11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Sermon May 24, 2015
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“A FIERCE WIND”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
“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.” (Acts 2:1) So begins the scriptural account of what happened on that most memorable Pentecost shortly after the Risen Jesus was exalted and taken up to heaven.
And how many disciples are gathered together for this great outpouring of God’s Spirit? 120 disciples are gathered for this ecstatic experience. And what happens? The Spirit of God is unleashed upon the 120 - they are all ordained in the power of the Spirit.
And after this – what happens? Preaching happens! Pentecost is a day of preaching! And, yes, we must not forget that everyone hears the preaching in their own language. As I’ve mentioned before, this Pentecost preaching is a divine reversal of what happened at the Tower of Babel – a divine healing of Babel.
Pentecost begins the unfolding of what Jesus foretold in the 21st chapter of Luke’s Gospel: “ … they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. They will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” (Luke 21:12-15)
This is what happens to the disciples and to us – beginning on Pentecost. But the Greek that is translated as “I will give you words” is not really a correct translation. The Greek states clearly: “I will give you a mouth.” Sisters and brothers, the Spirit of the Risen Lord has been poured out upon the first disciples and upon us – so we might have “a mouth” – so we might preach and proclaim and share who Jesus was and who Jesus is and let the Spirit speak through us.
And because of Peter’s preaching on Pentecost – 3,000 are added to the church that very day. 3,000 – from 120 disciples to 3,000 in one day! This happens even after Peter tells the crowd of Jews gathered that they are the ones who handed Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified – they are the guilty ones.
In other words, the blood of Jesus is on their hands. But now that this crucified Jesus has been raised from death and has been exalted to the right hand of God, this same Jesus has released the Spirit upon them. I’ll return to Peter’s preaching a bit later.
Pentecost is the great day of the Holy Spirit! The Spirit of God – the third person of the Trinity of God – is poured upon the disciples! Of course, it’s a bit difficult trying to imagine the Spirit as a person – at least as we normally envision a person.
So who or what is the Spirit of God? According to the famous late fourth and early fifth century African theologian, Augustine, the Holy Spirit is the Love existing from all eternity between the Father and the Son. This is not a bad way of understanding the Holy Spirit.
But there is an important caveat that must be mentioned. Each person of the Trinity of God contains the fullness of God’s divinity. God cannot be parceled into three parts. The Father is not one part of God. Jesus the Son of God is not another part of God. The Holy Spirit is not yet a third part of God. Each person of the Trinity is God whole. The three persons are facets, so to speak, dimensions of the Almighty.
Brothers and sisters, this is an essential Christian belief. And it is not an easy belief to wrap our minds around. God is one and can never be divided! We believe in one God and one God alone! Along with our Jewish sisters and brothers and our Muslim brothers and sisters, we are absolute monotheists. God is one!
With the Holy Trinity, it’s as if we have to change our math. We have been taught that one plus one plus one equals three. But this is not quite how it works with the Trinity (a word – which by the way means three in unity). With the Trinity one plus one plus one equals one. God’s math – not mine!
Now on Pentecost, Peter’s preaching brings 3,000 people into the church. Yesterday at the annual American Baptist Churches – Metro Chicago meeting – we were asked – what would happen if 3,000 new people showed up one day at our churches. Chaos would probably reign!
When I first became pastor of our beloved church seven years ago, I spent the first four or five years greatly worried about our church growth. We were – and are – a small church which can be both a blessing and a curse.
Our small size can be a blessing because we get to know one another in a way impossible in very large churches. When I was pastor of an eleven thousand member church in a suburb of Cleveland, I had no possibility of knowing everyone under my spiritual care. It was more than challenging – it was downright frightening.
But being a small church can be a curse because we are continually challenged financially. These challenges are rightly a concern to our church leadership. So for about four or five years my beloved Beth and I and others went door-to-door in our community – passing out brochures to well over 3,000 homes. But not much seemed to happen.
