"The Holy Spirit Awakens" - A Sermon for Pentecost
Please note: This is the manuscript; for the video version click here. The sermon begins at the 23:00 mark.
So… let’s get this out of the way from the very beginning: the cover art on the bulletin and the sermon title were inspired by StarWars. The original Star Wars came out in 1977, when I was six years old. Since then I have been a major Star Wars geek. My favorite of the original trilogy of movies is The EmpireStrikes Back (1980), as any true Star Wars fan would say. I do my best to pretend the recent prequels, and especially Jar Jar Binks, do not exist, although I did like most of Revenge of the Sith. That being said, a new series of Star Wars movies will be released over the next few years, the first of which is called The Force Awakens. It comes out December 18, 208 days from today.
Today is the Day of Pentecost, the day we commemorate the gift of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ disciples. Jesus promised the Spirit’s coming before his death and resurrection. The Spirit would be their Advocate, Comforter, and Teacher, plus God’s continued presence with them. What we see in the life of the disciples following the intervention of the Holy Spirit is complete and total transformation: they are no longer the timid, mourning, fearful disciples following Jesus’ crucifixion. With the gift of the Spirit they become apostles: teachers of the gospel, rushing out into the streets of Jerusalem, which was packed full of religious pilgrim. Every person in the city that day heard the Good News of Jesus in their own native language as a result of the Spirit’s intervention.
At Pentecost we do not celebrate the creation of the Spirit. We commemorate its coming into our lives and the subsequent transformation in the life of the believer. The color red symbolizes the fire of the Spirit burning within our hearts. We feature red in every service where the Spirit is honored: at confirmations for youth, church anniversaries, and the ordination of pastors. Speaking of ordinations, if you have never attended a service, you should—they are powerful—there is one two weeks from tonight at the small, rural West Plano St Andrew UMC.
I’m calling today’s message “The Holy Spirit Awakens,” but as tempting as it is this will be the last time I reference Star Wars, although I do feel a little Darth Vader-ish in my black robe! I do not mean to imply that the Spirit is napping and needs to awaken—I want us to consider how the Spirit awakens us for ministry. Listen from the words of Paul found in the Book of Romans as he considers what exactly the Spirit awakens:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:22-27).
Paul lays out a formula for how the Spirit works in our lives and the life of the world. The Spirit awakens new possibilities in the life of the believer, the Church, and the world. He uses the imagery of birth to illustrate the work of the Spirit—almost as a midwife delivering new life into the world. It’s not limited to the individual: the creation is longing, waiting for its renewal. And we ourselves, as part of that creation, await our own awakening. “Who hopes for what is seen? If we wait for what is unseen we wait with hope.” But the Spirit does not leave us in this sort of in between time: somewhere between the now and the not yet. The Spirit helps to bring about new life in us and the world by praying for us.
The most important part of this is patience. The Spirit works on the Spirit’s time, not ours, and if we expect it to anoint us with our own personal mission immediately we can become frustrated. Our waiting can be characterized by discovery. The more we learn about who we are and what we are called to do the more prepared we will be when the Spirit comes upon us. I didn’t always think I would be a pastor—in fact if you asked some of my former teachers they would say absolutely not! But I was involved in ministry first as a young adult helper in the youth group in my home church, then as a part-time youth director at a church near Houston. In 1994 I attended a Walk to Emmaus, a three day spiritual retreat, and it was there when I received my call to ordained ministry. I believe we have a group picture from that weekend—that’s me on the back row in the Captain Caveman tshirt on Jesus' right:
That was 21 years ago. I was 23 years old. I didn’t go on that Walk anticipating a call to ministry, moving to Dallas the following year for seminary, or a 40+ year career in ministry in such amazing places like Custer Road! But that is what is at the heart of Paul’s reflection on the Spirit: we don’t know where the Spirit will lead us, but we await it with expectation and excitement.
At our baptism: infant, youth, or adult, the Spirit confers on us gifts for ministry. If you do not know what your gifts are, there is an invitation to discover them. In the Study Guide on Tuesday you’ll find the link on the church’s website for a spiritual gifts inventory. Go there and learn where your gifts are, then find opportunities to use them in ministry through the church. For example: my gifts are Teaching and Knowledge, and I will use them at the new Lectio worship service we’ll launch in June. Another example is Patrick Robinson. He uses his gifts to further God’s kingdom on earth. Pat and Beth joined Custer Road last year after their church closed. For the past six years Pat has served in downtown Dallas at Soul Church, a ministry to the homeless. Our communications team sat down with Pat last week to hear his testimony.
Pat’s passion for Soul Church is tangible, right? So much that his Sunday school class, Family Foundations, spent their Sunday morning recently in Dallas serving at Soul Church. Hear this clearly: every believer has the possibility of doing ministry with as much energy and excitement as Pat. And it may be something totally different—and something exciting only to you! The point is to find it, use it, celebrate it, and allow the Spirit to bless others with it.
But the Spirit’s work is not limited to the individual—to remind you again of Paul’s metaphor, the Spirit is birthing on a corporate level within the Church and globally. The Spirit is awakening new vision for ministry here at Custer Road. For nearly a year now many leaders have been praying, listening, and discerning the Spirit’s will for our church, and you’ll begin to hear some of the news very soon. Wherever the gathered community lives out its mission the Spirit is at work—on a recent mission trip to Mexico; in a Bible study or small group; when we send youth across the country on mission or choir tour; when we serve lunches to hungry children during the summer months at a local park; when we teach children the stories of Jesus at Vacation Bible Camp. The Spirit awakens our church to new possibilities and empowers us to go and serve the needs of others.
Beyond the church, the Spirit awakens us to the needs of our neighbors around the world. The Spirit helps to usher in a new creation, and inspires us to serve as we await Creation’s renewal. Recently we saw disasters hit in Nepal (earthquakes) and East Texas (tornadoes). The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. UMCOR is on the ground in Nepal, providing clean drinking water, and providing assistance stateside for those suffering from storms. Everywhere a disaster happens, UMCOR is there, from Nepal to Van, TX. You’ll have an opportunity to support this incredible ministry as we share communion together in a few moments.
We wanted to give each person here an opportunity to listen to, and respond to, the movement of the Spirit today. The best place for that is at the Table of our Lord. After you have received the elements come to the communion rail, and spend as much time as you like praying, and listening, to the Spirit. If you don’t know what to pray, be patient. Paul says we do not know how to pray as we should, but still the Spirit intercedes for us. You’ll hear reflective singing from our choir, and Kay will play peaceful music. The screens will show the words to the hymns. Use them as a sort of guided meditation as you wait to receive the elements and pray at the altar. When you kneel before the Lord in prayer, ask these questions:
Holy Spirit, what are you awakening in me?
Holy Spirit, what are you awakening at Custer Road?
Holy Spirit, what are you awakening in the world?
The Holy Spirit can be frustrating to figure out. So here is a tip: don’t try. On this Pentecost Day, wrap yourselves in the color red, recalling the fire that inspired the first disciples of Jesus. Now, as his 2015 disciples, allow yourselves to be transformed, and sent out, into the world, fulfilling your calling with joy and passion. You know what the disciples’ rivals said about them following the Day of Pentecost? “These people have been turning the world upside down!” (Acts 17:6).
May the Holy Spirit awaken such passion and joy in us that we too begin to turn the world upside down! In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!