Dynamic Spirit Power!

“Dynamic Spirit Power!”

Acts 2 Pentecost mural

Acts 2:2-4 – June 9, 2019

Have you ever been outside in hurricane-force winds? Either you, or a loved one you know and who is very dear to you? How about a massive storm that has huge bolts of lightning, and loud cracks of thunder? Can you imagine God’s mighty power displayed, for everyone to see and hear and feel? Anyone who has ever been caught in such a powerful storm can tell you, such a dynamic panorama can be earthshaking, literally. That mighty God-sent power is just what I’ll be preaching about today.

Most of us, perhaps even all of us are familiar with the disciples’ fearful reaction after our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. And, for good reason! The Roman authorities were still hunting for the body of the Rabbi Jesus that disappeared from the tomb, some weeks before. Remember what happened on Easter morning? Not only the Roman authorities but also Jewish leaders were still demanding to see the body of this itinerant rabbi that they said was stolen from the tomb! Of course, we know better.

God’s mighty, miraculous power intervened, by way of the Resurrection and Ascension. Our Lord rose from the dead, walked and taught on this earth in His resurrected body for seven weeks, followed by His bodily ascension into heaven. What is more, the last instructions of Jesus to wait for power, to stay put in Jerusalem, were still fresh in people’s ears.

But—still, God left the disciples very much afraid, and very much in hiding. At least, after the risen Jesus went away for good. That’s what humans thought, anyhow.

Here we are, on Pentecost morning, waiting with the disciples. As was their custom, they were gathered for prayer in the Upper Room. Can you imagine a large group of disciples, with Jesus’ mother Mary in the midst of them? Talk about a prayer meeting! Still, they were huddled, in hiding. These disciples were being faithful, as best as they could. When, on Pentecost morning, a God-sent happening occurred. But, you don’t need to take my word for it!

Listen to what Dr. Luke says at the beginning of Acts 2: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

Now, today, if something like that happened, we might look around for the fancy special effects team in the background. We might wonder where the cameras were placed when those tongues of fire wondrously appeared above each person—marking them, letting everyone know that God was director, and God wrote the script.

Getting back to a description of a display of God’s mighty power, that other-worldly power was certainly on display in the sound like the blowing of a violent wind from heaven. In keeping with my analogy, God was also producer and certainly handled all special effects.

The Koine Greek word for “power” is dunamis, which the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament defines as: able to produce a strong effect power, might, strength” and “as supernatural manifestations of power, miracle, wonder, powerful deed.” This is the same word that is used ten times in the book of Acts to refer to God’s mighty power or acts. Plus, dunamis is the root word for dynamite: the mighty, powerful dynamite of God!

This dynamic power was on display to the disciples, in the upper room. Dr. Luke mentions that “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” On display only among the disciples—at first. But, soon, other people started to get in on the action!

Let’s hear from Dr. Luke: “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?”

Once the dynamic Holy Spirit blows in on the disciples with tongues of fire, and their physical tongues are loosened in many other languages, what an awesome display of power! Passersby from other countries off the street gathered around. They heard the violent wind of the Spirit and the expression of many languages that quickly followed. All of the disciples were telling the Good News, that Jesus our Messiah is risen from the dead—in many different languages. And, probably because of the regional pronunciation, the expat onlookers were able to tell that many of those who were speaking different languages were Galileans. Is it any wonder that these onlookers were totally amazed?

I am reminded of a flash mob in some public place, like a mall or in a downtown square. Just as passersby are engrossed in the performance the flash mob does, in a similar way, the onlookers are fascinated by the whole God-sent operation that happened in Jerusalem on Pentecost morning, especially by the sharing of the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ in their own heart-language, their own mother tongue. And, since the Holy Spirit was present in mighty power on that Pentecost morning, many came to believe in Jesus as their Messiah that day.

But, Pentecost was not just a one-time event. You know, an event that happened just in the distant past, in Bible times, never to be repeated. No! Whenever anyone believes on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, a Pentecost happens! The Holy Spirit blows through that person, that beloved one of God. The Holy Spirit blows into each of our lives, and the power and possibility of God acting with and through each one of us is an amazing and awesome truth!

