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Experiencing God
based on Acts 2:1-21
by Sue in Cuba, KS

In the late 1960ís and early 1970ís the Charismatic movement swept the United States. A great deal of time and attention was paid to how we define the church. The church is not the building at the corner of First and Main or the time set for services.

The church is the people who are called by God into fellowship. Ekklesia, a Greek word that means those called out of. Called out of the world into a fellowship with God and one another. We are a church which is faithful people who gather weekly to worship and to serve God.

The people gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost were biblically literate, faithful folk who had come to the most holy city in search of an experience with God. Some place names and nationalities may not be familiar to us, who are the Medes? Others like Arabs jump out at us, Arabs? The list is even stranger when we consider that all these people were Jews and converts to Judaism. Jewish Arabs? This sounds like a contradiction in terms. These people listed are the Jews of the Diapora, the dispersion of God's chosen people through out the known world. God prepared a seed bed of God's word in the known world by sending His people into all the cities.

We don't think of Jews as being evangelical people recruiting folks into the family of God. They were evangelical in the two centuries before Jesus came. Righteous Gentiles came to the synagogues seeking truth and light. Some converted to Judaism which is not easy to do. Even today it is not easy to become a Jew. Others Gentiles known as the God Fearers came to hear the scriptures read and proclaimed each Sabbath. That these God Fearers responded to God's word with faith and trust should not surprise us for the prophet Isaiah tells us, "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it." The good seed of God's word has been sown through out the ancient world. Now others will see the harvest.

In our text, this day in Jerusalem is different than other days. This day a great tumult, the sounds of a party descend over the neighborhood. People rush out to see what was happening. They hear in their own languages the Good News proclaimed by simple, Galilean fishermen. Some scoff at the enthusiasm seeing public drunkeness to the reality of God's presence. Others listen to Peter as he explains what is happening with a prophecy from Joel. "God says, 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 in those days, and they will prophesy."

People stay to listen to Peter, not because of his eloquence, people stay to listen to Peter because he is relating an authentic experience with God. The very thing that people came to Jerusalem to find. Peter explains who Jesus of Nazareth was, how he was crucified and rose again. Luke tells us that when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him."

Three thousand responded. Three thousand were baptized and the church was launched. Even Billy Graham would have been impressed. So today on the One thousand, nine hundred, sixty fifth birthday of the church what does this mean for us? People still seek authentic experiences with God and are attracted to people who have an authentic relationship with God.

When I was 16 my friend Margy's mother died at St. Joe's Hospital. The nun's helped Margy through that difficult time. Margy soon became a Catholic herself. Her enthusiasm was so contagious that several of us also wished to convert. We were attracted by Margy's new faith.

There are six spiritual needs that all humans require to grow and to mature:

  • 1. We all need to know that our life is meaningful and has a purpose
  • 2. Sense of community and deeper relationships both with God and other humans.
  • 3. All people want to be appreciated and respected.
  • 4. People need some caring person to listen and to hear what they say.
  • 5. Everyone needs faith and to grow in faith.
  • 6. People need practical help in developing a mature faith.

This is the task of the church to provide the community of faith where this spiritual growth can happen. The church's task is to provide worship opportunities, prayer, fellowship, Bible study and stewardship. We can do anything we ought to do! We teach what we know, we reproduce what we are. We can't give away what we don't have.

Early the morning of that first Pentecost, the Arch Angel Michael stood beside the Risen Jesus in the heavenly court. They watched the folks gathered in the upper room, all 120 of them at prayer. "Lord, what's plan B?" "There is no plan B, Michael." "Look at those people, they are afraid, they cower at the sound of foot steps outside their door. They are afraid to speak, they afraid they will be arrested and killed even as you were. They don't have the stuff to carry out the mission you have for them." "I know. We are sending our Holy Spirit to empower them. Watch, Michael and learn. Human's are much tougher and better than even they know." The door flew open, the wind of the Spirit blew through the room and tongues of fire appeared over every head, everyone received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The timid people knelt to pray, bold saints rose up to carry the Good News to others.

In the days after Jesus death and resurrection they practiced the habits that help us grow in faith. They began the foundations of the modern church built on the model of the synagogue. They worshiped God, true worship begins with an understanding of who God is and that God loves us already. They prayed, seeking God. Prayer is a skill that can be learned, prayer is a discipline that must be practiced. Prayer is effective, in a California study hospital patients who were prayed for, got better, quicker, and had fewer complications than other patients who were not prayed for.

The interesting thing is that the patients did not know that they were being prayed for. Is Prayer real? Are radio signals real? Radio signals are all around us but until we have a radio turned on and tuned in we can't hear. We have to tune into God like we tune a radio. People who had authoritarian parents are most resistant to God. EGO gets in the way. Prayer requires time, and listening. EGO Edges God Out--like the two year old who says I can do it my self! Prayer requires that we seek another. There is no effective or authentic Christian without prayer.

The Pentecost people gathered daily for comfort and consolation. They practiced fellowship. Fellowship is the most dependable way to raise self-esteem in people. When people are accepted and loved where they are, then they are more able to change where change is needed. Fellowship in the church should demonstrate grace and acceptance.

James grew up in a Pentecostal Holiness church where his grandmother was the preacher. Life hasn't been easy for James or his mother. He has multiple handicaps and is confined to a wheel chair. His thinking processes are not quite as fast as others, he has little control over his body which sometimes twitches. After James' grandmother retired as pastor of her church, James' mother was asked not to bring James to church anymore because he was a distraction. Sometime later, Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Louisville sponsored a monthly luncheon for people in James and his mother's situation. At the church James asked about the elevator, he was told the elevator was there so people in wheel chairs could get up to the sanctuary to attend worship. Someone wanted him? The next Sunday James' mother pushed him in his chair the many blocks to Central because there was no bus service. The people at Central heard his story and arranged for someone to drive them home and to pick them up on Sundays. James is now a member of Central Presbyterian Church because people cared and believed that all children of God.

Fellowship is about acceptance and grace. The church needs to be studying the Bible. Bible is the primary text, the authoritative cornerstone of the church. The Pentecost people spent time searching the Old Testament Scriptures, telling their stories again to one another, arguing, sifting through the information they had. In time others would write their stories down and the New Testament Scriptures came to be as a guide for us. The last habit of a faithful congregation is stewardship. We see stewardship arising after Pentecost as the church grew and the need for administration developed. Stewardship keeps idolatry of money from stopping spiritual growth. Spiritual dimension is more than intellectual, emotional or behavior. Spiritual dimension is more than what we think, feel and do. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The Holy Spirit turns ornery, cantankerous humans into humane people. Some places on Sundays a Society of Sacred Song and Sermon meets. If the church is to be the church then is the task of the church is to provide the community of faith where this spiritual growth can happen. The church's task is to provide worship opportunities, prayer, fellowship, Bible study and stewardship. We can do anything we ought to do! We teach what we know, we reproduce what we are. We can't give away what we don't have. Michael learned there was no need for a plan B. Jesus did not desert us to return to heaven. Instead, God, who was with us as Jesus, is now with us as Holy Spirit.

So, on Pentecost we celebrate two ways to know God: We know God by reading and thinking about Jesus, and we experience God's powerful sprit working deep within us. If the message of Christmas is "God is with us!" The message of Pentecost is "God is still with us--and always will be be!" Hallelujah, Amen.

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Sources referred to in this sermon:
-Herb Miller, "Connecting with God"
-George Gallup, "Six Needs"
-Dean Ormish on prayer in California hospital.