This is the message I preached on Sunday, May 20, at Hanks Chapel United Church of Christ in Pittsboro, NC. I hope it blesses you! If you find yourself in or near Pittsboro, please join us! Hanks Chapel has Sunday school at 9 AM, with worship beginning at 10 AM, and is located at 190 Hanks Chapel Loop, Pittsboro, NC.
If you are able to join us on May 27th, that is our Homecoming service — and we will begin with bluegrass Gospel at 10 AM, with our service to follow, and a nice meal. No Sunday school on May 27th.
Acts 2:1-4, 14-21
When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
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.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
and the moon will be changed into blood,
before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Paul’s thanks for gifts
10 I was very glad in the Lord because now at last you have shown concern for me again. (Of course you were always concerned but had no way to show it.) 11 I’m not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. 12 I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. 13 I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.14 Still, you have done well to share my distress.
15 You Philippians know from the time of my first mission work in Macedonia how no church shared in supporting my ministry except you. 16 You sent contributions repeatedly to take care of my needs even while I was in Thessalonica. 17 I’m not hoping for a gift, but I am hoping for a profit that accumulates in your account.18 I now have plenty and it is more than enough. I am full to overflowing because I received the gifts that you sent from Epaphroditus. Those gifts give off a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice that pleases God. 19 My God will meet your every need out of his riches in the glory that is found in Christ Jesus. 20 Let glory be given to God our Father forever and always. Amen.
21 Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters with me send you their greeting. 22 All God’s people here, especially those in Caesar’s household, send you their greeting. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirits.
May the still-speaking God open the eyes of hearts and ears of our minds that we might see and know what words God has for us in these words of Holy Scripture, in Christ’s name, Amen.
What an amazing story we read in Acts — of the giving of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church.
Though none of us have had the exact experience of God the Holy Spirit these first Christians did when the Spirit came down on that first Pentecost Sunday, the Bible promises us that, if we have trusted and committed to follow Christ, we already have this Spirit dwelling in us and empowering us, if we will only listen to and work together with this Spirit. On Ascension Day, Jesus promised that as John the Baptizer baptized with water, so after He ascended to fill all creation with His presence, Christ would baptize all who came to Him with His Spirit. This is why Romans 8 tells us “So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death… you are in the Spirit… If anyone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, they don’t belong to him. … If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness… [and] the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead .. will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.”
Take a moment and think about what that means. God the Holy Spirit dwells in you. Genesis 1 tells us that, at creation, it was God the Holy Spirit moving over the lifeless world like a mother bird brooding over a nest of eggs that brought the breath of life into all things. Psalm 104 tells us that even now whenever God the Holy Spirit moves over what has become dead and broken in our lives and world, the Spirit restores it to life, making the world green and vibrant again. In the book of Judges, the same Spirit of God who dwells in you now filled women and men of faith like Deborah and Gideon. When God the Holy Spirit filled them, they were given strength and courage, wisdom and insight beyond their years, setting them free to perform miracles and do what they never could have dreamed defending the defenseless, fighting for the oppressed, overturning every injustice. In the books of the prophets in the Bible like Isaiah and Jeremiah, it was this same Spirit of God who has come to dwell in you that filled the hearts and minds of the otherwise ordinary people God called to speak as prophets. When the Spirit filled them, they discovered God’s will, God’s dreams for their community and world, understanding what God was saying about the struggles and questions they face. That same Spirit inspired those who heard these prophets to keep those words in their hearts and eventually to write them down so that, now, centuries later, their words remain for us today in our Bibles. Through its pages Spirit is still speaking. Whenever we open the Bible’s pages, whether in the prophets, the psalms, the proverbs, the Gospels, or anywhere else, and find its pages speaking to us, there, too, the Spirit is speaking. It is this same Spirit of God who came upon Mary in the books of Matthew and Luke, enabling Jesus to be born to her, as Savior of the world, even though Mary cannot point to an earthly father for him. This same Spirit came upon Jesus in his baptism, giving him the wisdom to teach the Gospel, the power to heal the sick, to raise the dead, multiply bread and fish to feed the multitude, and most of all giving him courage to welcome the outcast and forgotten, while speaking the truth unflinchingly to those comfortable and complacent folks sitting in power and wealth they hold onto by crushing the poor, the last, the lost, and the least. It is this same Spirit who gives Jesus the power to face temptation in the desert head on for 40 days, and every time after when it raises its head in his life and ministry, and say no to it each time. After Jesus is crucified, Scripture tells us that it it this same Spirit who moves over the lifeless broken body of Jesus, both raising him from the dead and glorifying him so his presence can fill all things at his ascension. This Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, reminds us that this same Spirit of God who moves and acts in such amazing ways throughout the Scripture and in our history is still speaking and moving in each of us.
