Monday, 28 May 2012

Pentecost- Happy Anniversary!

Acts 2

New International Version (NIV)

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost(A) came, they were all together(B) 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.(C) They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit(D) and began to speak in other tongues[a](E) as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing(F) 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,(G) they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?(H) Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,(I) Pontus(J) and Asia,[b](K) 10 Phrygia(L) and Pamphylia,(M) Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene;(N) 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?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”(O)

Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!(P) 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.(Q)
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,(R)
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.(S)
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,(T)
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood(U)
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord(V) will be saved.’[c](W)

            Well, Happy Birthday!
This is the day when we recognize the anniversary of the birth of the church.
            A birthday is a helpful image of what happened at Pentecost, and it’s an image we often use for this day. It is the birthday of the church! But, another good image might be a wedding anniversary. Last weekend Ken and Marylou had their 50th wedding anniversary and it was a great celebration, and a great example to the rest of us who are working our way through this marriage business. They had a great slide show of beautiful pictures of their wedding day. The pictures showed who was there, and where they were, and what they day was like. Marylou had her wedding dress out. Ken told me who the people were in the pictures and some of the stories from the day and how the people in the pictures where related to them. In a way we were able to be transported back to their wedding day. An anniversary is a great time to look into the past.
            At Pentecost we look into the past just as at a wedding anniversary. We read from the Bible, which is a bit like our family story book. We read that after Jesus was crucified and then resurrected on Easter day he also ascended into Heaven. After that God poured out his Spirit on the Disciples of Jesus, The Bible speaks about this event using images of fire and wind, which make us think about God blowing life into the first human being in Genesis, and the fire of God descending on Mt. Sinai when Moses received the Law in Exodus. At Pentecost the disciples were re-created, in a way. They had the life of the Spirit blown into them, and the law of love was written on their hearts. They were reborn and they became the Body of Christ. The power of Christ would become active in and through them.
It was a bit like a wedding. In a wedding what had been two becomes one. It is like a barrier is removed and the couple is joined in a way they hadn't been before. At Pentecost the disciples of Jesus all received the same Spirit. They were made one by sharing in the one Spirit- they were unified in a new way. When the Spirit filled them and they started speaking in other languages another barrier was removed. They spoke, and miraculously, they spoke in different languages. They weren't just random languages; they were the languages of those who were within earshot who were visiting from all over the known world. They were people who weren't present to hear about Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. They came from all over- from Rome, and Northern Africa, and from near the Caspian Sea, and Turkey. Suddenly, the language barrier was gone. And they hear about what had happened. They hear it from Galileans even- uncivilized country bumpkins, not academics who might actually know the languages.
                 The Spirit loves to bring people together. You can fight it. The Spirit won't override your free will, but the Spirit's desire is to create a community full of peace, love, healing, and understanding. The Spirit wants to create a community where people learn to be like Jesus.
            And so the disciples are brought into greater unity by sharing this one spirit. Those who are listening to them miraculously speaking different languages are unified in understanding what is being said. The act of the Spirit working through the disciples transcends nationalities and languages. It didn't matter what people they belonged to, or what language they spoke. .... They heard and were drawn into the community. The confusion of nationalities and languages symbolized by the Tower of Babel story is reversed.     
            And then Peter speaks to the crowd that has gathered to describe what they are witnessing and he points to a prophecy of Joel where God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy[eye], your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.” (Joel 2:28-32). It's not just nationality and language that is removed as a barrier to community, but the age barrier is removed- Both old and young are unified in the Spirit. The gender barrier is removed- both women and men are unified in the Spirit. I will pour out my Spirit on all people, God says. The Spirit transcends the barriers that divide us as human beings. 
            Like at an anniversary we look back into the past at that amazing event where multiplicity became unity- where two became one- Where unity overcame the barriers that stands between us. Just as in a marriage when a couple is married they are no longer two, but one. In Pentecost the many are unified by one spirit. So, we look into the past to remember that important event.
