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May 31, 2020 [Red]
Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-4, 14-21; John 7:37-39
The Vitality of the Holy Spirit
The vital force in creation
Today is Pentecost Sunday. It is the day when the first disciples received the Holy Spirit in their gatherings and started their faith community, which we now call “Church.” When we think about the Holy Spirit, we may be reminded of a lively image like fire, wind, a dove, water, or tongues. Yes, Pentecost is something about a power, energy, force, or vitality that makes us stretch our bodies, or shout joyfully, move forward, or renew and strengthen our lives and ministry.
I can feel this kind of power or vitality when I walk in my yard. Look, it is now full of green color and full of life. Here in my vegetable garden bed, are there the buds of life growing. Two weeks ago, I planted some seedlings and lettuce, pepper, tomato, and zucchini seeds. A few days ago when I went out to give them water, I saw some green shoots coming up out of the ground. I am already looking forward to how much I can reap from my garden.
If you ask what is the most amazing thing in nature, I’d like to answer it is the growth of life. Look at those tiny seeds. I can’t understand, and nobody can fully explain how they really grow into plants, flowers, or huge trees that are heavily laden with fruit. As I think of this mystery of life, I am just reminded of God’s words in Genesis: “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.”
What makes a tiny seed grow into a huge tree and bear lots of fruit? What makes a little baby get bigger and bigger every day? What makes all living creatures instinctively desire to survive and reproduce? I don’t know the right answer, but based on the Bible, I can say when God created all the creatures, he put a power, or force, or a spirit in their bodies that play a vital role in growth and development. That’s why the entire universe is always throbbing with life. And this throbbing keeps on going as long as life lasts.
The power of the Holy Spirit
But then we may wonder why we need the Holy Spirit. All creatures already have a spirit in their bodies, that they are willing to survive, grow, bear fruit, and make good lives. So why do we need the Holy Spirit? Let me give you a better question to think about – “How is the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent to his people different from the general spirit of life that God already put in all his creatures?” The answer is in the story of Acts we read this morning.
Following Jesus’ commandment, the disciples were all together in one place, and then 10 days later after Jesus ascended to heaven, they finally received the Holy Spirit pouring out into their hearts. How did they react? They began to speak in foreign languages they had never learned before. Peter and his fellow disciples addressed the crowds coming from all over the world. According to the end of this story, about 3,000 people, who heard his sermon, were converted to be Christians on that day. If you continue to read in chapter 3, they also showed an amazing healing power to raise a man crippled from birth, who was begging at the gate of the Jerusalem Temple.
What a wonderful power it is! This supernatural event is called Pentecost. But I don’t want to take your attention from this kind of miracle which happened to the first disciples of the first century. I don’t believe that this miracle is the main point of Pentecost. Instead, I want you to see what kind of change took place in their hearts when they received the Holy Spirit.
Look at Peter. When Jesus was arrested, he was so afraid that he denied Jesus three times in front of people. What about John? He was hiding in a group of women when Jesus was crucified. Mary Magdalene? She was weeping and grieving at Jesus’ tomb. Thomas was even doubtful when he heard the resurrection of Jesus.
Before they received the Holy Spirit, they were very ordinary people who only reacted to their environment for their own survival. They were selfish, fragile, and somehow disloyal, but we don’t want to blame them because we know that self-preservation is human nature. Just like anyone of us, they also reacted according to their own instinct for survival.
But, when they were set on fire (the Holy Spirit), they were radically changed to new people. No longer were they afraid of the persecution or challenge from the world. No longer were they hiding away from trouble. Now, they were bold enough to come out to speak publicly in front of the crowds that Jesus rose from the dead and he is indeed the Messiah.
Do you see the differences of how they reacted before and after they received the Holy Spirit? Before they received the Holy Spirit, they were concerned about how to manage their own security and survive in their time of trial. But after they received the Holy Spirit, it seems like they were willing to get into their communities to serve and care for others as they witnessed to the Gospel of Jesus and carried on his salvation ministry.
All creatures have a vital instinct for their own survival. That’s why all the creatures have to eat when they are hungry; they need to sleep or go on vacation after they work hard; and they look out for their own safety when they are in trouble. Nothing wrong with it! Survival is God’s will for all living creatures.
But we Christians have one more spirit in our hearts, which is the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ gives his disciples. Here in our Scripture, we see by the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples stand as the witnesses of Jesus Christ. It means that they finally sought something more valuable for others and the whole community than for their own interests. It is the Holy Spirit that has transformed us to seek God’s righteousness and work for God’s kingdom here in this troubled and broken world, so that we can lead many lives into God’s salvation and make our world move forward.
Stand up for life
Here in my vegetable garden bed are there the buds of life growing. I know they will continue to grow as long as there is sun and rain. But I also know I have to take care of them every day if I really want to have a good harvest. Here in our communities there are so many neighbors living for their own survival. But we also know we can live well with everyone and make our world a lot better when we live for others.
What can we do in these trying times? Maybe the survival instinct we have in our hearts continues to say we need to stay home, stay away from all the crowds, and even close the doors. As God’s people, however, you may also struggle with a thought that you have to do something for others in the name of Jesus. That is the voice of the Holy Spirit that is in your heart as well. What can we do? If we are willing, we can see there are so many things we can do in the name of Jesus Christ. In these trying times and in this season of Pentecost, let us renew and empower our lives and ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.