Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Spirit Filled Church

Acts 2:1-12
1          When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
2          Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3          They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
4          All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5          Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.
6          When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
7          Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?
8          Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?
9          Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
10        Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome
11        (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"
12        Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"

This never, ever happens at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, but in my last pastorate I had a member named Norm.

Norm could never stay awake for an entire worship service.

He would sit close to the front and I always had a direct line of sight view of Norm.

His head would slooowly tip back.

His eyes would slooowly shut close.

His jaw would fall open.

And he would stay that way until the end of the service. 

One day, Norm brought his 5 year old granddaughter to church, and apparently, she had never seen anyone fall asleep in church.

So she stood up on the pew and with her face right in Norm’s face, she yelled out, “Granddaddy.  Are you asleep, or are you dead?”

In this morning’s New Testament lesson, we read about a church service in which it would have been very difficult to have fallen asleep.

It was on the Day of Pentecost, the birthday of the church. Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus and ten days after His ascension to heaven, the Holy Spirit arrived in a powerful and dramatic way.

It was an exciting occasion!

No body could sleep through something like that!

I believe church should always to have an element of excitement!

The church was exciting when it was given birth on Pentecost Sunday.

The church remained exciting through its early history as seen in the Book of Acts.

The church should always be an exciting place where the Holy Spirit is alive and working.

Now what does that mean?  Besides the fact that you should stay awake in church, what does that mean?

Does being in a church where the Holy Spirit is alive and well mean that we are an out of control church?  Not at all.

To be a church that is filled with the Spirit means we are controlled by the Spirit.

Now, at the moment of Holy Spirit descended upon the church, there was a rushing of a strong and mighty wind.  Then there was the appearance of tongues of fire sitting on top of everyone’s heads.  And add to that everyone spoke in a different language and understood what was being said.

You can’t sleep through something like that!

Obviously, there are lots of interesting things here.

But as confusing as it may have appeared on the surface, there was a sense of order here.

From the outside, it looked as if the Christians were drunk.  But Simon Peter had to tell some of the spectators that the church members weren’t drunk! (v. 15) They were "under the influence" all right, but it was the influence of the Holy Spirit!

As the scripture commands us in Ephesians 5:18 - "Be not drunk with wine...but be filled with the Spirit."

When believers get filled with the Spirit things will get exciting!

Out of control? Never! Exciting? Yes, definitely!

Throughout the ages, one of the favorite Bible verses for Presbyterian theologians and preachers comes from I Corinthians 14:40 - "Let all things be done decently and in order.” 

And earlier in that New Testament book, Paul wrote, “For God is not the author of confusion." (1 Corinthians 14:33)

We also learn from our New Testament Lesson that being a church filled with the Holy Spirit means that the preaching and studying the Word of God must be central.

In the Second Chapter of Acts, after the Holy Spirit descended on the church, Peter began to preach.  As he did, Peter was constantly quoting Old Testament scriptures in his sermon. It so impacted the hearers that they were asking "what shall we do?" (verse 37)

The Word of God remains the message of the Church. 

We are moving through a study of the Book of Acts, and in one place in Acts (Acts 4:31-32) there is a description of a worship service.  Acts puts it this way – “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind.” 

Worship – the Holy Spirit – the Word of God – they all go together in perfect harmony.

You can’t have true worship without the Holy Spirit or the Word of God.

We also learn from our New Testament Lesson that being a church filled with the Holy Spirit means that all people are welcomed into the church.

In the Book of Acts we see a wonderfully multicultural gathering of people.

You can imagine the scene.  People of different nationalities and races.  Different cultures.  Rich and poor.  All gathered together.

In fact, this was one of the struggles that the Roman empire had with Christianity.  The empire had a strong sense of classes – and a strong sense that certain people who belonged to one class had to actually live and function in that class.  But in the Christian Church, a wealthy and politically connected Roman citizen might be a simple member of the Christian community, while a slave could actually become a bishop in the church.

In Christ, we are all equal.

In the Book of Acts, this morning’s story begins with the disciples of Jesus being in "one accord" and in "one place". But that was the easy part.

It’s fairly easy to get together and worship with folks like yourself.

But to worship with people are different that takes the Spirit of God.

Some people find it difficult to worship with people of other races – for some, that diversity is a  joy.  For God it is certainly a joy when all of his children are together.

Some people find it hard to worship next to someone who has long hair, or tattoos, or (heaven forbid) a beard.  Some people don’t like worshipping next to someone wearing blue jeans and a leather jacket, while others don’t like worshipping next to a person in a suit and tie.

But all of us are God’s children, and if we don’t learn to worship together HERE on earth, heaven is going to be a little tougher than expected.

Can you imagine what it was like at Pentecost when folks from at least 16 different locations came together for a cultural and linguistic encounter?

I’ll tell you what it is like – it is like the Kingdom of God.  Because that is the way it will be when we get to heaven.

Every race, every nation, every language.  Rich and poor.  Well educated and the illiterate.