            An anniversary is also a time when we evaluate. My 10th anniversary is coming up in August and I find myself thinking about how we're doing. Is there more I could be doing? How can I be the best possible husband for Crystal? How can I be the best possible father for our two boys? How healthy is our relationship? Is there anything that needs to be dealt with? So sometimes an anniversary is a time for us to reflect and evaluate where we are at the present. 
            And so at Pentecost, our 2012th anniversary, it is also appropriate for us to ask those questions. How are we as a church? How is our relationship with God? How is our relationship with each other? How are we getting along with Christians of other denominations? How can we be better students of the way of Jesus? How are we doing in terms of being spiritual mothers and fathers to those who are new to the community? How healthy are we as a group of disciples living out God's mission in the world?  So it is appropriate that we are looking at our NCD survey results today.  Natural Church Development can help us get a little snapshot of our relationship. It can show us our strengths and also show us what we might need to work on.
We shouldn’t let ourselves get dragged down. We’re not in this alone. We have God’s Spirit living in us, remember. But, it is good to make ourselves conscious of the state of our relationship.
            Just as I'm looking at my marriage and asking those questions, so it's appropriate for us to be asking these questions as a church. How are we doing as Disciples of Jesus in a world he loves so much that he died for it?
            When an anniversary comes up we think about the past, we look at the present, but we also look into the future. Where is our relationship heading? I'm looking at my 10th anniversary this summer. I'm thinking back to our wedding day and our honeymoon and our life together since then. I'm thinking about how we're doing now, but I'm also wondering about how we'll be doing at or 15th wedding anniversary, or our 20th, or our 50th. As a church we also look into the future as we remember how God unified us and formed us into a church. We look into our present, and we look into the future. Where will we be 10 years from now? Where will we be 50 years from now? The present is an indication of our direction for the future. The decisions we make now will effect where we end up 10, or 20, or 50 years from now.  
            So how does our future look? We can allow ourselves to become depressed based on some stats that come out about the church, but the stats were against the original disciples too.   
            Does our future look like Pentecost? Will we continue to fulfill the prophecy of Joel? Are we tearing down walls that divide us? Are we tearing down walls of gender, or age, or nationality, or language? Are we a community that tears down those barriers? Are we allowing the Spirit to tear down those walls?  ... Or are we putting barriers up? Are we confined by the walls of a building? Or by our social standing? Or gender? Our wealth, or lack of it? Where do we, individually and as a group, put up barriers when the Spirit is trying to tear them down? 
            At Pentecost the world became less divided, it went from being a world divided by nationalities, languages, wealth, age, and gender, to a world divided only by a person's will to be included or excluded in the family of God. And God’s will is for us to be one, healed, and at peace. That is the desire and work of the Spirit- To work in the world, even through us, to bring wholeness where there is division.  
            It is important for us to evaluate ourselves and to look into the future and usually we find something we could be doing better. Our NCD survey results will show us where we are strong, but it will also show us some things we need to work on. We have to be careful not to let that overwhelm us. If I think of ways that I can be a better husband and father I shouldn't let those things overshadow the celebration of my marriage. Relationships are always growing. That is part of the fun. There is always something new. We can always go deeper. So we should not let our evaluation overwhelm our celebration. Sure there are things we need to work on. That will always be the case and that is part of the fun. But, we must celebrate the relationship above all. We should celebrate what God has done among us, who he has made us, and what He is doing right here right now. We should remember that above all we are loved by God, and that is what gives us value- not anything we do- God does not love us any more if we have a perfect score on our NCD Survey (if there is even such a thing as a perfect score). People of St. Timothy's, God loves you... more than you can possibly imagine... You are the bride of Christ. That is where your value comes from.
            I want to leave you with a few words that point to how God feels about you- as God’s bride. They are words from an unusual book that was included in the Bible. It has been used for thousands of years to talk about how God feels about His people. It is from the Song of Songs. And remember that for two thousand years These have been heard as the words of God to his Church- to you…  

4:8-15 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride.
   Leave Lebanon behind, and come.
Leave your high mountain hideaway.
   Abandon your wilderness seclusion,
Where you keep company with lions
   and panthers guard your safety.
You've captured my heart, dear friend.
   You looked at me, and I fell in love.
   One look my way and I was hopelessly in love!
How beautiful your love, dear, dear friend—
   far more pleasing than a fine, rare wine,
   your fragrance more exotic than select spices.
The kisses of your lips are honey, my love,
   every syllable you speak a delicacy to savor.   

In all your diversity, you are drawn together in God’s love- as his bride.
Happy Anniversary!
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