson
Sermons For Sundays After Pentecost (First Third). Sermon suite.com. https://store.sermonsuite.com/content.php?i=788016269.
Wee, Kristin Borsgard. “The Real Miracle -Day of Pentecost.” Formed by a Dream First Lesson Sermons For Sundays After Pentecost. SermonSuite.com