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The Day of Pentecost (Whitsunday)
May 27, 2012
The First Lesson: Acts 2: 1-21
Sermon: "The Holy Gust"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
The First Lesson:
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-- in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
`In the last days it will be, God declares,
that 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.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' "
Acts 2: 1-21
The Holy Gust
Acts 2: 1-11
A family driving a large motor home pulled up in front of a church one day. The rector had just started toward home, but desiring to be friendly, he approached the family and introduced himself. He expressed his admiration for the huge, gleaming motor home. The father of the family responded proudly, “This camper sleeps eight people.” Then, seeking to change the subject somewhat, the man asked: “What is the capacity of you church, Pastor?” The rector replied rather glumly, “Oh, it sleeps about eighty.”
There may indeed be churches with a large capacity for sleepers, but that was certainly not the case the day the Holy Gust invaded the church on that first Pentecost. That’s right. I did say the Holy Gust. The words gust and ghost are derived from the same ancient root word. That root pointed to the sudden movement of wind that sends earth behind a plow into a whirligig, lifts the hat, and blows the leaves around. We miss much of the significance of Pentecost if we concentrate on the gentle Holy Spirit and overlook the Gust that swings us round to look on God and redirect our ways.
On the morning of the day of Pentecost, the place where Jesus’ followers were sitting together was suddenly filled with what seemed like a great gust of wind from Heaven. And everyone there was filled with power. God had sent the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had promised, to empower their lives. God sends the Spirit, the Gust to empower our lives even today. Looking to our lesson from the Acts of the Apostle’s this morning, we can see what it takes to be empowered by the Holy Gust today.
First , we are to open ourselves to the Spirit. Opening ourselves to the Spirit, opens us to God’s power to change us. Look at Peter! He spoke boldly on that first Pentecost day. Realize that this was the same Peter who had denied even knowing Jesus only a few short weeks before. This was the same Peter who was hiding behind locked doors after Jesus’ death, afraid for his very life. Suddenly, Peter was a new man. One of Simon Peter’s friends could well have come up to him after that first sermon, slapped him on the back and said, “I didn’t know you had it in you.” Prior to that moment, he wouldn’t have had it in him. Peter was a new person. He had gone from impulsive fisherman to fearless evangelist. He had been changed by the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit has that same power today to work in our lives, transforming fear into courage, despair into trust, restlessness into focused energy, and timidity into action. Opening ourselves to the Spirit will also bring our lives guidance. Part of the Spirit’s purpose is to guide us.
Whether it shows or not, every preacher depends on the Holy Spirit in the pulpit. I say ‘whether it shows or not’ because the Spirit is working with a very imperfect instrument in speaking through a preacher. I am reminded of the little girl who was watching her pastor father preparing a Sunday sermon.
“Daddy,” she asked, “does God tell you what to say?”
“Well, yes in a way, he does dear,” he replied. “Why do you ask?”
“I was just wondering,” she said, “why you cross so much of it out.”
I depend upon the Spirit when I am preparing and delivering a message. But the Holy Spirit is also working within you as you listen. That is, so that, even if I should stumble and falter, you can still receive a blessing; not because you have heard my voice, but because you have heard that still, small voice of God within. But this guidance isn’t just true of preachers. It’s for all of us whatever we do: teachers in lesson planning, lawyers in case preparation, doctors in medical practice, public service workers in their planning and delivery of those services, laborers in their labor; the Spirit working through each of us, and within those we work with and for, if we are open to being guided by the Spirit.
And the Spirit’s work isn’t just for you and me as individuals. Being open to the Spirit is also transformative for us as a church. The Spirit is the source of our strength. Remember when Jesus told Simon Peter that he was the rock on which Jesus would build his church? Jesus said that even the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. For years I viewed the church as a kind of fortress with the world and the powers of evil beating against its gates. I can remember sermons growing up with their exhortations to stand fast against the world’s assaults and to watch and defend the walls of the faith that encouraged this imagery. For that matter, you can still hear such imagery in many broadcast sermons today. But what a twisted image that is. That’s not at all what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying that evil is the fortress, and the Church is the one with the battering ram. The gates of the hells of poverty, of intolerance, of hate and cruelty and warmongering madness-Hell- cannot stand up to the concerted assault of a Spirit-open church. That is our calling; not to be safe and defensive, but to boldly go into the world and transform all the fortified pockets of hell with the love, the acceptance, the outreaching care of God, empowered by the Spirit.
To be empowered for change and guidance we are to open ourselves to the Holy Gust. And we are to open ourselves to each other. Look at the first Pentecost. The church was empowered as they were all together in one place. That was their custom. They ate together, they prayed together, they sang together, they had all things in common. They built each other up in the faith. That’s how we were designed to regenerate as a community of faith. We are to build each other up, and encourage each other.
A Neuropsychologist did a study, not long ago, on the energy levels in children. His findings are fascinating. He found that when children are given a word of praise, no matter how tired they may be at the time, an immediate upsurge in new energy will register in their brains. However, when even well rested children are criticized or discouraged, their energy levels will nose-dive. My guess is that those results are replicated in adults. When we are praised, our energy levels go up. When we are criticized our energy levels go down. One of the most important ministries you and I can engage in is to become an encourager; wherever you are, in whatever field you may labor, but most especially in the Church. Opening ourselves to each other lets us be empowered by the Spirit to praise each other, encourage each other, and pray for and with each other.
Years ago, a Harvard University professor sought out Phillips Brooks, perhaps the most beloved clergyman in Boston’s history, and a good Episcopalian. The professor had a serious problem and needed help. He spent an hour with Phillips Brooks and came out a changed man. Later it dawned on him that he had forgotten to ask Brooks about his problem. He wrote later on, “I did not care; I had found out that what I needed was not the solution to a special problem, but the contagion of a triumphant spirit.”
I like that phrase, “the contagion of a triumphant spirit.” A triumphant spirit is contagious. That was the spirit with which Simon Peter stood up to address that large throng on the day of Pentecost. Three thousand souls were added to the church that day. And daily more souls were added by the contagious spirit of the faith community that was the church. We have a good deal of that very same contagious spirit here at St. Thomas. It’s one of the first things that new visitors notice when they come here. The contagion of The Spirit is here. Let us open ourselves even more to it, and to each other, and to our community at large. There is no limit to what we can accomplish when we are fully empowered by God and encountered by each other. That is the promise of Pentecost. That is the power of the Holy Gust.