Fairhaven Sermon 5-19-2024

Fairhaven Sermon 5-19-2024
Fairhaven Sermon 5 19 2024

In this week's sermon, Rev. Peg Bowman highlights the significance of Pentecost as a time when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples, marking the beginning of the Church. Drawing from the Gospel of John and the Book of Acts, the sermon underscored that this event took place 50 days after Easter and is often referred to as the "birthday of the Church." The arrival of the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus and anticipated in Jewish tradition through the Festival of Weeks, was a momentous occasion where the Spirit empowered the disciples to speak in various languages, allowing people from diverse backgrounds to hear God's message in their own tongues. This event reversed the curse of the Tower of Babel by uniting people through the Spirit and laid the foundation for the early Church's growth and communal life.

The sermon also emphasized that the Holy Spirit continues to play a crucial role in guiding believers, gathering the Church, and opening up opportunities for ministry. Rev. Bowman drew parallels between the early Church's experiences and modern movements of faith, suggesting that just as the Spirit led the early believers and the Jesus People movement of the 1970s, it might be prompting a new revival today. The Holy Spirit's work is marked by simplicity, unity, and a focus on glorifying Jesus rather than individuals. The sermon concluded with a reflection on the song "What Can I Do for You?" by Bob Dylan, encouraging the congregation to respond to God's gifts with a heart of service and gratitude, making it a fitting prayer for Pentecost.


It's good to see you all on this Pentecost Sunday. It's good to see all the red. It's cool. Pentecost always feels to me like now is when summer really can begin now, like warmth has come back to the world and the Spirit of God has come.

And this arrival of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus in the Gospel of John, which we just heard, coming on the disciples as we heard in the book of Acts, took place 50 days after Easter, after Jesus' resurrection. So here we are. For us in the church today, this is the beginning of what some churches call ordinary time. In other words, no more changing of colors except for Trinity Sunday.

We'll be back to green in a week or two. And no more big holidays until we get to Advent. The season of Pentecost is for us, the church, a time for growing in the faith and for studying the scriptures and for growing as the body of Christ. And that's what we hope to be doing for most of the rest of this church year.

But for today, we celebrate the arrival of the third person of the Trinity. Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the church, and rightfully so. And I kind of wish we had a cake. We might have one.

I don't know. If somebody's got one downstairs later, I don't know. But it'd be cool to have a birthday cake today. Christianity, of course, grew out of the Jewish faith, and Pentecost is related to the Jewish holiday of the Festival of Weeks.

Pardon me, which is nothing to sneeze at. This is a harvest festival in the Jewish faith, 50 days after Passover. And the focus on the celebration was the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. And this, of course, is a very memorable time when God revealed God's self and God's plan to God's people through the Ten Commandments.

So it's fitting that God reveals God's self even further on Pentecost through the sending of the Holy Spirit. In Jewish history, the coming of the Holy Spirit was predicted by the prophet Joel, who wrote, It shall come to pass afterward, I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on male and female slaves in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

And today on Pentecost, we celebrate the fulfillment of God's word as given by the prophet Joel. So let's dig into this story, starting with the events in Acts chapter 2. As the scene opens, the disciples are gathered together in Jerusalem in obedience to Jesus' command on Ascension Day. If you recall from Ascension a week or two ago, when he told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they have been clothed with power from on high.

And so they did exactly that. They are in Jerusalem. Where exactly in Jerusalem they are, the Bible doesn't say. But it seems from what's described in the passage that they were somewhere near the temple.

And we believe this to be true because the house where they were gathered had crowds of people outside, people from all over the known world who were coming to the temple to worship for the Jewish Passover. And so the crowds passing on the street outside were close enough to the building to hear what was happening in the house. And all of a sudden there's this loud sound like a rushing wind and tongues of fire appeared with flames resting on each person in the room. And a side note, by the way, in both Hebrew and Greek, the word wind is the same thing as the word spirit.

So you've got that going. And so this is truly the arrival of the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit filled the disciples, both men and women, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit led. Now nothing like this has ever happened in Scripture before.

