May 20, 2018 Pentecost

Pastor Fowler’s Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, May 20th,  2018

“Send Down the Fire”  Acts 2:1-21


Ever since I was in high school and on the track team, I have run for exercise somewhat regularly. A few years ago, I remember one run in particular, and it was along the Mendocino Coast overlooking the ocean. On that day, it was particularly windy, with gusts over 30 miles per hour.  It was a mighty wind! I remember getting out of my car at the parking lot, and saying to myself-“Do I really want to do this?” It was cold as well, but I really felt a need to get a run in, so I stretched out and got moving. Sometimes a run helps clear my mind, and allows the Spirit to speak. I tightened my hat as much as I could, so that the wind wouldn’t blow it off of my head, and got going. There were moments when I literally felt like the wind stopped my forward momentum, and that I could’ve leaned forward and been totally supported by the strong gusts without falling over.  Yet it wasn’t blowing from just one direction- It was swirling. There were times when I felt I was about to be blown over from 3 directions all at once. At one point I saw a herd of deer, and I swear they looked at me like- “What in the world are you doing out here? Don’t you know it is cold and windy? Stupid human.” It was right around that time that the Holy Spirit clearly said to me- “ This is the RUACH, the Pneuma. Here is a MIGHTY WIND, a perfect sermon illustration for Pentecost. Don’t forget it!.”


In our passage for today, as we celebrate the gift of the Spirit, the disciples, perhaps as many as 120 according to Luke were all gathered together in one place, in the upper room. As they were gathered, there was a rush of mighty wind there as well- the word for wind in Hebrew is ruach, or divine breath of the Creator God. In Greek the words is Pneuma, meaning breath, and is often thought of as feminine. This mighty wind was even stronger then the wind I ran through that day, for it changed the world forever. Those who were gathered together happened to be gathered on the day of Pentecost, which means 50th- This day comes from the Jewish festival of Pentecost, which was held 50 days after the festival of Unleavened Bread. The Jewish tradition held that God gave the law to the Israelites at Mount Sinai 50 days after the Passover in Egypt, which is why the festival lasted for 50 days.




There were several important parts to this festival. One was repentance and redemption, as sacrifices were given as sin offerings. This was also a time to dedicate spring harvests to God, and grain and animal offerings were given to honor God. This was a time of thanksgiving and renewal, and fit in quite well with the mighty wind and the gift of the Spirit- For upon the Spirit’s arrival, it would also be a time to give thanks, and a time to begin anew.


And so at this moment towards the end of the festival of unleavened bread, The wind of God, the ruach, just as it brought forth new life at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1, filled the upper room and again brought forth new life. After the wind came fire. At the beginning of Luke’s gospel, John the Baptist said that the Messiah will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). This fire was symbolic in the Hebrew scriptures of God’s presence.


Then they all began speaking in their own native tongues, and yet, somehow they understood each other. It was the Holy Spirit at work, uniting people from different cultures, who spoke different languages.  Now this was not a moment of speaking in tongues, or "glossalalia" (see 1 Cor 12 & 14 for Paul’s treatment). Speaking in tongues in this case meant that those gathered were actually speaking in their mother tongues, and yet being understood.  This is significant for us in that according to the list Luke gave, no nationality of dispersed Jews was excluded. The list of nations in Acts 2 represented the known world at the time, "the ends of the earth." In this moment, the languages of the world spoke- This gift of the Holy Spirit is therefore meant to be given and spread throughout the world.


What must it have sounded like- this day of Pentecost, when God sent down the ruach, the mighty wind, and then God’s own presence in the fire that inspires human hearts to acts of justice, compassion, and faith? Imagine many different languages all being spoken at once, and probably a mixture of sound, and then a sudden clarity. What was the experience like? What led up to this moment?




From a practical stand point, the followers of Jesus found themselves without a leader, without direction, without a sense of purpose. The absence of Jesus from the community threatened to become a crisis that could destroy this fledgling church. And so the community of 120, rather than taking matters into their own hands, withdrew to the upper room, to wait and pray- to wait for what Jesus promised- the gift of the Holy Spirit- They really didn’t have anything else they could do, save for quitting altogether. Yet Jesus’ appearance to them and his promise that a gift from God was on the way, and to wait for it gave them resolve, and so rather than relying on their own ideas or actions, they waited.  They knew that only God could give the church what it needed, not human effort. The gift they waited for was the power of God, made manifest at Christ’s birth, resurrection and ascension- And so they remained in anticipation of this gift. It was time for a new beginning.


