The Church That Makes a Difference

Acts 2:16-18

16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.

Salem Lutheran Family and Friends,

What a privilege it is for me to be here, again, today.  I am especially glad that it is Pentecost.  Let me tell you why.  Recently at a Saturday night service, the 8th grade students of Trinity Lutheran read their essays; afterwards, there was a cookie and punch reception for the 8th graders, their families and friends.  One of the students I did not know well.  I had introduced myself to him the on previous Saturday, as he was preparing to acolyte; I was asked to lead that evening service and preach for it.  That Saturday after the service, I happened to talk to his grandparents, who were members of Trinity Lutheran, Centralia; they explained that their grandson had started Trinity’s Public Confirmation Class in the last year, and wanted to become a member of that congregation. On the way to the door after the reception, his grandparents mentioned that he had attended some service with them, years earlier.  Then, he says, “And you preached on the Holy Spirit!”

I was wowed that this 12 or 13 year old remembered what I preached on 3 years earlier, when he was only 9 or 10 years old.  Most people don’t remember most of what pastors said, when they leave the church on Sunday, much less 3 years ago.

Well, some of the ideas in this sermon may have been shared on that Sunday, since it is on “the Holy Spirit” and was preached about 3 years ago.  Pentecost Sunday is all about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, from the days of the disciples after Jesus’ ascension until this very day.

Before I share the text, I’d like to give you someone else’s idea of the church, today; I believe that it is the “church” without the Holy Spirit.  I received this idea of the church from a book that had been given to me, entitled, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.  I’ll warn you: the criticism of David Platt of the American Church is hard to hear.  Even if it doesn’t apply to Salem Lutheran Church and Trinity Lutheran, Centralia, it’s hard to think that some people would actually believe this definition of church.  I call it: “church without the Holy Spirit.”

Here’s what David Platt says: “”We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist Him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with.  A nice, middle-class, American Jesus….A Jesus who brings comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American Dream.”  (From chapter, “What Radical Abandonment to Jesus Really Means,” p. 13).  What he is saying, I believe, is that some American Christians are uncomfortable with suffering in the church.  Pastor Doug said a few weeks ago that some people are uncomfortable with mentioning sin in the worship service.  It makes them uncomfortable.  There are some in the church who want it only to be a “feel good” place, where troubles, sins, and God’s punishment are never mentioned.  Such was not the church at Jerusalem on that first Pentecost.  Such a church will never make a difference in our lives and communities.

Let me tell you about the early Christian Church on that first Pentecost. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was there.  He changed people’s lives.  It made a difference.  Let me briefly review what happened, so that we can know the historical roots of the church, today – the church of the Holy Spirit.  The Feast of Pentecost was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, who spoke in the different languages of the people, who were gathered at Jerusalem for a Jewish Festival commemorating the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.  There was a violent wind and tongue-shaped fires on the heads of the apostles.  The people heard it, saw it, and experienced the power of God!  The disciples taught and preached about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension in the languages of the different nationalities gathered there – languages they had not studied.  It was quite a phenomenon!

Our text is Acts 2:1,16-18, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.…this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on My male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”

Pentecost is an important day in the church year.  It reminds us of our connection with our Creator, our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit in our church and personal lives.

There are two things that I would like to emphasize for the church then and now, for the power of the Holy Spirit then and now.  The first is Unity.  Let’s read together from Acts 1:1, “…they were all together in one place.”  The KJV stresses the theme of unity even more: “They were all with one accord in one place.”  Some people love their own ideas rather than the ideas of the church, the Bible, and Jesus.  If we expect our church and our lives to make a difference, then we must be united with Jesus and His teachings as the Holy Spirit was united with Jesus and His teachings.  The source of our life-changing power is described in John 14:16-17a, “And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.”

Too many church leaders are attempting to run their churches themselves instead of relying on God’s power.  David Platt writes: “We have convinced ourselves that if we can position our resources and organize our strategies, then in church as in every other sphere of life, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.”  There’s nothing wrong with resources and strategies in the church.  For instance, I think power point is a great resource to communicate the message of the Gospel.  The problem is when resources and strategies replace the power of God instead of being guided and supported by the power of God.

Did you see what happened on that first Pentecost.  There were powerful signs: wind and fire. Disciples spoke in languages, that they had not studied.  Resources and strategies, to be sure!  But the underlying power was the unity of the church with the power of God!  There is unity at Salem Lutheran when people meet together for different ministries and worship together on Sundays and other times.  The author of Hebrews underscores this important goal for unified growth in Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  And in the previous verse a job description is given to how we “encourage one another:”  “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  It all happens out of seeking the mind of God and the will of God for our churches/our lives.

The second thing that will make a difference in a Holy Spirit – power of God – led church is prayer.  We sometimes overlook this important factor in the first Pentecost, because it is not mentioned in chapter 2.  It sets the stage for what happens in chapter 2.  We read in Acts 1:14, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.  The church still needs the prayers of the members, not just the pastor and the leaders.  The Lutheran Study Bible has this note for that verse: “With undivided attention, their hearts and minds were open to receive the promised Spirit” (p. 1832).  They are pleading for the power of God, aware that they are not going to accomplish anything without it.  And so we pray: in worship, in small groups, in families, and individually for God’s power to come through our programs, our resources, our groups, and our lives.

Prayer to God was at the heart of the early church’s dynamic beginning.  Lawrence O. Richards once noted that sponge diving is a major business in his area of the country.  Divers are attached to an oxygen line in a boat; then, they dive deep into the water to search for sponges.  The only thing that keeps the diver alive is his or her connection to the boat above them.  He writes: “In the same way once we have died to this world and are alive through Christ, our life is being sustained by power from above.  No matter how bad life may be ‘down here’ on earth, we are connected to the Source of Life, and that connection keeps us going” (The 365 – Day Devotional Commentary, p. 1009).

For the blessing of the Spirit – driven church everything begins with prayer and unity.  The early church prayed to God, united with one another in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.   And God gave it power to turn the world upside down!  May we never forget the impact that prayer and unity can have on the church of the 21st century!  We can make a difference in our churches, families, and communities, because we have the power of the Holy Spirit with the Heavenly Father and His Son.   Amen.  Let’s pray together (from the screen): “O God, do it again!  Do it again!  O God, do it again!  Do it again!  Amen.”