What stood out to you in Acts 2:1-8? I can’t get past the first sentence:
“They were all gathered together in one place.”
We are all gathered together, but we are not in one place physically. I’m sad about that today especially because my very first time to preach to you as your new pastor was three years ago on Pentecost. Today marks three years.
Is there a sense in which we are all in one place? Yes. Through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We are united in Christ. We are all children of God. I want to focus on that.
Sometimes, though, I struggle with all the ways that we are divided, and I want us to be honest with one another about those.
We are a purple church. Red and blue make purple. Some of us are democrats and some of us are republicans because there isn’t one Christian party and one non-Christian party. Some of us prefer neither party. And yet the Holy Spirit unites us, regardless of our political affiliation.
We are purple in other ways, too. We are a blend of conservative and progressive theology. We do not all agree in our interpretation of scripture. We agree about some things like
- the lordship of Jesus Christ,
- the sovereignty of God, and
- the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and
- the Bible as our primary guide.
- Loving God and loving our neighbors.
Some of you may not totally like all the wording I used there, though I tried to choose it carefully. Our graciousness with one another about our diversity is one of the hallmarks of our denomination (PCUSA), but it is both a blessing and a challenge.
We are purple in another way. We are both traditional and contemporary, not only in our music styles but also in our worship styles. We have chosen to include both styles in our worship, and that has also been a blessing and a challenge.
We are also purple in our opinions about current events. We do not all agree about the danger of the COVID-19 virus and we probably do not all agree about what happened to George Floyd or the response we’re seeing across the country, and yet we are here together seeking God in Christ.
I normally take great care in preaching to you that I stick to the center and focus on Jesus. The Bible encourages us to avoid being divisive. But I want acknowledge our diversity because
- I want you to know that the fact that we worship God together despite our differences is a beautiful testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit among us,
- and I am thankful that we want to praise God together in peace and harmony.
To worship God with all our hearts, mind and strength is to be changed and transformed by the movement of the Holy Spirit in us.
On that first Pentecost the disciples were gathered together, and there were people in Jerusalem from all sorts of different places.
- They looked different from one another, and
- they spoke all sorts of different languages.
They came from different places physically and culturally, just as we come from different places to celebrate God’s giving of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had said would happen.
There is another Holy Spirit story in the Bible in Numbers chapter 11. In that story, the people of Israel were wandering in the desert after having escaped from slavery in Egypt.
They were complaining . . . again.
They had complained about not having enough water, and about not having enough food. God provided water, and God provided food – manna that showed up each morning like dew on the ground. Manna was sort of like coriander seed, and they would grind it up to make flour.
But now they were tired of manna, and so they complained about that. And Moses was tired, and he complained to God, saying, “I can’t lead these people by myself anymore.”
So God told Moses to select seventy elders and bring them to the tent of meeting. And God said, “I will come down and talk to you there. I will take some of the Spirit that is upon you, and I will put the Spirit upon them also. They will bear the burden of the people along with you, so you will not have to carry it alone.” (Numbers 11:17)
Moses brought the seventy elders to the meeting tent and God spoke to them and put the Spirit upon them and they prophesied.
Now, there were two elders who didn’t go to the tent of meeting. They stayed behind in the camp. And the Spirit came upon them and they also prophesied.
And Joshua saw this and told Moses, “My Lord, make them stop!” And Moses said, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!” (Numbers 11:29)
Even though those two elders were not gathered in the same place as the other seventy elders, the Spirit still came upon them and they still prophesied. Do not miss this. The Holy Spirit doesn’t require us to be all in the same place. The Holy Spirit isn’t bound by physical limitations. God is not subject to our human limitations. That’s one of the reasons the Holy Spirit can seem so unpredictable.
The Holy Spirit can surprise us. I was surprised two weeks ago when I asked during our worship time for people to send me their answers to the question, “How do you see the Holy Spirit working?” The very first response I received was from my husband Rob’s cousin in Indiana. Not in the same place physically, but nevertheless prompted by the same Holy Spirit who prompts us all.
Here’s what she said about how she sees the Holy Spirit working:
She points out another reason the work of the Holy Spirit seems unpredictable. We cannot always see it with our eyes.
