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.