A Message at Pentecost, 2017
Francis Asbury United Methodist Church,
Baton Rouge, LA
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Reverend David R. Melville
This time a week ago Melanie and I were in San Antonio visiting our daughter’s family. A couple of the boys are really into Legos. Unlike their computer games, that is something I can help with a little, although they didn’t need much help in following the instructions and building cars, trucks, boats, helicopters, starships, and much more. But even they were stymied if a piece … just one out of hundreds … was for some reason missing. An all-points bulletin was issued. We had to scour the floor and the entire room for the missing piece or the object being made would not be complete, would it? A couple of times it seemed like searching for a needle in a haystack.
On the day of Pentecost, vividly described in the book of Acts, Chapter 2, verses 1-15, Jesus’s disciples found their missing piece … the Holy Spirit.
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.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who are in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!”
Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus the Jews who gathered in Jerusalem found the missing piece to the puzzle of life and death … they found the Holy Spirit. It must have been a pretty important piece. John the Baptist talked about it: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” [Matthew 3:11] Jesus promised it: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things.” [John 14:26] We’ve mentioned the Holy Spirit a few times already this morning. The Holy Spirit is prominently portrayed in our United Methodist logo (I didn’t say lego!) by the splash of red.
Have you found this missing piece in your faith journey? Are you still seeking the Holy Spirit? My goal on this Day of Pentecost, 2017, is to help you find what you’re looking for because you are not complete without it. God, in God’s perfect wisdom, knew what we need, and provides us with the Father, Son, AND the Holy Spirit.
WHAT IS THE HOLY SPIRIT?
According to Acts, the Holy Spirit is something extremely difficult to understand. Amen to that! But aren’t some of the best things in life difficult to understand? We reap the good and the benefits from them; we see the fruits of them, but we just can’t put our finger on it. And we in the West, with our rational and enlightened minds, like to put our fingers on it. That is one of the differences between Eastern versus Western spirituality, even within the same faith. The West likes to neatly box up everything into a tidy theology, whereas the East is more comfortable with the mysterious and the undefinable.
Acts 2:12 finds the people “amazed and perplexed,” and asking one another, “What does this mean?”
Maybe it’s like drinking too much wine, as was suggested by some of those who didn’t get it. Maybe it’s like a rushing wind: you can feel it but are hard pressed to contain it. The wind goes where it wants to go, right? Maybe the Holy Spirit is like a wildfire, whose flames are unpredictable. Maybe it’s like a common language which draws everyone to the same page. The Jews had come a long way from the Tower of Babel in Genesis, chapter 11, when language divided people, leaving a bunch of babbling fools rather than a band of believers who would change the Roman Empire, as happened after the Day of Pentecost. When the Tower of Babel was being built there were many tongues and much confusion. On the Day of Pentecost, there were many tongues, but unity. All of these elements – rushing wind, flames of fire, and mutual language, characterized the Day of Pentecost.
Isn’t it a good thing for the Holy Spirit to be – in the words of Acts – so bewildering, amazing and perplexing? We don’t need a gift from God that man can control. We’ll mess it up, as we’ve done with so many of God’s gifts. No, we need something controlling us, even when we don’t even see or understand what is controlling us. That’s not what is important. What is important is the change within us.
In his letter to a group of churches in Galatia, Paul identified the fruits of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”[Galatians 5:22] Wow! Now for some of us, those are missing pieces worth searching for and worth finding! When describing the Holy Spirit to a child or grandchild or non-believer, use those hard-to-achieve, but at least somewhat more understandable little spirits to describe the bigger Holy Spirit.
I believe another way to understand and describe the Holy Spirit is to simply say that it is what is left when there is no other plausible explanation. It is what helps when nothing else helps. I bet you’ve been there: an insurmountable problem that leaves you despairing and feeling hopeless, when suddenly, or gradually, there is a ray of sunshine, a little breathing space, and a breakthrough. You can’t explain what happened, just like your ancestors in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost couldn’t explain what was happening, but you feel and see the results. Another “God-thing;” another miracle; another sense of peace that passes all understanding. If you haven’t ever witnessed and experienced the evidence of the Holy Spirit, as long as you remain faithful, one day you will. God promised it, and too many people have been ignited by it for me to doubt that the Holy Spirit is an equal and living part of the Trinity.
