The Power of Pentecost
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
June 4, 2017
If I asked you “what are the top 3 sports teams in Pittsburgh?” Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins.
If I asked you, “what are the 5 best selling books of all time?”
1.Bible. 2. Don Quixote. 3. A Tale of Two Cities. 4. The Little Prince & Lord of the Rings. 5. Harry Potter
If I asked you, “what are the top 3 holy days in the Christian church?” Christmas, Easter, and…Pentecost.
We all know about Christmas—the birth of Jesus. We all know about Easter—the resurrection of Jesus.
But what is Pentecost? It is the day when the Church was born! The Holy Spirit, in the form of a rushing wind and tongues of fire, came upon the people gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world. Everyone heard them speaking in their own languages. They were amazed and astonished. They were empowered as a new community of faith to go out into the world to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ.
They were amazed and perplexed, asking “What does this mean?”
What does this mean? It’s a question they asked then and we ask now. What does it mean?
Pentecost is the day when we remember that day long, long ago—in the 1st century—when the church was born, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, amazing things happened and people—thousands of them—came to faith.
But Pentecost is not just something that happened once, a long, long time ago. Throughout the book of Acts, there are other Pentecosts, in which the Holy Spirit is poured out, amazing things happen and people come to faith. Remember when Saul was persecuting Christians, but on the road to Damascus saw a bright light and heard a voice from heaven. Then and there, he was converted to become a witness for Christ (9). Paul and Cornelius were in prison praying, and the ground was shaken, the doors were opened, and the jailer came to believe in Jesus and he and his family were baptized (16). Pentecost didn’t just happen once. It continued throughout the Bible.
But it didn’t stop in the Bible.
Throughout the centuries of church history, there were a number of other Pentecosts: the Renaissance in Italy had a profound effect on the way people pictured and experienced their relationship with God; the Reformation in Germany and Switzerland put the Bible in people’s hands and made grace freely available to everyone; and the Great Awakenings in North America ignited faith, grew churches, and established reform movements.
But, it is not just the big events throughout the world recorded in history books.
Pentecost happens in our local context as well.
Back in March, we had a Session retreat. Together with the elders, we looked back over the history of the Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon. On a large sheet of butcher block paper, we drew a timeline. We included a line for the world, the community, the church, and our own Community Presbyterian Church. We noted world war II and Vietnam. We noted steel mills closing and Pittsburgh’s transformed economy. We noted Billy Graham crusades and the decline of mainline churches. On our own church’s timeline, we noted significant events like: the merger of 2 Presbyterian churches in Ben Avon, the fire that burned down Woodland Church, the suicide death of Pastor Brent Dugan, the short-term service of Pastor Paige Creech that left a divided church. I circled each of these events and said to the elders: Any one of these big events could have ruined this church. Any one of these events had the power to cause irreparable damage and to close the church—it has happened to many other churches. What does this mean? The fact that the church is still open and that we are gathered here together today is testament to your faith and the power of the Holy Spirit. When I was called here as Pastor, I heard all about your history, but I was told that you were ready to go forward and be open to the Spirit. Since I have been here, I have witnessed the Holy Spirit being poured out, amazing things happening, and people coming to faith.
In the past few years since I have been here, I have witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit at work in this place. Together we embarked on a journey of New Beginnings. By the power of the Holy Spirit, together we met and prayed and discerned our calling—“bringing Christ to our community and our community to Christ.” By the power of the Holy Spirit, together we invited others to come, saying “Come just as you are. Find the joy and inspiration you seek. Become the person you were created to be.” By the power of the Holy Spirit, together we put leaves on the Jethro Tree, committing ourselves to sharing in ministry to change the world for good. By the power of the Holy Spirit, together we have grown in numbers—including 8 new young adults being confirmed into the faith today.
What does this mean? Sisters and brothers in faith, it seems to me like another Pentecost, our Pentecost. Pentecost is not over and done with. Pentecost is alive and well and at work in our church today.
What does this mean? What then do we do? I would say top three things are:
1) We give thanks to God for the gift of the Spirit and God’s faithfulness to us.
2) We harness the power of the Spirit to reshape the world around us, reaching out in kindness, generosity and love.
3) We see and celebrate the Spirit at work and claim its power in our lives—as individuals and a community.
Friends, I invite you to notice where in your own lives or in the life of our church you experience a new Pentecost. Email me, call me, share with me in the coming weeks and months where you see the Spirit active in your life, the life of our church and in the world around us. It’s not a question of if, but when or where the next Pentecost will be.
Let’s pray: Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us. Sprit of the Living God, fall afresh on us.
Melt us, mold us, fill us, use us. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us. Amen.