PENTECOST: GOD THROUGH US
Dr. Michael Brown, Centenary United Methodist Church, May 23, 1999
Acts 1: 6-8; 2: 1-8
No one can preach a sermon on Pentecost in twenty minutes. To do justice to this topic in even a cursory fashion, a minister would have to preach a whole series of sermons.
For example, one sermon would need to be on the topic "God IN Us."
Isn't it interesting what we put into ourselves? Did you know that over the course of a lifetime, the average person eats 60,000 pounds of food - which is roughly the equivalent of 10 elephants? In my case, at least 3 or 4 of those elephants will be pepperoni pizzas! I read an article some time ago based on the old theory that "You are what you eat." This particular author - an alternative nutritionist - said that the human body is designed to live far longer than it usually does if only we put the right things into it. She contended that if a person exists solely on a diet of barley and seaweed, we will live to be 120. I say if all you can eat is barley and seaweed, who would want to live to be 120! Still, it is true that what we put into ourselves determines what we ultimately become.
If I could preach a whole series of Pentecost sermons, the first would be about what we put in us that determines what we ultimately become - about taking God's Spirit into our hearts and lives. We would use words from John, chapter 3, or Acts, chapter 2, where the Spirit is likened to "the rush of a mighty wind." In that sermon we would want to deal with the imagery of wind as it appears in the Old and New Testaments and how it almost always refers to the lively and unpredictable movement of God among people. We would spend a while with Christ's words to Nicodemus that "the wind blows where it will." We would want to deal with that strange scene from Ezekiel where the dry bones are connected and finally come to life. When? When "the wind of God's Spirit blows upon them." In that sermon we would spend some time with a wonderful Hebrew word: "Ru'ha," which basically means "God's breath." (The closest illustration we have of that is probably artificial respiration where one person literally breathes his or her life into another, making that person come alive.) In the beginning God breathed His life into us. It hit our lungs "like the rush of a mighty wind" and made us come alive.
In any event, "God IN Us" is a sermon ... how The Spirit is breathed into believers to convict, challenge, comfort and call.
The second sermon in the series would be "God AMONG Us," a look at how God's Spirit dwells within the corporate Body of Christ. Do you remember the wonderful verse when Jesus says to His listeners: "The Kingdom of God is within you?" Well, did you know that in the Greek, there are two ways to read that verse - each equally valid? One says: "The Kingdom of God is within you," but the other way of reading it says: "The Kingdom of God is AMONG you!" "Where two or three (or fifty or four thousand) are gathered together in My Name," said Jesus, "there I am in the midst of them." The Church is the place where in our togetherness we feel the living Presence of Christ in a way that we simply cannot feel it alone.
There's a song in our hymnal that more evangelical congregations like to sing. It's called "There's A Sweet, Sweet Spirit In This Place." Truth is, I kind of like it - not for the musical quality it possesses, but for the truth it professes.
"God AMONG Us" would be the second Pentecost sermon I would preach if we could set aside three Sundays to celebrate this day instead of just one.
But those two messages - "God IN Us" and "God AMONG Us" would only be preludes to this morning's. At some point the power of Pentecost has to become "God THROUGH Us," in fact, "CHRIST Through Us." At the Mount of the Ascension Jesus explained to His disciples what their role would be when He was no longer visible among them. He said: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses ...!" "You shall be My Imitatio Christi - You shall be the window through which people see Me - the instrument through which I continue My work of teaching, healing and redeeming the world."
I don't think the Spirit of Christ is anywhere more evident than when The Church is at work in the world ... providing food and shelter to Kosovar refugees or the victims of tornadoes in Oklahoma ... providing on site counselors in Littleton, Colorado or Conyers, Georgia ... providing housing and help to abused wives or abandoned children ... providing shelter to the homeless and food to the hungry and encouragement to the sorrowful and forgiveness to the sinner. "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses ...!"
I sense the nearness of that Spirit in every phone call made to someone who is sick ... in every casserole brought to someone who is grieving ... in every prayer that is offered with someone's arms draped round your shoulders ... in every Mayfest when we
laugh and sing and share fellowship and for a moment feel no longer so alone. In every moment when church people love and help and heal those who are fallen and frail, the Spirit of Christ is there, discernible and real.
My mother died on Monday, December 22, 1986. She was buried on Christmas Eve. Christmas night in our church in Stallings, we always had communion. People would come at the end of that long and happy day to receive The Lord's Supper and give thanks. I was their pastor and felt I had to be there - offering ministry to my people. But I had so little to offer that night. It was Christmas - the first Christmas in my life without my mom - and I had a little four year old son who didn't understand why Margaret hadn't been at the tree that morning. It was all I could do to go to the church, all I could do to prepare the table and try to think of something to say. But I will never forget it. As the people came to the altar and knelt - and as I reached out to them with the bread and juice - one by one they grasped their pastor's hands. They smiled. They wept. And as each table stood to leave the altar, before returning to their seats, one by one they reached across the altar and took me in their arms and held onto me. Never had the meaning of "the communion of the saints" been so clear to me. That night the Spirit of Christ came to me in my brokenness in the arms of His Church.
"Pentecost: God THROUGH Us." This is the day when we remember that we as Christians and we as churches are called to be conduits - vessels through which the healing love of Jesus Christ flows to the world. I ran across a quote last week that said: "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did ... but people will never forget how you made them feel."
It is our business to make people feel as if Christ Himself has gathered them into His arms - accepting them, forgiving them and loving them just as they are. When that happens, the world will experience God's Spirit through us - and the power of Pentecost will once more be unleashed.
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, and dwell in us. Come, Divine Presence, and live among us. Come, Heavenly Power, and touch the world through us. For we pray in Jesus' Name. Amen.