As you have been
able to observe since the moment you walked in the sanctuary this
morning, today is Pentecost. Pentecost is one of the great festivals of the church year.
Pentecost is indeed one of the happy days, one of the
festival days, and the mood is that of a party.
Today, to help us
in our festive mood, we have four contemporary symbols (as we do
every year) that remind us of Pentecost:
balloons, birthday cakes, birthday candles, and speaking in
different languages. I
would like to speak briefly about the significance of each symbol.
First, we have
decorated our sanctuary this morning for a great celebration.
Clusters of brightly colored balloons, helium filled, are
rising from the pews. Mobiles
are hanging from the ceiling. During
the worship, you will see the wind, in this case air conditioning,
move the balloons and the mobiles.
These balloons and mobiles are to remind us that God is like
the wind: invisible,
moving, mysterious, blowing across the universe.
The word for God in
the Old Testament is “Ruach” which means breath.
God breathed into Adam and gave him life. God is breath.
God is life. God
breathed into you and me and gave us life.
Pentecost reminds us that God is the invisible life force
within the universe. Without breath, there would be no life at all.
A person cannot see
the wind but only the effects of the wind.
Likewise with us; we cannot see God but only the effects of
God. We see God’s
footprints but not God’s feet.
We see God’s handprints but not God’s hands.
We can see God’s footprints in the lakes and see God’s
handiwork with the mountains, but we cannot see God face to face. A
basic tenet of the Christian faith is that God is invisible and
powerful like the wind. The
balloons and mobiles remind us of God’s invisibility.
is a day that reminds us of the birthday of the church.
Between worships services this morning, we had fifty birthday
cakes that were decorated with the phrase, “Happy Birthday
Church.” Each cake
had forty candles, totaling 2000 candles, and together we sang
“happy birthday” as the children lighted all the candles at one
time. These colorful
cakes remind us that today is the birthday of the church. Today is a
As we lit those
2000 candles, we could not help but be reminded of the tongues of
fire at the first Pentecost. We
could actually feel the candlepower and heat.
We saw the dancing candles and were reminded of those tongues
of fire on that first Pentecost morning.
What does fire represent?
Fire is energy; fire is power; fire is passion. Fire is
energy for Jesus Christ, and on Pentecost, there was a new quality
of fire and energy for Jesus Christ.
Fire was another symbol on our festive Pentecost morning.
contemporary symbol of Pentecost is the reading of the various
languages. What fun! On the first day of Pentecost 2000 years ago,
there were many different languages spoken. Today, in our worship services, we had fifteen different
languages spoken by fifteen different parishioners as each read Acts
1:8 in a different language. Then,
all fifteen people read Acts 1:8 simultaneously.
When all the languages were being read simultaneously, it
sounded just like babbling. The
purpose was to clearly demonstrate that the message of Jesus Christ
is for all nations and languages.
The message of Jesus Christ is to go into the entire world,
into all the languages of the world, into all the nationalities in
the world. We are
missionary people. We are a Pentecostal people.
And so on this
Pentecost morning and all the past Pentecost mornings in years past,
we bring out our contemporary symbols to remind us of the birthday
party of the church: balloons and cakes and candles and languages.
We clearly know what Pentecost is all about.
What happened on
that first Pentecost morning? The
disciples and other believers were gathered in an upper room in
disciples had been told to wait and pray for the Holy Spirit, for
the powerful presence of God to come upon them. So the disciples waited and prayed, waited and prayed. They
sensed the presence of God blowing among them.
Suddenly, there were like tongues of fire on each of them.
There was a new energy and a new power within them.
Suddenly, they began to speak in a multiplicity of different
languages, in the language of the Medes, the Cappadocians, the
Asians, the Egyptians, and the Libyans. It was clear:
Christians were not to remain in Jerusalem but go into the
entire world, proclaiming the goodness about Jesus Christ in the
various mother tongues of the nations.
On that first
Pentecost morning, there was a new sense of mission.
These men and women sensed a new purpose, a new goal, and a
new destiny. Their
destiny was to go into the entire world and proclaim the Lordship of
Jesus Christ. Their
purpose was absolutely clear to them: to boldly proclaim the name of
Jesus Christ. They didn’t have to ask what their mission was.
There was also a
new power within. There was a new energy and urgency to carry out their
mission. There was
energy inside of them to accomplish their goals.
These people had new courage to face persecutions.
