Theme: The Holy Spirit gives us power
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, you sent us the Holy Spirit to strengthen and expand your church; empowered by the Holy Spirit, we labor to bring about your kingdom here on earth, guide us by your Spirit and your son, through whom we pray. Amen.
A few weeks ago, I attended a conference in Salt Lake City called “The Vital Church Conference.” The brochure for this conference indicated that there would be preaching workshops, which is why I principally went. There were preaching workshops of marginal value, but the main theme of the conference was the transition the world is in and how the church is affected by this shift in seeing the world that is happening around us.
This shift is from the modern world, which began with the enlightenment. We thought that that we would learn all truth and discover and learn everything. Sounds pretty arrogant now. But this is the world most of us grew up in. For lack of a better name, we are transitioning to a post-modern world. The post-modern world is one of many truths.
But that is not the part of the conference I want to share with you. The first speaker was Albert Winseman. He co-authored a book called Living Your Strengths. He works for the Gallup organization who also publishes his book. He shared with us some interesting research that Gallup did about successful people.
Successful people know their strengths and maximize their strengths. They virtually ignore their weaknesses. The old maxim that we need to strengthen our weaknesses is false according to their research. We can only marginally increase our weaknesses. We can exponentially increase our strengths.
These strengths are naturally occurring behaviors that we have. They can also be called talents. They discovered that we naturally do something better than 10,000 other people. Our task is to find out what that is and do it! A talent becomes a strength when knowledge and skill is applied.
There are five clues to a talent: a yearning or being drawn to a particular activity, rapid learning when you get something quickly, flow when you do something automatically, a glimpse of excellence when you do something well and don’t know how you did it, and satisfaction when you do it over again.
One his co-authors developed an instrument to identifying our talents. It is called d the Clifton Strengths Finder. There are 34 talents in the instrument. The top five are our signature themes. Only one in 33 million people have the same signature themes. Or only 10 people in the United States have our same signature themes. Your ranking of the 34 themes is unique to you in the whole world. The code to take the inventory is in the back of the book.
Because we are given unique talents, it takes all of us to actively do Jesus’ work in the world. Luke didn’t have the Gallup organization available to him when he wrote the Acts of the Apostles. So he said basically the same thing in theological language. St. Paul talks about this a length in his letters. And the giving of talents all began on a Pentecost observance right after Jesus’ resurrection.
It was the day of Pentecost. All of Jesus’ followers were gathered together. It must have been a large group. Pentecost is the Jewish feast and holiday called Feast of Weeks. The Feast of Weeks was likely the celebration at the end of the grain harvest. It occurs fifty days after the Passover or for us, fifty days after Easter. The Feast of Weeks later became Shavuot, the commemorating of the giving of the law on Sinai.
Without warning, there was a loud noise like a mighty wind – a hurricane! I’ve never been in a hurricane but I’m told they are deafening. The sound filled the whole building. They must have been holding their hands to their ears.
Then they saw something they never saw before. Something like, but not exactly like, fiery tongues came into the room and a tongue rested on each one of them. Notice every disciple gets one. They are united in diversity.
Then as if to underscore the point, the Holy Spirit took hold of each one of them and they spoke in different languages as the Holy Spirit gave each the gift for that language. John the Baptist’s promise that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire came to pass.
Because of the Feast of Weeks holy day, there were many Jews gathered in Jerusalem. They came from all over the Roman Empire and beyond the empire. As these visitors heard the commotion caused by the disciples, they gathered near the disciples. And lo and behold, these common people were speaking in a lot of different languages. They were able to understand what was being said in the each of their native tongues.
The crowd was amazed at this sight. Then it occurred to them. “Aren’t these people from Galilee?” In other words, “Aren’t these people uneducated hicks? If so, why are we hearing them speaking in our native tongues?” There were many languages being spoken about God’s might works. So they asked each other, “What’s going on here?” A more logical explanation for some was that the Galileans must be drunk. After all, they were Galileans.
The spectacle ended. Peter stood among the apostles and addressed the crowd, asking for their attention. Peter first told them it’s 9:00 in the morning and so they are not drunk.
Peter next quotes from the prophet Joel, “In the last days, God will give everyone the Holy Spirit. Your children will prophesy. Young men will see visions and old men will have dreams.” Biblically, God comes to people in dreams. All God’s servants will prophesy. There will be miracles in the sky and on the ground. There will be blood and fire and clouds of smoke. The sun will turn dark and the moon blood red before the Lord returns. Then everyone who asks for salvation, God will save.”
Peter’s sermon continues and he asks the people gathered there to be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. Devin will soon be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. I have yet to see fire at a baptism and I’m not sure that I ever want to. In any case, Devin will also be baptized into the apostolic fellowship.
From the very beginnings of the church, Christians understood that our religion is a communal one. Christianity is not an individualistic religion. By living together in Christ, we are empowered to witness and imitate Jesus by the way we live.
The Holy Spirit went into that room on that day. But it couldn’t stay there. She pushed the disciples out of the room to talk to the crowd. Then the Holy Spirit went into the crowd. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42, ESV).
It is those things that those early Christians committed themselves to do that all of us will reaffirm in a few minutes and Devin’s parents and godparents will promise that they will teach Devin to do so, by example.
Pentecost verifies Christmas. All wrapped up in human form, God comes to us in our very own bodies; God speaks to us in our own language. In all our diversity, God offers authentic human communion.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we thank you for the gift of baptism, through which you gave us gifts or talents from the Holy Spirit; help us to strengthen our talents for the benefit of your church and the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.