A Blessing for Pentecost Day This Grace That Scorches Us
Here’s one thing you must understand about this blessing: it is not for you alone. It is stubborn about this. Do not even try to lay hold of it if you are by yourself, thinking you can carry it on your own.To bear this blessing, you must first take yourself to a place where everyone does not look like you or think like you,
a place where they do not believe precisely as you believe, where their thoughts and ideas and gestures are not exact echoes of your own.Bring your sorrow. Bring your grief. Bring your fear. Bring your weariness, your pain, your disgust at how broken the world is, how fractured, how fragmented by its fighting, its wars, its hungers, its penchant for power, its ceaseless repetition of the history it refuses to rise above.I will not tell you this blessing will fix all that.But in the place where you have gathered, wait. Watch. Listen.
Lay aside your inability to be surprised, your resistance to what you do not understand. See then whether this blessing turns to flame on your tongue, sets you to speaking what you cannot fathom or opens your ear to a language beyond your imagining that comes as a knowing in your bones, a clarity in your heart that tells you this is the reason we were made: for this ache that finally opens us,for this struggle, this grace that scorches us toward one another and into the blazing day.—Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons
Opening Prayeran Invitation to the Holy Spirit Blue Hymnal 335O God, the Holy Spirit, Come to us, and among us; Come as the wind. And cleanse us; Come as the fire, and burn; Come as the dew, and refresh;Convict, convert, and consecrate many hearts and livesto our great goodand to thy greater glory;And this we ask for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
Gospel Lesson John 7:37-39 (CEB) Morning Message
A New Language?Outside the church walls?
For at least two, maybe three decades now, pastors, church leaders, church growth gurus have been saying these words, “In order to grow your church in today’s society, you have to move the church outside of the church walls.” We’ve been saying things like, “If people won’t come to the church, then we need to take church to the people.” And, of course, we’ve been saying, “The church is the people, not the building.” I did a search on Google this week. In the search bar I typed, “church growth and getting outside the church walls.” Google gave me 89,300,000 results. \
It seems that everyone has an opinion about staying relevant by becoming a church that does ministry outside of the church building. This is the result of a cultural shift in our society that most never saw coming. Studies show that we are now in the third generation of unchurched people: Children being raised by parents who don’t go to church, who themselves were raised by parents who didn’t go to church. Sunday morning worship and Wednesday night prayer meeting is not the norm anymore. Even in the lives of many Christians, other things take priority.
Think about it, when you and I were growing up, there was no church-growth movement. There simply wasn’t a need for it. Church life was the center of everything. There really wasn’t anything else to distract us. Businesses weren’t open on Sundays, and besides, all our friends and family were going to church, so where else would we go anyway?This simply is not the case anymore.
This cultural shift has brought with it declining numbers in attendance and membership across the board in all mainline denominations. Thus, the church growth movement is constantly trying to figure out where we went wrong and how to fix it.Rick Warren, of Purpose Driven Life fame, (maybe the father of all church growth movements) says this, “You measure a church’s strength not by its seating capacity, but by its sending capacity.” In other words, if you want a church to grow in this day and age, you have to get outside the church walls.And here we are, our twelfth Sunday away from worship in our church sanctuary. I think it’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has officially moved the church outside of its walls.Are They Drunk?Today is Pentecost Sunday, the Sunday in the life of the church when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit in the early church.
This couldn’t have come along at a better time in my opinion. Because celebrating Pentecost Sunday provides the occasion for Christians to recognize God’s Holy Spirit at work in the life of the church, and in the lives of individuals. It is the perfect time to remember that through his Holy Spirit, Christ sustains and unites his church. And it doesn’t matter how we “gather together in one place.” So, let’s take a look at the text for today, Acts 2:1-21 (Common English Bible):1-4 “When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.”Pentecost was one of three major Jewish festivals. This meant that the city of Jerusalem was filled with Jews from all over the world that day. Jesus had ascended to heaven to be with God the Father, and it is at this precise time he instructed his disciples to be in Jerusalem to wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit.Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would be with them until he returned, and he would serve as their Advocate, Helper, Comforter, and Guide.Just as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit showed up, not quietly, but with a loud roaring sound, and as fire and wind, and everyone, not just the disciples, stood up and took notice.Listen to what happens:
Verses 5-11, “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 (the disciples) 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!” The arrival of the Holy Spirit was dramatic, and it wasn’t just the wind and fire and noise stuff that was drawing a crowd, it was what they heard coming from the mouths of Jesus’ disciples.Because the disciples were literally speaking in other languages as the Holy Spirit gave them the ability.Quite the miraculous attention-grabber for the international crowd gathered in the city that day.All the nationalities represented recognized their own languages being spoken.And that day, many came to faith in Christ, and not just because of the signs and the miracles, but because of the miraculous movement of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of those who gathered. Although the reaction wasn’t all good. Let me read some of the crowd’s reaction to all this:
Verses 12-13, “They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”As the crowd grew, and the disciples continued to speak, some were surprised, some bewildered, and some were so skeptical that the accused them of being drunk.And perhaps no one was more surprised than Peter himself when he stood up to refute this accusation.Remember that Peter often said the wrong thing, often misunderstood, and he denied Jesus three times after his arrest.But Jesus told him he was the Rock on which he would build His Church.And I bet Peter, himself, at the time, wondered how that could ever be.
