Pentecost Possibilities

Acts 2:1-21

In 1983 Australia threatened to take the America’s Cup from the United States. The United States had retained the coveted cup of yacht racing for 132 years, but that year Australia mounted a serious challenge. Australia and the United States were tied with one race to go. The day came for the final race. Scores of people came to watch the race. Television cameras from all over the world were there. The boats were ready. The crews were ready. The yachts pulled into place at the starting line. All was ready, but there was no race! Why? There was no wind. In yachting, no wind means no possibility of a race.

It’s true – nothing happens without the wind. In the Bible both the Hebrew and Greek words for “Spirit” also mean “wind.”  Jesus said, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Our scripture this morning is about a time in the church when a fierce wind opened up new possibilities.

The disciples had gathered just as they had for nine previous days to pray.  Though it was the day of Pentecost, the Jewish festival commemorating the grain harvest and the God’s gift of the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai, it may have seemed like another day as usual for the gathered community.  Yes, things had changed with the coming of Christ, with his death, resurrection and ascension. And they probably should have been prepared for something unusual to happen, after all, that was what they experienced with Christ again and again. But they were not prepared for what the Spirit would do that day and the way they would be led from then on. The Holy Spirit turned their world and their focus upside down, but they would not have it any other way.

We, too, are gathered for our usual celebration; are we anticipating an outpouring of the Spirit?  Or have we come to put in our time or go through the motions?  Are we looking for all that the Spirit is doing and will do in our lives? The Spirit still comes to inspire us, to move us, to reveal to us and to empower us to worship and serve God and our neighbor.  The Spirit still comes today in tongues of stirring fire and disrupting wind that blows us beyond the usual that we might rely on God and do what we do not think is possible.

Professor Brian Peterson has described that “The Spirit is the power of God, the mighty burning wind that blows the church into new and unexpected places of ministry.”

For those 120 disciples – the entire body of Christians in the whole world – the wind of the Spirit blew them beyond their upper room of waiting in new directions.  Immediately the Spirit led them out of that room and into the surrounding world of Jerusalem, where thousands of people from all over the world had gathered for the festival.  They began to proclaim the good news of God’s gracious work through the Crucified and Resurrected Jesus Christ to people from all over the known world.  And impossibly, miraculously, the crowds heard these Galileans share the message in their own languages!  Many came to believe that day that Jesus is Messiah, they were baptized, and the Church was born.

The Day of Pentecost was something marvelous and miraculous.  But, if we think that Pentecost was a one-time, long-ago happening, then we are sadly mistaken.  In the book of Acts, there are multiple Pentecosts – multiple times the Spirit is poured out and new possibilities are opened. Whenever that happens, amazing things result and people come to faith.

Under threat from the officials, the believers prayed together in the fourth chapter of Acts.  The Spirit was poured out so that the room was shaken and they spoke God’s word with boldness.  In Acts 8, the evangelist Philip is led by the Spirit to answer the questions of the Ethiopian eunuch and to baptize him.  The new Christian likely carried the message with him on his return trip to Ethiopia, helping to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. In Acts 9, the persecutor of Christians named Saul of Tarsus receives the Spirit after seeing the Risen Christ and becomes a dedicated missionary carrying the gospel of God’s grace to the Gentiles.  In Acts 10, Peter sees the Holy Spirit poured out on Gentiles, and he begins to understand that all people are welcome in God’s family.

But the pouring out of the Holy Spirit that started at Pentecost didn’t stop in the book of Acts.  Throughout the Middle Ages, the Spirit moved Christians to form monastic communities that focused on prayer, mission and service, often bringing food, health and education to the masses – people like St. Francis of Assissi led the way.  Later, a monk named Martin Luther called the Church back to its Biblical roots.  Luther, like others, translated the Bible into the common language, opening the possibility for ordinary people to read God’s Word for themselves. Amidst the English industrial revolution, plagued by poverty and alcoholism, a priest named John Wesley had his “heart strangely warmed” in his personal Pentecost at a place called Aldersgate; assured of his forgiveness by the Spirit, Wesley began a movement that led to the first great awakening in churches in America and ultimately to The United Methodist Church.

Pentecost moments have been happening down through history since that day the Church was born.  When the Spirit breaks into the lives of individuals and communities to bind people together in the name of Jesus Christ for the purposes of the Kingdom of God, Pentecost possibilities become the dreams and visions of disciples.  Pentecost possibilities still happen today.

