2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
- Last week, many of you gathered in the office after worship and loudly conveyed your feelings about the possible separation of the United Methodist Church into several distinct denominations. It was a good, positive, sometimes passionate discussion. We shared our deepest feelings – there was a sense of fear in our anxiety. Any answer to our anxiety will not be until the middle of May 2020. All of our concerns really centered on what could happen to Pleasant Grove UMC —- what would our future be?
- These are very good questions for us to be asking, however it is even better to be able to see and understand just who we are as Pleasant Grove UMC, and what we are to the community and to ourselves.
- So, if you look at the title of the sermon series — it’s different — We are the church — let’s Acts Like It!
- Today we are beginning a sermon series from the book of Acts. It will run up to the beginning of Lent which begins March 1, 2020.
- While I have done many messages on selected portions of Acts, I have not done a series. This little book sparked my interest (show the book) especially in the context of the current issues that surround the United Methodist Church. I feel that each of us will be able to gather an understanding of just who we are as Christians and how our actions can really help to influence the community in which we live.
- I find myself excited as I think about
this series because Acts is one of the most exciting books in the New
- It is also aptly named because Acts is preeminently the book of action.
- It is the story of how the Christian faith moved from a tiny beginning in Jerusalem with a handful of people gathered in an upper room to the most important city in the world (Rome) in just 30 years.
- As we walk through Acts, we will discover how a little band of Jewish believers in Jesus changed the course of world history.
- I think if I were sitting in the pews
listening to this message, I would have two questions: Why Acts? And why now?
- I generally plan my message calendar almost a year in advance and it was last September that I found this book in the Upper Room catalogs – it sparked my interest for 2020, so I bought it. That means I started thinking about what I was going to say in January 2020 back in September 2019. That process usually starts with a blank slate.
- I wait on the Spirit to give me a clear idea what I should speak on. It’s really not any more complicated than that. I think and pray and wait and sometimes I jot down notes on pieces of paper as ideas come to my mind, and I look at the suggestion notes that some of the members of the congregation give me.
- As I began to focus on 2020 in
December, I became more concerned about the world that we live in and how we
are walking away from God.
- We may say to ourselves that we know God and really love how Jesus and the Spirit has worked in our lives, but it’s never enough to be satisfied with knowing God ourselves.
- How can we be satisfied while we live in a world that ignores God and lives as if God does not exist?
- As I listened to the Spirit and remembered our church motto: Our Mission is to Know, Share and Serve the Living Christ!, a burden grew in my heart that we should focus on breaking through the stained-glass barrier and taking the Gospel outside these four walls.
- As I was leafing through the short
book that I had just purchased about Acts, I realized how much Acts can relate
to us in 2020.
- Many people have pointed out the amazing correspondence between the first century and the twenty first century.
- Back in biblical times Christians lived in a predominately pagan culture where the vast majority of people had no knowledge of God.
- The earliest Christians were part of the Roman empire with its emperor worship, its child sacrifice, its loose morality, and its violent opposition to anyone who claimed to possess the truth about God.
- It’s a matter of historical record that as Christianity began to spread the Roman rulers reacted first with apathy, then with curiosity, and finally with outright hostility.
- The early Christians proclaimed a
message that Rome could not accept Jesus is Lord. The Christians
used the Greek word ky-ri-ous to describe who Jesus is. But ky-ri-ous
was the same word the emperors used to
- As Chuck Colson has pointed out, in the first century if a Christian stood up in a public gathering and shouted, “Jesus is God,” no one would object because everyone knew the Romans permitted you to worship whatever god you chose.
- However, let that same person shout, “Jesus is Lord,” and he would be arrested and put to death.
- To proclaim the lordship of Jesus Christ was to attack the supreme authority of Rome itself.
- We live in a similar situation today.
No one cares about your religion as long as you keep it to yourself.
- But if you dare to stand up and proclaim that certain things are right and others are wrong, you will be branded an intolerant bigot—or worse. In this day—as in the first century—no one gets in trouble for being religious. But if you speak out publicly, you risk losing everything.
- The Book of Acts tells us how the
Christian movement came into beginning. Acts has been called a transitional
book because it serves as a bridge between the Gospels and the epistles (Romans,
Galatians, Hebrews, etc)
- It is the historical link that joins the life of Christ with the growth of the Christian church. As such it answers the question many first-century observers would have asked: “Where did this new movement come from?”
- This is condensed history—not an exhaustive story. Luke includes every essential detail from the earliest days of the Christian movement.
- Acts shows us how the church is to
respond when living in a predominately pagan culture. I would say that we are
to respond to surrounding secularism in two ways:
- First, with a bold witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, we are to speak up and not be silent.
