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Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Sunday

Jun 04, 2017

Passage: Acts 2:1-21

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Major Feast Days

Category: Discipleship, God's gifts, Pentecost, Holy Spirit

Keywords: holy spirit, pentecost

Detail:

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost
June 4th, 2017
Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina University

Acts 2:1-21 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 John 20:19-23

 

What happens when the Spirit comes? 

Y’all know what today is, right? It’s the Day of Pentecost. It’s the day we remember the crowning event of the Easter story. It’s the day we remember when the promised gift of the Holy Spirit was given to Jesus’ first followers. It’s the day we remember when the good news began to spread, beginning from Jerusalem. Some call it the “birthday” of the church. 

From the readings we have for this morning, we have two different accounts of the event. The first one is the most well known - it’s from the book of Acts; the disciples are all gathered together, when they hear a sound like the rushing of a violent wind, and the Holy Spirit alights on them like tongues of fire. Then they begin to speak in different languages as they go out in the streets to proclaim the good news. And it’s a very public affair. The other account is from John’s Gospel, and in that account, Jesus appears to the disciples and gives the Holy Spirit to them by breathing on them. No rushing wind;  no tongues of flame; no speaking in different languages. Just a quiet gathering with a word of peace and a little breath.   

And these two descriptions of what happened when the Holy Spirit came pretty much sum up how the church has developed even down to today.

Some of you may have had an experience of God that was so overwhelming that the only way you can describe it is to use dramatic imagery like rushing wind and tongues of fire. And the experience may have happened so fast and may have been so overwhelming that all you could do was go with it and just let the Spirit take you. That’s the Acts version of things. And some Christian traditions embrace this approach whole-heartedly and focus their attention on the way the Holy Spirit can grab hold of us to the point where we don’t act in “normal" ways. We call those types of churches “Pentecostal,” and if you’ve ever been to a Pentecostal church, then you know that the worship can be very excited, with people speaking in tongues and being overcome with emotion, or being “slain in the Spirit,” jumping and dancing around and falling in the aisles, and there’s just a lot of commotion and melodrama. And that kind of exuberant excitement is how those traditions give expression to being filled with the Holy Spirit. Again, that’s the Acts version of what happens when the Holy Spirit comes - taken to extremes, perhaps, but it’s still the Acts version of things.    

But some of you may have had an experience of God that wasn't all that dramatic. It may have come as a moment of feeling quiet assurance that God was present. It may have come as a deep sense of peace and joy. Or it may have come as a series of small events that only later you were able to look back on and appreciate how God was indeed at work in your life. That’s the John version of things. And there are some churches that concentrate on the way that the Holy Spirit can move silently yet powerfully, like a deep ocean current. Think of the Society of Friends - or the Quakers - whose gatherings are normally quite tranquil. They sit together in silence until someone is moved by the Holy Spirit to speak; not in tongues, but in words that everyone can understand, and usually the speaker does not raise their voice or get very animated. And they do this because that’s how their tradition gives expression to being filled with the Holy Spirit.  

Thus far, I’ve described the sort of extreme ends of how churches understand what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And it occurs to me that some of you may be thinking, “So what? We don’t do the speaking in tongues thing here, and we don’t sit around in silence waiting for someone in the group to speak. What happens here when the Spirit comes?”

In reply, there are a number of things that could be said. First, I’d say that if you’d like to add a bit more of a Pentecostal flavor to what we do, I hope you feel free to shout an “Amen!” if you feel so moved (can I get an “Amen?”). Or, if you like the Quaker approach, I invite you to step more deeply into those moments of silence that are observed during our worship, and hear what the Holy Spirit speaks to you during those quiet moments. 

I’d also say that in terms of what “normally” happens here when the Spirit comes, the answer can be as varied as the people in the congregation. You may have been moved to silent tears by the music. You may have heard the words of scripture and felt a sort of tingle because they really struck home that day. You may have felt a sense of joy-filled awe as you came forward to receive the Eucharist. All of those - and more besides - are what I would describe as ways in which the Holy Spirit moves in this church. 

 

But there’s an even simpler answer to the question, “What happens here when the Spirit comes?” Because we do what is common to both the Acts account and the John account.  As servants of God {who are filled with the Holy Spirit}, we receive the power to spread the good news that we have heard. And that’s something that both accounts agree on. In Acts, the disciples’ response to being filled with the Holy Spirit is to speak about God’s deeds of power. And in John, when Jesus gives the Holy Spirit, he commissions his disciples to spread the good news with the words, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In both cases, the gift of the Holy Spirit involves going out and proclaiming the good news. And that’s what the Holy Spirit is doing in this church. 

When the Spirit comes upon this church, she gives us the power to hear the good news, and then to go out from this place and share that good news with the world. As in John, the Spirit gives us the ability to speak about forgiveness to a world which has largely chosen to reject the idea that redemption is even possible. And we proclaim forgiveness not because we don’t care about sin - rather it’s because we know the destructive power of sin and choose to combat it with the Spirit-given power of reconciliation.

And as in Acts, some of us are given the ability to speak to others in a way that they can understand - not by miraculously learning to speak Portuguese or Mandarin but by being able to speak about churchy things like grace, transcendence, prayer, and holiness in an approachable way to those who did not grow up learning that kind of language.      

 

That’s what happens when the Holy Spirit comes. And sure, some of us may feel moved to shout and dance when the Spirit comes (can I get an “Amen!”); some of us may be moved to sit in silence. When it comes to mode of expression, the Spirit does indeed move in mysterious ways. But it’s not a matter of being “slain in the spirit” or being brought to contemplative quietude that matters the most.  It’s being sent. It’s spreading good news. It’s letting the power of God’s presence spill over into our day-to-day interactions so that when others see what we’re filled with, they will want to be filled with it too. That’s the gift of the Holy Spirit. And that’s the power we have within us as we leave this place. 

At the end of this worship service, the deacon will give the dismissal and bid us all go out into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. When Monty says that and we all go our separate ways, keep in mind that you are filled with the Holy Spirit and have the power to speak forgiveness and to share a word of peace with every single person you meet, no matter who they are or where they come from; no matter what they may have done or what their beliefs may be. The Holy Spirit that dwells within you gives you the power to share the gospel with them. So, do it. Can I get an Amen?