Monday, May 27, 2013

Jesus Started It: A Wonder-Full Life

Preached on Sunday, May 26, 2013

Scripture readings: John 16:12-16; Acts 2:1-20

Three-year-old Kamryn, the granddaughter of David and Karen, was riding in the back seat of their car and, as David was putting the car in gear, Kamryn yelled, “Turn on the wheels! Let’s get going!”

Photos: Washtucna Community Church
And a Drive East Through the Palouse Region
These are good words for the time of Pentecost, for two reasons. For one thing, Pentecost is what we might call, the birthday of the church. Pentecost is when God said “Let’s get going!” Everything got going because the Holy Spirit empowered the church to be what Jesus had called it to be.

And, then, “Turn on the wheels! Let’s get going!” fits Pentecost because they are words of the heart, or the words of a child, to whom the world is new. Pentecost is like the birthday of a new world coming into being before our eyes.

This new world is only new to us because we have been newly born into the timeless and ancient world called the Kingdom of God. This kingdom rules through the new creation of human hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit fills our hearts with wonder when we open our hearts to its work. We can look at the miracle of Pentecost as it took place so long ago, and gain a basic understanding of what the Spirit wants to do in each of us and in all of us.

There are many things to sort through in the miracle of Pentecost. The wind and the fire are the most important par because these are signs of the presence of the glory of God. This is almost beyond words but you can read a description of this Psalm 29: “The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire….The voice of the Lord makes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” (Psalm 29:7-9)

The one thing you need to know about the wind and fire is that everyone who belongs to Jesus has fellowship with God in all his glory. Belonging to Jesus and fellowship with God and being filled with the Holy Sprit are all a part of the same thing.

The wind and the fire are the presence of the glory of God. When we are the people of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that glory may be invisible and inaudible but it is always there. In one way, the miracle of Pentecost is simply the experience of what we have been given through Jesus.

We have been given wonders to live with every day. We have been forgiven. We have been recreated in the image of Christ by the grace of God and by faith. We have been made into a new kind of person that hasn’t been seen since the creation of the human race. As hard as this is to see we have been made into people who are fit for paradise.

Paul writes about this reality that we cannot see, or hear, or feel. Paul writes this, in his letter to the Ephesians: “And God has raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6)

In the miracle of Pentecost we see that we live in two worlds at the same time. We live in heaven and on earth at the same time. And this should tell us that, heaven and earth are never far apart.

It is important to know that God plans to create a new heaven and earth, and the heart of that plan is his coming to earth in Jesus. Since God has come to earth in Jesus, and died for the sins of the world, and risen from the dead to defeat the power of sin and evil and death in this world. The kingdom and the rule of God, in Jesus, are at work in this world even now.

This plan of God is carried into each person who receives Jesus. Then Jesus sends us out to live for him in this world as his witnesses. The miracle of Pentecost allowed his kingdom his live and work among the people of his new creation. His kingdom works through us as he fills us with his Holy Spirit.

If you look further than the miracle of the wind and the fire of Pentecost you will find the miracle of the tongues or languages of Pentecost.

People from all over the known world had come to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. It was one of the celebrations of the exodus when God brought his people out of slavery in Egypt. It was also a harvest festival. Most of all, it was a good, safe, comfortable time of year to travel, and people made the most of it. People of the Jewish faith travelled to Jerusalem for Pentecost in even greater crowds than for any other of the great feasts simply because it was a good, safe, and comfortable time to travel.

What we see, in the miracle of Pentecost, is that people of many different ethnic origins were out in the streets when the disciples left the house speaking in many different languages. The disciples had never learned to speak these languages. The power of the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the supernatural ability to speak these languages. There is no further mention in the Bible of these disciples ever communicating the good news of Jesus in this way.

In some ways, this miracle was completely unnecessary, and that’s what makes it so amazing. If the disciples had gone out into the street filled with the Spirit and speaking only Greek, which they all spoke anyway, pretty much all the ethnic groups on the street would understand them perfectly well.

In those days, Greek was the common second language of almost everyone between India and the Atlantic Ocean. Greek was the English of the ancient world. Those with the means to travel to Jerusalem would surely know Greek.

But many of them would have had a native language, a home language or dialect beside Greek. Greek was the language of business, and trade, and travel. The miracle of Pentecost was the miracle of the people of Jesus being able to speak in something much better than a language their hearers could understand. The miracle was their brief, God-given ability to speak to others in the language of their heart, and their upbringing, and their passion.

As important as the mind is, our minds have fortifications built around them to protect us from what we don’t want to hear. Our hearts have played a part in building those defenses.

In so many ways we all offer Jesus little more than a blank wall to talk to, instead of letting him speak to our heart. If we imagine the work of the Holy Spirit as the construction of a new creation; then the fullness of the Spirit tears down the old and builds up the new. The Spirit has to tear down those defenses.

The miracle of Pentecost was a supernatural power. It enabled the disciples to be witnesses of Jesus by breaking through all the defenses and speaking to the hearts of others. Some of those others listened and they heard wonderful things. “We hear them declaring the wonders of God.”

