Scripture: Acts 2:1-25
The numbers do not lie, we apparently as a whole need a lot of help. I can say this confidently, because we as a whole express this with our dollars. Over one billion dollars is generated annually by the sale of self-help books. According to Amazon.com, just in the past month there have been over 6,000 books published or re-published in that genre. Clearly, people love turning to books to get the extra motivation they need in life. There are also people for whom a self-help book has probably made a huge and lasting impact. However, statistically the person most likely to buy a new self-help book is someone who has already previously bought a self-help book on the same topic. In the self-help industry there seems to be a high rate of recidivism. There are self-help books published on a wide variety of topics from dozens of different perspectives, and hundreds of unique angles. Despite all of that, every single self-help book seeks to do the same two things. They all seek to empower and encourage. It does not matter if the topic is weight loss, being better organized, being more confident, pursuing your dreams, or winning friends and influencing people. Every single one of these books is going to tell you that “you can do it” and “just do it.” Annually, I get to see teenagers live out these messages at church camp. Camp features a high ropes course that has climbing features and can be extremely intimidating. Every year the camp staff is excellent at having all of the campers encourage one another. I do not know if it means anything or not, but there is one encouragement I heard far more than any other. The teens did not tell each other “good job” a lot, nor did they encourage each other with a “You can do it.” What they shouted to each other the most was “You got this!” I like that. I love the confidence behind that encouragement. I love how that encouragement seems to assume, that the insurmountable task is not so bad, that the impossible is easy, and the assumption that the task is well within the capabilities of the person trying it. It is an affirming and strong encouragement. Today we celebrate Pentecost. On Pentecost we do mark the formal start of the universal church of Jesus Christ, and we commemorate the receiving of the Holy Spirit. As we fully consider this morning’s scripture though, I think we will see one of the things most worth celebrating today is that Pentecost is the day that God said to us, “You got this.”
Pentecost is not as culturally well known as Easter or Christmas, but in the Christian faith it is ranks up there as one of the big three. Due to that several of you may be familiar with this morning’s scripture. The coming of the Holy Spirit that looks like tongues of fire, the sound like a rushing wind, and the speaking in tongues is familiar territory. As we look deeper past those surface details though, we can begin to see the depth of how truly remarkable this event is. First, is the day of Pentecost itself. Pentecost is the Greek name for a Jewish holy day, the Festival of weeks. This Holy day took place fifty days after the Passover. Pentecost is a transliteration of the Greek word 50. In Judaism, Pentecost celebrated the giving of the law, and it is no accident that the Holy Spirit came on that day. The law, or the first five book of the Bible, are the rules that God gave the Israelites to live righteous lives. It was through following the law that the Israelites would daily follow God. It was through the law that the Israelites could know the will of God, and it was through faithfully following the law people had an assurance that they had a connection with God. In essence, when it came to interacting with God on a day in and day out basis, this was primarily done by a faithful Israelite by religiously following the law found in the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Spirit came on the same day this law was celebrated, because the Holy Spirit provides those same functions in a new way.
Just like Jesus completely changed how we are forgiven and made right with God, the Holy Spirit completely changed how we relate and follow God daily. For those who faithfully follow Christ, the Holy Spirit leads and guides our thoughts and actions the same way that the law was to lead and guide the thoughts and actions of the Israelites. The Israelites would look to the law for empowerment and encouragement, and according to the bible that is exactly what the Holy Spirit does in our lives. Jesus promised his disciples in the gospel of John that the Holy Spirit will be a guide “into all the truth.” Just like following the law empowered and encouraged the Israelites to follow God, the Holy Spirit empowers and encourages us to be more Christ like. However, there is a fundamental difference. The law was static, the Holy Spirit is dynamic. The law was something that could only be engaged second hand, whereas the Holy Spirit can be experienced in our everyday lives. In essence, with comes to interacting with God on a day in and day out basic, this is now primarily done by following the leading and step of the Holy Spirit found within followers of Christ.
Another significant element of the Holy Spirit appearing on Pentecost is who was around to hear the message of Peter and the other disciples. Verses 9 through 11 list nationalities from all over the Roman world. While ancient Judaism was based in Israel, Jews could be found living all over the Roman Empire. It was expected that a faithful Jew would make it back to the temple at least once a year to worship during one of the High holy days. Passover was in spring and the Festival of booths was in fall. Pentecost is in late spring/early summer so it provided the best traveling conditions. This means that Jews from all over the world were present to hear the disciples, and when we skip to the end of Acts chapter 2 we learn that 3,000 of them become followers of Christ that day. The Holy Spirit coming and enabling the disciples to testify to the Spirit’s power and to the gospel of Christ on Pentecost signified that the Spirit and Christ was for everyone. God so love the world that he sent his only begotten son, and by coming on Pentecost the Holy Spirit was able to more effectively fulfill that truth. The fact that Spirit is for everyone who believes, not just one people group is further emphasized when Peter quotes Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is bestowed upon all of those who believe and follow Jesus as Lord of savior, regardless of age, rank, nationality, or gender.