Now there must’ve been quite a bit of noise and commotion as the Holy Spirit blew into Jerusalem, which attracted a large crowd. Some in the crowd were amazed at what was happening, sensing through the strong gusts of wind that there was divine mystery in the air. Others, more skeptical in their world view saw this anointing of the power of God as inebriation- they just shrugged it off as a bunch of folks having an early morning kegger party.  The in breaking of the spirit of God was unsettling, troubling, so they tried to explain it away, to provide a rational explanation for a Spirit led irrational moment.


Of all the disciples who might respond to the crowd, based upon past history, Peter is the last one you would think who might stand up and say something- Peter, who had followed Jesus and the other disciples at his arrest at a distance, who denied he knew Jesus three times to save his own skin. We left him weeping in a courtyard, shattered and despondent. Yet Peter had been given the gift of the Spirit- the wind and fire of God blew through his spirit, and he made a proclamation.






In the creation story, the Ruach of God breathed life into dust and created a human being. In Acts, the Ruach of God breathed life into a once cowardly disciple, and into a quiet and wondering group of 120 who had lost their leader- and gave them power from on high.


The gift of the Holy Spirit is a part of God’s four fold strategy- restoration through sacrifice, resurrection, ascension, and then Pentecost. Those who had no tongue to speak of the mighty works of God could preach. Those who hadn’t a clue about demonstrating their faith in the world suddenly could bring perform acts of mercy, justice, and healing.


So, it is almost 2000 years after God sent down the fire of the Spirit. How does the gift of the Spirit help us today? In looking at the word for Spirit in Greek, we will find a clue.  In the Book Healing the Masculine Soul, author Gordon Dalbey says that when Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as our Helper, he uses this Greek word, Paraclete-, which was an ancient warrior’s term. “Greek soldiers went into battle in pairs,” says Dalbey,” so when an enemy attacked, they could draw together back to back, covering each other’s blind side. One’s battle partner was the paraclete. You see, God does not send us out into the world to fight the good fight alone. The Holy Spirit is our partner in this life, who covers our blind side and fights for our well-being.” The Spirit is a divine companion for us in this life. I have a very unusual example of this.


A few years ago, while I was leading a memorial service, I was sitting and listening to one of the sons of the deceased speak. He was speaking so eloquently and with strength, despite being in mourning and shock. As I sat behind him, I looked up on top of his head, and I SAW a clear/bluish flame, swirling upon his head. At first, I thought I was seeing things. I took my glasses off and cleaned them, and placed them back on. Yet, there it was again, this clear bluish flame resting upon the son’s head as he spoke! As he finished his speech, the daughter of the deceased came up, and there was that flame once again. She also spoke eloquently and from the heart. I cannot explain that day and what I saw, except to say that it was the Spirit of God upon those people, helping them through with what to say. I have seen that phenomenon happen only one other time at another memorial, but not for many years. The Spirit truly is our divine companion, and helps us in times of difficulty and sorrow. I have seen it with my own eyes.


The gift of the Spirit also draws us into relationship with the Creator of the Universe. Paul tells us in Romans 8:13, “that those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God.” We are connected, adopted through the Spirit. Paul also tells us in Galatians “that since we live by the Spirit, we need to keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).” - You see, the Spirit can guide us in what to do and say- that is, we can be guided by the Spirit, so that we might do God’s work through our words and actions. I fully felt led by the Holy Spirit as I ran this past week to share my mighty wind analogy from when I ran a while ago, and I believe I heard that message to share it BECAUSE I am in relationship with God. By being drawn into relationship with God through this gift of the Holy Spirit, we become partners, emissaries in God’s mission here on earth.



Next, the Spirit of God works upon us when we have done something wrong.  In his book, Tales From The Back Side, J Ellsworth Kalas, he speaks about one of the most powerful sins being the sin of “excusing ourselves-the unwillingness to admit that we are wrong and the refusal to see ourselves for what we are.” He speaks about this sin of excuses being perfectly illustrated in the story of Adam and Eve, when they ate the apple from the tree of knowledge. Upon eating the apple and being caught, Adam says to God,  “The woman GAVE me the apple!” excuse number 1. Eve responds, “That serpent was tricky and made me eat it.” excuse number 2. Neither Adam nor Eve wanted to fess up, to admit their mistakes, and so they blamed someone else. Kalas says, however, “The Holy Spirit is the persuasive agent in our lives, the power which convicts us of sin. When we excuse ourselves and refuse to recognize our sins, we harden ourselves against the Spirit’s work of persuasion. That very act of resisting and hardening is a sin against the Spirit-a blaspheming, so to speak of the Spirit’s work. If this rejection continues long enough, we come to a place where we no longer hear or sense the Spirit’s pleading.”


For Peter, as he embraced his failure and sin, and was restored by Jesus, he was then able to hear clearly the prompting of the Holy Spirit. He was anointed with the power of the Spirit, and preached a sermon that changed the world forever- Verse 41 tells us that some 3000 people came to Christ as a result of his preaching.

In addition, The Spirit calls us in times of difficulty to proclaim God’s justice and truth. It is that same Spirit which led the prophets like Samuel, Isaiah, and others to speak out to kings who had fallen away from God which gives voice to leaders of faith to rise up and speak out now.  Rev Jim Wallis, leader of Sojourner’s is heading up a movement to reclaim the image of Jesus from those who have corrupted it for political purposes. Many church leaders and pastors have come together and written the statement, Reclaiming Jesus. On the week of Pentecost, they will take this declaration of faith to the streets of Washington, D.C. — first to worship and then to march in a candlelight procession to the White House. Wallis believes it is time to offer a public witness that the church will not be silent or complicit, but faithful and led by the Spirit in this time of crisis. Here is an abrieviated version of the 6 things the statement proclaims:

WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). THEREFORE, WE REJECT the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership. We, as followers of Jesus, must clearly reject the use of racial bigotry for political gain that we have seen.

WE BELIEVE we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class (Galatians 3:28). THEREFORE, WE REJECT misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God.

WE BELIEVE how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. (Matthew 25: 31-46) THEREFORE, WE REJECT the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God. We strongly deplore the growing attacks on immigrants and refugees, who are being made into cultural and political targets, and we need to remind our churches that God makes the treatment of the “strangers” among us a test of faith (Leviticus 19:33-34).

WE BELIEVE that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Truth-telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition, whose vocation includes speaking the Word of God into their societies and speaking the truth to power. A commitment to speaking truth, the ninth commandment of the Decalogue, “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16), is foundational to shared trust in society. THEREFORE, WE REJECT the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life.

WE BELIEVE that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles (the world) lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26). THEREFORE, WE REJECT any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule. We believe authoritarian political leadership is a theological danger that threatens democracy and the common good—and we will resist it.

WE BELIEVE Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples (Matthew 28:18). Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries. The most well-known verse in the New Testament starts with “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). We, in turn, should love and serve the world and all its inhabitants, rather than seek first narrow, nationalistic prerogatives. THEREFORE, WE REJECT “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ. While we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal.

May God bless them in their efforts as they try to reclaim Jesus, led by the power of the Holy Spirit. May we too be led by their words and inspired by the fire of the Holy Spirit to speak out and reclaim the Christian message and reclaim Jesus Christ.

So, here we are, a bit less than 120, gathered together on Pentecost Sunday. We too have been anointed with the gift from God, the Spirit from above. We too have been called to preach good news, to change this broken and sinful world. Yet, you may be saying to yourself, “It isn’t my fault that we live in a world where warfare is lifted up, where greed is admired, where the poor are exploited, where many are held in prisons unjustly, where life is not valued. I don’t have the power to change anything-its the fault of the world’s leaders. I don’t want my faith and politics to collide. How can I do anything? I am just one ordinary person, and the problems of this world are overwhelming.” The sin of excuse, of abdicating responsibility, and letting someone else take the blame is one we must fight constantly, so that we can hear what the Spirit has to say to us and act on God’s behalf.

Contents © 2021 First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, Oregon • Church Website Builder by mychurchwebsite.netPrivacy Policy