The Coming of the Holy Spirit
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Being a Pentecostal Church
If I told you this morning that I have a vision for this church, and that my vision is to make this a Pentecostal church, what would your reaction be? Before you start running off to Regional Council to report that you have a renegade minister in your midst, let’s consider what it would mean to be a pentecostal church.
Ever notice there are a lot of words that are perfectly good words that have suffered from abuse of a sort and need to be rehabilitated? Take the word “liberal” – a perfectly good word that originally described being forward-thinking, innovative and willing to share, but somehow, particularly in church circles, became associated with not taking a stand and wishy-washiness. Or “evangelical”, a wonderful word that describes the quality of living and sharing God’s good news but has come to conjure up images of right-wing politics and narrow-mindedness.
Today, we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, which brings to mind another of these words that have possibly been misconstrued. The term pentecostal has come to be applied to churches of a certain denomination that center on the manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and particularly speaking in tongues. And yet when we look at the account of Pentecost in the book of Acts, we realize that the Pentecost experience was much more than that.
When the Spirit came on that day of Pentecost, it was obvious that something earth shaking was happening. Luke struggles to describe the significance of what took place. There was a sound like a violent rush of wind and tongues of fire descending on each person. The disciples began to speak in languages that they didn’t even know, but that represented all the languages of the crowd gathered in Jerusalem at the time.
So here are my arguments for becoming a pentacostal church and they have nothing to do with speaking in tongues or being slain in the Spirit.
The first reason to be a pentecostal church is because the Holy Spirit leads us from confusion to clarity. A few years ago I attended Conference and a guest speaker spoke for 20 minutes the first day on the theme “Stewardship in the Wake of Jubilee”. I sat at a discussion table with six other people – three of us were clergy, the other four lay delegates. After the speaker had finished, one of the lay delegates looked at the three of us who were clergy and said, “Can you explain to me what he just talked about?” Turns out none of us understood. He had spoken in concepts and words we were not familiar with. At that first Pentecost, all people were able to hear and understand in their own language. And that’s the only way we really can understand: in our own language.
Years ago a conscientious homeowner wrote to a manufacturer of cast iron pipes, telling them that he had found that by pouring pure hydrochloric acid down the drain, he immediately opened the grease clogged pipes. He asked if there was any way in which the acid might be harmful to the pipes.
The plumbing manufacturer wrote back to him, “Thank you for your letter. The consequence of such acid upon ferrous-constructed materials is certain to be deleterious. We therefore strongly urge you to terminate such activity for the welfare of your plumbing.”
The homeowner read the letter and responded, thanking them for their letter, telling them that he was relieved that he was doing the right thing in using the acid in the pipes. Another letter came from the manufacturer. “We fear that there may have been some miscommunication in our correspondence. Acid of that density, applied to cast iron pipe, is certain to have pernicious results. Therefore, please desist from your prevailing practices.”
The man read the letter, then wrote back, thanking the company for the reassurance that he was doing nothing that might harm the pipes. Finally, an exasperated manufacturer sent a telegram: “Don’t use acid. It rusts the hell out of the pipes!”
The only way we can really understand is to hear in our own language. The speaker at Conference did not speak in the language that those at my discussion table understood so his message was lost on us. The pipe manufacturer did not speak in the language that the homeowner understood, so the man continued to do great damage to his pipes.
The results of not understanding one another can not only be annoying, confusing and deleterious, it can also be tragic. The story is told of Pepe Rodriguez, a notorious bank robber in the old west. He would sneak across the border from Mexico, rob banks in Texas, and then escape back into Mexico before the police could catch up with him. One day, though, the police illegally crossed the border into Mexico and followed Pepe into a bar.
When they finally took him into custody, they discovered that Pepe didn’t speak any English and none of the police spoke Spanish. But the bartender informed them that he spoke both Spanish and English and would be happy to serve as an interpreter. So the police asked, “Where did you hide all the money?” And the bartender translated the question into Spanish. At first Pepe hesitated, but then when he saw all those police officers ready to draw their weapons, he began to tell the bartender where the money was. The bartender listened carefully as Pepe explained how he had hidden the cash in a certain cave that was just outside of town. The bartender then turned to the police, who were waiting for the translation. The bartender said, “Pepe is a very brave man. He said that you were all a bunch of rotten cowards and to go ahead and shoot him if you want.”
It is important to communicate clearly to one another and to make sure we understand one another. Many of the problems we face in life, stem in some way from a failure to communicate. When we look at the diversity in the church, it is sometimes a wonder we understand one another at all. Young and old, men and women, people from different parts of the country, different educational backgrounds and work experience. We need God’s Spirit to make us one people and to help us understand one another. Being a pentecostal church leads us from confusion to clarity.