This is something totally new that God is doing. And these were not made up languages. They were real foreign languages that the people outside on the street could hear and understand. And the people outside who were from all over, they stopped and they listened as they heard people praising God and telling about God's great deeds of power in their own languages.

And the people listening responded in a variety of ways, which is usually what happens when God's truth is being shared. Jesus, when he taught, some people called him a prophet and some people called him a madman. The apostle Paul, when he taught, some people said he had the voice of a God and other people tried to stone him. There were always different reactions to God's word.

And those reactions actually say more about the people listening than they do about the message. God's word is truth and God's word reveals hearts. So in this case, on that first Pentecost day, in the crowd outside the room, some people were curious. They asked, What does this mean? And they wanted to know more.

Some people were amazed. Some people were troubled. Some were confused. Some poked fun and said, Ah, they're just drunk.

But if the first disciples got this wide of a variety of reactions to the sharing of the gospel, we should not be surprised when we also get a variety of reactions to God's word when we share it. God's word reveals hearts. So at this point, Peter rises to the occasion and preaches the very first Christian sermon. He tells the crowd, The people that you are hearing are not drunk.

It's too early in the morning to be drinking. What you hear is the coming of the Holy Spirit that the prophet Joel predicted, as I mentioned a few moments ago. Peter quotes that prophecy, and then he continues with more of what Joel said. Just beyond that passage that I just read, Joel says this, In those days I will pour out my spirit, and I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, fire and blood and billows of smoke.

The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord, and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. So the very first Christian sermon ever preached was preached on the second chapter of Joel, and the message was, The day of the Lord is coming. In fact, the day of the Lord is here, and the day of the Lord is not something pleasant in this message. It is darkness and blood and a dreadful day, but all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

So if we think our days are dark, and the times that we live in are dreadful, the day of the Lord is still coming. I mean, it came then, it's still coming for us, and it won't be easy, but all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. You might say this was the first ever altar call. And by the way, the word all in that verse means all.

All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, everyone, no exceptions. Side note here, miracles alone are not enough to lead people to faith. Hearing people speaking in tongues caught the crowd's attention, but it didn't make believers out of them. It was the word of God spoken in their own languages that brings people to faith.

It is the word of God alone that has the power to change lives and to save people from the troubles in our world. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, and by the word of God preached by Peter, 3,000 people were added to the church that day. I mean, that morning there had been only a few dozen members of the church at most, now 3,000. So for us today, what does all this mean? For God's people as a body of believers, what is God's word for us today? First, many theologians have pointed out, and rightly so, that Pentecost reversed the curse of the Tower of Babel back in the book of Genesis.

And some of you may remember this from Sunday school. And back in the days before Moses, before Abraham, before Israel even, in the very early days of human civilization, the book of Genesis says this, At that time, the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they learned to make bricks.

And they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top up in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered abroad on the face of the earth.' And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower and the Lord said, 'Look, these are all one people and they have all one language. This is only the beginning of what they will do.

Nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come let's go down and confuse their language so that they will not understand one another's speech.' And so the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the entire earth and they left off building the city. And therefore it was called Babel because the Lord confused the language of all the earth and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Now this is a story that's meant to explain why there are so many different peoples and nations and languages on this planet. But from a spiritual point of view, the problem that God was dealing with was basically human cockiness. Let us build for ourselves, let us make a name for ourselves, right? That's what these people were saying. And of course God's word and God's law had not been given yet so the people did not yet know right from wrong.

And to keep them from imagining that it was even possible to build one's way to heaven, God created different languages and divided the people up into different groups. But here today on Pentecost, that curse is reversed. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the disciples are speaking in tongues and all the people are hearing in their own languages the same message. And what's more, the crowd that is listening on that first Pentecost is extremely diverse.

Peoples from all over the world, men and women, slave and free, from north and south and east and west, every race and tongue, everyone heard God's word in their own language. And the new church members represented all these peoples and groups. And what's more, in that new church, as Luke records in the book of Acts, all the people held all their possessions in common and gave to anyone as was needed. So no one lacked for anything in the early church.

Everyone was provided for. So the Holy Spirit brings a reunification of people that hasn't been seen since before the Tower of Babel. Important thing, Pentecost brings to reality what Jesus taught in John's Gospel. Jesus said that this gift coming from heaven would be a paraclete, a word that means comforter, helper, advocate, that is in the legal sense, or intercessor.

