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       Sermons | Passionate worship

      This sermon was preached by Elder Philip Melton at Swift Presbyterian Church.

      May 23, 2021 | Pentecost Sunday

      Come, Holy Spirit
      Acts 2:1–11

       D ID YOU KNOW that the word “conspire” literally means to breathe together? Take a breath. Now blow it out again. There! You’ve just launched a conspiracy.

      If you listen, I think you can hear the word spirit in there, too. To conspire … to be filled with the same Spirit … to be brought to life by the same wind. Which is why I think the word is appropriate for us this morning.

      What happens between us when we come together to worship God is that the Holy Spirit swoops in and out and among us, knitting us together through the songs that we sing, the prayers we pray, and the breaths that we breathe. It can happen with two people; it can happen with two thousand people. It can scare us, or it can comfort us, confuse us or clarify things for us — but as far as I can tell, the Holy Spirit never bullies us.

      We are always free to choose whether we will respond or not.

      † † †

      NOW TAKE another breath. If you have ever studied earth science, then you know our beautiful blue-green planet is wrapped in a protective veil that we call an atmosphere, which separates the air that we breathe from the cold vacuum of outer space. And beneath all this blue sky is all the air that ever was. There is no resupply of the air. What we have is what we got — it just gets recycled. The same ancient air just keeps recirculating — which means that any time any of us breathes, we breathe star dust left over from the creation of the earth.

      I heard this description once from Barbara Brown Taylor. She said:

      “When we breathe, we breathe brontosaurus breath and pterodactyl breath. We breathe air that has circulated from the rain forests of Kenya, and air that has turned yellow over Mexico City. We breathe the same air that Plato breathed, and Mozart, and Michelangelo, not to mention Hitler and Lizzy Borden. Every time we breathe, we take in what was some baby’s first breath or some dying person’s last. We take it in and use it to live, and when we breathe out, it carries some of us with it into the next person — or tree — or blue-tailed skink, who uses it to live.”

      † † †

      WHEN JESUS LET GO of his last breath on the cross, because he loved us, that breath hung there for a bit — and then it was set loose on the earth.

      It was an amazing breath — so full of passion, so full of life, that it didn’t simply dissipate as most breaths do. It grew in strength and volume until it was a mighty wind that God sent spinning through an upper room in Jerusalem — on the Day of Pentecost.

      God wanted to make sure Jesus’s disciples were the inheritors of Jesus’s breath — and it worked.

      † † †

      ACCORDING TO LUKE, there were about one hundred and twenty of them in the room, all moping around, wondering what they were going to do without Jesus, when — out of nowhere — they heard this holy hurricane headed their way.

      Before any of them could defend themselves, the mighty wind had blown through the entire house — in flames that burst above their heads — and they were filled with it.

      Every one of them was filled to the gills — with God’s own breath. Then something happened to them, and the air came out of them — in languages they did not even know.

      † † †

      THEY MUST HAVE SOUNDED like a hundred and twenty bagpipers, making such a ruckus that it drew a crowd. People from all over the world— who were in Jerusalem for the Festival of Pentecost — came leaning into that wind and pushed forward until they found themselves shocked to hear someone speaking their own language so far from their home.

         ■ Parthians stuck their heads through the door expecting to see other Parthians.
         ■ Libyans came around the street corner expecting to see other Libyans.

      But what they found were a bunch of Galileans — a bunch of country folk from northern Israel — dressed in the equivalent of overalls, all of them going on and on about God’s mighty acts like a room full of Ph.D.s.

      † † †

      BEFORE THE DAY was over, the church had grown from one hundred and twenty to over three thousand.

      Talk about your church growth!

      The shy had become bold, the fearful had found strength, and those who didn’t have a clue about faith had final found direction. And the disciples — who had a hard time believing that they could even tie their own sandals without Jesus — discovered abilities within themselves they never knew they had. When they opened their mouth to speak, they sounded like Jesus When they laid their hands upon the sick, it was as if Jesus himself had touched them.

      And before they knew it, they were doing things that they had only seen Jesus do and there was no explanation for it, except for the air that they had inhaled on the Day of Pentecost. They had breathed in God’s own breath and it changed them.

      † † †

      THE HOLY SPIRIT had entered into them the same way it had entered into Mary, the mother of Jesus, and for the same reason.