Some of us will have nothing in common except for the one thing that we will all have in common – Jesus Christ.

In many churches, whenever anyone comes in who looks different or dresses differently church members keep their distance. Anybody outside their little circle of friends threatens them.

But that doesn’t happen in a church that is filled with the Holy Spirit.

The church that welcomes the Holy Spirit, must also welcome all children of God.

One last thing about the church that is led and filled by the Holy Spirit.  It cannot help but share the Good News of the Gospel.

In our New Testament lesson for today, what was the purpose for the gift of tongues? So folks from around the world could hear the gospel in their own language.

Jesus had told his disciples in Acts 1:8: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Think about that.

The disciples liked Jerusalem and Judea.

They did not like Samaria.

And the ends of the earth meant hard work!

But Jesus sent them to all of those places.

This is one of the great purposes of the church -- to proclaim the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day. And all who place their trust in Him for salvation have eternal life!

Peter proclaimed "...those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (verse 21)

Those who were saved on the Day of Pentecost were baptized and joined with the other disciples in spreading the good news even further!

Sadly, surveys today indicate that only one in four Christians even believe that they have a responsibility to share this Good News with others.

If we are not careful we can neglect the most important part of Spirit-led worship - the part where we expand the church by sharing the gospel!

I read a tragic story several years ago. 

In the city of New Orleans, there had been an increase of drownings in the public swimming pools one year, so as the city approached a new summer season, the community leaders were determined to stress safety at all public swimming pools.  Sure enough, that summer, with all of the emphasis on safety, the city of New Orleans had a wonderful summer – the first summer in memory of not a single drowning at any of the public pools.

At the end of the summer season, there was a celebration at one of the municipal pools. They threw a party at pool-side to celebrate and two hundred people gathered in honor of the momentous occasion, including about 100 certified lifeguards. But as the party was breaking up and the four lifeguards on duty began to clear the pool, they found a fully dressed body in the deep end. They tried to revive Jerome Moody, age 31, but it was too late. He had drowned surrounded by lifeguards celebrating their successful season.  (United Press International, Aug 2, 1985)

In the church, we stand around and celebrate and worship – and sometimes forget one of the most important things that we are supposed to be doing – sharing the Gospel!!!!

We just fall asleep.  We get comfortable. We forget.

The Spirit-led church never forgets – never neglects to share the gospel. And where there’s an atmosphere conducive to the new birth - there is excitement. Everybody stays awake! 

Copyright 2013, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Do You Want to Made Whole?

John 5:1-9
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.  Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.  Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.    One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" 
"Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me."
Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk."  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

          George Wallace was a bitter man.  He was lonely.  He was angry.  He was filled with hate.
          He became governor of Alabama in November, 1962, at a time when Blacks and Whites were forced to go to separate and segregated schools.  Restaurants were segregated.  Even water fountains and restrooms were segregated for Blacks and Whites.
At his inauguration, he proclaimed, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” 
          As governor, he pardoned Klansmen who had been arrested, tried and convicted of torturing Black men.[1]
          Hatred.  Bitterness.  Anger.
          Wallace stood in the doorway of the school of the University of Alabama in an attempt to prevent African American students from enrolling in the school.
          Wallace was filled with hatred.  Bitterness.  Anger.
          On May 15, 1972, while running for President as an independent candidate, he held a rally at a shopping center in Maryland.  While shaking hands with the people, Arthur Bremer walked up and pressed a handgun into the stomach of Wallace and fired every bullet.  Four of the bullets entered the chest and abdomen of Wallace, and one of them lodged in his spinal column.  He was never able to walk again.  He was in constant pain.  Hatred and anger seemed to swell within him.
          How does a person find healing for such brokenness in life?

          We each have our struggles in our humanity.
          For some, it is as it was with Wallace.    Racism.
          For others, it is not racism, but hatred.  Someone hurt me.  I have a right to be angry.  More than angry.  I have a right to hate.  And so I hate.  Hate.  Hate.
          How does a person filled with hate find healing for the brokenness of life?
          Another person goes home every night to a quiet home.  Photographs adorn the wall.  In each photo is his wife who died years ago.  Maybe it was cancer.  Maybe it was suicide.  Maybe she was in a tragic automobile accident.  But she is dead and this husband, this widower is hurting.  It’s loneliness.  It’s grief and despair. 
          How does a person so empty of love and joy find healing for the brokenness of life?

          A young man whose future is already destroyed because of drug addiction.
          A wife in a marriage that has been destroyed by adultery.
          An elderly couple filled with fear for a future in an economic uncertainty.
          How do you overcome the brokenness of life to be made whole once again?