When we combine these understandings of this morning’s scripture together we come up with an understanding that lines up with one of the official doctrinal statements of the United Methodist Church. Maintained in our heritage is the confession of faith of the EUBC, which in article three states: “[The Holy Spirit] comforts, sustains, and empowers the faithful and guides them into all truth.” To state it more simply, the Holy Spirit empowers and encourages all people who follow Jesus to faithfully fulfill the will of God in their daily lives. This a foundational truth of our shared faith, but have you ever considered how powerful that statement is? The Holy Spirit is not just from God, the Holy Spirit is fully a part of God, and the Holy Spirit empowers and encourages us. This is the very same Spirit of God that encouraged the Old Testament prophets to prophesy and speak on God’s behalf, and the very same Spirit that empowered them to do miracles. In the Old Testament, it is through the Holy Spirit that God influenced, changed, and shaped the world. The amazing, mind blowing truth of Pentecost Sunday is that this very same Spirit of God, was birthed and entrusted to the church. It was entrusted to us, and the Spirit encourages and empowers us to continue to change and shape the world on God’s behalf.
The story goes that there was vocal and ardent man who was a resolute atheist. This man would regularly repeatedly stated that he would never believe in God unless God would himself would answer a single question for him. For years and countless arguments with anyone who would engage him, this was the man’s unwavering position. No amount of evidence would sway him until God answered his question. Finally one day, God showed up in all of God’s glory and said to the man, “I will answer your one question on the condition that you will also answer one question.” The man was baffled what question God would possibly going to ask him, but he was not going to miss the opportunity. The man asked his burning question to God, “Why do you allow things like famine, war, crime, homelessness, hatred, and suffering to exist in this world?” God responded, “That’s funny because that is the same question I was going to ask you.”
The Holy Spirit is the very power of God to transform the world, and God has entrusted that power to us. At first glance that seems daunting, and it is. With great power comes great responsibility. Yet at the same time, we should be greatly encouraged, because Christians would only be entrusted with the Holy Spirit if we could do something with it. There are great evils in this world, there is suffering, and there is injustice. We celebrate today, that Pentecost is God’s way of saying “you got this.”
If the Holy Spirit is entrusted to the church, then we truly have the power to transform the world. If you have ever taken on a home improvement project of any sort, then you know that the key to success is having the right tools. There are specialized tools for every kind of project imaginable, and having the right tools makes a world of difference. When it comes to sharing God’s love, bringing light in to darkness, delivering justice to the oppressed, and food to the hungry we have the right tool. We have the Holy Spirit empowering us with the spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit we need to make a lasting impact and a true transformation.
This is not just a theoretical either. As already mentioned as a result of the Holy Spirit coming on Pentecost, 3,000 people were saved. That was 3,000 people after just one sermon. The Holy Spirit can do truly amazing things. From that point throughout history there have been countless miracles big and small of followers of Christ doing amazing things. Thank of all of the good in the world that has been done by followers of Jesus. Think of the lives saved by Christian doctors treating the sick, by the souls saved by missionaries, by the justices won by Christian advocates, and by the lives forever changed by compassionate people seeking to love others the way that Jesus loves them. In all of these instances, these are individual people doing amazing things because they are being empowered and encouraged by the Holy Spirit to tackle the seemingly impossible. If you believe Jesus is your Lord and Savior, then there is no reason you cannot be the next person who stays in step with the Spirit to radically transform the world through the love of God.
The question is, do you want to? Are you willing to take the steps and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life? One of things we believe, is that the Holy Spirit empowers all who confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior. If you are not sure if you have ever felt the Spirit empowering or encouraging you, then perhaps you have not been listening to the right voices. Perhaps, like the campers at the base of the high ropes course, you have not yet taken your first step out in faith. On this Pentecost Sunday, may you be willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and may you be willing to follow where it is going. May you allow the Spirit to use you to transform and make a difference in this world. If you seek the Spirit, if you quiet your mind and listen with your heart, then you might just here the voice of God giving encouragement: “You got this