God the Holy Spirit, who can bring life and healing in the midst of death and disease, who grants wisdom and direction when our ways are uncertain, who grants strength to speak truth in the midst of confusion, to tear down barriers of injustice and welcome all people in, to multiply resources so all can have enough, to change the world one moment, one life, one community at a time — This same Spirit is within you, within me, within each of us. The question if we have opened our lives to God is not “does the Spirit dwell within me?” but will you learn to listen and look for the Spirit, and work together with the Spirit as the Spirit leads?
Sometimes it is hard for us to see this, hard for us to believe this same Spirit who came down on the first Pentecost, this same Holy one who did such amazing things throughout history, is still with us, even is within us. Yet God the Spirit is — and through the Holy Spirit, God is still speaking and moving, acting and doing, within us and through us!
One reason it may be hard to believe you and I have this same Spirit within us is because we look for the Spirit to show up today in flashy moments like the first Pentecost: when the Spirit appeared like fire dancing upon our heads and people supernaturally were gifted to speak new languages, dream dreams, or see visions.
Most, though not all, people of faith I know have had their moments like the first Pentecost — though not the exact miracles seen then, definitely moments where they can sense, feel, and know God’s presence is near at hand. Where they could know without a doubt God was walking with them, guiding them, leading them. Where they saw prayers answered or doors opened and shut for them or others in ways that they knew were miraculous. I bet if I asked each of you stand and share, most of you could share at least one moment you have had in your life just like that.
But most of our lives are not lived there, on the mountaintop of miracles. Most of our life we feel less certain and a bit more humdrum than in those moments. Most of our life we simply do the best we can, searching for God’s will and striving to do it, with very little certainty about what it is. Most of our life is us doing our job, being a neighbor, serving friends and family, raising our children and grandchildren, caring for aging relatives, leaning into the aging process ourselves. Alot of our life is tears, sweat, exhaustion — punctuated by moments of joy. Our life, too, can include some raising of our voices against injustice — which is truly important work that is often done while we uncertain if anything will change even with our great efforts. Our life can consist of us lending our hand to make our community better, to care for the hurting, while not always knowing what difference our little bit of effort will make.
And even those Pentecost moments we have — when we can see and feel God’s Spirit near to us, knowing God is present with such certainty — are rarely as dramatic as the description we have of this first Pentecost in our Bible.
Which is why Paul’s words at the end of Philippians are so important to remember on this Pentecost Sunday. Everything Paul talks about going on through the church of Philippi in this chapter is so much less flashy then what we see in our reading about the original Pentecost in Acts. But what the members of the church of Philippi are doing is just as much the work of the Spirit as anything that happened at the first Pentecost. Paul views each of these everyday, ordinary works of care, kindness, service, and faithfulness done in Philippi as just as important as his work as an apostle in furthering Christ’s Gospel and making God’s kingdom — heaven breaking out in our every day world — present.
Paul begins talking about the Spirit’s work in him, pointing toward what the Spirit can do within Phillipi and us, if we will be open. Paul tells us that through God’s Spirit, he has learned the gift of being content in any circumstance. He knows how to go without, and yet still see God’s presence, still know God will provide, still give thanks for the little blessings, and learn lessons from the hardships, not just through good times or times when the bad situation changes for the better but even when he must bear up under trials like his own imprisonment. Paul has learned too how to have enough, be grateful, be generous, and use what he has been given to make his times without less trying. Paul says he can “can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives … strength.”
I don’t know about you, but when I have had to learn to go without, to suffer, to go through change, I don’t know that I have always thought about things like Paul. When I have gone through losing people and relationships, jobs and work, or having people’s reputation of me go down, let alone faced my own health struggles or that of others, I can’t say I have always remembered to be content. Yet Paul tells me, if I can be open to such situations teaching me to be content in all circumstance that is a gift, a work of the Holy Spirit. Learning to embrace the life I have been given, rather than I want, and to turn it into a source of blessing for myself and others, living with gratitude for each gift that comes in it, is as much a sign of the Holy Spirit in me and in you, as much of a gift of the Spirit, as the fancy flashy signs we read about occuring on the first Pentecost.