They had new boldness so as to be more outspoken for their
faith. They had a new powerful passion within to stand before
family, friends, neighbors, and fellow workers and boldly tell the
good news of Jesus Christ and his impact on their daily lives. There
was plenty of power.
There was also a
new sense of community. These first Christians took their
possessions and sold their material goods to help those in need.
They loved each other so much they sold their possessions in
order to help each other. Yes,
there was a new sense of loving within this community:
sharing problems, sharing each other’s tragedies, sharing
resources. These were not 400 individuals sitting together in a
room, 400 individuals who could care less about what was happening
to the person seated next to them. They experienced community love
and sharing of resources like they had never experienced it before.
That is what
happened early one morning in Jerusalem in the year 30 AD, fifty
days after the Jewish Passover. It was called Pentecost, and the people were called
The text for today
is Acts 1:8. “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon
you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and
to the ends of the earth.”
I am not sure about
you, but one of the most difficult things in my life is to talk to
somebody about Jesus Christ. What
a contrast between my life and the lives of those first Pentecost
Christians 2000 years ago. O
yes, I am trained to stand up in front of you and preach sermons;
that is actually quite easy to do since I was well trained to do
that. But…it is
difficult for me personally to talk to my unchurched neighbor about
Jesus Christ. I think
you may have similar feelings.
That is, I can easily talk with my neighbor about many
topics: the weather,
gardens, slugs, landscaping, family, work, politics, Seahawks and
the Mariners. We can
talk so easily about so many things, but it is more difficult for me
to talk one to one about Jesus Christ.
Caught in this
situation, I sense a resistance welling up inside of me,
A fear. An
anxiety. An uneasiness.
Why am I afraid to talk with my nice neighbor about Jesus
Christ? For all kinds of reasons.
I don’t want to be pushy.
I don’t want to be pushy about Jesus Christ or the church.
As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water but you
can’t make him drink.” My
neighbor knows where the house of Jesus Christ is; he or she can
find it; he can drink if he wants to.
I also don’t want to be identified with those Jehovah’s
Witnesses or Mormons dressed in dark blue suits and riding bicycles.
But basically, these are all dodges and rationalizations. I just don’t know how to do it, to talk about my faith in
Christ to another person, especially an unchurched person. It just makes me feel squeamish inside.
Part of my problem
is that I have grown up in “corpus christianum.”
Those fancy words mean that I have grown up in a Christian
culture where everyone around me was assumed to be Christian and so
I never needed to speak about Christ.
The culture around me was Christian.
That is, Jackson, Minnesota was 95% Christian, the most
churched place on earth, the most churched place in the universe, if
you think about it. If
everybody around you is a Christian, why talk about Christ. So I
never learned to talk about Christ, one to one, because I never
needed to. Basically, I don’t know how because I never learned
But today, I know
we are living in a different context, in a new culture.
I know that today is a new ball game, and that there are huge
numbers and percentages of people around me that do not believe in
Christ or belong to any church. Unfortunately, many of us mainline
Christians e.g. Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist,
Episcopalian, and Baptist do not have the skills, habits and
attitudes to talk with unchurched people about Christ.
In some ways, it is not really our fault; it is our heritage,
our roots, and the consequence of growing up in a culture that we
thought was Christian.
One result of our
inner uneasiness in talking with our unchurched friends about Jesus
Christ is that we have gradually changed the essential mission of
the church. The primary
mission of the Pentecostal church and Pentecostal Christians was to
go out into the world, teaching, baptizing and making disciples of
all people. But 2000
years later, many American and European Christians feel uneasy about
carrying out this primary mission, and so we subtly change the
mission of the church to teaching our Christian heritage and values
and beliefs to our family and children. Our primary Christian purpose then becomes bringing our
children to Sunday School and worship so that hopefully, they will
become little Christians with likeminded values and belief systems. The purpose of the church becomes like the purpose of
Judaism: transmit our
heritage, liturgy, worship patterns, values and beliefs to the next
generation in our family.
Judaism does not primarily reach out beyond its walls; but
teaches the faith, safely in its walls.
So what is the
purpose of today’s sermon and today’s Pentecost?
The same as 2000 years ago.
We pray that a miracle will occur and that God will create
Pentecostal Christians who are on fire for Jesus Christ, who have
energy to do God’s work in the world, who speak boldly and openly
about Christ and his power in our own lives.
How does God create
Pentecostal Christians today? That
is the big question. How does God create Pentecostal Christians out
of mainline Christians, so that we are more bold and courageous in
speaking about our faith in Christ? A Pentecostal Christian is not
somebody who prayerfully speaks in tongues but speaks openly and
effectively and boldly about Jesus Christ.