      It was time for God to be born again, not in only one body this time but into a body of believers who would receive the breath of life from their Lord and then breathe that breath onto the next one, who would pass that breath on to the next one — and the next one — until it has reached this very room today.

      † † †

      THE BOOK OF ACTS is the story of the adventures of the disciples, which is why I suppose I have heard it referred to as the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.

      In the first four books of the New Testament, we learn of the good news of what God has done through Jesus Christ. In the Book of Acts, we learn the good news of what God did then and is still doing today through the Holy Spirit. God performed artificial resuscitation on a roomful of his faithful followers, turning them into a force that simply changed the world.

      And yet I wonder:

         ■ Do we — the people sitting here in the pews today — believe in a God who acts like that?
         ■ Do we believe in a God who blows through the closed doors of this church and sets our heads on fire?
         ■ Do we still believe in a God who has the power to transform us, as individuals and as a people of faith? Or do we believe that God is old and tired and absent in our lives?

      You know, the God to whom we send our prayers yet don’t really expect to hear any spoken reply or really expect to actually change anything in our lives.

      † † †

      WELL, I WANT TO SHARE with you some of my story today.

      When I was taking one of my seminary classes, I read something that basically said “miracles are a poor form of evangelism.” And later I would adopt this idea as a mantra of sorts. Because this was something that I could understand, studying the Gospels and seeing how the crowds who followed Jesus always wanted something more every time Jesus performed a miracle.

      However, I have recently had to reconsider whether or not this is actually true.

      Looking back now on what I went through this year — cardiac arrest, dying and being unresponsive for five minutes — well, I had a hard time making sense of it. My brain was a bit boggled as I recovered. It took me weeks to really kind of wrap my head around what Jody Beth was telling me.

      So, at first I processed all this. I could only seem to focus on the fact that I died and was brought back. Over and over in my head, I could sense how my life had come to an abrupt end and it was all I could think about for weeks.

      † † †

      BUT NOW, I HAVE completely changed my mind about that mantra — miracles being a poor form of evangelism — because for me, the miracles in my life are becoming a great form of evangelism.

      Jody Beth and I — especially Jody Beth — have been sharing the miracle that we witnessed in my life with most of the people we encounter. And it is truly amazing how that story has affected others.

      For some of the people, hearing about what happened was a sign of their own hope, knowing that God has drawn near. For others, hearing my story has, I think, helped them to believe.

      So now I’ve changed my mind because my miracle seems to be a great form of evangelism!

      † † †

      ALSO, IN COMING TO GRIPS with this revelation about what happened in my life, I realized that I cannot focus on dying because that is not what the miracle is about. It is instead about the fact that I am still alive “to the praise of His glorious grace” as the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church in Ephesus. And I now know all that matters is the power that I feel coursing through my body when I speak of Jesus Christ.

      Which I know as the Holy Spirit!

      So it would be inappropriate to speak of my life in terms of death and dying — because that doesn’t matter. What matters is the new life that I have been given through the Holy Spirit.

      And I have experienced new life in a way that I never expected. God has set my head ablaze, blowing me into the mission field with a renewed sense of my calling. I can bear witness today to the power of God through the Holy Spirit — a witness that is seen in the fact that I am standing here this morning because by all accounts I should not be here.

      But I think the Holy Spirit might very well be the hardest nature of God to define. For me, it is easier to understand who God is by the other two persons of the Trinity:

         ■ God the Father, creator of heaven and earth, who makes the sun shine and the rain fall.
         ■ God the Son, who was human like us. Savior, teacher, friend.

      † † †

      BUT HOW CAN I DESCRIBE the Holy Spirit to you today such that you understand what I am talking about. Even Jesus had a hard time with that one. In John’s Gospel, Jesus said:

      “The Spirit blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (3:8)

      And there are some very good teachings about the Holy Spirit in the Bible, but I hope none of you is satisfied with those teachings until you have the holy wind blowing through your own life, opening you eyes to the power of God. There is nothing that I can say to make this happen in your life. I can’t give you faith because that is a gift from God.

      I do believe that you should pray, “Come, Holy Spirit,” every single day, though — inviting God to change you into the person that he created you to be.

      But if you don’t want anything to change, then you probably shouldn’t waste the energy. I can only tell you from experience that feeling the power of God moving through your life is not something you’ll ever forget.

