This past Sunday Narcie (my wife who preaches most every week in The Journey at St. John’s in Fort Mill) was out of town for the SC United Methodist Annual Conference. We were driving around trying to figure out who we could ask to fill in and realized everyone who could/would preach was also at Conference so I said, “I’ll preach for you.” It came out before I had a chance to stop it. So this past week I preached for the first time – ever – it was quite terrifying, I was totally outside of my comfort zone. But here is the sermon (more of less) that I preached, it was on Pentecost, Acts 2: 1-21
Started it off with the text:
Acts 2, Pentecost. I must tell you that this story always freaked me out just a bit when I was a child. My family had one of those “Illustrated Bibles,” and the picture of Pentecost always looked real scary. Not to mention the church I attended had the catacombs… That was where the youth did their thing and it kind of looked like the room from the Pentecost story in that crazy “Illustrated Bible.” But it is an awesome story! Crazy thunder and whirling winds (which seems to be God’s preferred entrance), everyone is suddenly multilingual (take that Rosetta Stone!), and tongues of FIRE! Awesome.
Now why were these folks all gathered together, what was going on?
In the first chapter of Acts Jesus “ordered his disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said (Jesus), “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized you with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit many days from now.” Then later Jesus tells these disciples they will “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (speaking to them); and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.” Ok… I’m not sure how I would feel about that. Jesus tells me hang out for a, bit, the Holy Spirit will pay a visit, I’m going to receive some “power,” and I may have to go to the end of the earth… Great.
Then the next thing that happens is Jesus ascends to Heaven, leaving the disciples with that last instruction: Hang out in Jerusalem, wait for the Holy Spirit, then with your power, go and tell others far and wide about me and what has gone down.
So the disciples and a group of followers are hanging out and it is time for Pentecost.
Now, before Pentecost was known for a certain pyrotechnics display, it was a harvest celebration held 50 days after Passover and dealt with renewing God’s covenant with the Jewish people, when he gave Moses the 10 commandments. So we’ve got 120 followers of Jesus had gathered to celebrate Pentecost. Jesus has ascended to Heaven, they picked a replacement for Judas (we all know that story right?), and were getting together one morning when all of a sudden… WHOOSH!!!! Hola! Bonjour! Howdy… Everyone is speaking in another language, that someone else who is present is able to understand. And they have tongues of fire. The people from other countries could understand what was being said, this wasn’t nonsensical babble, but the disciples were speaking other languages – and the people who were present that spoke those languages were hearing stories about the glories of God. This bit is known as the birth of the church. How God poured down the Holy Spirit so that the disciples could share the teachings of Jesus with all people, not just with those who are Galileans, or those in Israel. How far did Jesus tell the disciples to go? To the ends of the earth. Back in the Old Testament the people of Israel got all cocky and thought they knew better (isn’t that how it always starts). They wanted to build a tower to the heavens to show off their powers and abilities – as if those powers and abilities weren’t God given. Of course we know what happens next, this tower of Babel is built. God knocks it over and when the dust clears the people can’t understand each other. They are speaking different languages, the people of earth were scattered. They couldn’t communicate with each other – or do so easily. But now here we are at Pentecost and God has given these disciples the tools to go out into the world in which God’s people have been scattered, and share the Love of Christ – with everyone; to reconcile “the people,” and bring them all back to God.
But during this Pentecost something wild happens.
The presence of God through out the Old Testament is described with the sights and sounds that were present when the Holy Spirit swept through. In Exodus, God’s presence was often accompanied with fire and swurly-wurly winds. When Elijah met God during 1 Kings God was preceded by a great mountain splitting, rock breaking wind, then earthquakes, then fire. Even Isaiah speaks about how God comes with wind and fire. So the Jews of that time would clearly recognize God’s calling card, and would have to pause and think: “Oh this is for real, God is in the house.”