Commentator Rev. Gary Simpson brings out the fact “I am more aware of the numerous ways the Holy Spirit comes into people’s lives and affects positive change. No longer is my understanding of Pentecost simply wrapped around the phonetic languages we speak out of our mouths. Rather, I am aware of the many ways the Holy Spirit speaks through us and to us through sounds, pictures, ideas and even hope.” [1]

I am reminded that some people think Pentecost was just a day, an event that happened two thousand years ago. But, no! Wait a minute! Are these well-meaning people putting limits on the mighty power of God? What about that violent wind of the Holy Spirit that blew through the house on that first Pentecost? Are these well-meaning people trying to put God in a little box of their own devising and understanding?

As the Rev. Simpson reminds us, Pentecost is not simply a day to remember the birth of the Church, but it is also a day to celebrate the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the dynamite of God, active and present in each believer’s life and heart. It is God’s power working in us and through us, so we can be witnesses to what the risen Lord Jesus has done for us. Yes, we are changed, too! And we have the opportunity to change the world, just as much as the first-century disciples of Christ—by the power of the God-sent dynamite of the Holy Spirit.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=88

Lectionary Commentary, Acts 2:1-8, Gary V. Simpson, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

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All Who Call on God’s Name

All Who Call on God’s Name

Acts 2-3 pentecost

Acts 2:1-21 (2:21) – May 20, 2018

Reporting to you live, down the street from Temple Square, scattered reports are streaming in to our news desk. The reports are all about the huge commotion affecting almost everyone: the local people in downtown Jerusalem as well as the yearly visitors in town for the Passover festival.

What facts we have been able to piece together give an incomplete picture. But, most reports agree that something significant happened today, involving several violent gusts of wind, some flames that appeared out of nowhere, and just as quickly disappeared, and a veritable Babel of tongues from the gathering crowd, as a result. We will keep you updated on this developing story as more information comes in.

What would the modern-day media have to say about the happenings on that first day of Pentecost? Might their stories have sounded a bit like this?

Of course, you and I have heard about this account from the first day of Pentecost over and over again. But—what if this news from the streets of Jerusalem was indeed new to us?

If reported by today’s news outlets, these accounts of strong wind, tongues of fire, and unfamiliar languages sound out of control. Wild, raging, unsettling, untamed. What kind of occurrence is happening in Jerusalem—and beyond? Something definitely out of control. Out of human control, at least.

Let’s go to the end of today’s scripture reading, and listen to what Peter preached: “all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That is surely beyond human control, too.  Plus, this reading can have a great deal to say to us on this Mental Health Awareness Sunday, too.

 

“Let’s begin with the last part – all who call on the Lord are saved. Did you hear this? It says “all.” There’s no comment on who has “right” theology, “right” behavior, “right” thinking, or the “right way” of living. It also doesn’t say that those who struggle with physical or mental illness have no place in the Body of Christ. This strange story of the first Pentecost says clearly that salvation, the Love of God shown in Christ, is for all people.” [1]

Do you hear? Salvation is not only for some people, or even for most people. What about  salvation only for people with sight or with hearing? Or, only for those who are left-handed, or for those who are right-handed. What of those people who only can speak one language, instead of those who can speak several? Or, is salvation only for those who grow up on “the right side of the tracks?” What about the rest of the people who grew up elsewhere?

I have spoken from the pulpit and from the front of the church about God’s ideas of equality, any number of times. The kind of equality that the apostle Paul talks about in Galatians chapter 3: “28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

But, what about people with mental health challenges? Is salvation also for these people? Are those with mental health challenges—and their families and loved ones—beloved children of God, too? The account of Pentecost in Acts indicates a whole different kind of truth.

“Imagine what we would say if somebody told us this story today. If someone came into our worship and said that they saw flames of fire above our heads, we might dismiss it as a hallucination. If they told us that they heard a sound of mighty and rushing wind, we might say the same thing. Then if they added that they heard us speaking in languages not our own, we would just shake our heads and turn away, if not back away in fear. How wrong we would be!

