Friday, May 20, 2016

The Coming of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-11) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

When I was a member of my home church, East San Diego Presbyterian, back in my college days, the minister assigned us to attend different churches for four Sundays, then we met to discuss our experiences at our college group meetings.  I don't recall much about three of the churches, but I vividly recall our experience at a Pentecostal church here in San Diego.

A rock band blared loudly as you entered the sanctuary.  That caught my attention.  People were dancing in the aisles, waving their arms, shouting amen, falling down on their knees in tears, and speaking in tongues.  The preacher yelled for people to receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit and worshippers rushed forward.  The preacher would slam their foreheads with the heal of his hand, and they would fall back into the arms of awaiting ushers.

At one point the preacher proclaimed that at the second coming of Christ, when Jesus returns in glory, Jesus will grab the hand of a Catholic, who will grab the hand of a Lutheran, who will grab the hand of a Methodist, who will grab the hand of a Presbyterian, swing them around and around and fling them off the end of the earth into the eternal flames of hell.  Now that really got my attention.  Yes,  it sounds like another ordinary Sunday morning here at PBPC?

Are we a Pentecostal church?  My answer may surprise you.  I certainly hope so.  I pray we are.  For biblically, the church of Jesus Christ is Pentecostal.   Pentecost celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit.   Pentecost celebrates the birthday of the church.  Pentecostal isn’t about a particular stereotype of a Christian or style of worship, but rather in a deeper sense, it is about whether the power of the Holy Spirit is present in the lives of the people in the church, whether the church is Spirit-filled, and whether the Spirit is guiding and empowering its worship, ministry and mission.

Biblically, Pentecostal worship can be earsplitting or contemplative.  Pentecost is about God’s Spirit penetrating the hearts and minds of God’s people.  Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit inspiring the worship and ministry of the people.

A Pentecostal church is alive in the Spirit of God.  And if the Holy Spirit isn’t present in our midst, if the Holy Spirit is absent, then we may be a social club, or a 501 c3 non-profit organization, but we are not the church of Jesus Christ.

Pentecost is a Greek word meaning 50th day.  On the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, when the disciples were gathered in a home in Jerusalem, God sent His Holy Spirit upon them.  Our story describes the Spirit's coming like a mighty wind and tongues of fire, spiritual gifts were imparted, and those present were united into a body of believers and empowered for their coming mission into the world.

On the Day of Pentecost, a day of mystery and awe, a miracle occurred; people came to Jerusalem from all around the Mediterranean world, speaking a variety of languages, but they heard these Galileans, who spoke Aramaic, speaking about God's deeds of power in their own languages. The message here is that the gospel is for the whole world.  It transcends racial ethnic groups, nationalities, and languages.  Let's go a little deeper.

A Pentecostal church understands why it exists?  It embodies Jesus’ Great Commandment:  “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”  It incarnates Jesus' Great Commission:  “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, for Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.”  A Pentecostal church knows that the Great Commandment combined with the Great Commission makes a great church.  Our mission is rooted in our name - Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, PBPC, People Bringing People to Christ.

A Pentecostal church is flexible and adaptable in a changing world, able to change the way it carries out its mission. And we know human nature resists change.  Once a man stood up at a lecture that the famous rocket scientist Dr. Werner Von Braun was giving and asked: “Why can’t we just forget all these new-fangled ideas about going out into space and be content to stay at home and watch television like the good Lord intended?”

God didn’t establish the church at Pentecost for Christians to stay at home and watch television.   God has empowered us with the mission of loving and reaching people in the name of Christ in the world.

A Pentecostal church is a church where believer’s lives are being transformed, where spiritual energy, enthusiasm and joy is evident in the life of believers.   Does this mean every Sunday or every day in the church will be as dramatic as that first Pentecost?  No.”  God doesn’t expect the church to go full steam ahead 24-7.  But since the church is Spirit infused, Spirit inculcated, signs of the Holy Spirit, in small and powerful ways, will be evident always in the life of the people of God.

A Pentecostal church is where people discover and use their Spirit given gifts and talents and abilities to glorify God.  If its singing, you sing, its its playing a musical instrument, you play, like Larry Cox, who is blind, but is a gifted bass player, if its teaching, you teach, if its leadership you lead, if its service, you serve, if its caring for people you care, if your gifted technically, you might help in the sound and projection booth or help with computers or networks.

A Pentecostal church strives to worship in the Spirit.  Author A. W. Tozer wrote: “God is delighted with all that is good and lovingly concerned about all that is wrong.  God pursues His labors always in a fullness of holy zeal. No wonder the Spirit came at Pentecost as a sound of a rushing mighty wind and sight of tongues of fire on every forehead. ... Whatever else happened at Pentecost, one thing that cannot be missed by the most casual observer was the sudden upsurging of spiritual enthusiasm.”

In worship and prayer we grow stronger through loving and glorifying God.  In ministry, we grow broader through serving and loving others in the church, the community and the world.  In evangelism, we grow larger through reaching out to unbelievers and making disciples.  In fellowship we grow warmer through building and deepening caring relationships.  In discipleship we grow deeper as people grow in faith and spiritual maturity through teaching, meditation, prayer, Bible study, and developing skills in service to the glory of God.

A Pentecostal church is loving and joyful and caring and faith filled and prayerful.  People support and encourage others in the midst of brokenness, grief and death.  There is compassion, kindness and empathy.  People come alongside one another in times of joy and celebration and in times of crisis and tragedy.  Like Mavis, our Coordinator of Congregational Care, and her team of visitors and many of you who pray, who send cards, who visit people in need. People rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

Our Sunday Night Ministry which reaches out to homeless people in our community is a good example of the work of the Holy Spirit.   Our Friday Night Family movie and Pizza gatherings for families in our community is another example of the work of the Holy Spirit.   Christ calls us to engage in a dynamic, purpose-filled, faithful, loving and vital ministry.

A Pentecostal church is committed to the gospel, the unchanging word of God.  The letter of Hebrews 13:8 says:  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”   And we bring that unchanging gospel to ever-changing world.  The message of the gospel never changes, “God so loved the world that He sent His Son Jesus to save sinners,” but the methods we employ to spread the gospel and reach people must be open to change.  The church’s strategies must be flexible, creative, and innovative.   The church’s mission must always strive to be relevant to the community.

Missionary Leslie Newbigin said: "Mission is not a burden laid upon the church; it is a gift and a promise to the church that is faithful. Jesus reigns and all authority has been given to him in earth and heaven.”

I think of another example.  Young adults from our Sunday Night Roots ministry go out on on Garnet Ave once or twice a month, just as the bars are closing, and pass out free water bottles and talk to young people.  They set up a sign and hand out flyers identifying our church.  Why – it has to do with Pentecost.  It has to do with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  I think of how generously people here give to support our youth for camperships.  Why – it has to do with Pentecost.

What is the test of a Spirit-filled church?  Is it rock bands, speaking in tongues and dancing in the aisles?  For some churches the answer is yes.  And I say amen. I respect them.  But I also turn to the letter of Galatians 5:22 which says:  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  If those spiritual qualities permeate the life of a church, in whatever form, we are Spirit-filled.

We are all on a spiritual journey.  By the grace of God we are and are becoming a Spirit-filled church.  Let us open our hearts and minds to God’s power and inspiration.  Let us be alert and aware of needs and opportunities around us, and minister to those needs in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

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