Likewise, when Paul talks about where God the Holy Spirit is at work in Philippi, Paul doesn’t point to flashy things like performing miracles, dreaming dreams, seeing visions, speaking new languages. No. Paul points to how the church in Philippi has continued to show up in hard times to help him and others. He tells how, at points other churches wouldn’t support his ministry, these folks in Phillipi continued to send people, food, resources, money. They continued to band together to support each other. They continued to share the Good News of God’s love by word and deed.
Earlier in the book of Philippians, when Paul thanks this church for sending Epaphroditus to help him, Epaphroditus had been sent on a journey of many, many miles. He was sent by this same church to bring food, money, and resources to support Paul while he was chained to Roman soldiers and not able to do his normal job he used to support his ministry — being a tent-maker — very easily anymore. Epaphroditus comes carrying the help gathered up by everyone at Philippi even though the journey is risky, and leads him to become so sick he nearly dies. He does this all on behalf of the church in Phillipi, bringing the contribution of not just one person but everyone in Philippi, all who pitch in lending a hand, doing what they can, to support the work God has called them to together.
You see, sometimes it is easy to say, “I can’t preach. I don’t pray fancy words. I don’t sing so well. I don’t have the talents and gifts of so and so”, and think you can’t make a difference for God and for others. Yet, just because you don’t feel the gifts God gives you are flashy, doesn’t mean you don’t have gifts. It doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. The Bible tells us the Holy Spirit has filled you, the very Person of God is within you who breathes life into all creation, who spoke through the Prophets, who inspired the words of Scriptures; who performed miracles and overturned injustice and set free the oppressed through the Judges, who did so many signs and wonders through Jesus, and who raised Jesus from the dead.
And that Spirit is there in you picking up your hammer and nail and helping fixing the house of one in need. That Spirit is there in you lending an ear to a hurting person needing to tell their story. That Spirit is there in you knitting blankets for newborn babies and people that are on hospice, or making winter clothes from the homeless. The Spirit is there in you when you lend rides to someone down on their luck in need of help, or who need a ride to church. The Spirit is there in you as you put together food for people caring for sick family members, as we are doing in our caregiving ministries. The Spirit is there in many, many countless ways you help others, you work to bring justice and compassion into our world, and you work to share in word and deed God’s love. The Spirit is there in your 9 to 5 job when you do it to the glory of God in ways that demonstrate to those you work with God’s love, compassion, and justice. The Spirit is there in your care for those you love. The Spirit is there in your serving, your doing bulletins, singing in choir, cleaning and keeping up the church here. The countless ways we show up bringing love, help, healing, comfort, liberation, and the message of Christ to others are all ways the Spirit works in us, even if we don’t feel they are flashy.
Let us embrace this Sunday that none of us are just ordinary and hum-drum — each of us here are full of the Holy Spirit, able through the Spirit to help heaven break our all around us. Let us embrace that none of our gifts and talents are pointless — but all we have and all we are is a gift of God, which can change ourselves, others, and our world in healing ways. Let us remember God is still speaking, through the Spirit, not just through fancy showy miracles but in the tiny everyday wonders we cannot deny, in each person we meet, and even in ourselves. Amen.
Blessing of the Hands
To remind us to embrace whatever gifts and talents we have as places the Spirit can do Christ’s work of bearing witness, healing, and setting free, I want to invite all who are willing to come and share in a blessing of hands. In the blessing of hands I will invite you to come forward, naming in your heart or out loud as you do what the work or gifts you see God calling you to do to be, even if it might seem too ordinary or too odd for others — whether it being a parent, serving in the neighborhood, being a nurse, teacher, chaplain, or janitor; farming or gardening; working as a police officer or peace activist; weaving fabric, being a grandmother or caregiver to one who is sick, being a church musician or officer: you name it. And then you stretch out your hands, which we will anoint with oil as a sign of the Spirit, and say a prayer that your work, whatever it is, be blessed as a way God’s power and love can be known in the world.
(As people come forward, anoint their hands, saying “O Holy Spirit, you have no hands but ours. Bless the works of these hands that they may bring your healing, beauty, and freedom in our world”)