 

Maybe we can consider the Pentecost narrative as invitation to welcome, include, support, and engage persons who live with mental illness, and their loved ones. Let’s face it, those disciples don’t sound particularly well in this story. Yet, God did not abandon them. God didn’t turn them away. God included them in the building of the early church. They might have had some unusual experiences and some unique ways of being in the world, but God used them to create the Body of Christ that we are all a part of.

What if this story isn’t only a story about the mysteries of the Holy Spirit, but also a story of extravagant welcome? And if we add to this Paul’s account from Romans of the Holy Spirit’s care, concern and love for each of us, we get such a powerful promise of inclusion and new life.

No brokenness, no illness is beyond the reach of our loving God. The breath of the Holy Spirit gives all of us life. God transforms our bony, broken, despairing lives by knitting us all together into the Body of Christ. We can all find wholeness and hope when we come together in the name of the One who Loves us all…” [2]

Alleluia, amen.

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

[1] http://www.ucc.org/worship_worship-ways  Mental Health Sunday, Pentecost, May 20, 2018

[2] I have borrowed freely for my sermon today from the Sermon Starters in the Worship Ways of the United Church of Christ. Yes, today is Mental Health Awareness Sunday as well as Pentecost Sunday. May we all help to become more aware, more caring, and more welcoming of all people, including those with mental health challenges and their loved ones. #EraseTheStigma

http://www.ucc.org/worship_worship-ways  Mental Health Sunday, Pentecost, May 20, 2018

New Life Reality

“New Life Reality”

Acts 2-42 teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayers

Acts 2:42-47 – June 7, 2015

Have you ever looked through a photo album, or a scrap book? Showing memorable photos, distinctive times to remember. Hitting the high points of a person’s life, or of a family’s experiences. Or, if not the most wonderful times, at least the most significant times.

That’s what we are going to be looking at, in this summer sermon series. We are going to focus on the book of Acts, and see what vignettes Dr. Luke has for us, in this photo album of the Early Church. We’re starting with the Day of Pentecost, and its immediate aftermath. Right after Peter’s sermon, and the great big revival meeting there in the city of Jerusalem.

When last we left our intrepid heroes—I mean, the disciples—their revival meeting had a tremendous response! The report given here at the end of Acts 2 is that three thousand people came to belief in Jesus as their Messiah, who died on the cross, buried, and risen from the dead. Just as prophesied by the Hebrew Scriptures.

Now what? Sure, this extremely large group of people had their “come to Jesus” moment. The Holy Spirit blew through all of their lives. I do not at all wish to diminish this glorious experience. Dr. Luke records this marvelous “Kodak moment” in each of these individuals’ separate lives. Yes, God reached down, and touched each one.

But, in all seriousness, I repeat—now what? Where do they go from here? The group of believers in the Messiah Yeshua—or, Jesus Christ—went from a couple of dozen to 3000 people. All in one morning!

Wait just a moment: imagine a huge group of people, milling about. Think of a large location, like a high school auditorium, or a large gymnasium, or a festival at the lakefront. Now, imagine yourself plunked down in the middle of that huge crowd. We have a huge group of people who just came to a saving belief in Jesus as their Messiah. Now what? Is there any larger purpose? Any master plan?

Acts doesn’t tell us exactly who came up with this plan, but our passage today does tell us what they did. It’s a systematic listing. Four simple, straight-forward steps.

Verse 42 tells us the new believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” Four simple steps are the spiritual glue that binds this miscellaneous group—diverse believers from all over creation—together as one cohesive whole.

First, the central activity: they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” I suspect many of these 3000 people, these new believers, had only heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Some had never heard Jesus’ teachings directly, never mind about seeing His miracles! Why was this aspect so important? Because if these new believers started traipsing after their own ideas, they might go off into flights of fancy. The wild blue yonder. They needed to be grounded in solid teaching, directly from the men and women who learned from Jesus for three years. His disciples, and followers. Then they would know for sure what Jesus did—or did—not teach!

