Power of Pentecost
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
June 9, 2019
If you could be re-born as a superhero, who would you be? If you could have any super power, what would it be?
Ironman--powered armor suits
Wonder Woman--omnilingualism: speak the language of any person you encounter
Captain American--indestructible shield
Black Panther--superhuman acute senses
Hulk--superhuman strength and invulnerability
Captain Marvel--ability to fly at 6 times the speed of sound
The book of Acts is filled with stories of power! In Chapter 1, we are told by Jesus, along with the disciples of God’s promise: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
And sure enough, in chapter 2, God keeps the promise. Of all of the super hero forms God could have taken, God takes the form of the Holy Spirit--the greatest power of all.
The Greek word for spirit is pneuma, which literally means “wind.” Whether it is a breeze, a gust, or a tempest, it is moving. It doesn’t stay still or static, it doesn’t preserve the status quo. It shakes things up.
The Greek word translated as power is dynamis, the root word of dynamite. It is charged bursting, explosive and uncontrollable.
The Holy Spirit is poured out on all people gathered,
The Holy Spirit gives them the ability to speak in different languages, to tell the /good news in every language and to empower the disciples to go out and to shake things up and change the world for good, for God.
What a glorious day! What a powerful birth of the church!
That was then…but this is now. Much has changed in the church.
This week, a pastor shared with me a revealing and sad story. He said he went to the hospital to visit a church member. He was wearing his collar that day, and got into the elevator. He saw a young girl there and he said, “hello sweetheart.” The mother pulled her child closer to her and said nothing. The church is not seen as a safe trusted place today.
Today is it marked by disagreements, divisions, decline….some people are asking if this is the beginning of the end of the church. What good is it anyway? It seems to have lost its power and its spirit for good.
Barney Zwartz, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity (Melbourne)....
As is evident in the new documentary, For the Love of God: How Christianity is better and worse than you ever imagined, it is woefully easy to find Christians behaving badly, certainly from the time they ceased being oppressed and began gaining secular power in the fourth century. The Inquisition and institutional cover-ups of clergy sexual abuse figure high on the charge sheet, along with persecution, rapacity, collusion with power, and much more.
Nevertheless, in a post-Christian culture in which some suggest Christians’ influence has been minimal or malign, I argue strongly that Christianity has overwhelmingly been a force for good in every century for nearly 2000 years.
The modern West could not function as it does in its understanding of human dignity, rights, democracy, politics, the rule of law, health, hospitals, welfare, charity, education, science, language, arts, architecture, capitalism, vocation, morals or social justice without the profound contribution of Christian thinkers/ activists.
I discussed this recently at a public meeting, and a questioner observed that I had left out perhaps the most important positive contribution Christianity has made to the world: personal transformation. He told the story of Christian worker Hugh Price Hughes and National Secular Society founder Charles Bradlaugh. Bradlaugh challenged Hughes to debate the claims of Christianity. Hughes agreed on one condition: that each bring to the debate concrete evidence for their beliefs in the form of people whose lives had been turned round by their teaching. He would bring 100, and Bradlaugh should do the same. No? How about 20? One? Bradlaugh withdrew the challenge. The Secular Society founder could not come up with even 1 person whose life had been turned around by secularism.
The church, despite its starts and stops and missteps over the centuries, has never lost its power for good, because the power was given by God. And it never runs out. It never quits. There is enough for you and for me and for all who believe.
Today we celebrate Pentecost-the day of the birth of the church. It’s good to go back and remember the beginning, when there was so much power and a promise from God that even when it seems like it is at the end, “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.”
What this says to me is that God will never give up on us--God still believes that God’s children will still have visions and dreams. How can God be so sure? Because it is God who provides the source of these visions and dreams; it is God who provides the Spirit and the inspiration to imagine something better.
How we need a re-birth, the spirit to blow through the church and remake it in Christ’s image, fill it with power to help people understand and appreciate each other, work together to change the world for good, for God.
As I was thinking about preaching on Pentecost this week, I was on the look out for the Spirit, and I am happy to report that the Spirit is alive and well today. I saw super heroes at work, using their powers for good.
A 6 year old boy in Brazil woke up his parents at 5:00 AM on a Sunday morning about going to church (which didn’t start until 9:00 AM). He was so excited he couldn't wait! His parents sent him back to bed, but he kept coming in to wake them up. Finally they let him walk the block to church and sit on the steps until the Pastor came to let him in. He just couldn’t wait to get to church! The Holy Spirit is still empowering people today!
A Pastor started a new church in California--the Beloved Everybody Church, where people of different abilities meet to worship. She shared the story of a young woman who was upset and crying. A young man with disabilities went to the woman and tried to comfort her with words. Then he gave her a hug. And then he started crying with her. Together they cried until they found their way to peace. While the world sees this man as disabled, he showed that he had more compassion than many able-bodied people. The Holy Spirit is still empowering people today!
A man who grew up in inner city Philly. His father was in jail and murdered. His step-father was abusive. His best high school friends died of drug overdoses, were shot and killed, and went to prison. He was the only one who got out. Some say he was lucky. But he says otherwise. He says he was invited to church, but thought it was weird, until someone prayed for him and he felt the Holy Spirit come upon him, his heart opened, and he accepted Jesus into his heart. Since then he has a power and purpose in his life. He is now a teacher at Avonworth High School and at the Baccalaureate service on Tuesday he testified that his power comes from Jesus and his love. The Holy Spirit is still empowering people today!
A young woman is having surgery which will likely wire her jaw shut, and she won’t be able to eat food for 4-6 weeks. She went to the butcher shop in Beaver Falls to pick up some bacon to put in blender, for protein. The old woman working in the butcher shop asked, “Can I pray for you?” The young woman said ok. Right there in the butcher shop, the old woman anointed her with oil, put her hands on her and prayed for the Holy Spirit to come upon her and heal her. The Holy Spirit is still empowering people today!
There are superpowers at work in the world today. In our church, we have people with superpowers.
Men and women who sing in the choir every Sunday have the power to inspire us for God.
Women and men who are being ordained and installed today as elders and deacons of the church have the power to inspire us for God.
People who make suppers for people in need, visit those in the hospital, take flowers or send a card to brighten someone’s day, or say a prayer.
On that first Pentecost, of all of the super hero forms God could have taken, God took the form of the Holy Spirit--the greatest power of all--poured out on ALL people, giving people many different super powers.
And it never runs out, it is renewable, rechargable, and can re-generate with a little faith, hope, and prayer.
If we unite our powers, we do have the power to not only grow the church, but to change the world for good, one transformed person at a time.