You Have Received Power

Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by 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 men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’[c]

You Have Received Power
Congregational Church of Easton 5-19-24
Happy birthday to the church and to all you powerful churchgoers!
The first chapter of acts says, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you….” This Sunday’s reading 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.
Listen again to what the disciples experienced:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
A loud howling, like that of the wind; lights like tongues of fire landing on each of them; 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 of 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 to fail to see that God’s spirit is acting with power today, although in less dramatic ways.
It’s crucial that we trust that the Congregational Church of Easton is being given power! We need that that confidence in ourselves in order to meet the needs of spiritually hungry people in our communities.
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 that of the early church, and that God gives us all the power we need to carry that mission out.
One parallel, as I said, is a common mission. A second is a parallel between all the different languages spoken among residents of Jerusalem and the various subcultures of Fairfield County today. A third parallel is oppression; Both Israel and our society were and are dominated by forces making people feel oppressed. And a fourth 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. We hear it in Acts chapter one, verse 8 when Jesus predicts what will happen at Pentecost. He said, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and to the end of the earth.”
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 of Pentecost. Today, we too are called to tell others about the mighty works God is doing in our lives and in this church.
What are these mighty works of God that Acts talks about? Peter quotes the prophet Joel, in order to explain what the disciples were saying:
In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Peter is saying these are the promised last days. 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 is peace, joy, love, and freedom from anxiety. It’s exciting!
Peter and the disciples tell this thrilling news to an audience that speaks many languages. Each ethnic group undoubtedly formed a tight subculture speaking its own language — which brings us to the second parallel between then and now.
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 theirs, we’ll have to trust that God will give us the power to speak in different languages.
Today our subcultures may not speak Bulgarian or Swahili, but they do speak in their own languages. Think of our different age groups: millennials, baby boomers and the World War II generation, for example. Lots of times they can’t understand each other. How about baseball fans or motorcycle enthusiasts? Master Gardeners, high school parents, scientists or dog lovers? Democrats, Republicans?
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 metaphorically. That’s a huge strength!
Together as a congregation, members and friends of the Congregational Church of Easton can speak the languages of a large number of the overlapping subcultures in Fairfield County.
It’s a strength we can use to talk to our unchurched friends and neighbors about where we see people acting as though God is in charge. And, they need to hear about God’s Kingdom, because like the folks in Jesus and Peter’s day, most of our neighbors feel oppressed. That’s the third parallel.
Acts, as you know, was written during a hugely oppressive rule by the Romans and their puppets. There were huge gaps between the rich and the poor, not unlike today. Our politicians have different theories about who or what is causing the shrinking of the middle class, but they are largely in agreement that large groups of people are feeling oppressed.
People are anxious. They’re worried about their standard of living declining or stagnating. There are especially worried for their children and grandchildren.
God’s Kingdom isn’t political or economic. Jesus kept disappointing his followers about that. And, he does proclaim good news about liberation and freedom from anxiety.
People are hungry for that. This is the fourth similarity: people are hungry for spiritual sustenance today, just like they were in the first century. In the chapters that follow today’s reading Luke talks about thousands of people joining the infant church. I read one estimate that Christianity grew at over 40% per year in its first two or 300 years.
People were clearly hungry for the sense of community, liberation from shame, and the love and acceptance the early church provided. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have joined.
We know there is enormous spiritual hunger today. The Pew Research Center reports that “…nearly half of the public (49%) say they have had a religious or mystical experience, defined as a moment of sudden religious insight or awakening….”
Certainly, there must be people in our area hungry to talk about their religious experiences. And, as I said, we have lots of linguists in this congregation who can speak many of their dialects. The Holy Spirit gives us the power and the ability to convey God’s teaching in an understandable way.
Here’s a final parallel: The Holy Spirit was present then among the followers of Jesus assembled in Jerusalem at the feast of Pentecost. The 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 folks sitting near you. [Pause] What do you see? Tongues of fire? Maybe not. Love? Definitely. The Spirit’s presence may not be as dramatic 2000 years after the first Pentecost. Yet 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; make music from your heart to the Lord; always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…. [5:19-20].
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 services? 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 diagnosis. Such strong support! The loving power of God’s Spirit is so evident here. You enjoy good food together, you laugh together, you work together, you 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 feel oppressed and 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 them and that we will be able to speak in languages they can understand.
So take in the reality that the Holy Spirit makes you powerful. Trust it. Trust the fact that the way you are being church here in Easton 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. Amen