Has anyone here ever watched a plastic television preacher? Or listened to a sketchy evangelist on the radio or on a podcast? How about someone who was preaching the “health, wealth and happiness gospel?” Jesus wants us all to be healthy, wealthy and happy! Look at Job, after the Lord gave him everything back! Look at King David and King Solomon! Fabulously wealthy! All of them had favor with God, and you can, too! Just send the evangelist lots of money, and then you’ll be blessed! Just make sure you walk the straight and narrow, otherwise the Lord will smite you with sickness and poverty! Are you sick? Are your loved ones poor? Then, you’re not sending the preacher enough money! And, you don’t have enough faith!

Hold it! What I just said? False. Not true, at all.

Not the health, wealth and happiness gospel, not sending some huckster preacher or evangelist money in order to get health and prosperity. This is skillful twisting of Scripture passages, and is NOT GOOD AT ALL. This is exactly why it was so important that these new believers had ready access to the apostles, and paid such close attention to the disciples’ teaching. To prevent this kind of false teaching from getting started. It was true in the first century, and is just as true today, too!

Second on the Acts 2 list, fellowship. That means hanging out together! Eating meals together, visiting each others’ homes, going places together. This is closely followed by number three, breaking bread together. In other words, eating together! How many here just hang out together, occasionally? Visit, and be friends together?

Our friends from Love Sharing Congregation, do exactly that! If you come here early on a Sunday morning, before most people from St. Luke’s Church come into the building, you’ll find Love Sharing Congregation meeting together for early worship, and fellowship. They meet together, eat together, and hang out together. Then, again, every Sunday after 12 noon. They meet for worship service, and then eat a meal together. Be together, some more.

What a wonderful way to live out the activities the book of Acts recommends.

Fourth on the list we have “the prayers” mentioned. Not just general, private times of prayer, although the life of Jesus certainly models this for us, if anyone examines His life closely. “The prayers” probably refers to set times of prayer at the Temple. Gathering together regularly for prayer and worship was and is considered to be an important way to join together with others, horizontally, as well as joining with God, vertically.

These four things are activities that this group of brand new believers were involved in, from the get-go, from the very start. And, guess what? Their group continued to grow, and grow some more! Let’s take a special look at verses 46 and 47: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” This is what their new life together looked like! And, people noticed. They wanted to find out more.

I wonder whether the new believers might have been onto something?

On an online bulletin board, I read earlier this week about a church in Minnesota. This post was written a few years ago. I can’t tell you what the pastor’s name was, since he or she did not leave it. However, the pastor wrote about this awesome example of togetherness: communal living, spending time together, eating together, and hanging out together.

“The most profound example of communal living I see in our world is the work being done in homeless shelters. We often take our Sr. and Jr. High kids to a shelter and bring an evening meal for the shelter’s staff and residents. Individually, we cannot feed them because of the great need but, when we work together and plan together, we have more than enough to provide a good meal for the 70 or 80 residents of the shelter.

“In our church, it has become a badge of honor to insure that we can provided the best food for these folk and we now go to the shelter once a month. The point we make with our church members is that the residents of the shelter deserve our best, so we strive to provide it. Our youth like the work because it is a direct way to put their budding theology to work.”

You all see? Life together. Fellowship. Being friends. Eating and drinking together. Worshipping and praying together. Did I mention being comfortable together? This is “doing church,” at its best. Of course, we are all humans, and disagreements occur. Disappointments happen. But, this passage shows us a snapshot of what our life as a church can be!

Something to shoot for. Something to hope for. Something all of us can strive for. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if people in Morton Grove—Niles—Glenview—Park Ridge—Des Plaines—noticed what was going on here at St. Luke’s Church? The new church in Acts 2 reported “having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” This is what their new life together looked like! People noticed. They wanted to find out more.

Let’s celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit! We have that same power here. Nothing is impossible for the Spirit of God. This is a wonderful reminder of what church is all about.

Can I hear an “amen?” Alleluia, amen!

summer sermon series

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)