At the West Ohio Annual Conference session this past week, we heard Messages of Hope from a variety of people across our conference.  One of those stories came from a man named James Clay.  A father and grandfather, coach and mentor who had it all, Clay said he made choices that landed him in prison, without hope for his future. He learned of the possibility of Horizon Prison Initiative, a faith-based program that seeks to transform prisoners who then transform prisons and communities.  Today, Clay has been released from prison and is mentoring a group of men who are themselves incarcerated.  He said, “Only God can take a scared, scarred little boy and turn him into a man. Now I am a Healing Communities Training for All in Community, a spokesperson for the Montgomery County Reentry Office, and a fitness trainer.  All these things seemed out of reach until the Holy Spirit filled me with hope.”[1]

Gaines UMC is a congregation in the Madisonville neighborhood of Cincinnati.  A few years ago, the congregation noticed that their neighborhood was changing around them.  They no longer knew their neighbors.  At first, they were nervous and were tempted to hunker down within their walls.  But then, they began to pray.  They started in the underutilized Prayer Chapel in their church building.  Soon the Holy Spirit led them out into the neighborhood.  They walked on various streets, stopping to pray at businesses and homes, singing as they went.  They began to meet their neighbors and pray with them, and before long, some of those neighbors began coming to church for worship and activities.  Today they continue praying, connecting with their neighbors and offering the love and hope of Christ in their community.

John Street UMC in downtown Manhattan has been called a “Pentecost church.”  On Sundays, its worship attendance is relatively small (about 70), because the church’s neighborhood in the heart of the New York City financial district is a nonresidential area. Yet, on Wednesday afternoons, the doors of the church are thrown open and the joyous sounds of gospel music pours out. Inside, the weekday worshipers include blue- and white-collar workers and people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds. 

The energetic service is the Wonderful Wall Street service, averaging about 175. Through the midweek service and the congregation’s embrace of New Yorkers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the church is seen as a welcoming place for people of all kinds in the Wall Street district.  Many who work in the area attend Bible studies and other groups before commuting home.[2]

After moving to a new neighborhood, Debby and Bobby prayed about connecting with their neighbors.  They felt prompted by the Spirit to meet everyone on their street and invite them to their home for dinner and a conversation about God.  Some neighbors didn’t make eye contact; some said they weren’t interested in faith conversations, and some didn’t open their doors.  But some were excited.  Some were intrigued.  Some were searching.

A total of nine neighbors showed up on the first night.  Everyone seemed eager to learn more about God, but as the conversation started, it became clear that not everyone believed God is real or good.  Some of the neighbors had never opened a Bible before.  A few had some biblical background but didn’t really follow through.  One was angry at God because he’d lost his parents at an early age.

The group of neighbors agreed to keep meeting, and for six more weeks, they shared deeply and faith was stirred as the wind of the Spirit moved.  Then someone suggested that they continue meeting together and engage in Bible study with homework.

Two years after their first meeting, the group continues to gather regularly for dinner, sharing and Bible study.  What started with nine has grown to 15 neighbors.  They’ve shared life together, joys and sorrows, prayed together and grown deeper in faith.  Debbie says, “This is the most incredible thing God ever led us to be part of.”

Pentecost isn’t over!  God continues to pour out the Spirit and open up Pentecost possibilities today.  The Spirit comes to comfort us in our sorrow, strengthen us in our weakness, purify us from our sinfulness, perfect us in love for God and neighbor, give us courage, guide us in new directions, equip us for ministry, and engage our neighbors at their point of need.   

The first Pentecost nearly 2,000 years ago came as 120 believers were devoted to prayer.  Their prayer didn’t cause the Holy Spirit to be poured out on them – the movement of the Spirit is up to God.  However, because they devoted themselves to prayer, expecting God to move as Jesus had promised, they were open to the possibilities created by the Holy Spirit’s movement.  They were able to dream God’s dreams and see God’s vision.  They were able to go out of their prayer room and to join God in the world where God was working to bring people together; they were empowered to do the work of the Kingdom of God and to offer the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ with boldness and compassion.

God has a dream and a vision for St. Andrew’s UMC, for Findlay and Hancock County.  God has a dream and vision for your life, too.  The Holy Spirit is present and active today, revealing God’s dreams to expectant, attentive disciples and opening up Pentecost possibilities in our midst.

In these next moments, we will pray, and then I invite you to take that card you received and prayerfully write down the dream, vision or Pentecost possibility God laid on your heart.  This could be for our congregation, for our community or for your own life.  Don’t write your name – just describe it.  In a few moments, we’ll give these to God, along with God’s tithes and our offerings.  You are always welcome to email your thoughts to Pastor Becky or myself – our emails are shown in the Messenger – or to message St. Andrew’s on Facebook.  We’ll gather these up and share them with leaders and with you in the future.

Let’s pray.

Spirit of God, come among us on this Pentecost day. Make us passionate in our faith, strong in our commitment, courageous beyond our imagining, and willing to love and keep on loving without reservation.

Send your Holy Wind among us, not as a gentle breeze to lull us into relaxation, comfort and complacency. Let it be a wind of fire, to burn into our hearts a passion for your Word and a desire to share it. 

Fill us, Spirit, and enable us to dream God’s dreams and see God’s visions and imagine your Pentecost possibilities; embolden us with the courage to choose God’s visions over ours and empower us with the wisdom, strength and faith to follow.

We love you and pray in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.

[1] “Hope Speakers Bring Messages of Resurrection,” West Ohio Conference,, 06/07/2019. Accessed 06/08/2019. Watch James’ video witness here.

[2] Linda Bloom, “Still Present: Methodism in New York,” UM News Service, 09/28/2016, Accessed 06/08/2019.

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