This message is provided for those preparing for next Sunday’s message. Unless otherwise noted, it uses the texts from the Revised Common Lectionary. For more sermons in this year of the cycle, Year C, go to that page in the menu. Sermons are listed in ascending order, with Advent I at the bottom of the page.
Will You Receive Power?
Acts 1:8; 2:1-21…Pentecost
Rev. Deb Mechler
Note: This message is for a congregation that whose last pastor couple retired two years ago, with an interim helping them for one year.
They were all together in the home of one of their friends. Word was passed around that this was the meeting place. It had been ten days since their beloved teacher had left them, this time for good. He had told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Spirit to arrive.
Nobody knew what that meant. But given the events after Jesus’ crucifixion, they had to be ready for anything. As time wore on, they wondered how long they would have to wait, and how they would know that the Spirit had shown up.
But when it happened, there was no mistake. The sound of a tornado, the tongues of fire, the babble of languages. It had to be God’s doing. You can’t make this stuff up.
Those who had the presence of mind to remember what Jesus had promised would recall that he said they would receive power. No doubt about it. This combination of wind, fire, testimonies and the astonishing number of people who responded was the most powerful concoction they had ever experienced.
Power. Jesus wasn’t kidding. It might not have been what they wanted though. If they were anything like us, they would have appreciated a plan first, then the power to carry it out. But they didn’t get a plan.
Have you received Holy Spirit power? Maybe that’s not the kind of power you want. Most of us want power of a different sort. We want personal freedom, the power to decide how we will use our resources and cast our votes, the authority to make our own decisions and rules.
And we want buying power. We get cranky when there is a shortage of eggs or chicken due to bird flu, frustrated when we can’t buy an appliance or computer because the shipments from China are backed up. We want a variety of brands to choose from in our toothpaste and clothing.
And we can’t forget horsepower. We have the “need for speed!” At the very least, a way to get around, go places, haul our stuff. You need a good car, right?
But those are not the kinds of power the church needs, and the force that the world needs us to wield as God’s people. The world needs us to be the active, loving, compassionate body of Christ.
Does anybody around here look like that group of disciples hankering for a sign from God? Are you missing a good leader? Wanting to know what’s next?
I wonder. I don’t know this for sure, but I wonder. Maybe you’re getting things in the order you need them instead of the order you want them, like the disciples. Maybe you need power before you need a new pastor, a new direction.
If that is true, then let’s talk about the kind of power the Holy Spirit will give you, if you’re willing to receive it.
As the church of Jesus Christ, you need power that looks like faith, and courage. The Holy Spirit is good at this, especially when you come together and ask for it. It doesn’t work so well when you are acting as free agents, muddling along and hoping for the best. We are meant to create a critical mass where God works among us, a collective that encourages each other. A family with a bond that only the Spirit can create and maintain. We gather around the story of God and tell our own stories, and we marvel at how God works.
If the pandemic told us anything, it showed us how important that is. How quickly we fall back into complacency! We need to remind each other how hard it was to be the church when we were all sitting in front of our computers. Not impossible, thanks be to God, but a lot harder than it is now that the restrictions are lifted and we can look into each other’s eyes again.
As the church of Jesus Christ, we are also given power to work together for justice, to offer hope and healing. It is the power to be a beacon in a dark world. This is how it happens: You start to get creative in providing food and shelter, hammers and health care and hope, and the Holy Spirit gives it momentum you couldn’t drum up on your own. It takes off. The Spirit shows up in amazing ways, and you can’t get enough of it. That’s power.
Then there is another kind of power the Spirit cultivates in the church: the power of love. This is Jesus’ specialty, and thus the Spirit’s favorite gift to give us. Love for one another, the kind that bears each other’s burdens and puts up with annoying people like you. The kind that forgives even though it is really, really hard, because Jesus set the standard and provides the power to do it. The world desperately needs to see that kind of power at work.
Here’s another kind of power I’m not sure I want. It is very unpopular these days. It is the ability to say “no” to our own desires and agendas, to let go of activities and entitlement to make room for God’s Spirit to work among us. Among you. We’re talking about you today.
All of this kind of power is what goes into what Jesus said you will experience if you receive Holy Spirit power. You will be his witnesses. That word is scary, probably because many of us remember the seventies and eighties when we were pressured to corner every nonbeliever in our orbit and try to win them to the faith.
But what is a witness, really? Somebody who just tells honestly what they have experienced. Or who passes along a really good idea, or points other people to something that changed your life. In terms of faith, we are invited to be little Jesuses wherever we live. To see the world through his eyes and have the same compassion and love. To recognize injustice and turn the tables, kick up a fuss once in a while.
The Bible talks about Holy Spirit power in a couple of ways. The one we like most is the presence of God in Christ, which offers comfort, inspiration, harmony in our work together. The kind Jesus promised in John 14. Pretty cool, and easy to ask for that.
But the other kind of Holy Spirit power manifests as strong wind, like the one that got creation started, or blew back the waters of the Red Sea. Or fire, like the one that licked up Elijah’s sacrifice as well as all the water around the altar. Wind and fire like the day of Pentecost. Do you want to see that happen every Sunday around here? Kind of scary, that.
Do you want the Spirit to blow in and turn things upside down? Do you want the Spirit to burn up your old ideas and traditions, and start something new and alive and critical for the age we are in?
Peter said the upheaval on the day of Pentecost reminded him of what God had promised in the prophet Joel, that the Spirit would spill out onto everybody, indiscriminately. The sons and daughters would prophesy. More often than not, prophets point out how the people have fallen away from God. I remember a young woman in a previous congregation pointing out that we weren’t following Jesus very well when a family needed our empty parsonage after their house burned down. We couldn’t argue with that, and got busy and moved them in for a few months. The Spirit was working with power.
Your young and old men will dream dreams. I wouldn’t take this too literally, since Jesus had a habit of listening to women too. But dreams, imagination. The Spirit gives ideas, sparks creativity, makes you seek after audacious ideas together. It feels risky, but the Spirit doesn’t abandon you in the middle of projects like that.
Even “slaves,” both men and women will prophesy. Thankfully that no longer applies, but the idea is that even people you don’t expect to understand God will have something good to teach the rest of us.
Let’s not forget the kind of Holy Spirit power Paul talks about in Ephesians: the power to comprehend the immeasurable love of God. To me, that is the crux of it. You will receive power when you let go of anything that gets in the way of experiencing God’s love. You take the time to be still before God, to let his love fill you. This doesn’t happen on the first try, by the way. You need to keep showing up, and let the Spirit choose the timing when you will be gobsmacked by God’s love.
You don’t have to get things straightened out around here first before you receive the Holy Spirit’s power. Fred Craddock says we’re too often waiting at a green light with traffic backed up for miles, thinking [i]we have to have everything perfect before we proceed with showing and telling the world about Jesus. But we already have what we need. Jesus said the Spirit is in you and me, not far away so that we have to perform incantations and offer sacrifices to get. But we still have the option of ignoring it or rejecting the gift.
The early church was no more skilled than you, had no senior pastors in place, didn’t even have a five-year plan. They just had the love of Jesus, the good news of forgiveness, and power from the Holy Spirit. They received it, at least some of them did, and the world was never the same. They were never the same either. That’s what happens when you receive what God is itching to give you. “You will receive power,” Jesus said. It is a statement of fact, so he expects us to receive it, and use it. It’s up to us. It’s up to you.
[i] Craddock, Fred. 2011. The Collected Sermons of Fred Craddock. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press), p. 200.