Church on Fire
How do we understand Pentecost in the life of the church? Is it something that just happened ages ago in place far away? Was it the birth of the church, the start of something new? Or is it something more? Something that can light a fire in us, even today, and set us forth into the world?
Church on Fire
Southern Heights Presbyterian Church
Rev. Leanne Masters
Pentecost Sunday - June 8, 2014
In many ways, this is just another Sunday. We have come together to pray, to sing, and to reflect upon scripture, just as we do each and every other Sunday. And yet, there is something different about today. Our sanctuary, fellowship hall, and hallway are decked out to the nines, celebrating the adventure that the children of this community have been on this past week. There has been singing and dancing in the aisles and, if I’m not mistaken, even in the pews as some of us really got into what was going on just a few minutes ago.
It is on a day like this when we can really feel the Spirit moving amongst us...as we look around us, we can see it in the motion and the movement around us. And we can hear it in the excited chattering of voices, the giggling of small children, and the passion in the songs that are sung.
And so, although it was a mere coincidence of timing...Easter came late this year, and so we are celebrating Pentecost late in the spring, the same day that we just happened to be wrapping up Vacation Bible School...I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the Festival of Pentecost than by having this celebration this morning.
The First Pentecost in the church was much the same. It started out as just any other day of worship and prayer.
Following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven, the disciples returned to the upstairs room in Jerusalem where they had been staying. It was there that they, men and women alike, engaged in prayer and in worship and in the beginning of the work that they had been called to as a people. It was in that room that they held a congregational meeting for the election of officers...I mean, that they decided upon the disciple who would replace Judas as an apostle in the ministry that they were commissioned by Jesus to. And it was in that room that they gathered to celebrate the Festival of Weeks, a special festival in the life of the Jewish people, where the people gave thanks to God for the harvest by the bringing of the first fruits from the field, and remembered and celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses at Mount Sinai.
They were prepared to worship God on that day, in the manner and in the fashion that they were accustomed to for such a solemn and special celebration...and yet there was something different about that day.
Suddenly, there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, whipping throughout the room, filling it and filling them. Divided tongues, appearing as licks of fire, rested on each of them.
They could feel the Spirit of God moving among them. They could see it, reflected in the vision of flames resting on their heads. And they could hear it, through the noise of the wind, and through the sudden ability to speak in languages that they did not know, languages that enabled the thousands gathered in the city to be able to understand what it was that they had to say about Jesus.
It had to have been amazing. It had to have been wonderful. It had to have been so exciting and enlivening to be so surrounded by the Spirit of God...it had to have been, because they were so filled with joy in the Spirit, and acting and dancing and singing and shouting out that joy, that the only explanation for their behavior that others could come up with was that they just had to have been drunk.
But they weren’t.
They were just so moved by the power of the Spirit of God that they could no longer sit in the upstairs room, quietly and solemnly devoted to prayer and to worship, but instead were pushed by some force that they could not explain out into the streets, out into the world, to share and to proclaim what it was that they were experiencing with others.
You know, much of the time in the life of the church, we refer to the Day of Pentecost as the Birthday of the Church...the day that the church was born into the world. We have sung Happy Birthday to the church, we have celebrated with cake and ice cream, and in some churches, there will even be party hats and those funny rolled up paper noise makers to blow, like you would see at a children’s birthday party.
In some ways, that’s a very apt description...but in others, it’s a bit misleading.
Because, as we have evidence in scripture, the Church was in existence before the Day of Pentecost. They were coming together in worship and in praise. They were coming together to talk about Jesus and what they had learned from him. They were coming together to plot and plan the work of the ministry of Jesus Christ that they had been commissioned by Christ to continue in this world. That sounds very much like church, doesn’t it? At least it sounds very much like what we do each and every Sunday and throughout our weeks here as we have meetings and committees and work that we engage in on a weekly basis.
What was different and special about that day was not that anything new was begun...but that it was driven out of the doors of the room where they had been staying...out of the doors and into the world. The members of that very first church were so filled by the Spirit that they couldn’t help but share it, to talk about it, to get out in the world and do what they had been called to do.
In other words, what was different about that day was that the Spirit of God lit a fire under their...seats...and got them up and moving to not just do Church but to be Church in the world.
Hopefully, that is what the Day of Pentecost reminds us of. What experiencing a worship service and fellowship time like the one that we have here today does for us, too.
That, seeing and experiencing the Holy Spirit at work in and amongst us today, we have a fire lit underneath us to get up, get out, and go and do, be, proclaim, exclaim, and share God’s Word, show God’s love, and work to build God’s kingdom in this world.
May it be so.