      And here’s the kicker: Asking for the experience of the Holy Spirit is only half the equation. The other half is recognizing it when it comes.

      † † †

      JODY BETH AND I have listened to a lot of people’s stories over the years. And we find that we strike up a great many conversations with people that we don’t know, which is why we end up sharing the miracle that changed my life with so many people.

      And more times than I can recall, these people end up sharing their stories with us in great detail. As they share their stories with us, many never say anything about encountering God the Father or God the Son or God the Holy Spirit.

      By listening to them, it seems pretty clear that they have; I think that they just didn’t have any idea what to call it. No specific name, maybe they thought it was coincidence or hormones or whatever, and possibly that is all that it was for them.

      † † †

      BUT IF YOU have never recognized the Holy Spirit in action, I’d like to invite you to look at my experience.

      First, I went to church all my life — never too committed, but I considered myself a follower of Christ. Later in my faith journey, I went to a renewal weekend called Cursillo — still never too committed but affiliated. Then I met my wife because of that experience. And I grew daily in my sense of calling but was still a little bit in denial.

      Then I went to work in the church. I served as a deacon, then an elder. I sensed the Holy Spirit at work there as I answered the call. My faith grew stronger with each passing day until I felt called to attend the online seminary program at Dubuque. All the while growing in amazement at the way the Holy Spirit created me new every day.

      † † †

      STANDING IN FRONT of a congregation, proclaiming the Word of God, was the last place I ever expected to be. Dying and coming back with a renewed sense of the Holy Spirit in my life. Nope — not where I thought I would ever be. But here I am, a living testimony to the power of God. Armed with a sense of new beginning.

      In the early weeks of my recovery from surgery, I was able to feel and hear the Spirit. As I was lying there, I would listen to a symphony of birds singing in the wee hours of the morning. It gave me a second wind. Now you can call it what you want but I call it God.

      Another way I have felt the Spirit in my life is the renewed sense of relationship that I have experienced. I’ve felt the overwhelming call to tell everyone in my life that I love them. Maybe this has happened to you and you just don’t know what to call it. I call the Holy Spirit.

      † † †

      MAYBE YOU HAVE a friend or relative on your mind like I did — someone you haven’t seen or spoken with in years. Then you have the overwhelming desire. to pick up the phone and touch base with them like I did, just to catch up, to find out how they are doing. I call it the work of the Spirit.

      Once you get the hang of recognizing God’s Spirit blowing through your life, then it just gets easier and easier to spot. Whenever you find yourself being kind or speaking with eloquence for offering forgiveness whether you intended or not. You can be pretty sure that you are experiencing the Gospel of the Holy Spirit! And more than that, you are taking part in it: breathing in and breathing out, taking God into you and giving God back to the world again — with some of you attached.

      Now breathe in and breathe out. That is God’s gift to you, you can call it air or you can call it the Holy Spirit as I do.

      † † †

      BROTHERS AND SISTERS in Christ, I am here today to bear witness the mighty power of God with the simple fact that I am standing here. I am only here because of God’s glorious grace.

      And this day I pray that the eyes of your heart may be opened so that you may also know the hope that I have experienced — the hope that has called you and that you might know all the riches that God has given to you, his holy people. I also pray that you may know the great power that has been given to us through the Holy Spirit.

      My friends, our God has given me this message to share with you today. A message given by the power of His Spirit.

      He loves you! God loves you! And God’s Spirit will sustain us until our Lord comes again! Amen.

      † † †

      *Note: Special thanks to one of my faith mentors, the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, whose beautiful vision of this world has provided inspiration in my own vision of the world and my life in Christ. Thank you for the framework and some of the words for this message.

      — Philip Melton   

      «It was time for God to be born again, not in only one body this time but into a body of believers who would receive the breath of life from their Lord and then breathe that breath onto the next one, who would pass that breath on to the next one — and the next one — until it has reached this very room today.»


      ►This is the Word of God for the people of God:

      Acts 2:1–11
      Holy Bible, New International Version

      The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost
      When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

      5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs — we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

      — This is the Word of the Lord.
      — Thanks be to God.


      a.  Acts 2:4  Or languages; also in verse 11
      b.  Acts 2:9  That is, the Roman province by that name

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