This Sermon was Preached on Pentecost Sunday (27 May 2012) to three congregations (Iglesia Hispana de la Communidad, Lowell, MA; Lake View Congregational, Worcester, MA; Manantial de Gracia, New Britain, CT). Below is what was written as a manuscript, though changes and deviations occurred.
Ezekiel 37: 1-6 (NIV) “The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
Acts 2: 1-4 (NIV) When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Church, I thank you for welcoming us into your home!! God seems to be tying bows into these intentional relationships that He is forming between our congregations. How beautiful to see that
two congregations from different states, with different pastors, different languages, different worship styles are united by God’s language of grace and love!
Now, usually I would take an opportunity to introduce myself to you and let you know about myself and my church, but I heard a rumor that there’s going to be some grilling taking place after church, so I’m sure we’ll really get to know each other then…
Today is a day of celebration…did you know that? I repeat…today is a day of celebration!!
- Americans are celebrating Memorial Day, remembering those who have fallen in combat. This morning flags are traditionally sitting at half-staff until noon, when the flag is raised by the living, with a resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up and continue the fight of liberty and justice for all.
- Our Jewish brothers and sisters are celebrating Shavu’ot. Most of us Christians don’t know anything about what that means, so I’ll tell you what I know, this is the time when Jews commemorate the day Moses walked down from Mt. Sinai with the Torah in hand, and the children of Israel became God’s people by accepting the Law and through our ancestral relationship, we also became God’s people!
- I teach Sunday school, so I wanted to be sure to let you know that we are not alone in this Godly celebration!! But for us that are Christians, we have another reason to celebrate today. This is Pentecost Sunday, today we remember the first Pentecost, when the first Christians and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Act 1: Love Letters And on that note…I have a question for you. Have you ever had a boyfriend/girlfriend that wrote you little notes? Did you save them in a box? I know what with texting and in-boxing most of you don’t know what I’m talking about, but maybe some of you who remember love notes written on paper may understand.
If you are anything like me, you read those letters over and over till you memorized them. I studied each curve and curl of every single letter on the page until I became an expert at analyzing his handwriting; if my pages got out of order, no worries I had that puzzle solved immediately! Acts 1 is just like that, let me read you the letter:
The last time I wrote I told you all about Him, (sigh) Jesus! I told you all about everything he did, and everything he taught until the very end of his life, when he said goodbye to the apostles, all chosen through the Holy Spirit. For 40 days after his physical death, he would reappear…Face-to-face he talked to them about the kingdom of God. Remember me telling you…
While they ate once, he told them that ON NO ACCOUNT were they to leave Jerusalem until they received the promise he had told them God had in store for them… On the last time Jesus met with the apostles they actually asked him if it was time for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, and do you know what he told them?
Right before he disappeared in a cloud, leaving them all gaping at the empty sky with the strangers reminding them that he would return? Do you know what his last words were?
“Timing is the fathers business…What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the spirit comes, YOU will be able to be my witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the world!”
So they went back to Jerusalem to wait in the upper room all 11 apostles (remember Judas was gone by then), the apostles and the women, and Jesus’ mother and even his brothers, stayed in that room and prayed. But then Peter stood up one day and reminded everyone present (all 120 of them) that Judas had to be replaced. And he really took it there, he said that two men who had been around since Jesus had been baptized, should be nominated, and that after everyone prayed, lots should be cast. And Matthias, Matthias was counted as a disciple.
Now we have some details, I am not going to go verse by verse, but these are the highlights:
- After Jesus was really gone, the apostles left Mount of Olives and went to Jerusalem to wait, in “the upper room”
- In this upper room (which I imagine was a large attic), there were 120 people, including relatives of Jesus, and other people that had a relationship with Jesus (men and women), this might have been in the same room where Jesus had his last supper?
- Now, what I find particularly interesting is what they were all doing crushed up in that attic, and the writer spells it out: as these people sat and waited for the Holy Spirit they prayed (v. 14); they studied Jesus’s words (v. 16); they put stuff in order (v. 26), but of all those things, the one that stands out to me is in relation to prayer, the Bible says that they were “together in prayer,” the King James Version says that they “all continued with one accord” that means that these people were allowing God to mend some fences up there.
Listen, I love my family, but I know I get on their nerves! Don’t get me started telling the truth, cause, man they get on my nerves too, and for us to be together and in one accord, that would mean that we would have to mend our relationships, forgive each other, and accept each other just as we are…
We all have fences in need of mending…because we are like the people in Ezekiel that we read about this morning: we are dry bones, bleached by the sun and we need the Word of the living God to flow into us! And allow ourselves to be open to forgiveness and acceptance.
Church read it for yourselves, don’t just take my word for it, it’s all there in Acts 1!
Act 2: Sensory Overload Now kids, I know you’ll understand me…how in tune are your ears? Can you differentiate between ringtones like I can? When phones are going off especially in a room full of the same ringtones, I can recognize mine and separate it from all the others in those moments before the phone has actually rung. It is that moment when the phone recognizes that a call is about to come in and so the panel blinks awake and then finally as if by magic it…finally…RINGS! EPIC!! TOTALLY EPIC!! I think most of us have recognized moments like that…
EPIC moments, where all of our senses tingle simultaneously and we seem to be on edge in anticipation of some major cataclysmic change, something in the very atmosphere feels…different. Acts 2 describes that atmospheric change and the aftermath that is palpable because of it.
They are still all together! All 120 of them…All in one place together, praying and learning and organizing and (this is Elly speaking now, these people were loving each other and being in communion and fellowship with one another) in a new way…
When suddenly something changed…the atmosphere changed…the environment was different, the change was palpable…
And suddenly from nowhere and somewhere and everywhere a strong wind started brewing and growing and growling and it was inside the building and it spread like a wildfire through the people and all of them started speaking and EPIC!
They each spoke as the Spirit prompted them. Intentionally. Differently. Lovingly. And the languages they spoke that they had never spoken before…BUT that’s not the craziest part…remember they were inside the building!
OUTSIDE the building, people ran at the sounds (this is Elly again, I don’t know if it was the sound of the storm or the cacophony of the languages?) OUTSIDE the building, people ran at the sounds and each person heard in their own language the news…the description of GOD’S MIGHTY WORKS!
That’s the language we each need to speak and it’s the language we each need to hear. The news of God’s awesomeness. His epicenes. The great things we each know to be true.
When I was going through my divorce I remember feeling invisible, I remember thinking that I was worthless and I remember wondering if the day would ever come when I would be worth being cared for. And I know how many tears I shed and how devastated I was and I remember fighting with God and challenging Him to answer me, and that’s when I got one of my first love letters. “God looks after you especially!” Simple words, found in a fortune cookie. “God looks after you especially!” That is the epicenes that I have to share. That when I cry out for God He hears! Church that is the language that we have to speak, it is the language that people need to hear, that they are loved. God loves you just because! God looks after you; He does not leave you or forsake you when you mess up! He loves you that much…enough to stick around through our missed steps.
When those people showed up at the door to the house, and they rang the bell and they wanted in and they wanted to know what had happened, what was the commotion? They had followed the noise and knew where the party was, and the people outside wondered if the people inside were drunk and they laughed and carried on and then Peter. He stood up…that Peter that had always been so full of doubt. He stood up. Yeah that Peter that almost sank on the lake (He couldn’t walk on water for long, even with Jesus at his side.). Peter, stood up. Yes, that same Peter that denied Jesus, not once but three times before the cock crowed. That Peter that said Jesus I love you, stood up and (I imagine Peter went outside to talk to these people that wondered what was all the fuss and commotion) well Peter stood up and the other apostles with him and started telling everyone that was there all about the fulfillment of prophesy and he told them that whoever calls out for help to God, God will save…and Peter told the story of Jesus and when people asked “AND NOW WHAT DO WE DO?”
Do you know what Peter did? He told them to get it together and before the day was over 3 thousand people were baptized and not just that those same people made a commitment to learn together and pray together, and to form a community of believers together.
Church, I could sit here and tell you the literary masterpiece that is the allegorical context of wind and fire, all about how both are representative of spirit, how there are other biblical instances of the spirit speaking through fire (as is the case of Moses’ burning bush). Or I could help redefine the audio/visual perception of judgment and how we are each seen and heard by our Ethereal Ever-present, All-knowing Judge. But I won’t do that…
I’ll instead leave you with this. If God has changed you. Show it. If your relationship with God has bore fruit. Tell it. If you love God and know that He loves you YELL IT OUT TO THE WORLD CAUSE THEY HAVE TO HEAR IT ALL ABOUT HIS LOVE.
“Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!'” God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”
This was one of those times when I could say…Yeah for me that has such little faith in my own ability, to the point where I hesitate to say God called me to be a…On this day, I could say it 🙂 a preacher. This was the first time when I could finally say it out loud in my own heart. I got out of the way, all of me simultaneously, and allowed GOD to show off. I need to remember that God is God and doesn’t need me to do much more than listen, let go, and let HIM…