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.
Thoughts on the passage:
For the last month, we have been talking in church about the Healthy Church Initiative Report and the recommendations being made for our congregation. As a part of that conversation we have talked over and over about praying for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in this process. After all, it is the stirring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that marks the birth of the Church and empowers the disciples to reach out and begin to spread the gospel to the world. Why wouldn’t we want that same Holy Spirit to stir in our church and bless us as we look to the future?
Obviously, the answer is “Yes, we want the Holy Spirit!” In the same vein, the answer to do we want our church to grow is “Yes!” Yet I think if we look deeper into the workings of the Holy Spirit and we look deeper into ourselves, we might find out that the answer to both questions ends up being “No.” It may not be the “right” answer and but I think for me and maybe for you to, it is the honest answer.
Look at our story in Acts. After the Holy Spirit touches the disciples, Peter begins to preach. At the end of his sermon, people come forward to be baptized. The results from that sermon are that 3,000 people joined the church. Can you imagine if 3,000 people joined our church? It sounds amazing! If the mission of our church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, having 3,000 more disciples sure sounds like we are doing a good job.
Three thousand new members sounds amazing at first, but then comes the next question, what would we do with them? Even at full capacity our sanctuary would be stretch to have 300 in it, so that would mean doing like ten services in a week to make room for everyone. Another solution would be to build a new church, but that would likely mean moving since we don’t have enough land here to really house that kind of a sanctuary. On top of the new building we would need new staff to help meet all the needs of the new members. In a lot of ways the church we know now would be gone, transformed into something new by all the new members who have joined us.
Are we sure we still want that Holy Spirit to bless what we are doing? For the last few weeks we have been using a modified version of the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer as a centering moment in our worship services. The prayer is prayer of surrender. All of its lines are meant to lead us towards a surrender to God, letting go of our own desires that we might be used for God’s purposes. To use the Biblical language, it is about dying to ourselves so that we might be raised for Christ. It is not an easy prayer because surrendering ourselves is not easy. That kind of sacrifice is really hard. The problem is, that kind of sacrifice is what we need to be prepared for if we ask for the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts and lives. We cannot ask for the Holy Spirit if we are not willing to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. The disciples went from a small, tightly knit group, to the leaders of a large and growing community. What they knew, and even who they were was transformed. Peter went from a stumbling, bumbling, fisherman to the Rock that Jesus told him he would be. He went from a humble disciple to the apostle whose faith would even raise the dead to life. Do we really want that kind of transformation for us?
There is a story in the Gospels about Jesus calming the storm. We probably all remember it from Sunday school. The disciples are on a boat and the winds pick up and they get worried. Jesus meanwhile is asleep in the boat. The disciples are afraid and so they wake him and Jesus calms the storm. For most of us, the idea of calming the storm is comforting, we know what it is like to be tossed about in our lives and we want to know that in the midst of the storm, Christ will enter in and calm things for us. What we forget, is that this calm moment after the storm is one of the only ones in the Gospels. The rest of the story is about Jesus upsetting people, fleeing from people, overturning the status-quo and disrupting much of the calm in people’s lives. Being followers of Christ means we need to be ready for the storms.
I am not sure I am ready for the Holy Spirit. I like my job. I like my life. I like my church. I like things the way they are. At the same time, I know that if I am to follow Christ, I need to embrace that Wesleyan Prayer and be ready to surrender it all for God. I need to be open to the Holy Spirit blowing in and disrupting me. Before I ask for that Holy Spirit though, I think it is good to know just what I am getting into.
In Acts, Peter talks about how through the Holy Spirit we will prophesize, dream dreams and have great visions. When we call upon the name of the Lord we will be saved. These things are great, but they are all transformative as well. When the Holy Spirit enters our lives, we will be changed. When we call upon the Lord we will be saved. We need to be ready before we do that.
The same is true for our congregation. If we are going to be really open to the Holy Spirit then we need to be ready for whatever that might mean. Praying for the Holy Spirit is not just asking God to bless what we are already doing. Instead it is asking God to take control of what we are doing. After worship this Sunday, we are taking a vote on the recommendations that are before our congregation. Letting the Holy Spirit into that process does not begin or end with the vote we take. Letting the Holy Spirit in means that we are going to let God be in control, not just of this one decision but in all that follows.
Are we ready for that? Are we ready for the Holy Spirit to blow through our congregation? It might mean radical growth and change from who are today. It might mean that our congregation as we know it ceases to exist. I do not know what it will really mean. I do know that if we let the Holy Spirit be in charge what will happen next is going to be what God wants and not what I want, and I know that those are often too very different things. If we are going to invite the Holy Spirit into our church we need to be ready for the whirlwind that comes with it. Are we ready for that?
Questions to Ponder:
When is a time you have felt the Holy Spirit stirring in your life?
What areas of your life are you afraid to let the Holy Spirit enter into and transform?
How can we as a congregation be more open to how God’s Spirit is seeking to lead us?
Holy Spirit, blow through our church and through each of our lives. Transform us from who we are into who you want us to be. Help us to surrender ourselves to you that we might be made into the people you wish us to be. Give us the courage to be made new and empowered by your presence in our hearts and lives. Amen