          In the Gospel of John, Jesus encounters someone who has been sick for a long, long time.
          Jesus goes up to him and asks, “Do you want to be made well?”
          In the King James translation, that question is written this way, “Do you want to be made whole?”
          “Wholeness” in the New Testament conveyed more than just a physical healing, but a complete healing of mind, body and spirit.
          So Jesus goes up to this man and asks him a question that may seem insensitive:  “Do you want to be made whole?”
          Well, gee – for 38 years this man has been seeking to be made well.  He is a complete invalid, and he is where he is for the simple reason that YES, he wants healing.
          This sick man goes everyday to a pool that is commonly known as a place of physical healing.
          It is such a common belief, that John does not need to explain in his Gospel what is so special about this place – but maybe we do need to have it explained to us.  This pool was fed by an underground spring, and occasionally that caused the waters to be disturbed. 
          An urban myth had developed that suggested that the disturbance in the water was caused by angels touching the water.  When that happened, the first one in would be healed.
          It was just that, just a myth.
          But here is this man.  He has no hope left.
          He has nothing to cling to.
          He has been sick for 38 years, and he thinks that if he can get into the water first, he will be healed.
          Well, of course, he can’t get into the water.  He’s completely disabled.  No one is there to help him in.
          So he just sits there.
          For 38 years.
          That’s 13,832 days!
          That’s like sitting hopelessly on the beach since 1975. 
          Where were you in 1975?
          Ginny and I got married in 1975.  I was working at a small, intimate Italian Restaurant – you may have heard of it.  Pizza Hut. I was taking my last two college classes getting ready to graduate.
          Some of you were not even living in 1975.
          Imagine!  Imagine just sitting there for 38 years without hope.  You are sick.  Sick yesterday.  Sick tomorrow.  Sick forever.
          And here comes this man whom you have never met.  You do not know this man.
          And he asks, “Do you want to be well?  Do you want to be healed?  Do you want to be made whole?”
          The truth is, sometimes we don’t want to be made whole.  Sometimes we grow to like our brokenness.  It is who we are.  It is what we are familiar with. 
We embrace our racism with joy.
We find wonderful delight in hating someone who mistreated us years ago. 
We savor our loneliness. 
We wrap ourselves in the warmth of grief and sorrow because it has become so familiar to us, we don’t know how to laugh and be joyful anymore – so we cling to grief.
          Being made whole is not an easy journey.

          Sometimes it is easier to say “no.”
          Sometimes it is easier to be disabled and not to learn to become able to do things.
          Sometimes it is easier to stay a racist.
          Sometimes it is too hard to stop grieving.
          Sometimes wholeness is just too much to ask.

          But sometimes, hope breaks through.

          In the Gospel story, this man who has been completely disabled for 38 years is healed.  It is without question, a miracle. 
          Jesus tells him, “Get up.  Pick up your mat.  And walk.”
          And he does.
          It is an amazing thing.  He encounters Jesus.  AND he listens and obeys Jesus.  And everything changes.

          What would happen if you encountered Jesus, listened to him, and obeyed him?

          What miracle might happen in your life.
          Could you become whole again?

          Michael was a man of hate.  He hated adults, he hated children, and most of all, he hated God.  Michael had been sexually abused by his minister.  The abuse had started when Michael was 9 years old, and continued for 5 years.  He vowed he would never trust anyone again, never love anyone, and never go into another church ever again.
One day, Michael went to a church.  He wasn’t sure why.  That had been the last place he had ever wanted to go.  But he went.  And next week, he went again.  Then again. 
He confronted his abuser.  The abuser was tried and convicted.  Michael sought justice, but he did not seek bitter revenge. 
Michael was awarded a large cash settlement in a civil suit against the church, and he used part of that to pay for his counseling and mental health care so he could find healing from his wounds.  But he also gives part of that money to his abuser – specifically to be used to fund his abuser’s mental health care in the hopes that both victim and abuser might find health.  It has been a long road, but Michael has found justice and has been able to forgive his abuser. 

          What would happen if you encountered Jesus, listened to him, and obeyed him?

          What miracle might happen in your life.
          Could you become whole again?

          George Wallace was a man of hate, beyond redemption.  Then something unexpected happened to him.  He became a Christian in the late 1970’s. 
          Hatred, bitterness, anger – all seemed to fade away.
          Twenty three years after being shot, Wallace wrote a letter to his would-be assassin.  In the letter, he expressed love and forgiveness.[2]
You are in pain every day because of one man.
You cannot walk because of that one man.
And one day, you forgive.
It sometimes takes a long time for bitterness to heal so that a person can be made whole.
          In 1996, Wallace met personally with Vivian Malone. Thirty-three years earlier, Wallace had tried to stand in the way of Vivian’s desire to go to college because she was a Black, and Wallace had vowed, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”  But on that meeting in 1996, the arrogance of Wallace was gone.  The anger and hatred were disappearing.  He asked this woman for forgiveness.
          Imagine – you devote your entire life to something evil.  You live a life of hate.  Then one day, you ask for forgiveness.
          The road to spiritual health and wholeness can be a long one sometimes.
          What would it take to make you whole?
          What would free you from your racism?
          Your anger?
          Your despair?
          Your fears?
          Your …

          Perhaps the first thing to do is to answer the question.  “Do you want to be made whole?

Copyright 2013, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh