“Pentecost for the 21st Century”

Acts 2:1-15 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith – June 4, 2017
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

Acts 2:1-15 The Message (MSG)

A Sound Like a Strong Wind

1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene;
Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes;
Even Cretans and Arabs!

“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”

13 Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

Peter Speaks Up

14-21 That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning.

 Many of you know that I LOVE Pentecost. In fact, I quote the meaning of it fairly regularly because it’s on THIS day that we realize our God will find a way to reach us – to get THROUGH to us – to makes sure that we KNOW we are loved and that we are the beloveds. God will get through in some language – in some WAY – that makes SENSE to us.

Now, it might be a language known to many – like English or Farsi (remember when we bought Aram his Bible in Farsi???) – or it might be a language like art or music. Maybe it’s by walking in nature. Maybe it’s through quiet contemplation. Maybe it’s by talking with others or by helping CHILDREN.

Whatever it is that WE can personally understand and be moved by – that’s how God will REACH us.

How COOL is THAT?????

We are not a religion that believes that we have to learn GOD’s language; we are a religion that believes God learns OURS. We are SO LOVED by the one who birthed us into LIFE that we are SOUGHT AFTER. That God will FIND A WAY to get through to even those of us with the THICKEST SKULLS and the greatest QUESTIONS … even to those who have A.D.D. and can’t focus on a darn thing. God will find a WAY.

 

This hymn that we opened with today, “On Pentecost They Gathered,” tells the whole story. First stanza: “On Pentecost they gathered quite early in the day, a band of Christ’s disciples, to worship, sing and pray.”

That’s US!

WE are the band of Christ’s disciples who have come HERE to worship, sing, and pray. We are just like the people who were GATHERED there.

And then the THIRD stanza really speaks to me:

God pours the Holy Spirit / on all who would believe, / on women, men, and children / who would God’s grace receive. / That Spirit knows no limit, / bestowing life and power. / The church, formed and reforming, / responds in every hour.

 

God pours the Holy Spirit / on all who would believe, / on women, men, and children / who would God’s GRACE receive.  EVERYBODY can receive God’s grace … God’s gift of goodness and love and acceptance. EVERYBODY. The Spirit is poured out on all who WOULD believe … that has a dual meaning. It’s not just those who WILL believe, but it’s those who WANT to believe.

If we just WANT to believe, we are given God’s grace … God’s SPIRIT … God’s presence.

That Spirit knows no limit, / bestowing life and power. There is nothing that God cannot DO. There is no LIMIT to how God brings life – NEW life – to us.

And then, finally … speaking words near and dear to OUR hearts: The church, formed and reforming, / responds in every hour. The church FORMED and REFORMING … That’s TOTALLY us, isn’t it? I mean really …

We are formed in the crucible of faith … forged by the Refiner’s Fire in life – all those trials and tribulations that we’ve lived through … individually and collectively … they’ve all shaped us and molded us. And as a result we are RE-forming. God is re-SHAPING us.

We don’t look like what we USED to … we’re still growing and changing … whether we are 4 or 104. God is working THROUGH us to bring us into who we are BECOMING … who we NEED to be in order to do the work that we are called to do in the days AHEAD.

And as I have been living with these words … these THOUGHTS … all week, I’ve come to see them in a very PRESENT kind of way because of the things that have been happening in our CORPORATE life.

Now, remember that Fellowship of Faith is just one PART of the larger group – South Presbyterian Church. Right? We a 1/16 of the ministries – what we call our Acts of Faith – that South IS right now. So what affects ONE part affects us all.

And within the last two weeks, two of our Acts of Faith (Take 3 – our Film, Food, and Fellowship group … and Back2Center – our Thursday night worship in Charlotte) … they COMBINED for an evening together. A movie … worship … and potluck to celebrate the end of the SECOND year of Back2Center.

How AMAZING is that?

Look what God has done – and IS DOING – in Charlotte through Sonya, Katrina and the people for whom Thursday night is their ONLY WORSHIP service.

 

And within the last couple of weeks, SoutHeart Fellowship – our ministry at the Psych Center – THEY went ahead and worshipped without me because I couldn’t BE there. Amy, Stena, Gordon and Judy Wandtke from New Life all led worship with Sister Elaine.  How cool is THAT??? It’s everything we want our Acts of Faith to be:  GROUP led. Not Pastor-DEPENDENT because NOTHING should be so dependent on one person (not even the PASTOR) that it can’t exist without her!