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would introduce us to wonders. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear….the Spirit of truth….will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (John 16:12-15)

The Holy Spirit makes us know the wonders of God, not only as a matter of our mind, but as a matter of our hearts. The Holy Spirit smuggles the wonders of God past our defenses in order to bring those wonders to our own hearts. Then we can share them as if we were children speaking to other children. Then the Holy Spirit reaches out through to the hearts of others.

The wonders of God are the wonders that belong to Jesus. How could someone like Jesus be the king, in whom we meet God face to face? How could the kingdom of God be not a matter of armies, and laws, and governments, but a matter of the heart; the forgiveness of sins, life changing mercy, dying to ourselves in order to live in Christ? The Holy Spirit tells us how.

The wonders of God are the cross and the resurrection. As the miracle of Pentecost went on, the people who listened were “cut to the heart”. (Acts 2:37) God reached their hearts.

Even though they were not in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified, the people in the crowd of Pentecost were involved in it anyway (as we all are) because they were sinners. They had the rebel nature planted in their hearts. They would have done it if they had been there, just as we would have.

And the mercy and power of King Jesus was being offered to them. Here were the wonders that cut them to the heart: wonders that made them weep and want to change.

They felt joy and sorrow; sorrow and joy. And so they wanted to know what to do. They were like the child yelling, “Turn on the wheels! Let’s get going!”

The miracle of Pentecost was something Jesus had told his friends to wait for and pray for. This way of life, in which we are given the power to speak to the heart, is something for us to watch, and wait, and pray for. Try as we might, we know we can’t do it on our own.

Someone you know needs someone who can speak to their heart with the good news of Jesus, with the good news of mercy, with the good news of a new way of life. God has a right time and place for that person’s heart to hear the news they need most. The right time and the right place, along with your waiting heart, may be the time and place of the fullness of the Spirit for you and for them.

The miracle of Pentecost made it possible for the disciples to be what Jesus wanted them to be, and to do what Jesus wanted them to do. Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Being a witness for Jesus involves who you are and what you do, just as much as what you say. Jesus said to his disciples, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Remember that Jesus said this right after he had washed his disciples’ feet. He said to do the same for others. In the call of Jesus to be witnesses we are also called to be lovers, forgivers, and foot-washers.

The miracle of Pentecost gave the people of Jesus the power to be and do whatever they needed to be and do to in order to give their witness for Jesus. Jesus told them to wait, and waiting was to be a time for hoping, and anticipating, and praying, and desiring. Why should God give us something we don’t desire? We all need to spend such time with God.

For the fullness of the Spirit (the power to be and to do what Jesus has made possible) the requirement is to approach it as a deeply desired miracle. We approach it with longing and prayer.

Being “filled with the Holy Spirit” is much more than a mere experience. Being filled with the Spirit is an empowerment for a purpose that needs the partnership of the Spirit to keep us going.

The Holy Spirit helps us meet one of our greatest needs: simply our need to think, and speak, and act like a lover of Jesus. The disciples prayed for this filling of the Holy Spirit, time and again, because being filled with the Sprit is not a status you can claim, or a promotion in the Christian life. It is a constant need you can never outgrow.

There is a much stranger side to the miracle of Pentecost. That is the fact that many of the people who were there did not see it.

If they were charitable skeptics they could have seen it as grown people babbling like little children who have gone hyper. What we hear them say is that they saw the miracle as grownups who were drunk. “They have had too much wine.”

Peter replied, “These people are not drunk as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” (Acts 2:15) And so Peter started the first Christian sermon with a joke.

The miracle of Pentecost did not make life any easier for those disciples, because it left them ordinary, just as it does with us. Anyone could dismiss them out of hand. Anyone could find reasons to ignore their message and their lives. “Are not these men who are speaking Galileans?” (Acts 2:7) Are these people not peasants?

Paul wrote what it felt like to know the wonders of God’s love and his own unending ordinariness. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) So all the drama of Pentecost left them looking ordinary, and even feeling ordinary.

True miracles never say anything about us, or even about our faith. True miracles always point to God, never to us. Ordinariness is God’s protection against the danger of pride.

Jesus started it all. Jesus, in spite of the wonderful things he said and did, always appeared entirely ordinary. This must be at the very heart of the plan and the miracle Christ living in us. We might wish that we were not ordinary anymore, but this is a gift and it is something we very well equipped to give to God.

When I was about nineteen or twenty I tried to work out how to follow Jesus’ call for me to be in the ministry. It was a calling that first came to me when I was twelve. It was a calling I had not wanted, for many good reasons. I knew that I was the most unlikely person in the world to do what I am doing now. There was no way that I could make people believe that I was called by God to be a minister or pastor.

I was not mistaken. It turned out to be a real problem, over and over again. In fact it’s a problem that has never entirely gone away.

I decided, at that time, that my gift would be to have no apparent gifts. I would do what the Lord called me to do, and let him take care of the rest. My obedience only required me to desire to do what God called me to do, and to desire to be what God called me to be.

Augustine the fifth century Roman Christian wrote, “O Lord, grant what you command, and command what you will.” It appears that this is the very thing he does command: for us to be ordinary, and yet filled with him.

We can be perfectly ordinary, obviously ordinary. And we can pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to fill our ordinary lives when, and where, and however he grants it. So, “Turn on the wheels! Let’s get going!”

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