This morning we are going to talk about why celebrating Pentecost is such a big deal, about how we can prepare ourselves to experience Pentecost again, and about how we can begin to anticipate the new work God wants to do among us.
In the Acts passage we read this morning, we have gone backwards in time from last week’s reading. The disciples are still waiting in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost has not yet happened. But this is not simply a passive waiting… when I think of waiting I think of situations like waiting on line in the grocery store, or in a line of cars to cross the border into Canada… in these types of waiting there is nothing you can do except just stand there, usually wasting time on our phones until the line moves and we can get going.
As the disciples were waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit, it was not a standing in line, messing around on your phone kind of waiting. The disciples spent their time reflecting on the Scriptures and letting those Scriptures guide their decisions and behavior: As this band of Jesus’ followers reflected on Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus, when he handed Jesus over to the religious leaders to be killed, they thought about Psalm 109:8 which says: “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.” And so, acting in obedience to that Scripture, they cast lots (which was using colored stones, or different sized sticks to determine who God was calling to fill a position.)
What they could not even begin to dream of was how, when the Holy Spirit came, he would explode their paradigms.
They thought they needed another person to fill Judas’s position so that there would be twelve people, reflecting the twelve tribes of Israel, to witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, these disciples understood that the sole purpose of their lives was to tell others how the power of God had come in the person of Jesus Christ, to tell others that death no longer is the end of our stories, but through the Son of God, Jesus Christ, our stories continue eternally.
And so in faith, and in obedience to their understanding of the Scriptures, they elected Matthias to take Judas’ place. What they could not even begin to anticipate. What they could not even begin to dream of… was how, when the Holy Spirit came, he would explode their paradigms… empowering not simply the Twelve apostles to be witnesses about Jesus’ Christ’s resurrection, but Jewish and Gentile believers (as we heard last week) to be witnesses of God’s incredible work in this world bringing his kingdom renewal, restoration, and healing in new and incredibly exciting ways!
We are post Pentecost people, Pentecost has already happened… we believe God through His Spirit is at work in us before we are even aware of it, calling us by his grace to step into his love. We believe that Spirit of God calls us to an awareness of our sins; of the ways we fail to live in alignment with God and the work he wants to do in us and in our world. We believe that as we confess these sins, the Spirit of God brings an assurance of the forgiveness of those sins, and the grace to live anew as God’s image-bearers in this world. (That is why each week here at Arbor House we confess our sins as a community and as individuals so that God’s power of forgiveness is unleashed in us, and we are newly equipped to serve him in the upcoming week.) And we believe the Holy Spirit continues to work in us helping us pray when we cannot even come up with the words we need, encouraging us, guiding us, leading us in increasing and new powerful ways to be God’s agents of change in the world he so desperately loves.
So what’s the big deal about Pentecost? Why do we celebrate it every year, and why this year am I asking us as a community to take this coming week to pray and fast in anticipation of the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost when he is obviously here at work among and in us?
In many ways, I think this waiting for the coming of the Spirit is theologically similar to the waiting we do each Advent season as we wait again for the coming of the Christ child to our world. Christ has already come, yet each year we wait in repentance and anticipation of his coming not simply as a babe, but for his return when he comes in ruling glory as the King of all creation. We celebrate the tension of he is already here, but we have not yet seen the complete fulfillment of his coming when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. So, too with Pentecost. The Spirit of Jesus Christ is already here among us, and yet we long for more. We long for a fresh renewal, a powerful reigniting of the Spirit of God within us, among us; so that in ways that explode our paradigms, just as the Apostle’s missional understanding was broadened in unimaginable ways, we can be the witnesses, the participants in the expanding kingdom of God in our world.
Don’t you want this? Don’t your hearts long for more? Do you like me, sometimes look around and feel like the mission of the Church has flatlined, and there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of passion, or any real anticipation that the power of God can speak to the dark powers that are at work in our world and defeat them bringing hope, justice, renewal to those who are languishing in their bondage? Is our God capable of doing this or not? Why don’t we see more of his power released in this world? Is it possible, at least in part, we do not see God at work more in our world because we as his people are not fully devoted to being filled with his Spirit’s power and allowing His Spirit to work in us and among us?
