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Edward F. Markquart

Pentecostal Christians 

Pentecost     Acts 2:1-21

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.

Secondly, Pentecost 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 birthday party.

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.

The fourth 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 Jerusalem.  The 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 Pentecostal Christians.

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 how.

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 situation.

This happened 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 left.

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 kids.

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 day. 

The purpose of Pentecost?  It is to create Pentecostal Christians, people like you and me.  Amen.

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