- Second, with visible love for each other. It was said of the early Christians, “Behold, how they love one another.” These two things—bold witness and visible love—have been the hallmark of the church in every age of persecution and hostility. They still hold true today.
- Acts teaches us about the worldwide
mission of the Christian church. Our morning Scripture from Acts 1: 8 But
you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my
witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the
- What started in Jerusalem will one day reach to the farthest corners of the globe. That was Jesus’ plan from the beginning. He always intended that his followers would take his message and go in every direction with the good news.
- The Lord Jesus didn’t want a Jewish
church or a Roman church or a Greek church or an American church.
- He wanted a church that would include people from every tribe and nation on the face of the earth.
- God’s plan to accomplish that is very
- He uses Spirit-filled Christians who take the message from one place to another and from one person to another, sharing the Gospel, winning the lost, discipling the saved, and passing the faith along one person at a time.
- We are called by Jesus to Act with Power.
- Let’s dive a little deeper with the second scripture from Acts 2:1-4: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
- The scripture tells us that as they were all together in one place “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” I like that word, suddenly.
- It identifies so well how the gift of
God’s Spirit comes to us— suddenly.
- Without warning, without time to prepare, without a plan, without any sense of when it is going to come or what it is going to do, suddenly the Spirit just comes.
- Isn’t that just like this God of mystery? Isn’t that just like this God who comes in his own time, in his own way, and in his own place of choice?
- This powerful story lets us know right
from the beginning that the community of faith, the church, has everything to
do with God and little to do with us.
- The church’s birth narrative seeks to be clear on one point: we know not the time or the place or the way in which God seeks to move and work.
- Mostly we don’t care too much for this
unexpected, unpredictable movement of God.
- We like being in control.
- We want to know.
- We are much more comfortable with a timetable, with plans, with being in on what is going on, and when it is going to happen.
- It seems to be human nature to be consumed with knowing.
- The author of Genesis reminds us in
the creation story that it was this whole idea of knowing that got humankind
into trouble in the first place.
- It seems as if God wants us to realize that what God is doing and when he will do it has little to do with us knowing much about anything.
- Perhaps part of what this story is
trying to tell us is that God is moving, God is working, God’s Spirit is alive
in our lives and world.
- That movement has little to do with you or me.
- It is entirely dependent on God’s time, on God’s sense of life and history, on God’s perspective, and on God’s understanding of the bigger picture.
- There are those sudden moments in our lives when we realize God’s Spirit moving and working among us should provide us with a sense that God knows what he does.
- How well I remember that beautiful
fall day in the mid-1980s as I was walking up our driveway towards our barn. I
had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to learn more about the Bible. I
really did not understand the Bible, even though I had been a Christian for a
very long time. I was a lukewarm Christian — went to church occasionally,
contributed my usual $10 even though I could contribute far more. My life was
all about me.
- Then this overwhelming feeling I had to do more – become more real – more committed.
- It involved understanding the Bible and then living the Gospel message.
- Over the next several days, the same thoughts and arguments continued. The Spirit would not let me alone.
- Little did I realize where I would be in forty years after this awaking by the Spirit.
- Jesus told those who gathered that Pentecost
day that this day of birthing would come.
- And maybe that is what it comes down to for us. Are we awake to the Spirit and the different ways that the Spirit affects our lives?
- The faith that we must have in what God in what Christ has said will be done.
- It is strange that in the Gospel stories that God’s promises such as the resurrection or the coming of the Holy Spirit, do happen there is always such surprise and awe.
- Suddenly, God comes, God works, the Spirit of God breaks through, and life is never the same again.
- It is amazing what God does in the midst of church community.
- It is amazing what God does to our
community of Pleasant Grove UMC.
- It was not by accident that as we gathered many times in the past several years searching for an answer to “What to do?
- When suddenly, the Spirit of God moved, and everything changed. We saw a path forward – a new idea – a crazy idea – a Spirit filled idea – start a new second service.
- The Power of the Holy Spirit caused us to begin to fill in the blanks to a new and different idea — and The Gathering Table was born.
- So, I ask you to take time to ponder your life — think and pray about that crazy, impossible idea crept into your mind. It’s the “still small voice of God’s Spirit” – pushing you, challenging you to do something that you have previously said is impossible. Then you say – “I’m to old” and slowly the still small voice of God’s Spirit disappears.
- “Suddenly” brings with it a new perspective and a new way of seeing. Suddenly, thank God for suddenly. Thank God for the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Closing prayer: God of wind and fire, fill us with the power of your Spirit to be the people you call us to be: people of love, joy, peace, patience, grace, and acceptance. We repent from the notion that nothing new can happen in our personal lives or in our church. Empower us to see with our eyes of faith and to act as Christ’s disciples in helping to heal the world. Amen