If suddenly this morning the weather were to change, dark clouds filled the sky, thunder lightning, hailstones, and storm appeared, our reaction would probably be “What’s going on? The weatherman said we were gong to have a perfect day today.” We might be taken aback more if at the same time a large ball of fire appeared in the chancel, broke apart into small tongues of fire, and each landed on someone’s head.
Luke’s description makes it clear that something tremendous happened in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost. There are some dimensions that are not ordinary, ever day occurrences. They are strange, different, unusual.
Our trouble, however, is that we today view this story as a kind of quaint museum piece—an exhibit of things that happened long ago. Certainly strange and unusual, but somehow we fail to see the connection between that event and our lives today.
Yet the early Christians were very much in tune with these events and understood their meaning. God had used these means and methods before. Throughout the Scriptures a storm or great wind is a sign of the presence of God. One of the signs of God’s presence on Mount Sinai was the thunder and lightning in the storm. The same is true of fire. We all recall the pillar of fire that went with Israel from one place to another. When these phenomena occurred in the Scriptures, instead of thinking of weathermen or fire extinguishers, the early Christians immediately thought of God. These were two signs by which God was assuring them of His presence.
As Luke records it: These early Christians were all together in one place says our text. They were gathered for worship and God appeared; He made His presence known. This first Pentecost was an experience of elemental force. Like a cloudburst that overwhelms a parched land, so the Spirit of God came to the first disciples. So while it was a wondrous experience for these early Christians, it may not have been as foreign and strange as it is to us today. Then we here “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Christian church was born.
God’s Presence Today
When we remember this, we can say that this morning, Pentecost 2013, here at Faith Lutheran, and every Sunday morning, is a similar experience for God’s people. But He doesn’t use fire and wind; He has other sign of His presence here, other means that He uses to assure us that He is here. He says, for example, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” He declares that He is present in the Word spoken in our worship. He is here in our worship service as He speaks to you in Scripture readings, the sermon, and the Absolution, He is here in and with the bread and wine to give us the body and blood of Christ, personally and individually.
It is the same kind of day. Although it is likely you will not see tongues of fire or hear the wind, He is here. Not in some sort of spooky sense, but God Himself is present because He has promised to be. Therefore when the church gathers, it is more than just a social group getting together. It’s more than just putting in an hour for some good cause, or even some good work. It is God Himself gathering you together, so that He can work on you and accomplish His good purpose in your lives. That’s what Pentecost is all about—the power of God’s Spirit at work in the lives of Spirit-filled people, building the Church of God here on Earth.
God’s Presence In Faith’s History
25 years ago a group of Spirit-filled people came together in a fledgling congregation and began to dig a basement out of a hillside on Bieker Road. Some of you are sitting here this morning; others were your fathers, your husbands, and your brothers in Christ. The foundational work they did, and all the subsequent planning and labor, stands as a demonstration of the power of God’s people on Earth. But it is not, and was not, the structure that caused the church to be and to grow. It was the power of the Holy Spirit working through believers. Before there was a building there was a Church. Before there was a building there was right teaching and preaching of God’s Word; there were the sacraments and the forgiveness of sins.
There was all that was necessary to be Faith Lutheran, a Church of the true God. But the Holy Spirit gave the congregation abundant gifts. He gave Faith Lutheran the skill and resources to build a structure dedicated to the glory of God. But like that first Pentecost, the birth, establishment and growth of Faith Lutheran, is not only a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit working through believers, but it is a promise of even greater things in a world to come.
So this morning, on this “anniversary of the Church” while we take a deserved “time out” to reminisce about the times past, we must maintain the true course and goal of the true Church of God, we must take with glad hearts the command of our Lord to go out into the world and bring all nations to the foot of the cross. There to hear and see what God has done for all men. There to feel the healing power of God’s grace on a soul infected with sin.
Just outside the tiny town of Exira, Iowa, is a famous landmark. There is a legend that young farmer was out plowing his field when a group of Union soldiers passed by. Overwhelmed by patriotism, the young man leaned his plow against a young oak tree and left to join the Civil War—and never returned. Today, passersby stop at Plow-in-the-Oak Park to picnic by the once-young tree that grew and swallowed up the farmer’s once useful plow.
Goals are like that. If we set them aside for a time, we’re apt to find them swallowed up in the changing scene and rapidly growing world. Good goals should never be put aside, but pursued until, with the grace of God, they are achieved. We must continue to be about the building of the Church of God here on Earth and here in Washington, Missouri.
God’s Presence In Spirit-Filled People
That Pentecost recorded by Luke was a one-time event. But the world today still needs Spirit-filled people, swift as the wind, to take the word of God to people in languages that they can understand. The world today still needs Spirit-filled people, strong as the wind, to run up and down the streets and lanes of Washington, Missouri proclaiming the Good News to a world incredibly depressed and grim, lonely and gloomy—the Good News of a Savior crucified and risen again. The Good News of a Savior who cares.
Brothers and sisters, members of Faith Lutheran Church, I contend that you have been and are still God’s Spirit-filled people.
Spirit-Filled People Care And Show It In Their Lives. They control their fears and overcome their flaws. They keep their sharp tongues and flaming tempers in check, They say with the apostle Paul: In the midst of life’s hardships and cruelties, we have found more than victory through Him who loved us. They triumph even over the final enemy, which is Death. They see their resurrected Lord come out of that dismal garden at the crack of the first Easter dawn, and they know the power of the Spirit He promised. They have no reason to go around any longer hanging sad and sorrowful. Instead, they go forth laughing and leaping, shouting and singing.
