Pour Out Your Spirit

This sermon was originally preached on June 9, 2019 at Kenai United Methodist Church and North Star United Methodist Church in Alaska.

Acts 2:1-21

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

 In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

    Your siblings will prophesy.

    Your young will see visions.

    Your elders will dream dreams.

    Even upon my servants, men and women and people of all genders,

        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

        and they will prophesy.

I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above

    and signs on the earth below,

        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.

The sun will be changed into darkness,

    and the moon will be changed into blood,

        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Pentecost is a time of refocus, an ending and a beginning.  It’s the end of the Easter season, the great fifty days, hence the ‘pente’ in Pentecost. and it’s the beginning of celebrating the early church. Things are changing in our Christian calendar, and today, we have the chance to celebrate that. But with celebration also comes reorientation, meaning we have to put in the work, re-evaluating just like those back in the day did.

This story of Pentecost first takes us back to this gathering, where folx were gathered together in one place. They were there to celebrate Pentecost, but prior to this instance, the celebration was a little less dramatic. They were simply there to honor the 50 days post-Easter with a feast. But then, something new and exciting happened, forcing those gathered to reorient.

The story says that there was this huge wind that interrupted their feast, and each person was joined with what looked like a flame, which then in turn made them start to speak in different languages. This is where we get the language ‘speaking in tongues’, as well as the language ‘on fire for God’. The spirit gave them all a new ability, which in this case was the speaking in tongues. As you can imagine, this act stirred up a crowd, and the people watching were probably just as confused as those doing the speaking. They began asking one another what was going on, and they convinced each other that those gathered had just overindulged in the festivities, that they were drunk, and that’s why they were speaking incoherently.

Peter jumps in, and almost seems to tell the crowd that they are being foolish by making that assumption, as if it being 9am made it impossible for alcohol to be overconsumed. On the days I believe this story, I imagine I’d feel the same way as the crowd watching. Completely disoriented by this spectacle going on in front of me, trying to find some solution to it, that seems like a pretty reasonable option, for them to have had one too many of their party drinks.

Peter’s first justification of ‘new wine’ didn’t really cut it, so he continues, by pointing the crowd to the words of Joel, who said this:

In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

    Your siblings will prophesy.

    Your young will see visions.

    Your elders will dream dreams.

    Even upon my servants, men and women and people of all genders,

        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

        and they will prophesy.

I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above

    and signs on the earth below,

        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.

The sun will be changed into darkness,

    and the moon will be changed into blood,

        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Now, this wild and weird act of speaking in tongues is understood as the spirit speaking through us, through the ordinary people who are open to God teaching them. So what does that mean for us this Pentecost season? We have yet to see anybody grow a flame on their head, or burst out into a new language. What does it mean for us though, to be ‘on fire’ now, motivated by and towards the holy spirit?

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One of the parts I’m drawn to in this passage, is the way these flame-like things were situated. The story doesn’t say that a giant flame came upon all of them collectively, but that each individual was laden with their own flame, but still they were uniform in purpose. Still, they all were telling the story of God through the gifts they had been given.

Like those speaking in tongues, we each are gifted, gifted with the spirit working on us and through us. Our gifts show up in unique ways, through our words, through our calls, through our service, yet they come together in a profoundly holy way. Often times, we call this church, a community of people who are vastly different, but worship the same God and are guided by that same spirit.

The first Sunday I was here, July 1st of last year, we spoke about the gifts each of us give. I had each of you all write down one thing you give, one thing you offer this community. As I said then, ‘if we all put our gifts on the table, they will overflow’.

Some of the gifts you all wrote down are:

  • an ear
  • creativity
  • caring for others
  • grace
  • love
  • ideas to stir up others to love and good works
  • humor
  • friendship
  • inclusion and warmth
  • anything you need
  • water yo-yos and baby dolls
  • love, but also a major act of private time
  • money
  • my time to help other people

Those gifts were and are and will continue to be the Holy Spirit working with the same vibrancy that they did in our story today.

I have seen these gifts at work in the past year in some pretty remarkable ways. Sure, at times they’ve felt overwhelming or scary, but they also communicate passion, a deep and genuine care for the church. Together, we have had some pretty cool dreams and ideas brought to the surface, through allowing the spirit to act.

At North Star in August, Ann led kids from the community in an art-centered Vacation Bible School. We pulled together our Thanksgiving boxes with a lot of help and prayer. We continue honor our friend Vicki, through the vibrancy of our food pantry. Our chapter of United Methodist Women continues to be led by the passion and vision of Carolyn and others.

In Kenai, we share a building with a daycare, allowing so many young people to be taught and loved every day by Bridget and those who work there. Our dreams of education, partly inspired by our beloved Saint Nancy, are still alive, through our small but mighty Sunday School led by Matt and our weekly “We Make the Road by Walking” group led by Lucy and others. Our church is growing in new ways, thanks to our collective passion for welcome and interest in serving our neighbors.

And these are just a few things. The fact that we all still show up to worship together week after week is testament to the Spirit at work through our gifts.

On the first ‘tongues of fire’ Pentecost, those gathered experienced a really profound appearance of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence spoken through us. The Holy Spirit, as confusing as she is, is simple, in that it is the connecting point of our stories, of our testimonies and gifts and calls. No matter the language spoken, the proclamation was the same. So, in their state of transition, the weird seasonal celebration between Easter and the birthday of the church, those gathered made it known their identity, their purpose for gathering and being church with one another. Even when chaos arises by those watching, the Spirit continued to speak. The identity of God’s children remained clear, the spirit still at work in the lives of the believers.

I’m recognizing today, that I really timed my last Sunday poorly. Because today would have been a great ‘last Sunday’ passage, as we talk about transition, about remembering our identity, about letting the Holy Spirit speak through newness. But, y’all have one more week with me, so we’re just going to have to live with that.

And still, we find ourselves in transition, certainly as our pastor changes, but there are other transitions happening. We are entering a new season as summer begins. Our denomination is changing rapidly. Perhaps you are facing personal changes in the lives of you or your family. Pentecost invites us to look for the Holy Spirit in all those things. And further, Pentecost invites us to remember our purpose for all that we do, a reminder of God’s surprising appearance in all areas of our life.

IMG_6023

Like those speaking in tongues, like those in the crowd watching it all unfold, we are at this threshold, in between an ending and a beginning. As we approach what is next, as a community, as individuals, and as a church family, may we allow the Holy Spirit to act vibrantly in us. May we see the Spirit’s works in the actions of those around us, unique and driven by our shared God. And may we act with that same fire as those in the beginning, continuing to fuel and fan the flames of our church’s ministry.

IMG_6024 

Let us pray.

God of rich light, we thank you for the depth of uniqueness you have given to each of us. Like those celebrating Pentecost, interrupted by the Spirit’s mighty works, you allow us too to be interrupted from our mundane routines, in order to encounter you in our gifts, our calls, and our ministries. Bring clarity to our vision, God, that we might see you in full color, clear and vibrant. We ask these things in the name of the Holy Spirit, who challenges and changes us, Amen.

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