It is quite simple:
God gives us both the courage and the words to be Pentecostal
Christians. It does
take courage to speak with one’s neighbors and friends and family
about Jesus Christ and his impact on our lives. It takes a lot of
courage. The purpose of the Holy Spirit 2000 years ago and today is
the same: to give
Christian’s backbone, stamina, moxy, boldness, to give us the
wisdom to handle tension and rejection.
Christians have always had to learn courage for the issue
facing them. Christians
had to learn courage in the 1950s about the black/white issue;
Christians had to learn how to stand up and stand out for what is
right and face the consequences.
If you are young and everybody around you, so it seems, is
using drugs or booze, having sex or an abortion, you need to learn
courage to handle the pressure.
Similarly, it takes courage to finally talk to someone about
Jesus Christ. Just
plain courage. God has
always given the courage necessary for us to handle each and every
situation. God does not
fail in his promises to give us strength and courage.
That’s just the way it is.
But God not only
gives us courage but God gives us the words, the actual words to
speak to a neighbor or friend. I am not talking about learning
canned speeches that a person memorizes for specific situations.
This reminds me of the time I was in court and had practiced
my speech as to what I was going to say to the judge.
It came time for me to speak.
The judge asked me to defend myself and I just blurted it
out. I blurted out all
the words inside of me, but not in any memorized order.
So it is with the power of God.
Throughout the centuries and throughout every culture, God
has always provided the right words for us to speak in a given
dramatically in our church a few weeks ago, where God gave someone
the right words for the right situation.
As in other circumstances, I tell this story with permission.
A nineteen-year old young woman left our church to go to Sea-Tac
Mall to buy her father a birthday present. While in the Mall parking lot, someone attacked her, pulled
out a gun, tried to force her into the car where she saw at hatchet
and knife. She was
petrified as she was struggling with this attacker.
She told me that the Spirit of God was upon her in a very
special way that Sunday morning; she had new power to hang onto the
door of that car and would not let go.
The attacker tried to hit her over the head and knock her
out, but he was unsuccessful. God’s
power in her was stronger than her fear, but she had another kind of
power that finally said to the man who was beating her:
“I have a friend who is always with me.
Do you have that friend?”
The man hit her again, and so again she aimed the question at
him: “I think there
is a Friend who could help you.
There are people who are willing to help you.” He hit her again. Again
the words spoke the words: “Sir,
do you know Jesus Christ?” And for the first time, the man stopped
and looked at her as a human being and said, “No.
I used to as a kid.” He
In that very
terrible situation, God gave that woman both the courage and the
words, the inner strength and the right words to speak.
That is the way it always is with us:
God’s Pentecostal power is inside of us, giving us both
courage and words.
I have noticed that
our young people have unusual courage and conversations with people
about Jesus Christ. I often find that young people, including the nineteen year
old from my previous illustration, know the score and can give us
useful advice, if we listen. So I asked my confirmation students, of
all people, for advice about witnessing and they were “full of
it,” advice that is. The
confirmation kids were so clear about their “don’ts” and
“do/s.” Listen up and learn from them.
Don’t be pushy.
Nobody likes being pushed. Don’t be preachy and sound like a
sermon. Don’t be a phony, pretending you are a holier than thou.
Don’t assume the person you are talking to is not a Christian;
that always gets you in trouble.
And do/s? Love them
as people. Love people into the kingdom of God. Be sensitive to their
needs and address their needs, not yours. Ask questions about their
faith. Believe in Jesus Christ yourself; you never win someone if
you are half committed. Initiate
conversation about faith and God.
People want to talk about faith and God. Don’t be so timid
about what other people want to talk about.
You never know when the timing is right, so bring it up.
Yes, all this was
wonderful advice given to me by our children, our confirmands of all
people, who really aren’t children any more.
Wasn’t it the prophet Isaiah who said, “a little child
shall lead them.” I
believe that our kids are our best evangelists.
All the statistics tell us this.
We should follow their example and break out of our confining
habits of the past and be Pentecostal Christians like many of our
Thank heavens none
of us are confined to the habits we learned in the past. Like shells
on turtles, we slowly outgrow our shell from the past and it breaks
as we put on a new shell. Our shell of religious silence from the
past is no longer adequate; we must grow a new shell for a new day
for a new life in a new century.
The past religious silence is no longer adequate for this new
The purpose of
Pentecost? It is to
create Pentecostal Christians, people like you and me.