Sermon: “Do It Again, Lord!”
23 May 2021
Christ Temple Congregation
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, Acts 2:1-21, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Good evening. Let me begin with a story. It’s attributed to Fred Craddock, a distinguished American preacher in a denomination called the Disciples of Christ. The Disciples of Christ are one of the churches that sponsored my ministry in Hong Kong. So, when I’ve been in the US for speaking engagements, I sometimes got lucky and was at the same meeting as Fred Craddock. And I can tell you, he is a great preacher and master storyteller.
Craddock says once he was on a tour of the Holy Land with a group of seminary professors. One of their stops was the traditional site of the Upper Room in Jerusalem. There was another tour group ahead of them so they had to wait their turn. This other group was led by a pastor. With deep emotion, he told his flock: “This is the very room where Jesus shared the last supper with his disciples, where he appeared to them after his resurrection, where he urged doubting Thomas to touch his hands and side, where the Spirit came upon them at Pentecost.” The group responded emotionally praying and weeping and shouting to the Lord. They finished their time reverently taking Holy Communion together. Then Craddock’s group entered. Their guide said, “Actually this room where we’re standing did not exist at the time of Christ. It’s Byzantine in architecture and it’s less than a thousand years old.” The professors nodded their heads as the guide went on with fact after fact. The talk may have been accurate, Craddock thought, but not a particularly inspiring history of such a venerated site. As the tour guide droned on and on, a woman in Craddock’s group leaned over and whispered: “I wish I were in that other group!”
Does this story resonate with you? Do you see yourself here anywhere? Maybe you put yourself firmly with the group of professors from historic churches. We do things decently and in order. Or maybe you’re in the more pentecostal group praising God to the heights: “Do it again, Lord!” Or maybe, at some point, you’ve been someone who wished you were in the other group.
You come from many lands and cultures at Christ Temple Congregation. Your spiritual experiences and church backgrounds are also diverse. So, I’m pretty sure among you here that you’ve been brought up with various interpretations of Acts 2 and the Day of Pentecost. Speaking for myself, I grew up in a conservative Baptist Church. We were taught certain things about the Holy Spirit. Then I got to know some Baptists who were part of the charismatic movement. And they taught me some other things about the Holy Spirit. And what did I learn from all this? I learned I needed to have an open mind and open hands to receive everything God wants to give us – in my own life and church as well as through other people’s lives and churches.
And why is that so? Because the presence of the Holy Spirit can be manifested in different ways in different people for different purposes. I have an ex-patriate missionary friend who told me in her early days, she was in a prayer group in Hong Kong with other ex-pats. She started to pray in Cantonese. The others thought she was praying in tongues like in the book of Acts. She said, no, I’m praying in Chinese (which she had studied). She’s never prayed in tongues in her life. I can tell you, though, she’s one of the most Spirit-filled people I know and a very fine missionary. Then I told her I have prayed in tongues, mostly in private devotion. But regretfully it wasn’t Cantonese, as much as I might have wished it. I joke if you ever hear Judy praying in a language anyone recognizes as Chinese, you’ll know signs and wonders have not ceased. Nonetheless, my friend considers me a Spirit-filled Christian who also contributes to the Kingdom of God.
It’s tragic that the whole issue of the Holy Spirit has so often divided Christians of goodwill. God sent the Holy Spirit to unite us, not divide us. It’s not a competition – who’s got the Spirit and who hasn’t. I’m helped here by Pentecostal theologians like Gordon Fee. He’s convinced that whoever confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior has already received His Spirit. No exceptions. No one, he says, no one comes to faith in Christ without the power of the Spirit in their lives. Faith is just not humanly possible without divine intervention. So, the most important question to ask is not whether we’ve got the Spirit – if you’re a Christian, that’s settled. The most important question is How does the Spirit change our lives? How does the Spirit change my life, your life, the life of the Church and the life of the world?
If we look at today’s traditional reading for Pentecost Sunday from Acts, we can find some answers. Are you ready?
Where do we start? There’s so much going on in this passage in Acts 2 that I could drone on and on like that tour guide at the beginning of the sermon. I could tell you fact after fact about Pentecost, and it might all be accurate but not particularly inspiring. So instead let’s cut to the chase: Let’s ask how did the Spirit change lives in the book of Acts? How did the Holy Spirit change the disciples? The people who listened to them? The Church that came into being? The world that God so loved?
