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A sermon by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo.

Pentecost Sunday

I Corinthians 12:3b-13

June 8, 2014

Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, John 20:19-23

It is 50 days past the Jewish holiday Passover and Jerusalem is once again full of visitors from all over the world. It’s “the 50-day festival” known as Pentecost (self-evident as the name itself is enough information for us to know this). It’s also fifty days since the resurrection and this is the day the Holy Spirit came cascading down upon those hesitant disciples in power and inspiration. Everything about this Spirit-descent was beyond description. Even the word “inspiration” helps us because the word itself literally means “filled with the spirit”!

Can you imagine what it must have been like to have been there? There was the sound of a wind like a freight train blowing by. It’s hard to not imagine the power of the wind roaring through the house where they were. Now imagine that wind blowing into your lungs and over your vocal chords giving you speech you did not know you had.

Then there was the intense light and heat from the flames of the Spirit. Fire, like wind, can both destroy and create. Think of the light of that fire illuminating a dark world. It was all so extraordinary as to be beyond words.

Jesus’ disciples were waiting for just this moment, gathered together, praying together, and waiting just as instructed by Jesus … but waiting for what? All they knew was that they were told to do this.

On the night of the resurrection Jesus had appeared to them behind locked doors in the Upper Room. He had accomplished his mission and appeared so he might commission them for the task of continuing his work in the world. But first they were to wait. He promised to give them the help they would need for the task. In doing so, he tantalized them as he breathed on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Then, beyond their wildest imaginations, it began to happen. These mostly illiterate Galilean fishermen then did something utterly amazing as they began speaking in different languages with ease and fluency. It was not a non-recognizable gibberish; rather it was the fluent speech of the languages of the world.

It was the reversal of Babel; the ancient myth of how the diverse languages of the world came about was turned on its head and communication was restored. This was a divine diplomacy between the nations, crossing over the nationalistic barriers that kept them apart and suspicious of one another.

The crowd was thunderstruck! The Spirit gave passion to each of them, a spiritual desire to accept all God intended for them, and a willingness to do what God wanted.

So what do we make of this mysterious Holy Spirit? Up to this point, the Spirit has had such a subtle presence in the Bible until this defining moment. Why here? Why now?

I suspect most of us are content with the tangible nature of the incarnation, Jesus as God-in-flesh (Jesus as Redeemer and Savior); and likely most have enough familiarity with God as Creator, Sustainer, and LORD of all the universe. But somehow I doubt many have much experiential knowledge of God as Spirit (the indwelling Spirit, God as divine energy mysteriously brooding over the dark waters of creation). The Bible gives us snapshots of the Spirit in metaphorical language so the mysterious, ghostly aspects of the Spirit have substance, but not much more than that.

But after Pentecost, the Spirit became a known aspect of God that now lived less in the shadows and more out in the open where the abiding presence of God was needed. The Spirit of God is cautiously welcomed into our midst when we worship even though the Spirit has the power to scare the bejeebers out of us.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth claiming that the church is a concert, an amalgamation of Spirit-given gifts. Paul is clear that no one gift is more highly valued than another for they are not hierarchical gifts; rather, they are interconnected gifts.

The grace-gifts are the Spirit’s Internet, where all gifts and all believers are interconnected with one another, knit together for the sake of the gospel (the good news) and to be made useful to God in energizing the church to work toward the Kingdom of God.

These are not gifts given as some kind of divine reward system. No one single gift is more highly esteemed or valuable than any others. There are a variety of gifts and all gifts are needed and equally valuable to God. Diversity in the Spirit-gifts is blessed and expected. Grace gifts are continually distributed by the Spirit to all believers. Gifts are not given for the enjoyment or entertainment of the believer. We receive our gift as a significant part of our blessed existence and we are given these gifts to build up the church, using our gifts for the common good.

The goal of the Spirit seems to be to build the community. As Henri Nouwen wrote in his book, ¡Gracias!, “the mystery of ministry is that the Lord is to be found where we minister. Our care for people thus becomes the way to meet the Lord. The more we give, help, support, guide, counsel and visit, the more we receive, not just similar gifts, but the Lord himself.”[1]

Quite simply, the day the Spirit fell is about the launching of a “church Jesus dreams about – one that is on fire, (one) that speaks in other tongues, one that is a hurricane.”

My friend Burt Burleson says, “The breath of God changes everything. And though on Pentecost God seemed to exhale in an extra big way … I think God is breathing in and out and in and out all the time.”[2]

God is breathing in and out of the world and breathing life into us as a way of moving us forward, giving us courage, and animating our lives to partner with God for bearing witness.

Have you ever found courage you couldn’t imagine having? (Guess what? You’ve been visited by the Holy Spirit) Have you ever felt a love for someone who was an enemy? (Guess what? You’ve been visited by the Holy Spirit) Have you ever seen your prayers matter somehow? (Guess what? You’ve been visited by the Holy Spirit) Have you ever felt peace in the midst of pain or some fearful moment? (Guess what? You’ve been visited by the Holy Spirit) Have you ever dreaded something and then was shocked that what you thought was going to be terrible was wonderful? (Guess what? You’ve been visited by the Holy Spirit)

Guess what, indeed. God is breathing all the time, in and out of us, and in and out of the world. Our task is to simply breathe in the grace of God; breathe out the love of God. We breathe in the grace of God and we exhale out the love of God. When we do this spiritual exercise, we will be visited by the Holy Spirit.

Here’s one last metaphor for us to consider on this good day when we’re thinking about the work of God through the Spirit for the good of the gospel.

Imagine all the gifts of God in this room alone. In a church like this, know they’re all represented. They’re all here and ready for use. Imagine, if you can, that each grace-gift is like an instrument in a symphonic orchestra.

Some of you are like the violins, others are like the horn section. Some of you are a part of percussion section filled with all kinds of rhythm instruments. Some are violas and string basses. Some are trombones or piccolos; some are flutes and some are even marimbas! Sitting here are all the instruments of a wonderfully rich and diverse symphony. Each instrument is ready to add their music. We’re ready and waiting.

Then the conductor steps to the elevated platform and lifts the baton and every instrument comes to attention, ready to play, ready to make music together for the sake of the song and for the good of the audience gathered expectedly hoping to hear the music.

We are instruments of God, each of us. Play your part. Breathe in the grace of God. Breathe out the love of God. Let the Spirit of God make music in the world through us.

[1] Henri Nouwen, ¡Gracias! A Latin American Journal, New York: Harper & Row, 1983

[2] Burt Burleson, “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” Dayspring Church, Waco, TX, 5/19/02

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