The Power of the Spirit Pentecost

May 15, 2016
The Rev Bill Anderson, Trinity Episcopal Church


Each of the scripture readings for today tells us something about the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God. Many years ago, when I was in my early thirties married, and a father with two young sons, I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that completely changed the trajectory of my life. At that time, Jane and I had very busy schedules. I was carpooling to my full-time job in Washington. I was also teaching math classes at Prince George’s Community College two nights a week, and participating in weekend-drills one weekend a month with the Naval Reserve Unit to which I was assigned. On the other three weekends each month, I was busy caring for our sons while Jane was working at a residential care facility for developmentally delayed adults. Not surprisingly, I was beginning to question the meaning for life. Then one day, out of the blue, Jane received a card in the mail from a friend inviting us to attend an Episcopal retreat called Cursillo. Now I should tell you that I was not raised in the Episcopal Church. Yet, shortly after we were married, Jane and I did attend worship at an Episcopal church in San Diego. But just once. It was a high church.
That didn’t set too well with me. But for some reason, possibly because I was seeking meaning for my life, I agreed to go on the Cursillo weekend. During those three days, the Holy Spirit moved so powerfully that over the succeeding days, and weeks, and months, and years, I gradually found the purpose and meaning for my life. I discovered what God’s spirit was calling me to be and to do. That weekend retreat was the beginning of changes in my life that brought me to this point where I am now standing here before you today. In today’s scripture readings, it has been weeks since the tomb, where the body of Jesus was laid, was found empty. Now his disciples have come together again. The risen Lord had appeared to a number of them a few days after his crucifixion, but they hadn’t quite sorted it all out. Still, they have all come together to celebrate the Feast of Weeks a sacred Jewish festival that was celebrated in Jerusalem, fifty days after Passover each year. It was an event that all able-bodied Jewish men were expected to attend. Many people had come long distances for the celebration. The holy city was bustling. Those who came to the feast from Greek-speaking areas called it Pentecost. So thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people were in Jerusalem for the same purpose to offer thanks to God for the bounty of the harvest. It was the day when all faithful Jews presented the “first-fruits” of the wheat harvest to God. Jesus’ disciples were there to celebrate the feast also. They had all gathered together in one place. They were there because Jesus had told them to wait. But they were confused and perplexed. They didn’t understand what they were waiting for. What was this Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised. Nevertheless, they were there, praying and waiting. Waiting and praying. The next move was up to God. Suddenly, there was a roaring wind that blew into the building through the open windows. They didn’t know it, but it was the breath of God the Holy Spirit that filled the building where they were waiting and praying. They felt the force of the wind, but soon, they saw its power, also. They saw a flame that divided so that each one of them could manifest a particular tongue of fire. God, the Holy Spirit, possessed them. They began to speak fluently in languages they did not know. The roaring wind brought onlookers to the scene, pilgrims who were attending the feast from the many lands to which Jewish people were scattered and where they made their homes. In today’s first reading, from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke identifies the origins of many of the people who were present: they were Parthians, Medes, Elamites. They were residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya. They were Romans, Cretans, and Arabs. All those present heard and recognized the languages of the lands from which they had come. However, they were astonished that the words were pouring from the lips of individuals who had scarcely ever been out of Galilee and Judea! The disciples’ surrender was so complete that they, too, spoke in languages none of them had learned. Yet they were understood. All of the people heard and recognized the speech of the region from which they had come; and they heard God’s wondrous works being proclaimed. But the scriptures tell us that it didn’t end with the Day of Pentecost. Today’s reading from the book of Acts went only through the 21st verse of chapter 2. If we were to read further, we would read about the Apostle Peter preaching a stirring sermon to a great crowd of people that day. He concluded his sermon by telling the people in the crowd that they had crucified the messiah the one whom God had sent the one for whom they had waited so long. The people were “cut to the heart” and asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) Peter told them to do two things repent and be baptized so they would receive two blessings the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. And then he continued: “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:39). That’s an important verse. It says that the promise is “for all who are far away.” Do you know who that is? hat is us. Peter was telling those people in Jerusalem that the promise wasn’t just for them and their children. It is also for people like us who live far from Jerusalem. It is for people like us who live centuries after that first Pentecost. The promise is that if we do two things repent and be baptized then we will receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. So each and every one of us received God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, at our baptism. But let me get back to the phrase, “filled with the Holy Spirit.” The book of Acts says that Jesus’ disciples “were filled with the Holy Spirit” on that first Pentecost (2:4). There were people from many nations there people who spoke many different languages. So the Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak in all of those languages so that all of the people could hear the Gospel preached in their own language. Some of the listeners were amazed and receptive, but others said, “They are filled with new wine” in other words, drunk. But new wine is wine that has not yet fermented, so they were really saying, “They are filled with grape juice. They have gotten drunk on grape juice.” There are always people like that, aren’t there. Unbelievers! People who wouldn’t believe no matter what! But these disciples weren’t filled with new wine. They were filled with the Holy Spirit the Spirit of God. And we, too, are filled with the Holy Spirit. Each of us received the gift of the Holy Spirit at our baptism. And that makes a difference! In his letter to the church at Galatia, Paul listed what he called “the fruit of the Spirit.” Actually, he listed nine fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22- 23): Love Joy Peace Patience Kindness Generosity Faithfulness Gentleness and Self-control. When I look around at the people in this congregation, I see those virtues. I see lots of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and generosity and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. So you might ask yourself how you measure up on those nine virtues. Are you a loving person a joyful person a peaceful person a patient person a kind person a generous person a faithful person a gentle person? Are you self- controlled? You might ask your husband or your wife (or your mother or your dad) how you measure up on those virtues. One way to approach that would be to say, “I am trying to write a brief description of myself and I would like your feedback. What I have written so far reads like this: ‘I am loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.’ Have I gotten that about right?” Your husband or wife might suggest that you add one more virtue to your list humility! But when I think about people whom I have known in this and other churches, I must admit that there are times when some of those nine virtues don’t seem to apply. In fact, if I were to be brutally honest, I would have to admit that I, too, have occasionally failed to be loving, joyful, and all the rest.Maybe more than occasionally! So what’s going on? If we are filled with the Spirit God’s Spirit and if that is supposed to make us loving, joyful, and all the rest why aren’t we always like that? When I was thinking about this, I remembered something that a science teacher showed my classmates and me when I was in high school. That was a long time ago, but I think that the basic science still applies. The teacher took a jar and filled it to the brim with marbles. He then asked if the jar was full. We all agreed that it was full. He then took some sand and poured the sand into the jar and shook it a bit and poured some more sand into it and repeated that until the jar was filled to the brim with marbles and sand. Again, he asked if we thought the jar was full. All of us students thought it was, but we weren’t eager to commit ourselves after being wrong the first time. So then the teacher got a beaker of water (science teachers never have pitchers they always have beakers) and he showed us that the beaker was full. He then poured water from the beaker into the jar until the jar was full to the brim of marbles, sand, and water. Then he showed us the beaker. It was practically empty. There had been enough space in that full jar for the whole beaker of water. And then our teacher told us that, if we could see a molecule of water, we would find that it is mostly empty space like the universe. A molecule has protons and neutrons and electrons and a few other things, but mostly the molecule is empty space just like the universe is mostly empty space. So that jar, which looked so absolutely full, wasn’t really full at all. If you really think about it, the jar was mostly empty even after it had been filled three times. That little science lesson has been helpful to me when I have seen Christians, who are supposedly filled with the Spirit of God, being spiteful or stingy or hateful. When that happens, I just remind myself of that jar of marbles and sand and water and I think, “Well, I guess the Holy Spirit hasn’t yet penetrated all the way to that person’s fingertips! I guess there is still a bit of space in there waiting to be filled!” I mentioned earlier that Paul listed nine virtues that he called fruits of the Spirit love, joy, peace, patience, and all the rest. It helps me to remember that a fruit tree doesn’t bear much fruit the first year or the second year and maybe not the third year either. It takes time for a tree to mature so that it can be productive. I think that it takes us time, too, to become really fruitful Christians full of love and joy and peace and patience and all the rest. I think that it takes a lifetime of walking with God. The book of Genesis tells us that we were created in the image of God. The book of Acts tells us that we have been filled with the Spirit of God. Our experience tells us that we aren’t perfect on either count. We neither look nor act like Godly people on every occasion. But let us thank God that he thinks so highly of us that he calls us his children. And let us pray for grace to become more and more like the people God created us to be. Amen.

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