The second reason to be a pentecostal church is that the Holy Spirit leads us from weakness to power. The disciples had spent three years with Jesus. They had learned from Him, receiving on the job training from Him. They had some gifts and some abilities. But Jesus said to wait until the Spirit came. And when it came, they experienced a power far beyond any power they had. The power of God changed everything.
Isaac Azimov, the noted scientist and author, once told a story about a Rabbi Feldman who was having trouble with his congregation. It seemed they could not agree on anything. The chair of the Council said, “Rabbi, this cannot be allowed to continue. There must be a meeting and we must settle all areas of dispute once and for all.” The rabbi agreed.
At the appointed time, the rabbi, the chair and the committee members met in the synagogue hall, sitting around a magnificent mahogany table (synagogues obviously have more money that United churches). One by one the issues were raised and on each issue, it became more and more apparent that the rabbi was a lonely voice in the wilderness. The chair finally said, “Come, Rabbi, enough of this. Let’s vote and allow the majority to rule.” He passed out slips of paper and each person made their mark. The slips were collected and the chair said, “You may examine them, Rabbi. It is eleven to one against you. We have the majority.” Whereupon, the rabbi rose to his feet in offended majesty. “So,” he said, “you think because of the vote you are right and I am wrong. Well, that is not so. I stand here,” and at this point he raised his arms impressively, “and call upon the Holy One of Israel to give us a sign that I am right and you are wrong.”
As he said this, there came a crack of thunder and a brilliant flash of lightning that struck the mahogany table and cracked it in two. The room was filled with smoke and fumes and the Council chair and committee members were hurled to the floor. Through the carnage, the rabbi remained standing, untouched, his eyes flashing and a grim smile on his face. Slowly, the chairperson lifted himself above what was left of the table. His hair was singed, his glasses were hanging from one ear, and his clothing was in disarray. Finally he said, “All right, rabbi, eleven to two. But we still have the majority.”
Sometimes we don’t or won’t acknowledge it but regardless of what we may believe, real power belongs to God. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit brought power to the church and when we are the biblical pentecostal church we are a church that is tuned into the power of God.
The third reason we need to be a Pentecostal church is because the Spirit leads us from discouragement to hope and infuses us with enthusiasm. Remember the story in Ezekiel about the dry bones? Could things be more lifeless, more hopeless than a valley filled with dry bones? The prophet Ezekiel prophesied to the ancient bones of warriors killed in battle. God’s breath blew across the bones and restored them to life. The word for wind and breath and spirit is the same word in Hebrew. It was by God’s Spirit that the bones again lived and it was by God’s Spirit that the nation was led from discouragement to hope.
Let’s not kid anyone - we need that kind of Spirit, because discouragement is something with which we are all acquainted. We know times when hope is desperately needed. That kind of hope only comes from God. It is God’s Spirit that give us new hope, new enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is literally en-theos; being infused by God. God breathes on us and we are filled with energy and new life. Given this energy and life, the Pentecostal church moves from discouragement to hope.
And lastly, we need to be a Pentecostal church because the Holy Spirit leads us from vision to reality. I do have a vision for this church and it isn’t to change denominations. I want this church to be a place where people gather to know and experience God and go out equipped to share Jesus Christ with others. I believe that with the Holy Spirit at work amongst us, that vision can become a reality. It has already begun. People are finding something in this church that they like and are inviting others to come and share in that experience. People are not only growing in their understanding of the Christian faith but are actually keen on reading the bible, memorizing passages, learning to pray better and using these disciplines in their daily lives. With God’s Spirit, people that are nervous or shy or hesitant or reluctant will take on new roles in leadership in the church. Our children are no longer content to sit back and simply be part of a congregation – they are becoming the church leaders of tomorrow.
We have hopes and dreams for this church. It is the Spirit of Pentecost that not only helps us to dream dreams and see visions, but helps us to make those visions a reality. For all this we need to be a Pentecostal church. But I have to tell you something. Every church, if it really a Christian church, is by definition a Pentecostal church. The church was born at the first Pentecost. It exists by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s Spirit that makes us more than a collection of individuals; it is the Spirit that makes us one in the body of Christ.
The Holy Spirit leads us from confusion to clarity, from weakness to power, from discouragement to hope and enthusiasm, from vision to reality. It is for us to be open to God’s leading, to be open to the winds of the Spirit in our midst. And when we are open to His call, like it or not, we are indeed a Pentecostal church.
If you still want to report me as a renegade to Regional Council, have at it.