Spirit-Filled People Are Changed. Change is not all bad. If nobody could be changed were would we be? People are often rigidly inflexible, stubbornly bullheaded, and arrogantly right about everything. In almost every case, people like that are dead wrong. Spirit-filled people have to be ready for change, prepared to accept change—even change in themselves.
Spirit-Filled People See God At Work. Jesus Christ himself said that the Spirit is like the wind. you can see the results, even though you can’t see the wind. The Spirit is like the wind. It blows were it chooses He said. That’s the way the Spirit is. None of us can tell the Spirit what to do. We have to accept Him and His work. We have to recognize His power. We have to admit the changes He produces in ourselves and in others.
Spirit-Filled People Are “On The Go.” They are not the most consistent people in the world. The only thing consistent about them is that the Spirit moves them. Otherwise, you can never predict exactly what they are going to do. They will love when others are hateful. They will forgive when others are intent on getting even. They are ready to move when others are standing still. They are where the action is, not looking for the safe comfortable seats.
Spirit-Filled People Are Fiery. When God’s Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost, split tongues of fire sat on their heads. What happened? They were aglow with the Spirit and ablaze with God. They were fervent and fired up, “enthusiastic” in the first meaning of that word—filled with God. Spirit-filled people today are energetic and passionately committed to Jesus Christ. They spend their lives doing things for other people in the name of Jesus.
You might think that in a world of hate, strife, violence and war, who needs fiery and aggressive people who are angry and hot-tempered, making life a constant battle? Certainly, nobody needs them. But the world does need Spirit-filled people on fire for God, given to love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, patience and self-control. Those are gifts of the Spirit. The lives of Spirit-filled people embody them.
The world needs people on fire with faith graciously given them as a gift from God—on fire with love, on fire with the power of the Spirit, The world needs people who have left behind those former days of apathy and lukewarm commitment. It needs people who are revved up for Christ, turned on for God, fiery and fervent followers of Christ: dreaming impossible dreams, bearing impossible loads, fighting unbeatable foes, and “marching into hell itself,” with a heavenly cause.
The fire of the Spirit crackles with life. That’s the way it is with Spirit-filled people. They are alive. They are energetic. They are active. They are vibrant. They are on the move and on the go for God. They are not out to hurt people, but to help them. They know the task is monumental and the time is short. The Spirit moves them to be God’s people with confidence and a zest to touch the lives of others with the Good News.
Spirit-Filled People Are Alive. They don’t go around with long faces and set lips. They are not always shaking their heads and saying “no.” Their greatest word is “yes.”
Spirit-Filled People Have A New Language. There are fewer foul, filthy, sharp, profane, vicious, wounding words. Spirit-filled people are empowered and moved to speak words that heal and gladden and soothe and reconcile; building people up instead of tearing them down. People are attracted to them because they have compassion and love.
The Spirit of the Lord fills the world. He is here and He is busy. He is doing exactly what Christ said He would do. When the counselor comes…the Spirit of Truth, …He will bear witness to me. That’s what the Spirit is doing: Telling people the Good News of God as you have it in Jesus Christ.
Like most Christians, we sit like rocket ships on the launching pad, ready for orbit but never used. We are like Christmas trees never sold, or beautiful paintings never hung; or a CD unplayed. We spend a lifetime seemingly studying God’s Word, listening to His commands, and fellowshipping in His Church; but seldom do we do what God has called each and every one of us to—to take His Word to all people, to witness to the atoning work of Christ Jesus. But Spirit-filled people are different. They hear God speaking and they respond.
God’s Presence In Us As Spirit-Filled People
There is forgiveness from God for you. Jesus Christ died for you. That’s the Spirit talking to you today. If it were not for the Spirit of God, the message would have long since died. There is new life from God for you in Jesus Christ. It comes by faith, and it acts by love. That mission would long since have died if the Spirit of God were not active. The message and the mission are yours to take with you each day, and, as true believers, the Spirit of God seeks to talk through you, to further the message and mission thorough you, each day.
There have always been people like those at the first Pentecost who have asked, “what does this mean?” It is a good question. This means exactly what the rest of the book of Acts tells us: repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ happen all the time through the power of God’s Spirit. The wind is blowing and the fire is burning. Jesus has gone to the place of His lordship, and His Spirit has taken His place here on Earth. It is just as Jesus said, If I do not go away the Spirit cannot come.
Jesus went to His cross, to His grave, and then to His glory—to His Father. Returning to Heaven and picked up the mantel of power and authority which was His before time, and which He had set aside to humble himself to become man. By going to Calvary, by lying in that garden grave, and then triumphantly rising from the dead, and by returning to His seat of power in Heaven, God’s Spirit comes, richly and fully, to enliven the lives of ordinary people, people like you and like me, and to bring us to Jesus. As people redeemed by God have just got to be filled with His Spirit. Otherwise, you would not be trusting in God, hoping in God. You are alive. You are forgiven and forgiving. You are loved and loving. You are Spirit-filled.
The Spirit of the Lord speaks Word of God. Listen to Him and renew your belief in Jesus your Savior every day. The Spirit of God lights your fire today and fans the flames with the wind of His power. Use the gifts He has given you to build and strengthen the Church on Earth and bring souls to the family of God. Believe, hope and trust in God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
My prayer for you is that the grace of our Father Almighty, the love of the Son who redeemed you, the power of the Spirit who brought you to the one true faith, and the peace of God which passes all understanding, be and abide with you. Amen.
Acknowledgement and thanks to Rev. Oswald Hoffman for the inspiration of Spirit-filled people from a sermon heard in 1990 by a young impressionable seminarian.