But now on Pentecost, he knew, because the Spirit had arrived and empowered even him to do things he could never do before. The New Language of the Holy SpiritActs 2:14-21, “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! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 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. Even upon my servants, men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 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. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”What Joel had prophesied hundreds of years before was happening right in front of them.Peter preached, he refuted, and he quoted Old Testament prophecy.With the arrival of the Holy Spirit, Peter had the ability to speak new languages, and not just the languages of all who were in ear shot.
Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Peter had also learned the language of bravery and security because of his identity in Christ.Because a relationship with Christ is always transformative in nature.If you read through the rest of Acts 2, you’ll find that Peter continues to preach, and people continue to listen.And the Holy Spirit continues to move.Acts 2:41 tells us, “Those who believed what Peter said, were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3000 in all.”Not because of a church growth movement the disciples had joined, or a book they had read, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.The Holy Spirit had given them a new strength and a new ability to speak.
Grace in the World: What new thing will the Holy Spirit empower us to do?So, here we are. It’s Pentecost Sunday. We are gathered for worship together, but apart, together but not in one place. I think the question we need to ask ourselves is this: What new thing is the Holy Spirit ready to empower us with? How will he equip us to be the Church during a global pandemic? How will he equip us when we can’t “do church” the way we have always done church?Yes, we’ve figured out Sunday worship. But do you think that’s all the Holy Spirit is capable of? A Holy Spirit that added 3000 believers to the church in Jerusalem in one day?Because the church is more than the pastor. It’s more than a handful of us. It takes everyone doing their part for the church to function well.
Not one person can do it all. But we all can do something.You may feel limited right now. But if Acts 2 teaches us anything, it teaches us that Christianity isn’t limited. God’s power isn’t limited. The visitors in Jerusalem were surprised to hear the disciples speaking in languages other than their own, but they shouldn’t have been. God works all kinds of miracles to spread the Good News of Jesus. He uses as many languages as there are kinds of people, and as there are situations, so that everyone who hears can call on his name for salvation. Even during COVID-19, even when we can’t gather in the way we are accustomed.Here’s the thing, many have said to me recently that they are praying for this to be a time of revival. Honestly, I have been, too. But if you’re really praying for that, you need to let go of the picture of what you think revival looks like. Because I don’t think it’s going to happen in church sanctuaries, or big revival tents, with everyone gathering together for two weeks’ worth of services.
I don’t think it will involve droves of people coming to the altar as we sing all seven verses of “Just as I Am.”But I do believe the Holy Spirit is just dying to equip his church with something new. And yes, I do believe we will be back at the church someday, but I don’t know when, and I don’t know what it will look like. And right now, there are folks attending online worship who haven’t been to church in years, and some who have never been to church.
So, until that day comes, that we can meet at Bethel, I encourage each of you, and each group and committee to consider how you can be the church during COVID-19. Look at all the options you have. Video conferences, conference calls, livestreaming, email and text chains. And don’t forget the telephone and the United States Postal Service, both of which have served us well at this time.
I fully believe if you step forward and step up, as Peter did, the Holy Spirit will equip and empower you in miraculous amazing ways and probably surprising ways.As a response to the Word, we are going to say the Apostle’s Creed responsively. But let me say again that I believe it’s time to do some real soul searching and ask the question, “if I step out in faith, what can the Holy Spirit empower me to do here at Bethel Church? What will he equip His faithful to do? How many will be added to our numbers? I hope you pray about that in the coming weeks. I know I will be.
Apostle’s Creed I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;* the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic** church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. Pastoral Prayer Almighty God, you are clothed in glory and grandeur; you are the Light and the Life of all humankind. In Jerusalem you spoke through the roar of the wind and tongues of fire. It this moment, when everything seems upside down and limited, speak to us in this way, so that we, like the early church gathers and pays attention.Empower us to be brave so that we like the first disciples declare the Good News of Jesus to everyone we meet, in whatever way we can.Show your church once more that you have no limits. In fact, you are a God of limitless possibilities.We lift up all who ill today, show them your miraculous, healing power. Be with those who mourn, give them your peace. For those who doubt, struggle, or live with fear, remind them that they are never alone. Through your Holy Spirit, make your presence known to each of us today.Creator God, we thank you for providing for us, both as individuals and as a church. We thank you knowing that you will faithfully continue to do so. Finally, we pray that in all we say and do, we reflect your love and character in this world. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen. The Lord’s PrayerOur Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. Commission & Benediction for Pentecost (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17-18)Go out into the world, and labor to bring forth new life. Dream dreams, pursue visions and speak of God’s goodness in the words of those who would hear.
And may the God who breathed life into creation be your delight. May Christ Jesus give hope to your dreaming, and may the Holy Spirit, your advocate and supporter, ........set your hearts ablaze with a passion for peace.
We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,…In the name of Christ. Amen.