For this coming week, like the disciples in the early church, I am asking all of us to spend some time reflecting on Scripture and considering how it may be calling us to new behavior. I am asking each one of us to spend some time every day reflecting on the Ezekiel passage on the red sheets that you were handed this morning. In this passage, the Spirit of God falls at work among a valley filled with dry bones, and through the Spirit’s power, an army of God is raised up to testify about that Spirit’s power. Chris is going to be talking more about this next week in his message.
Where is God longing to do a new thing, where is he calling us to participate with him in that work?
But I want us to take some time this week to wrestle with God about this Spirit is at work in us. I want us to spend time as God’s people praying about how God through his Spirit at work in us may be calling us to be released from areas of death in our lives, in our church, in our jobs, in Batavia or whatever community we are part of. Where is God longing to do a new thing, where is he calling us to participate with him in that work?
I want us as the people of God at Arbor House to spend significant time praying specifically for each other, and for the Spirit of God to be released in a new ways in our lives together corporately and individually.
Finally, I am also calling us as the people of God to fast. This is not a common practice in our churches any more, but for centuries it was understood as a normal part of worshipping God. In our fasting we empty ourselves, we make room for something new, something more that God wants to fill us with. Marjorie Thompson in Soul Feast says: The combination of prayer and fasting invites a greater measure of God’s power to be released through us than might be possible by prayer alone. She also says: Fasting prepares us for authentic service, and quotes Marina Wiederkehr:
“Fasting is cleansing. It cleans out our bodies. It lays bare our souls. It leads us into the arms of the One for whom we hunger. In the Divine Arms we become less demanding and more like the One who holds us. Then we experience new hungers. We hunger and thirst for justice, for goodness and holiness. We hunger for what is right. We hunger to be saints.”
In Soul Feast, Thompson explains the different kinds of fasts. She says a “normal fast” involves abstaining from all food, solid or liquid, but not from water. A “partial fast” involves a restriction of the diet but not total abstention. And an “absolute fast” means abstaining from both food and water.
All of us are in different places, and have different health needs so if there is some reason you cannot fast food, then please take seriously the call to fast something else this week: maybe a restricted use of social media, or watching TV, or something else that takes up a great deal of your time.
But for those of us who can fast, I would like to suggest we try either a normal fast or a partial fast. A normal fast might mean not eating after dinner on Monday night, missing breakfast and lunch on Tuesday, and eating dinner again Tuesday night. In the time when you would normally be eating use that time for prayer, scripture reflection, and intentional listening to what God may be saying to you. If that feels like too much, maybe just do a partial fast of not eating meat one day, or simply skipping a breakfast or a lunch and using that meal time again to pursue a conversation with God.
Whatever way you decide to fast this week, take sometime to make room for God to fill you in a new way with his Spirit, then next week, come anticipating that God will be present and will pour out his Spirit in a way that will create in us a new excitement, and new power to do the work he has for us as his people.
Bring your little canvases as an offering of creativity in anticipation of the creative new work God wants to do in us as his people. Remember these can be as simple as a word God gives you to remind you of the work he intends to do in you or in us. It may be a painting, a drawing, a photo, a poem, a flower or something beautiful… anything that reminds you of the creative beauty of the work of the Spirit in the world around us, and in us as his people.
Whatever it us, Lord, fill us with your Spirit, and count us in for the work you have prepared for us to do.
Honestly, I am as new at this as you are. But we live during a time in history that desperately needs to see the power of God unleashed in his people in a new way. And I want us as God’s people at Arbor House just to be open and willing for God to do that work in us. I don’t know what that will look like, anymore than the apostles in the early church knew what the power of God unleashed in the Church would look like. But I believe God is able to do work in us beyond anything we can hope or dream or imagine. And I don’t want to miss out on that. I want us to put our hands up and say, Whatever it us, Lord, fill us with your Spirit, and count us in for the work you have prepared for us to do.
Spirit of God, we, your people, are waiting for you to bring new life to us so that we may testify to the resurrection of Jesus in ways that lives are changed by your power. Come, Holy Spirit, come.
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