This is what the Holy Spirit does. The Spirit testifies to the truth of Jesus as the Son of God. And the Spirit's presence will be better for us in this life than Jesus actually being physically present here on earth. Because as Jesus remarked, he was very limited when he was here physically in this world.

But now having gone back to God, Jesus can send the Spirit to guide all believers everywhere at all times. The Holy Spirit guides us into truth, and the Spirit gives all glory to Jesus. Side note on that, of course, is that if all the glory is going to Jesus, it is not going to human beings, which is one way when we're listening to the news or to celebrities or to politicians or religious leaders or business leaders or whoever, powerful people of any kind, when they talk about God or Christianity, if they're promoting themselves, they're fakes. Charlatans glorify themselves.

People who speak the truth, who speak by the power of the Spirit, give glory to God and not to themselves. People who speak by the power of the Holy Spirit will always give glory to Jesus and Jesus alone. Third, the Holy Spirit gathers the church together and opens up opportunities for ministry. And by this, I mean the church is the body of believers.

The church can exist without a building. In fact, it did for many hundreds of years and still does in countries where the faith is illegal. The church can exist without a membership list. It's the Spirit who teaches us to believe in Jesus.

It's the Spirit who builds the household of God. It is the Spirit who leads us in fulfilling God's mission and God's calling. The church gathered by the Holy Spirit is at once both simpler and more profound than anything this world has to offer. When I think about Pentecost, the movement of the Holy Spirit in our times, in our day, I often think back to the Jesus People movement of the early 1970s.

Some of you may recall some of this. One of the very first Christian rock bands, back in the days before there was such a thing, was called Second Chapter of Acts, appropriately for today. And one of the singers in the band describes on her website how she came to believe in Jesus. I'll shorten this for time, but I wanted to share it.

She had met a few of the Jesus People and she wrote, These Jesus People claimed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and I wanted that same Spirit in my life. And a group of the Jesus People gathered around me, praying for me and singing in the Spirit, and suddenly I had a vision of heaven. I saw Jesus and I loved Him so much, and I started toward Him, but I couldn't touch Him because of my sins, and somehow I knew I could never earn His favor. I kept thinking, 'How can He love me?' And she fell asleep that night, asking, 'How can God love me?' And she woke up the next morning saying, 'How can He love me so much?' She had come to faith in her sleep that night.

And the next day she shared these words with her friends, All I know is that I love Jesus, and Jesus loves me. And these simple words of new faith, but a very profound experience of the Spirit. The Jesus People back then had no degrees in theology. They had no idea from a scriptural point of view what they were doing, and most of them learned what they learned sitting cross-legged on the living room floor of a friend.

But the power of the Holy Spirit was there, and they welcomed into the faith the hurting and the hungry and the poor and the addicted, and people of different races and nationalities and backgrounds, much like the first Christians on Pentecost welcomed people from all over the known world. And if these kids had any theology, it was learned from Jesus' teachings on the Sermon on the Mount. Now, of course, it was a simpler time back then. Was that movement perfect? No.

Were there issues? Yes. Were there people who hung out just to make a profit selling love beads? Yes. But on the whole, at that time, this movement of the faith was sweet and simple and very much led by the Holy Spirit. And I have a feeling that we as a society today might be on the edge of another movement of the Spirit like that.

I'm keeping my eyes open for it and watching. But with that thought in mind, I wanted to close today with the words from one of the most famous converts of that era, Bob Dylan, who, by the way, according to Wikipedia, is still a Christian today. We don't hear much from him these days. He's 82 years old now.

Can you believe that? But he wrote a song a few decades ago that's basically a prayer. He called it, What Can I Do for You? And these are the words. You've given everything to me. What can I do for you? You've given me eyes to see.

What can I do for you? You have laid down your life for me. What can I do for you? You have explained every mystery. What can I do for you? You pulled me out of bondage and you made me renewed inside, filled up a hunger that has always been denied, opened up a door no man can shut and you opened it up so wide. What can I do for you? In this Pentecost, let this be our prayer.