Then Peter stands up and the first thing he says is: “Listen up everybody, I promise we’re not drunk, because it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”
That’s the first thing you say, “I promise we’re not drunk, because it’s too early.” Peter, you’re killing me.
But then Peter stands up in front of this large crowd of people, and then he tells them:
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.
Good save Pete.
The book of Acts tells us the disciples then go out and just rock and roll. They are converting huge numbers of people, healing crippled beggars, the church is taking shape; the disciples are persecuted, but they continue to do as Christ instructed them to do, “to be a witness for Jesus to the ends of the Earth.”
The Holy Spirit came through and the disciples got up and went.
They had a story to tell the all the nations, and they did.
And they went out and told the stories of Jesus with fervor, because they thought that, “Last Day,” was eminent. The disciples thought that the kingdom of Israel was going to be restored during their lifetime – so they were out working real hard.
“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Those last words Peter spoke to the crowd are powerful; everyone – man/woman, old/young, slaves, rich/poor – everyone through Christ is saved.
The mission of the disciples was to get out and get it done, no excuses. God doesn’t seem to care for excuses. Jonah anyone… And with the Holy Spirit there was nothing stopping the disciples from getting out and spreading the word of God. However it was not made easy, or convenient; and I’m sure there were days that might have been less than fun.
It is always a little terrifying going on a mission trip to a foreign country. What happens if I get separated? I don’t speak the language, how can I find my way back?
I have to imagine that when Jesus told the disciples they would go to the ends of the earth one of them had to think: “But how, I don’t speak the language & can I drink the water?”
But the Spirit was breathed into the 12, and that question was taken away. There was nothing stopping them.
The differences of language did not equate a difference in status in the eyes of the Lord. After all, remember many of those present for the Pentecost celebration had different native languages. And there can even be great differences within one language. I have family in Massachusetts, and my cousins (now that we’re all sort of grown) have admitted they could not understand my brothers and I when we were children, because we lived in Montgomery, AL, and tand spoke with a crazy southern accent.. But I’m not just speaking to dialects, there are also generational differences in language. The first time I heard Jack Lyles and Dave Rowland (two long-time members of the church) pray before a function or meeting I was struck by their use of language, and how the words they chose are not even in my vernacular.
But Jesus does not hear those difference as I did.
Are we seeing the differences and letting them stop us?
In 1524 Martin Luther wrote to his friend George Spalatin (actually George Burkhardt), “Our plan is to follow the example of the prophets and the ancient fathers of the church, and to compose psalms for the people [in the] vernacular, that is, spiritual songs, so that the Word of God may be among the people also in the form of music.” Luther was talking about simply writing songs so that folks would hear the truths of Christ in a less formal manner, and possibly teach them to others through song. The difference in language was not going to be a barrier for Luther.
What’s stops us today?
Have we not been left with the same story to tell?
Amongst us there is a multitude of gifts & talents that can work wonders in glory of the Lord. Just as Peter spoke the words of Joel, we all have many great gifts to share; are they being used? Or do we grow distracted by checking our Facebook, Twitter feed, the ticker on the bottom on CNN/MSNBC/ESPN or Headline News? Do we look for excuses first:
No not me.
I am not the best person to handle this Lord.
Surely you would prefer someone one else…
I just don’t have time. I’m not good enough. I’m not Christian enough.
We all have our excuses. We are all scared at times. Not one great person of faith was 100% confident in what they were doing all the time. There are always times of trial. But it is only with the Spirit of the Lord that we have the ability to speak of the great wonders of Christ to others.
It is only through the Love of God, through Christ, we are saved.
There is a wonderful old hymn entitled “We’ve a story to tell all the nations.” I grew up singing this hymn and I hope you know this wonderful hymn as well. Recently I came across a band called The Vicksburg who wrote a wonderful new arrangement of “We’ve a story to tell all the Nations.” I find their arrangement beautiful, powerful, and perfectly cast those lyrics into today’s world.
Let’s end with The Vicksburg – because we surely do have a story to tell all the nations.