Yes, we became more well-known in our community after some years being a quiet church. But people didn’t come. People were not breaking down our doors. Three thousand were not added to our beloved community in any given day.
About two years ago I had a revelation. The size of our beloved church should not be my primary pastoral concern. Please understand - I’m still concerned about church growth. I’ll do everything I can to increase our beloved community but the growth of the church is God’s concern and the concern of God’s Spirit.
Sisters and brothers, we are in God’s hands. And we should be more than content to trust those hands. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try in every way to help God bless our congregation. We are Pentecost people – meaning we have been given “a mouth” to help spread the word.
Every church every where is primarily a community of the word. And as Jesus teaches us in Mark chapter 4, the word of God is seed to be scattered. When the Spirit of God is poured out on Pentecost, what happens? Preaching happens!
The word – as we know – is the life-giving proclamation of the Gospels. And what is this life-giving proclamation of the Gospel? We hear the basics of the Gospel message in Peter’s Pentecost sermon.
This week I came across an interesting analogy of Peter’s Pentecost sermon that I’d like to share with us. Peter’s preaching that first Pentecost can be creatively understood this way: Imagine you are brought before a judge because of a crime. You are accused of killing the judge’s son. And the judge says to you: I know you are guilty of this crime. But I forgive you this horrendous crime.
As a matter of fact, I not only forgive you - I am going to offer you a special gift. Even though you killed my son, I am now willing to offer you the hand of my other family member as your spouse. I do this because I love you and wish only the best for you!
Brothers and sisters, if we were standing before this judge – how might we respond? Flabbergasted would be too small of a word to describe our reaction. Yet this is exactly what Peter preaches. He tells the crowd that they have killed Jesus – the Son – but they are forgiven. God now wishes to pour upon them the Holy Spirit as a gift to them. And with that preaching 3,000 hear the word and embrace the word.
And what happens after they embrace the word? Listen to Acts 2:41: “So those who welcomed his (Peter’s) message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (meaning the word) and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.”
Sisters and brothers, if we wish to be Pentecost people – then we - like those Pentecost converts – need to devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching. A day should not go by without reading something from the New Testament. We cannot grow in the power of God’s Spirit unless we are devoted to the word.
Last month, on April 19, some of us began reading the Gospel of John together at ten verses a day. Now we are a bit more than one-third of the way through John – in the 9th chapter. But, sisters and brothers, if you are not already reading John’s Gospel - why not become more devoted to the apostles’ teaching by beginning John’s Gospel today!
The Pentecost converts also devote themselves to fellowship. This means they cared for one another. And yes, as the pastor of this beloved church, I know there are many who devote themselves to fellowship. But I’m not sure if this includes everyone.
To be devoted to fellowship means that we contact each other – connect with one another - to see how others are doing. Many of us do this every Sunday after our worship. But let me suggest a good discipline for discipleship would be to call another member of our congregation each day – especially those who are unable – because of health issues – to join with us on Sundays.
If we are a church founded by the Spirit unleashed on Pentecost, then we are called to devote ourselves to each other. We are called to be as close to each other as any family can be. If the Spirit of the Living God – if the Love existing between Father and Son – has been poured out upon us – then we are awash in love and the deeper we grow in that love – the more loving we become and the more loving we become – the more the Spirit of the Living God can work within us and among us.
Brothers and sisters, what Pentecost teaches us is that we are loved more deeply than we can possibly imagine. As I mentioned a few weeks ago in the Advance, living faith does not consist primarily in the belief that we are saved. Living faith consists primarily in the belief that we are loved. Do you feel loved? I hope everyone here feels loved. Because you are loved by God and by your sisters and brothers gathered together in love.
I end with something from the African American novelist James Baldwin: “The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out!” Let us never allow the light to go out – the light of God love set the 120 on fire. May the light of God’s love set us aflame today and every day! Amen!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister