May 15, 2016 Acts 2: 1-21 Pentecost “ Come Holy Spirit” by Rev. June Fothergill
How many of you have ever wondered if you might be a wee bit resistant to the Holy Spirit? I know I have. I remember when I was in High School; a dear friend of mine sent me a letter telling me the steps to “receiving the Holy Spirit” which for this friend meant speaking in tongues. I was curious and decided to try the steps. I went out by myself somewhere and read and prayed through the steps she had sent me. Nothing. Nothing happened. Disappointed I decided the gift of the Holy Spirit was not for me. Later in college I was still struggling with this and a local pastor who held a college age group meeting at his home suggested that the coming of the Holy Spirit didn’t have to be with tongues. It could come as an unexpected insight or idea. Aha! That I had experienced, thinking of the nights I would go out walking around campus taking a break from a difficult paper and how sometimes on those walks a new insight would come. I find that understanding the Holy Spirit is a lifelong under taking!
For example, this week many of us are praying that our General Conference will be guided by the Holy Spirit. Can the Spirit get through all the set agendas, the parliamentary procedures, the limited time frame, the differences of perspective and opinion? Of course. Yet, I have my own ideas of what I think the guidance of the Spirit is and they might differ from yours. Hum, that is confusing. Shouldn’t the Spirit be leading good hearted, willing disciples in the same direction?
As I look at the story in Acts today, I found myself noticing the responses of those people of Jerusalem to the work of the Holy Spirit. This amazing thing happens. The Galilean disciples are given the gift of speaking in other languages and the diversity of Jews from all over the globe hears of the “might acts of God’ in their own heart home language. They are amazed and perplexed that a group of Galilean hicks could do this! And some of them decided that this was purely a human phenomenon- they must be drunk on new wine they scoffed. I notice some things.
1. The Spirit did not come in a monolithic way. Rather it took a monolithic group- a bunch of Galileans and gave them different languages to speak. The diversity allowed for more people to hear the good news of God’s mighty acts and participate in the work of the Spirit. Could it be that the Spirit can also work through our diverse points of view? That in the midst of the confusion God will help us hear and see how God is at work? I don’t have to agree with your perspective to respect you as a person and how God is at work in you. Could it be that we in the United Methodist Church are called to this hard work of listening and disagreeing and looking for the works of God in the very midst of the struggle?
When I served in Myrtle Creek and Canyonville in Douglas County I was part of a ministerial group made up mostly of pastors from more conservative groups: church of Christ, open bible, assembly of God, conservative Baptist, 7th day Adventist oh and me. There were times when I simply couldn’t agree with something they were discussing. Yet, I kept going because I valued their prayers and friendship and the ways we could work together in community worship and service. I was especially touched that at my last meeting with them the long time conservative Baptist pastor whose denomination doesn’t ordain women offered a moving prayer for me. I learned a lot from them and I think they did from me. Surely the Holy Spirit was at work in our diversity and willingness to stick together.
2. Secondly, I notice that the resistance to the Spirit, the scoffers in the story had an important role. Their willingness to voice their skepticism gave Peter the opportunity to speak to what was happening and ground the experience in tradition and scripture, to tell a fuller story of Jesus and to invite people to participate in a deeper way. Instead of everyone going home with nice warm feelings about a really cool worship experience, people were invited to make a commitment to following Jesus that would change their lives and many, many did. The Spirit’s work is not limited by our boxes and perspectives. It can use fisherman preachers, ordinary Galilean hicks, even scoffers.
This story teaches me that we need people who disagree with us. Such folks challenge us to look more deeply at what we think the Spirit is telling us in our lives. They invite us to listen and to consider that just maybe I’m not right, maybe I could learn from another’s perspective. I believe that taking seriously and honoring others objections can help me deepen or gain clarity about my own understanding. And yes, sometimes I might be moved to change my mind.
I grew up in a pacifist household. My father was what I think of as a Quaker Methodist. So I have had very little experience or appreciation for the military. But when I moved to Myrtle Creek, in Douglas County, I remember reading on the county sign – We honor veterans. In the churches I served in Douglas County there was a strong presence of veterans and families with many generations of proud military service. Listening to and honoring their lives and stories led me to change my mind and grow in my appreciation for veterans and their service. I discovered that many of them hated war as much or more than I did.
3. Finally, I want to affirm that this story reminds me that ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit is about compassionate connection and growth. Peter responded to the scoffers and provided the people who had heard about God’s mighty acts in their own languages a way to grow in faith and life. Their experience opened them up to receive the good news about Jesus forgiveness and love. It inspired them to try new forms of community and service that sought to build a more just and compassionate world. Eventually we know that the Spirit did not stop with a group of a few thousand Jews but grew to encompass gentiles from all over the world. The Spirit enthused people with the fire and passion, the energy to go out into new territory.
The Spirit empowers and encourages us still today. One of the new things we have been trying as a church is to have a church facebook page. I post about our activities and sometimes just things to hopefully inspire. It‘s a new way to try to reach people in this day and age. Well, on Friday I went to the art walk and visited the A3 Senior Art Show. After being there awhile, a woman said to me, “You’re Pastor June aren’t you? My daughter and I attended your church several months ago. “In our talking together it turns out that she is keeping up with us on facebook and by receiving the newsletter. Even though she and her daughter haven’t come back on Sunday morning, they feel connected to us! They feel part of us and with this new encounter in their setting, I feel more part of them. Surely this is the Holy Spirit at work?
In closing I think of a professor of mine in seminary who used to remind us that the Holy Spirit is amazing, exciting, beyond our control! It is the energy and love of God moving in our midst! We can never capture it nor totally understand it. Like the writer of Acts we have to speak of it with metaphors and images- violent wind, speaking other languages, tongues of fire! When I asked the folks downstairs to tell me what the flame picture on their tables was all about one person said The Burning Bush! I hadn’t thought of that! That bush that Moses saw was burning but not consumed! What a wonderful metaphor for the Holy Spirit. Those flames of fire ignite us, inspire us, empower us but do not consume. We are rather made holy and whole; we are empowered to become what God wants us to be. We may resist. Just like Moses had many, many objections to his call from God to go with God to free his people. Yet, like Moses, when we choose to go. When we choose to open our lives and hearts to God’s Holy Spirit we will never walk alone but will discover ways to be part of God’s amazing work in the world.