June 9, 2019

THE EMPOWERING SPIRIT
Pentecost Sunday

 

BIBLE READINGS
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:1-2, 24, 27-35
Romans 8:5-17

 REFLECTION

There is a story about a little girl who spends the afternoon with her grandmother in the garden. While Grandma is inspecting the progress of her flowers, the little girl has a different idea. She tries to open the petals of the flower buds herself. But, every time she tries to do that, the petals will break apart. So, in frustration, she says, “Grandma, why is it so hard for me to open the flowers? But, every time God opens the flowers, they always look beautiful?” Grandma smiles and replies, “Well, my dear, that is because God works from the inside out.”[1]

 Yes, God often works from the inside out. We can see this clearly especially on that Pentecost day in Jerusalem.

 When we read the testimony about God’s Spirit in the Bible, we hear two different approaches. On one hand, God’s Spirit works inclusively. God’s Sprit is the breath that God gives indiscriminately to all living beings in the world. We see this in the testimony of our Psalm reading today.

 Yet, especially in the New Testament, God’s Spirit also came exclusively to Jesus’ followers. God’s Spirit didn’t come to the entire Jewish crowd on Pentecost day in Jerusalem. God’s Spirit came only to Jesus’ disciples.

 Yet, the exclusive nature of the giving of the Holy Spirit did not create an exclusive community. On the contrary, the disciples were moved by God’s Spirit to serve the crowd in Jerusalem. God’s Sprit enabled them to speak in different languages so that they could reach out to the crowd and bridge the gap between the people and the gospel.

 This is the hallmark of a community that is filled by God’s Spirit. A community that is Spirit-filled is not necessary a community that can speak different languages. No. A community that is filled by the Spirit is a community that look outside of the Church’s door; a community that look to serve the society where they are in. Likewise, a person who is filled by the Spirit is someone whose heart is to serve others.

 This is the DNA of the Church; the very identity of the Church that influences everything that we do. The day of Pentecost is often seen as the birth day of the Church; the day when the disciples had come of age to take over God’s mission from Jesus.

 And, at the very heart of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day was service. God’s Spirit enabled the disciples to go out, not to stay behind closed doors; to speak out, not to stay silent. This is what the Church of Jesus Christ is all about.

One word that we often avoid or ignore in the Uniting Church, is the word ‘prophecy’. For us, prophecy is the thing that other churches, like the Charismatic or Pentecostal, like to do. We like to think that prophecy is about being in a state of spiritual ecstasy or talking in divine language. We like to identify people who prophesy with fortune tellers or some new age enthusiasts.

 But, prophesying is not about predicting the future. Prophesying is about shaping the here and now. Prophesying is about proclaiming God’s work in the world. Prophesying is about challenging the world so that it would shape itself according to God’s words.

 Peter quoted the prophet Joel in his message to the crowd in Jerusalem on Pentecost Day. He told them that the time had come when the Spirit would fill people’s hearts and they would prophesy.

 As a people filled with the Spirit, we too are called to prophesy and be a community of prophets. We are to be a community that dare to call out brokenness in our society. We are to be a community that speak out against evil until God’s way of life is fulfilled in the world.

 One influential Christian speaker and writer once did a lecture in a seminary. But, before he could begin his lecture, a student stood up and asked a rather personal question. “Before you start,” he said, “I want to know whether you are Pentecostal or not.” The lecturer was confused so he asked back, “Do you mean do I belong to a Pentecostal church?” “No,” the student said, “I mean are you Pentecostal?” “I don’t understand,” the lecturer said, “Do you mean I’m charismatic or not?” “No, are you Pentecostal?” the student repeated the question again. “Do you mean do I speak in tongues?” “No, I want to know whether you are Pentecostal or not.” The lecturer finally gave up and said, “I don’t know what you want with your question.” “Then, you obviously are not Pentecostal,” said the student and he left the lecture room.[2]

 I too don’t really know what this student was trying to say and I think his approach was a bit rude. But, perhaps, he wanted to know whether the lecturer believed that he was led by the Spirit or not; whether or not the Spirit played a central part in his life, regardless of which denomination he belonged to.

 Using the poetic words of Psalm 104, God’s Spirit fills us so that we can praise God with our very being. Psalm 104 proclaims that every living being in the world is dependent on God’s Spirit. Without God’s Spirit, nothing in the world can exist at all (Psalm 104:27-30). And, God’s Spirit enables everything in the world, including us humans, to play its role (Psalm 104:14-23).

 So, God fills us with life giving Spirit not so that we can remain idle, but so that we can work. God’s Spirit fills us with life so that we can make our own contribution to the running of the world. Life is at the center of creation and everything is to contribute to the persevering of life in the world.

 No, we’re not supposed to be passive occupants of the world. We are to be active occupants that serve the world according to God’s purpose and will. No wonder that Psalm 104 begins with blessing and ends with praising and blessing (see Psalm 104:1, 33, 35). Everything that we do in our life is to bless our Creator and to praise Him.

 According to Paul, the Spirit is life and gives life (Romans 8:10-11). In other words, those who are empowered by God’s Spirit will create life. God’s Spirit has brought life to them. In return, they are to bring life to others as well.

 But, we cannot bring life to others if we do not step out of our comfort zones and meet others in the world.

 Let me try to illustrate this by telling you a story about a woman who loves going to the beach. She loves the beach so much that, every day, she will go to the beach with all of her equipment. She will wear her white hat and cover the rest of her body with her old-fashioned clothes. No part of her flesh shall be exposed to the sun. She then will set up her wide umbrella and her reclining chair on the sand.

 When the urge to swim comes to her, she will stand up and come close to the water. She will then dip her right toe into the water, followed by her left toe. After she feels that she is wet enough, she will return to her chair and enjoy her day reading her book.[3]

 You know what friend, she may as well stay in her house instead of ‘wasting’ her time on the beach. You can’t enjoy the beach without actually exposing yourself to the sun and the water. Likewise, to change the world, we are to meet real people in real life. And, that means exposing ‘our flesh’ to the ‘sun and water’ of the world.

 Friends, the Spirit that we receive is not a spirit of slavery or fear, but a Spirit of freedom and life (Romans 8:15). As such, we know that we have God’s Spirit within us when our life brings freedom and life. But, we can only bring life to people when we step out to meet the world. The Spirit empowers us not to stay in, but to go out.

 Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] From Sermons.com - Dynamic Preaching for Pentecost 2019

[2] From Sermons.com - Dynamic Preaching for Pentecost 2019

[3] Adapted from a story in Sermons.com - Dynamic Preaching for Pentecost 2019