You Have Received Power

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language?Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism),11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
18  Even upon my servants, men and women,
     I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
     and they will prophesy….

21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.[a]

Two Sundays ago, we heard Jesus tell his disciples that they would not remain orphans, that he would send another advocate.  This Sunday’s reading in Acts tells us that what Jesus predicted came true.  During the feast of Pentecost, the disciples had a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit, and they went on to do great things.  Today, we’ll explore the great things that may be in store for this church.

Let me read the beginning of the Acts passage again:

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

A loud howling, like that of wind, lights like tongues of fire landing on each of the disciples; a miraculous capacity to be understood by foreigners in their own native language.  Previously cowardly disciples finding their personal and collective power and testifying to God’s marvelous deeds.  SUCH a dramatic story!

There’s a danger in focusing too much on the dramatic and miraculous nature of Pentecost.  The danger is to read it as just a riveting drama or interesting history and fail to see that God’s Spirit is also acting with power today, although in less dramatic ways.

We need to trust that the Congregational Church of Easton is being given power!  We need confidence in ourselves that we can meet the needs of spiritually hungry people in our community. 

I’d like to draw some parallels between the context and events of Pentecost and our situation today., to make it clear that our ministry in our community is no different than the ministry of the early church and that God gives us all the power we need to carry that mission out.

One parallel is a common mission.  A second is the parallel between the different languages spoken by the pilgrims coming to celebrate the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem and the different language spoken in the various subculture of Fairfield County today.  And a third similarity is the spiritual hunger gnawing at Peter’s listeners and the people who need what this church has to offer today.

Let’s start with mission and ministry – what God’s Spirit is calling the early church and today’s church to do.  According to Acts, the pilgrims gathered for the festival heard the disciples…

…in our own languages… speaking about God’s deeds of power.

The apostles were carrying out the “Great Commission.”   In Matthew 28 Jesus gave the commandment to his disciples to make disciples of all nations and teach them all things that Jesus has commanded. 

The infant church responded to that call by describing the mighty works of God to everyone who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the harvest festival.  Today, we too are called to tell others the mighty works God is doing in our lives and in this church and in this community.

What are these deeds of power or mighty works that Acts talks about?  Peter quotes the prophet Joel, in order to explain what the apostles were saying.

In the last days, God says

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

These are the last days, Peter is saying.  By quoting from Joel he announces the arrival of the kingdom or government of God.  The Spirit is poured out on ALL people, not just the disciples.  God’s rule of love that Jesus came to proclaim is here, now.  There’s peace, joy, love, freedom from anxiety.  It’s exciting!

Peter and the disciples tell this thrilling news to an audience that speaks many languages.  Each ethnic group traveling to the festival in Jerusalem formed a tight subculture, speaking its own language.  This brings us to our second parallel between then and now. 

Today our subcultures don’t necessarily speak Italian or Russian, but they do speak in their own languages.  Think about our different age groups: millennials, baby boomers and the World War II generation.  How about baseball fans or motorcycle enthusiasts?  Master gardeners, high school parents, scientists, or dog lovers.

I can’t speak baseball, but I can speak the human resources dialect of business.  Some of you speak “conservative” – both theologically and politically.  Others can speak the language of progressive politics and ways of interpreting the Bible in its context. That’s a huge strength for us as a congregation!

Together as a congregation, members and friends of the Congregational Church of Easton can speak the languages of many of the overlapping

sub-cultures in Fairfield County.  It’s a great strength.  If we are to tell others about what God has done in our lives and the peace, joy, and freedom from anxiety he offers for their lives, we’ll have to trust that God will give us the power to speak about the mighty works of God in those different languages.

We’ll have to trust that God will give us the power to speak in different languages to our unchurched friends and neighbors about their spiritual hunger and ways we have been fed.  People in the first century were clearly hungry for the liberation from shame and the love and acceptance and sense of community the early church provided.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t have joined.  Acts talks about thousands of people joining the infant church.  One estimate is that Christianity grew over 40% per decade in its first two or three hundred years.[1]

The Pew Research Center reports that “Nearly have of the public (49%) say they have had a religious or mystical experience, defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening.”[2]

I’m sure there are people in the Easton area hungry to talk about their religious experiences, and we have lots of linguists in this congregation who can speak many of their dialects.  The Holy Spirit will give us the power and ability to convey God’s teaching in an understandable way.

And here’s another parallel:  In the first century the Holy Spirit was present among the followers of Jesus assembled in that upper room.  The same Holy Spirit is present now among the members and friends of the Congregational Church of Easton assembled right now in this sanctuary.

Look around you at the faces of the people sitting near you.     [Pause].  What do you see?  Tongues of fire?  Probably not.  Love?  Definitely.  The Spirit’s presence may not be as dramatic 2000 years after the first Pentecost.  And, this church has all the marks of the Spirit that Paul lists in his letter to the Ephesians.  He says,

…be filled with the spirit in the following ways:  speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….[5:19-20a]

We sing.  We read from the psalms.  We give thanks to God.  I can’t imagine that our worship is any less Spirit-filled than theirs.  Judge for yourself.  How do you feel at the conclusion of our servicers?  Remember, peace, love, and joy are infallible signs of the presence of God.

As I have said before, there is SO much love in this congregation.  So much support.  Think of what happens when you find out that someone has a serious medical problem or has a relative with one.  Such strong support!  The loving power of God’s spirit is so evident here.  You laugh together, you work and play together.  You take care of each other.

With all the unchurched people reporting religious experiences today, there MUST be spiritual seekers in our area hungry for what you have.  We know there are people who are hungry for community and for spiritual wholeness.

Our work is to trust the power of the Spirit – trust that the Spirit will lead us to those people and that we will be able to speak in languages they can understand.

In conclusion, take in the reality that the Holy Spirit makes you powerful.  Trust it.  Trust the fact that the way you are being Church here is powerful.  You HAVE received power!  Claim the power that you have received!  You have a wonderful story to tell about this church and you have the power to tell it! 

Great things were in store for the early church in its first three centuries.  It grew dramatically and it had huge influence on the culture of the Roman empire.  I believe great things can be in store for the Congregational Church of Easton.  A partnership with the Liv-It-Up Foundation will bring us into contact with spiritually hungry people involved in the programs they conduct across the street.  It will give us a chance to influence the culture of Easton. 

Does that sound outlandish?  Trust the Spirit’s power that you have received.

Let us pray. 

Holy, healing fire – We know we are called to carry your good news to people who are hungry for joy, peace, and freedom from anxiety.  We’re shy about doing that.  We don’t feel equipped.  Help us be alert to situations where it is possible to take a conversation a notch deeper.  Help us find ways to give a friend or neighbor to express some of what she is hungry for.  Give us the courage to share how this church enriches our lives and increases our awareness of your presence.  Amen.