Sermon for May 20

First Reading Acts 2:1-21

Epistle Reading: Romans 8:22-27

Gospel Readings: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Sermon: “Indiscriminate Spirit”

Imagine if you will, being one of those early believers. You had come to know Jesus at some point during his 3 years of formal ministry. You had experienced the miracles, the challenging teaching, the conflicts with the religious authorities, the horrible crucifixion, the confusion and the elation surrounding the resurrection. At first, many of you had huddled together in fear, behind locked doors and barred windows for fear that the authorities would come for you too. But soon, Jesus himself came and dispelled at least some of those fears. It was a wondrous time – those 40 days afterwards when Jesus still taught and showed himself to the group. He had come to the lakeshore that morning when the disciples had fished all night and caught nothing at all until he had told them to throw the net on the other side of the boat! Then – so many fish! But he already had breakfast ready with his own fish!

Then came that day when he led everybody out to the Mount of Olives, east of the city, and had given those last instructions about being his witnesses, starting in Jerusalem and spreading out to the ends of the earth – just before he was taken back into heaven. Oh my, how the emotions were conflicted afternoon as you all walked back down to the city and the next few days- part joy at seeing him ascend to his Heavenly Father – part grief at the separation. Jesus had been very specific about waiting, but not exactly clear about what he meant. They were strange words, lets see, what was it he had said?… Oh yes, (Acts 1:4-5 NIV) “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. [5] For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” What could he have meant?

Then it was time for the next major feast in Jerusalem: 50 days after Passover, the feast of Weeks – Pentecost. It was almost as big a deal as Passover – it coincided with the first of the summer crops – the barley harvest and it had come to be celebrated as the day when Moses received the Ten Commandments. Naturally, all the believers had gathered – it was a fair sized group by then when they all got together – about 120 all total. There were the Apostles that Jesus had chosen, all except Judas that is – Matthias had been chosen to replace him, then there were others that had joined them too, including a number of women – they were the ones in fact that had first reported the empty tomb. Also, his mother Mary, usually stayed with them too.

Well that’s the scene leading up to this morning’s reading from Acts – Just a few more people than we had here a few weeks ago when the Ponca congregation came up to join us – all gathered in one place – fairly early in the morning too, about 9:00am, when the strangest things started happening. There was this loud sound – it sounded like a big storm was blowing in, but the wind wasn’t blowing! As everybody looked around, there were these little fires on everybody’s heads too, except no one was getting burned! It was on everybody too – the 12, the women, the old folks and even the youngsters. Suddenly everybody started talking at once – praising God and telling about Jesus and prophesying all sorts of things – at least so it seemed, but everybody was talking in different languages.

Now Jerusalem was no stranger to different languages – you could hear a bunch of them when everybody came to town for the feasts. The Jews had been spread all over that part of the world and they of course spoke the language where they lived. A number still lived over where Babylon used to be – they never came home after the exile, Others migrated up into Asia Minor or down in Arabia, others over into Egypt and Libya, still others from Greece and Rome. No mater which direction you pointed from Jerusalem, there were people there that day from that direction. Each and every one of them who had heard that loud rushing sound, now heard these believers speaking in their native language!

It must have been quite a scene that morning. This was the gift that Jesus had promised – the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and it changed everything! On that first day alone, the group leapt from a group of 120, mostly Galileans, to a group of over 3000 believers from all over the map. They changed from a timid, grieving bunch into a community that would turn the world upside down. Yet still, Luke describes them this way: (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)

[42] They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. [43] Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. [44] All the believers were together and had everything in common. [45] They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. [46] Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, [47] praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Such is the power of the Holy Spirit in those days. It seems almost impossible in comparison to the church today, doesn’t it? The modern church is fragmented into 100’s of denominations (12 in this little town alone) all jealous of each other, particularly across national borders. Competing against each other except for a precious few joint endeavors – even most of those viewed with suspicion. Even a common day of prayer draws censure from some – God forgive us. But today is not a day for recriminations, its a day of joyful celebration. For the Holy Spirit has not left. The Spirit’s activities are still ongoing for any who care to look. But let’s admit it, we Presbyterians sometimes have a somewhat uneasy relationship with the Spirit. We get uncomfortable with that wild, untamable Spirit. Too often we tend to prefer to follow our plans, out timelines and our priorities.

Marvel with me for a few minutes as we look at how the Spirit works still even in our day: First, the Holy Spirit is here, there, everywhere. It is not confined by place, or time, by social class, race or denomination. The Spirit is the gift of God to all who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior. Luke tells us in his account in Luke that the Spirit came on everyone gathered that morning. Peter quoted the Prophet Joel to explain what was going on – Joel’s words are astounding: (Acts 2:17-18,21 NIV)

[17] “ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. [18] Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” bit later Joel proclaims “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

It seems clear that the Spirit is indiscriminately general with its attentions and yet intimately involved. The effects are highly personal and yet lead to the closest and most intimate of fellowship. Women and Men, Young and Old, new believer or deeply experienced in the faith. The Spirit is available and present to all who will but open their hearts. It is the binding force that holds the church together under the leadership of Christ Himself. As we heard read in John, the Spirit is the adding presence of God with us now that Jesus, God incarnate is seated in Glory. The Holy Spirit is not new at all. Its part of the Triune God that created time itself. Genesis tells us that the Spirit Brooded over the waters of chaos at the very beginning.

Psalm 104, of which we read a portion as our call to worship sings of the sustaining work of the Spirit: “All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.”

In the passage from Romans, it seems that there is a whole lot of groaning going on – the groaning of creation and we believers too as we eagerly await the renewal of all things that has been promised by our God. Until that day comes however, Paul assures us that the Spirit who knows us even better than we know ourselves is with us and for us – interceding for us with the Heavenly Father – asking for those things which we need but may not fully understand ourselves. Friends – God is so good! We are loved and cared for more than we can know or imagine – that’s God’s promise for his children. Its the loving care of the Holy Spirit at work, just as Jesus promised.

One final set of questions to consider before we close: How is God working through the Holy Spirit here in Newkirk? Here at First Presbyterian? If we watch where God is at work, its a pretty good clue as to where we should offer ourselves as well. Do you want to know what the will of God is? Well first of course look in his Word! There is a whole lot of it right there in plain site for any who cares to look at discover. That said, however, there is another very practical side to determining God’s will. Notice who God puts in your path. Notice the places that God brings you too. Listen to that still, small voice within. Pay attention when something just won’t be easily dismissed from your mind. Chances are that the very Spirit of God is at work – opening doors, urging attention and warning hearts. It’s what Jesus promised and its the very love of God at work. Thanks be to God for his Holy Spirit that abides with us each and every day of our lives, until we abide with him forever more. Amen