“How to Know if Your Church is Pentecostal” Acts 2:1-21
Church for the Highlands
for Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2013
[Note: I usually post sermons after I preach them, but this Sunday I am preaching a "flipped sermon." I read a post about this style of preaching on Adam Walker Cleaveland's Pomomusings and thought I would give it a try soon. Well, soon turned into this Sunday, as I can't think of a better time to rearrange the furniture of preaching than Pentecost Sunday. The downside is that I had to finish the sermon by today in order to get it out to everyone in advance to them to come prepared for discussion on Sunday. As a result, I don't have that feeling of completion that usually gels by Saturday evening. The upside is that I'm done with it for the week and the rest of the work will come from the congregation. I have done some dialogical preaching before in other churches where I've served, doing so once for a whole season, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes at CFTH on Sunday]
The audio of this sermon is here.
Years ago, as churches and denominations were beginning to enter the digital age, a Baptist agency began posting a Pastorless Church List, which was helpful to pastor search committees as well as to pastors who were looking for pastor search committees. You could go to a certain website and download the list, which was updated almost every month. It would list the name of the pastorless church, what the church size and budget were, and some note about where the pastor went from there or why he left. I remember seeing one church on the list, who filled in the last category with, “pastor went pentecostal.” That’s all it said. That’s all you needed to know that the pastor’s departure was probably not his own choice. Something changed in him that hadn’t changed in the church. Things happened.
As we read the Scripture for this Pentecostal Sunday, we can make our own note that this was a church, not just a pastor or individual, that had “gone pentecostal.” Reading, hearing, and understanding what happened to them as the Spirit showed up in them provides our church with some indicators as to whether or not we’ve gone pentecostal.
The first one shows up the most when we understand the Spirit/community connection. Luke reported (v.1) how They were all together in one place. Even though they were together for an annual religious gathering (the celebration of the giving of the Law), it would be wrong to miss what else Luke is describing and emphasizing–the corporate aspect to the reception of the Holy Spirit. This becomes more obvious with a reading of Acts in its totality. It is about the Acts of the Spirit through the church, not just individuals who were acting for God. The Spirit entered their place, where they were all gathered. The Spirit, though applying fire to each individual to have, was given to the whole. This happened just as Jesus had told them as a group.
As we think of our church today, how well do we get this Spirit/community connection? Are we a church of individuals who serve God individually or are we individuals who serve God as a community? Do we gather in a place each week to seek what the Spirit has for us individually or do we gather to see what God can do with us as a group? It seems so easy to get hung up on the fascination of tiny fires atop our individual heads rather than seeing the blazing fire we create when we put our heads together. I would like for us to explore this connection more deeply as we roll into the summer months, considering and even practicing more deeply what it means for us to act as one body that is filled with the Spirit. The more we can do this, the greater our indicator of being a pentecostal church.
There is another indicator here, which has to do with emotions and reactions. Luke reported that the people gathered in the room that day were astonished, bewildered, amazed, and perplexed. The meaning behind the words Luke used mean that they were taken aback and caught off guard by the movement of the Spirit among them. Imagine for a moment what that would have been like, being a part of a dangerous minority group who continues to follow an executed leader who is believed to have resurrected from the dead. You are gathered in a room, wondering how you will have the power to continue on for even one more day, feeling drained and weak, only to now have a rushing wind blow through the room. Once the refreshment of the wind has set in, you feel the heat of the flames of the Spirit as they rest on, and soon within, you and your neighbor. You leave the room amazed and bewildered to find that other people are too as they hear you speaking in their language. Your tongue is moving, but now in a different language. The good news about your Jesus is now becoming good news for other people as well. “Amazed and perplexed” hardly explain what is going on in and around them at this point.
Could these same adjectives–astonished, bewildered, amazed, and perplexed–describe how we respond to the Holy Spirit as a church? There is a quote from A.W. Tozer that, unfortunately, rings true in many churches, I remind you that there are churches so completely out of the hands of God that if the Holy Spirit withdrew from them, they wouldn’t find it out for many months.
It is horrible to think this could be true of any church, but isn’t it in many churches we have been in before? As for Church for the Highlands, how can we be sure that we never cease to be caught off guard by the Spirit of God; to be taken aback by the fresh wind of the Spirit in our midst? As you think about the summer ahead and the new fiscal year we begin July 1, consider what we can look life if we fully allow ourselves to be amazed and perplexed by the Holy Spirit in our midst.
An additional indicator of a pentecostal church for us to consider is openness. A church touched by the fire of Pentecost is open to the Spirit for the purpose of serving as a conduit of God’s movement in the world. The disciples of Jesus gathered in the room that day the Spirit showed up suddenly turned not into receptacles but conduits of God’s activity in the world. Their tongues were used to share the Good News of Jesus with people from nations of the world. Their bodies were used in service to their Savior. Their young men would see visions, their old men would dream dreams, and slaves would prophesy. God turned his church into a living vessel he would fill and pour out onto a world in need.
Thomas Merton wrote about what it means to receive the Holy Spirit, that, It is by desiring to grow in love that we receive the Holy Spirit, and the thirst for more charity is the effect of this more abundant reception.
Our openness to the Holy Spirit involves us in a never-ending love affair with the world around us rather than an obsession with the world we have created within us.
God’s Spirit continues to do the same kind of work with the church of today. Here at Church for the Highlands, we have been placed at a point of tremendous need. In fact, the needs and opportunities for service are so overwhelming that we could never meet them on our own. Without the Spirit residing in and flowing through us, we are about as effective as the Dead Sea is in giving life to those around it. As a church, we must watch out for the things that stop up the Spirit’s intended flow through us into the thirsty areas of our neighborhood. We must never become content in being a receptacle. How will we share the Good News of Jesus and prophesy with our tongues, use our body for service, allow our eyes to see visions and dream dreams,?
As a die-hard Apple devotee, it is hard to read about what Apple stocks are doing. A recent article in USA Today Money section reported that, “The Apple stock crash is reaching a historic order of magnitude, shaking the faith of investors who piled on in large part on Jobs’ showmanship. Shares are down 44 percent and the crash has obliterated $291.2 billion in shareholder wealth. What has precipitated Apple’s stock crash? The causes may be complex, but the article focused on one primary factor—the death of co-founder Steve Jobs on October 5, 2011. Apple isn’t the only company that has struggled in the absence of a successful CEO. Research has shown “the fact that a sick or dying CEO is generally a big problem right away for stocks.” The article noted that when a CEO leaves a company the “short-term shock” turns into “long-term disappointment.” In contrast, the last time Apple was in serious trouble Jobs was there to move the company forward with fresh energy and vision. But without Jobs, as one prominent stock analyst contends, Apple is “becoming just another stock” and that “the phenomenon [of Apple] is unwinding.”
Aren’t you glad this didn’t happen with the first church Jesus started? I’m sure the first Christians wondered at times about what they would do without their CEO, but he made certain that what he had organized would continue with sustainable energy and vision to change the world.
Our Pentecost text for this Sunday reminds us how the church came alive with the Spirit, but also how the church stays alive with the Spirit. As we remember our origins as a church, may we too give visible indication that we are a pentecostal church.
2 Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island)