We tend to underestimate the power of what we cannot see, and so we might be surprised at how we are affected by what’s happening to other people and our impact on them.
Maybe you’re familiar with the famous line from one of John Donne’s meditations that says, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” They would ring the big church bell in the center of town whenever someone died. Naturally one would ask, “Who died?” For whom is that bell being rung? Donne says, “…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Any man’s death diminishes me. George Floyd’s death diminishes us all.
Donne is making the point that we’re all connected. We also see that interconnectedness in the Star Wars movies. There the interconnectedness is called “the force,” and it is happening across galaxies. Whenever one of the Jedis dies, the other Jedis can feel the disturbance in the force. It’s a wonderful analogy for the connection we have through the Holy Spirit.
Maybe you’ve felt a similar disturbance over the large number of deaths from the virus. When someone we know dies, we feel the sadness, but even when it’s someone we don’t know, we have compassion. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”
That compassion is how both my mom and Carla told me they see the work of the Holy Spirit.
Both of them are seeing the Holy Spirit connecting us to one another and helping us to help one another.
There was a second question to which I had invited response two weeks ago: What would you like to celebrate about the work of the Holy Spirit? Here’s how Carla answered:
What is our mission?
On the day of Pentecost, the crowd that was gathered was asking, “What’s happening? Why are they behaving like this?”
So Peter gets up to explain, and several times in his message he uses the word “listen,” and not just listen, but listen carefully. That’s what we need to do as well.
To what or whom do we need to listen? Obvious first answer is Jesus.
We listen by asking God for help and by paying attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
You’ve probably heard it said that hurt people hurt people. People who are hurting need to be heard. We need to listen to them and not dismiss them.
We talk sometimes about finding our passion. We call what Jesus did, dying on the cross for us, the passion of Christ. One of the prophecies about Jesus in Isaiah 59 says:
16 He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed.
So he himself stepped in to save them with his strong arm,
and his justice sustained him.
17 He put on righteousness as his body armor
and placed the helmet of salvation on his head.
He clothed himself with a robe of vengeance
and wrapped himself in a cloak of divine passion.
Passion is love so strong that it suffers for the sake of another person. Jesus gave himself up for us, and calls us to be similarly selfless.
God so loved the world that he gave. The Holy Spirit moves us to give – to share what we’ve been given, both in physical ways and in less tangible ways. And to give up those ways that hurt other people. We cannot always see when that’s happening, so we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us see.
Often our tendency is to want to tame the work of the Holy Spirit to keep her safe and predictable. I know I am guilty of playing it safe. Sometimes the Holy Spirit stirs up emotions we don’t want to have – anger and sadness and frustration. Those responses could be the Holy Spirit speaking to us.
The people listened to Peter that day as he told them about the prophecies about Jesus and how Jesus had been crucified and the people were “cut to the heart” and they said, “But what shall we do?” And Peter said, “Repent.” (v37-38)
Listen and repent. Receive forgiveness through believing in Jesus.
Those people listening to Peter that day probably weren’t the ones who had been directly responsible for crucifying Jesus, but they understood that they were indirectly responsible because they hadn’t listened before. I’ve been realizing how much I do the same. It’s easy to say, “that’s nothing to do with me,” because we aren’t directly responsible or directly connected, but, my friends, we are all connected, and we are all responsible, and we all need to listen – listen to the Holy Spirit, listen to the hurting people, listen and repent.
Listening might not sound like much, but listening, and listening carefully, is a really big first step.
Earlier this week on Facebook I shared a list of 75 things we can do that our Synod Executive Landon Whitsett sent us. If you looked at that list you would see that many of the actions listed are about listening.
- Reading books by black authors so we hear their stories.
- Watching movies and TV that tell a different story than the one we’re used to.
- In that list of 75 things are names of people and organizations to follow on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram so that we see what’s happening outside of our usual circle.
People have been crying out and we haven’t always been listening. We need to listen and pray, and listen and repent, and keep on listening, because it’s not just about what’s happening today.
And in our listening, may we be transformed by the renewing of our minds as the Holy Spirit changes the way we listen and think and live, and may we be open to the unpredictable and powerful and beautiful Holy Spirit, our amazing gift from God through Jesus Christ, and may we be thankful.