(Acts 2: 1-21)
About two weeks ago, one of our church members was about to celebrate a birthday. She posted on Facebook that her husband had asked her what she wanted. I’m sure most of the guys out there, and even a few of the ladies, do this same dance once a year so you understand the dynamics. In any event, she went through her birthday wish list and one of them caught my eye. She wrote that one of the things she wanted was to have some trees cut down so she could have “a view of the horizon.” A view of the horizon. What a great topic for a sermon I thought. We all have birthday wishes where we are asked by a loved one what we would like. We usually say we don’t know, or we ask for world peace, a running joke at my house every February. If all else fails, we get an Amazon Gift Card where we can buy something we think we need and have it delivered to our door in a few days, adding it to our collection of stuff. And, a lot of what we have is just stuff, and so often our stuff becomes the objects of our focus. We become shortsighted as we desire more and newer stuff, the latest Whizbang 5000. Wouldn’t it be great if we got rid of some of this stuff, decluttered and downsized, so we could have an unobstructed view of the horizon? To be able to see clearly what lies ahead?
The promised coming of the Holy Spirit would help the new believers see what lay on the horizon. The Spirit would help them declutter, downsize and focus on what really mattered in the kingdom of God. The Jews, through the leadership of their religious leaders, had lost their outward focus. They had gotten legalistic and were obsessed with the ritualistic aspect of worshiping God and not doing His work and His will.
The story in our scripture reading for this morning occurs during Pentecost. Pentecost was formally known as the Feast of Weeks, a celebration of the grain harvest that took place 50 days after Passover. Devout Jews of many nations had gathered in Jerusalem for this festival, so according to Jesus’ plan of sending the Holy Spirit to the Jews, it was a target rich environment.
The Apostle Peter begins by telling us that when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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. The significance of individual flames alighting on each person indicates that God intends to touch each and every believer with the holy fire of the Spirit. And, by doing so, the Spirit enables us to communicate with others so there is no barrier to the message we bring.
We are told that there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem, and at this sound a crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard a disciple speaking in their native language. This amazed and astonished them because they knew these men to be Galileans, and yet, they spoke in a language not their own. Peter goes so far as to tell us that these devout Jews who had gathered for the Feast of Weeks were 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. These disciples were speaking to them about God’s deeds of power in their own languages, all at the same time. Kind of like a flash mob. They were puzzled as to what it meant, and others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” Peter seizes the moment and steps forward to address a bewildered audience. Peter says; 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. He knows he is speaking to a primarily Jewish audience comprised of devout Jewish believers from all over the known world. He immediately reminds them of what the prophet Joel spoke when he said; In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. He reminds them that this spirit will cause their sons and daughters to prophesy, that their young men will see visions, and the old men shall dream dreams. God will even pour out his spirit upon the slaves who will also prophesy, and that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. This was a pretty dramatic way for God to get the attention of believers whose vision of the horizon, their life in eternity, had become clouded by not focusing on what was important in God’s kingdom during their lifetimes. Peter’s speech to an international audience resulted in a worldwide harvest of new believers and they took the new gospel message home thereby bringing the first converts to Christianity. And, because of the diverse group of nationalities gathered in Jerusalem that day we are shown that Christianity, following Jesus Christ, is not limited to any race or group of people. By bringing the spirit to this diverse group of men, women and children, Christ offers salvation to all people without regard to nationality. Language, race and nationality are not barriers, but are bridges to others seeking Christ’s salvation. If you don’t believe me, just pick up a copy of The Upper Room and see where all these Christian contributors are from.
In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth, (1 Corinthians 12: 3-13) he tells us that to each person is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. Some are given wisdom, some knowledge. Others, faith is given, and another the gifts of healing, and to another the working of miracles. To others, prophecy, and to another the discernment of spirits, and to others the gift of communication. Paul says; All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. As Paul is writing this, he knows his readers will be wondering what gifts they have or why someone else has the gift they would like to have. Paul uses the analogy of the body to help put it in perspective and says; For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many; are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. He’s telling us that the body is a collection of many parts, all working together for the common good. And, so it is with the body of Christ. We are all parts of the same body working for the common good. In order to accomplish this common good, the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Spirit bestows upon us certain gifts to help get the job done. And, no job is too small or unimportant to God in his mission to have us make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. God is completely involved in the giving, using, and empowering of gifts. Specific gifts, places of service, and activities vary, but they all have their best effects when they build up the body of Christ, the church. God creates a unique place in the body for every believer. Gifts and ministries may overlap, but each believer has a specialized God-designated role. And, part of the exciting adventure of following Christ involves discovering one’s service contribution and then making it available to God as we work to remove the obstructions blocking the view of the horizon, a life spent in eternity.
God works all kinds of miracles to spread the gospel, using many languages as he calls all kinds of people to become his followers. No matter what your race, color, nationality, or language, God speaks to you. You just have to listen. Language, race or nationality is only a barrier if you erect it to where it blocks your view of the horizon. As members of God’s family, we may have different interests and gifts, but we have a common goal, getting the gospel message to as many as will hear it. So, we have to ask ourselves; what can the Spirit help me remove from my life so that I can have a clearer view of the horizon? What can the Spirit help our church with so that we, as a congregation of believers, can better see our place in our community? And, what can we do to help others remove those things from their lives that prevent them from seeing the better life with Christ that is possible, and just beyond the horizon?
Please pray with me.
Gracious and loving God, how we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit that guides us in our daily lives so that we can live in a way where you can use us, anywhere Lord, anytime. And, through the Spirit, help us to do your work and your will Lord, anywhere and anytime. And, Lord, we’re gonna pray for the Spirit to show us the way in which we can bridge those things that divide us as your people so that we can unite your people, anywhere Lord, anytime. And, we will sing your praises as you clear the things that prevent us from clearly seeing the life you have promised us through your son, Jesus Christ, just beyond the horizon. In Jesus name, we pray, Amen.