When we look at Acts 2 with those questions in mind, we find some amazing results. Let’s talk about two of them today.
The first amazing result of Pentecost is the transformation of those 120 disciples in the Upper Room. You might be thinking, hey, the disciples already believed in Jesus – why does the Spirit need to come down upon them again? New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall explains that we need not limit being filled with the Spirit as a one-off experience. In Western thinking, if something is filled, it’s full. But we can be full of many things – like joy or love – and it doesn’t mean we can’t have more joy or love, does it? So too the Spirit – God continues to pour out the Spirit again and again in our time of need. And the disciples were certainly in need if they were going to accomplish the mission Jesus gave them. And what was that mission?
As we read it in Acts 1, verse 8: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Not for the faint of heart.
The pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost then was God’s equipping the disciples to be witnesses – bold and effective witnesses. And for sure they were going to have to be bold to be effective because they were starting in Jerusalem among their own people. So, what did the Spirit do but give them exactly the kind of testimony they needed. Remember the first disciples weren’t highly educated urbanites with an impressive resume. It would take a miracle for these disciples to convince that crowd. But through the Holy Spirit, that’s exactly what happened – a miracle – a miracle that allowed them to witness to Jesus Christ in every foreign tongue of their skeptical listeners. And that of course opened the door for Peter to address the astonished crowd and preach the first sermon in his life. The result? Over 3000 people that day repented, turned to Christ and were baptized.
So, the first amazing result of Pentecost? Bold and effective witness for God.
Does this look anything like your life? Have you ever been called a bold and effective witness for God? If yes, praise the Lord! But if you’re thinking, well, not exactly, don’t lose hope. Because Acts 2 is really not so much about the Holy Spirit coming down on individuals. It’s about the Spirit of God coming down on a whole community, empowering them for mission. We were never expected to go it alone.
The birth of the Church then is the second amazing result of Pentecost. It’s the answer to our prayers, whether we know it or not. And what’s so amazing is how this little Jewish start-up succeeded in taking the Gospel to the Gentiles as well as to the ends of the earth. Think about it. The early Church didn’t have lots of money. They weren’t seminary trained. They didn’t have the support of a big organization. All they had was the Holy Spirit and a mission. And that was enough. Enough to fulfill the words of the prophet Joel quoted by Peter.
‘In the last days…God declares…I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
Did you get that? I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh and they will prophesy – male and female, young and old, slave and free…we’re all included, from the greatest to the least. We’re all included, not only to receive the blessings of God but to be the blessings from God to a hurting world. And how does that happen? By telling the truth. That’s what prophecy means in the Bible. Not predicting the future like an astrologer or fortune teller. When God’s people prophesy, they tell the truth about the sin and evil of this world. When God’s people prophesy, they tell the truth about how God is at work right now in this world. When God’s people prophesy, they tell the truth about what this world would look like if God were in charge instead of man. That’s what the Church was born for – to tell the truth – God’s truth – and to live by it every day.
Of course, being bold, effective witnesses in a truth-telling community isn’t always going to be easy. In fact, much of the time it’s pretty hard. That’s what the first disciples and the early Church discovered wherever the Spirit led them. And you know what they did when things got tough? They prayed. That’s right. Every time we read in the Bible about the Spirit coming down, God’s people were praying. So, let’s close today with prayer – a beautiful hymn to the Holy Spirit written by Gina Tuck. Please pray with me:
One with the Father and Son
Declare to us things to come
Pray for us when we can’t speak
Strengthen us when we are weak
Come upon us when we pray
Grant us your words to say
With us, in us
Power to rest in your grace
With us, in us
Power to finish this race
Spirit of Him who rose from the dead
Live in me
Spirit of Truth who pierces my heart
Breathe in me
[She] who hovered over the birth of the waters
Bring forth the birth of my soul
Remind me that He who set me free
Will make me whole
 Gina Tuck, “Hymn to the Holy Spirit,” 2011, https://cardiphonia.bandcamp.com/track/hymn-to-the-holy-spirit