The wind, fire, words, and the fruits of the Spirit came in just when Melanie and I needed them after our relationship with our son, Daniel, and his wife, Sonya, deteriorated and had hit rock bottom. There were no words left to say, until the Holy Spirit provided them. We have no other explanation. Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks when there is no other voice left. A parent can’t provide the answer, a psychiatrist or pastor can’t provide the answer, but thank God the Holy Spirit speaks and acts on our behalf.
I can’t judge or criticize Pentecostals for speaking in tongues. It hasn’t happened to me, but that doesn’t mean it can’t. One of my United Methodist clergy colleagues and I once shared a room at a conference. One night – it seemed as if he waited to share this at night, with the curtains closed and no one else around, and hesitantly, my colleague confided how once – and only once – he had been overcome by the Holy Spirit and had spoken in tongues. There was no other explanation. He didn’t want any explanation. He only knew that the pieces fit at that particular moment in his life. He needed the Holy Spirit for some stuff that was going on – you know about “stuff,” right? – and just as in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit showed up as promised, right on time.
The Holy Spirit is not a trick; it’s for real! During my last sermon at a large church, I served in Shreveport … Noel United Methodist … it happened to be Pentecost Sunday, and I was preaching on the same subject that I have the privilege and responsibility to preach about today: the Holy Spirit rushing in fifty days following Jesus’ resurrection.
Nearing the end of the sermon I had something happen that had never happened before, nor since, and I hope it doesn’t happen here at Francis Asbury: an elderly lady, Christine Reeves, passed out while sitting on her pew. It was a large sanctuary, and at first, I couldn’t tell what the commotion was all about, or her exact condition, but very quickly paramedics were entering the sanctuary. I, of course, had stopped talking except for leading the congregation in prayer. Christine was revived, and I was able to resume my remarks, which included a nice farewell. (As I said, it was my last Sunday with them … and it was indeed a memorable last Sunday.) The next couple of days several members remarked how, having gotten used to periodic theatrics or drama or entertainment in my messages (in other words, my reputation had preceded me ), they had thought Christine’s falling out was part of a skit we had planned and rehearsed; she was “slain in the Spirit,” as Pentecostals would describe it. I explained to them that no, Christine and I were up to no tricks that Sunday morning. Everything that happened was very real. And when the Holy Spirit shows up in your life, it will be no trick; it will be very real. A missing piece that completes the puzzle.
United Methodist pastors are puzzled by the decline in our denomination’s membership in the United States, beginning in 1964. We Methodist clergy and laity are nice people, we have open hearts, open minds, and open doors, and we have the best of intentions. Not all of our preachers are great orators, but many are. We follow a wonderful prophet, priest and king, Jesus Christ. We even consider Him our Savior. That is a great product. We sell grace and hope, forgiveness and love … all great products. We have beautiful music. So what is missing? Maybe the missing piece is the Holy Spirit. For whatever the reasons, maybe we lack the fire that is represented on our logo. Sometimes the branding and the selling of Coca-Cola has more spirit, enthusiasm, and fire than a typical United Methodist church service, or the way we live between church services. I’m just saying …
The Methodist movement started out with so much of the Holy Spirit that John and Charles Wesley and their friends were laughed at and mocked and accused of too much enthusiasm. They were told to tamp it down. John Wesley worried that as the fruits of the Holy Spirit took hold and members of the movement abandoned their drinking, were educated, got steady jobs and became respectable, middle-class citizens and family providers, they would lose their passion and fire for what originally transformed their lives: the Holy Spirit. And Mr. Wesley’s prophecy came true. The holiness parts of the Methodist movement gradually split off to become the Pentecostal, Assembly of God, Salvation Army movements and the like. And the remnant that remained is respectable, but I don’t know if it is righteous.
Interestingly, there is tremendous growth in the United Methodist denomination on the continent of Africa, where a more charismatic and Spirit-filled worship experience dominates. The same with parts of South and Latin America. I have witnessed it first-hand in Cuba. Perhaps this is only because there were so few Methodists, to begin with in these places, that any growth looks huge. Maybe one day the membership there will plateau too, as it did in England and in America. It will if the Holy Spirit piece of the Trinity comes up missing.
Keep searching this week for any missing pieces in your life. If you find them you will be whole, and you will be complete.