Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pentecost Prep

Have you ever been overwhelmed by something that you cannot touch, at least not in a conventional way? Perhaps by an emotion – grief, joy, anger, peace? Felt yourself immersed in something bigger than you, more powerful than you? Have you ever felt yourself connected to another person, not simply by being near one another or even by being in love or “in like” with each other – but connected at the core of who you are, connected at the level that goes beyond words, beyond touch? We are made for that kind of connection. And when we experience it, it is a glimpse of what God wants to have with us every moment. In Ecclesiastes, we are told that “God has put eternity in the human heart” (Ecc 3:11, NIV). Saint Augustine writes, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee” (Confessions). One of the biblical expressions for this connection, for which God has designed us, for which we long, is being “filled with” or “baptized with the Spirit”.

The Pentecost story is mind boggling. The Spirit comes in wind and fire. The disciples find themselves speaking a variety of languages they have never learned. People are in town from every nation and they hear the story of “God’s deeds of power” in their own language. The story is weird and really cool. What particularly amazes me is that the miraculous demonstration – the speaking in many languages – was not clearly understood as a sign of the Spirit of God. (Some folks thought the disciples had too much to drink.) But, what they said in those languages was clearly understood, “God’s deeds of power.” You see, while God desires direct and personal connection with each of us, the gifts of God are not about us being worthy of the gift, but about us fitting into God’s purpose in the world. Today, we’re going to focus on the story of preparation for Pentecost. And what can we do to get ready for this gift?

I want to be clear about one common question about filling with the Spirit. Many times, folks wonder, “When we believe in Jesus, don’t we receive the Spirit?” Absolutely yes (Acts 2:38). That’s what the Scripture says, over and over. John’s gospel talks about conversion itself as being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5). However, people who believe in Jesus, people who have already received the Spirit, are nevertheless commanded to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). And, in the Acts stories, the same disciple band is recorded several times to be filled powerfully with the Spirit (Acts 2, Acts 4:31). Like any relationship, like any connection, refreshment, reconnection is critical.

First step in Pentecost Prep: The Promise of God.

“You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (1:5). We don’t just long for this deep to deep connection with God. We aren’t simply made for it. It is God’s will for us. That’s what promises are about – an expression of God’s will. And there is nothing that should prevent us from experiencing that gift.

The second step is more personally demanding: Prayer.

From Passover to Pentecost were 50 days. Jesus spent 3 of those days in the grave and 40 of those days teaching the disciples before ascending to heaven. What did they do for those last 7 days, the final week of waiting? “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14). Most of the time, when we think of prayer, we think of it in very narrow terms. We think about saying grace before the meal – a simple thanks. Or, we think of our “laundry list” of needs and blessings – God, help grandma; please heal the dog; help me get a job . . . . Those are prayer, and those are important prayers. But they are not the stuff of constant prayer. Constant prayer is simple, fervent, and deep. In the words of the psalm writer, it is “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7). And the purpose of this constant prayer is not our list, but God’s will, and aligning our own hearts with the will of God so that we want exactly what God wants. Magnets - needles - align.

Today, with your note sheet, I have included two prayers. One, by Saint Augustine, is a prayer to be filled with God. The other, by Mother Teresa, is a prayer to love the world. I want to encourage you to go home and post these prayers, maybe write them on a 3x5 card. Post them at your mirror or some place where you will see them twice a day. And pray one prayer each morning and the other prayer each evening for a month. And just see what God will do.
St. Augustine:
Too narrow is the house of my soul for you to enter into it:
Let it be enlarged by you.
It lies in ruins:
Build it up again.

Mother Teresa:
May God break my heart so completely
that the whole world falls in.
Third: Purity.

The story we have in Acts 1 includes the church’s work to replace Judas, who had betrayed Jesus, expressed remorse, and died at his own hands. In this story, they make clear how important it is to have leadership that is aligned around being a witness to Jesus Christ. That’s what purity is about – not conformity to rules but alignment with what is most important. In our own personal lives, purity means that everything in our souls is brought into alignment with the promise of the Spirit. Remember their prayer as they selected Judas’ successor: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart” (1:24).

Fourth: Power.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (1:8). This is what all the preparation is about – experiencing this gift of God, this power of the Spirit. It is too easy to interpret this as power for miracles. But that is not what Jesus says here in Acts. It is power for witness.

The Greek word “witness” comes from the courtroom. In those days, they didn’t have a “witness protection program”, so the word also doubles for those who risk their lives to speak the truth, and it is the root for the English word “martyr”.

But we don’t just get a sense for a word from a dictionary. We also look at its sense in context. In Luke, the first volume of the Luke-Acts combo, witness and mission is described in terms of serving and loving those who were left out by the dominant society, serving and loving those on the margins. In Luke 4, Jesus began his ministry by reading from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news (gospel) to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18). Gregory Boyle, in Tattoos on the Heart, describes this mission as not about “taking the right stand” but about “standing in the right place”, standing with those on the margins.

Really excited about the work of the youth and adults with them to connect with young people at the Youth Development Center . . . .
And, about the plans for connecting with a local group home for Sunday worship and a meal. . . .
Finally, when visiting local businesses, Salon Synergy is collecting personal care items for soldiers in Afghanistan. . . .
“Standing in the right place”

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