 

And THEN … over the last 10 days, we have moved our OFFICES. The space in our old building – what is now the Community of the Savior’s church building – well, it was just too SMALL. We couldn’t do our WORK in there any more so God led us – and led Twelve Corners Presbyterian Church – to come together in a mutually beneficial partnership: They pay US to do their office work for them and we pay THEM to let us have our office there. We will do some special programs and projects together (like the Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday services) and we will all be stronger BECAUSE of that. We are formed and re-forming!

 

And as if THAT weren’t enough … two OTHER things have happened regarding the NATIONAL church … the Presbyterian denomination … involving us.

FIRST:  I have been asked to be a part of a group that I thought was just sort of a get together of some creative people … but it turns out that it’s the new THINK tank for the denomination on church revitalization. How do we get the DENOMINATION to RE-form????

It means they’ll fly me to Louisville for a meeting in June and the group will keep meeting by Skype over the next few years. And I found out that we, from SOUTH, are the ONLY small church invited to be at the table because, as many people told us recently … we’re the only ones DOING the kind of ministry that we are with our Acts of Faith that go all around the city and Brighton.

And the second thing with the national church is that 10 days ago – RIGHT before – the DAY before – we moved into our new digs (don’t you love God’s timing? 😊) the Vice President of the investment arm of the whole denomination – his name is Paul – spent a full DAY with us and our leadership looking at where God is calling us to go and how to GET there.

The praise and excitement coming from him was OVERWHELMING to me. I couldn’t take it all in. Y’know … we are so busy DOING what we think we’re supposed to be doing that we don’t have time to THINK about what we’re doing.

You know what I mean.

It’s like when you’re busy raising your family, for instance, you don’t always stop to realize that you’re busy RAISING your family.

And yesterday, when I went over to the new office to begin unpacking books and things … all these thoughts and SNAPSHOTS from the last two weeks were racing around in my BRAIN:  Moving. Boxes. MoveMENT. Picking up FURNITURE. Loading the truck. Sitting with Paul. Taking NOTES. Hearing with new EARS. Making plane reservations to Louisville. Recognizing what God is DOING in Charlotte. Walking alongside New LIFE as they got themselves ready to VOTE today on selling their building. Remembering what WE felt like when we took that vote. Letting go of SoutHeart and knowing that they could worship WITHOUT me. More moving. More boxes. UN-packing.

It was all racing around in my mind and in my heart and in my whole being and it was kind of like the rush of the wind. The thoughts were flying around INSIDE of me and it WAS the Holy Spirit stirring things up, I think.

 

 

Y’know. It’s an interesting thing about wind and breezes. They can be destructive … or they can bring peace … but either way, when the ceiling fan is on in my dining room, it blows ALL the papers around and creates chaos.

And that’s what Pentecost did.

It created chaos.

A LOT of chaos.

Everybody was there from all those different countries and yet they heard people talking in their own language, telling how Jesus had RISEN! Telling the story of God’s LOVE.

Talk about CHAOS.

Talk about a foreign FEELING.

They couldn’t make sense out of what was happening around them. Who COULD have? And so some figured that everybody must be DRUNK. But Peter – who probably knew about such things – 😊 – he said … they’re not drunk. It’s only 9:00 in the morning! (like THAT’s an excuse!)

But really.

We are SO willing to chalk things up to drunked-ness … or mischievousness … or mental illness … or whatever else seems to make sense to us at the moment … that we sometimes miss the most OBVIOUS thing:

It’s the HOLY SPIRIT.

It’s the Pentecostal Spirit of New Beginnings and New BIRTHINGS.

It’s …  it’s …  I don’t know …

It’s GOD!!!

It’s God re-FORMING us.

It’s God LEADING us.

It’s God saying … “Here. You want to live in MY kingdom???? Okay. Hold onto your hat because we are a HAPPENIN’ place.”

The KOG – the Kingdom of God – is a happening place.

And we’re IN it – we are IN the KOG – just like those folks were on that first Pentecost.

The Spirit is swirlin’ around us and we don’t even know where we’re goin’. And that’s ok.

We know that we’re loved.

And we know that God is in CHARGE so we don’t have to be.

We just have to pay attention and say YES! to God.

 

Let us pray: Holy Jesus … Risen Christ … as we prepare to eat with you at your table … we ask you to send your Spirit to be among us. Form and re-form us for the living of these days.

Come, O Spirit, dwell among us; / come with Pentecostal power; / give the church a stronger vision; / help us face each crucial hour.

Built upon a firm foundation, [which is] Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone, still the church is called to mission that God’s love shall be made known.

Help us to fulfill our mission that we will make known your love for all of humanity, help us to continue to stir up your Holy Chaos, we ask in your Holy Name. Amen.

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