Sermon: The Holy Spirit With and For Us

June 16, 2019
Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Holy Spirit With and For Us

Life Is Unfair
We have an unresolved long debate on life: “Is life good or bad” or “Is it easy or hard?” What kind of perspective do you have on life? Throughout my life’s journey in this world so far, I have learned that life seems unfair. Somebody is born rich, but somebody else is born poor; somebody has a lot, but somebody else doesn’t have much; somebody is healthy, while somebody else is unhealthy. That doesn’t mean that when we are happy with our privileged things, we must feel guilty and need to be in a lousy mood all the time. We need to recognize that life is neither easy nor fair.

I hope each of us realizes that life is hard sooner rather than later, so we will not have any fantasy of earthly life but seek out God’s help. Don’t get me wrong. I really don’t wish tragedies on anyone else. I don’t wish for anyone to worry about finance problems. I don’t wish for anyone to struggle with physical or mental illness. I don’t wish for anyone to have to deal with alcoholism or drug abuse in themselves or in their families. No Christian should wish harm to anyone. However, I am saying that life is hard and we are weak. Therefore, we must rely on God, the source of all creation.

Look Around and Look Up
When troubles come and we feel powerless, we may sometimes be tempted to give up our life. I had a time to look for a counselor when I was really tired of my life. One day my therapist asked, “Have you ever felt suicidal?” I said, “Sometimes yes, but I endured it.” She continued to ask, “What made you overcome it?” At my lowest point, I was tempted to give up my life, but then I had to think about somebody else, particularly, my mother.

When we get to the end of a rope and feel there will be no more hope in life, we need to look around and look up. If we just give up and finish our life because it is too painful to endure, we may be free from dealing with pain and despair, but we should know that somebody else has to carry our burdens instead of us. Our suffering is not gone; it is only moved to another person.

What if our Father God just gave up on us because he is really sick and tired of forgiving our sins and taking care of our lives? Then, God might be free from all problems happening in the world, but we human beings would have to deal with all the troubles and tragedies with our own limited power. Without God’s support, no one could say, “Life is good.”

When life is really painful, don’t only look at yourself but look around and look up to see who is around you. Surely, life is neither easy nor fair, but we can still keep it going on and even celebrate it because God our Father, who is with us, doesn’t give up hope and love for us.

The Holy Spirit Praying for Us
In this Pentecost season, we give God thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit according to his Son Jesus’ promise to his disciples. What we couldn’t do, Christ has already done for us. He has lived the life we cannot live and died the death we don’t want to die. And Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Christ has sent the Holy Spirit on us, so that we can call God “Abba, Father” (v. 15). As God’s children, we have the power of the Holy Spirit, our Counselor and Comforter, the One who stands beside us and prays with us and for us, especially in our tough times.

In Romans, the disciple Paul talks about the present suffering we have to deal with as long as we live on earth. According to him, the whole creation is groaning like a woman in labor pains (v. 22). Even men and boys feel pain like women in hard labor. What Paul says is, “Life is hard.”

In numerous cases, troubles come from our relationship with people, even people we love and trust. Our beloved can’t stay with us forever, but someday they will leave us alone. That is why the Lord Jesus warns us not to love anyone more than God! The person who never causes us a grief in our life, or even the person who loves and cares for us still cannot be our God. No matter how good they are to us, they will all fail us later as they die or leave us!

It is not just the people in our lives. Deliberately or not, we also hurt our own lives. Sometimes our body lets us down. Sometimes our emotion lets us down. The disciple Paul confesses about his weakness in Romans 7: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it…. Wretched man that I am!” (7:19-20, 24).

But Paul doesn’t give up hope although he knows life is hard or sinful. He continues to say, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vv. 24-25). Taking our attention from ourselves to Jesus Christ, Paul encourages us not to look at ourselves but look around and look up to find the salvation that comes from God.

God made us for worship. If we do not worship the true God but still say we worship the Lord, then we may only worship God’s gifts instead of the Giver. For now, we may be happy because we feel our lives are blessed with all those gifts. Yet, if we only worship God’s gifts and all the gifts are gone away, we may have to see ourselves struggle with the sense of emptiness of life. Loved ones die or leave us alone. Children grow up and go their own way. Our bodies grow weak as we get older. Our money has never saved us from the power of death and sin. Worship wrong things, and, yes, there will be a time we may have to say again that life is hard.

In this regard, the Lord Jesus was not being mean when he said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). He didn’t mean that we must not love and trust any one, but he was warning us not to worship wrongly. He was trying to remind us that God our Father is the true One who can save us from troubles and help us live in peace and joy.

Time to Receive the Holy Spirit
When we feel we hit the bottom of life, it’s time to look around and look up, not to give up. In the midst of our troubled life, Jesus promises all his disciples and us today, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (John 14:18). He promises to send the Holy Spirit to be with us forever (v. 15). In Romans, Paul says that the Spirit is to pray with and for us. Therefore, we are not alone, not abandoned, not orphaned, and not deceived by anything false from the world because the Risen Christ stands in our midst by the power of the Holy Spirit.

When we are afraid, when we are in want, when we lack faith, it is time to turn to God and receive the Holy Spirit. Life is not easy, but life is good because the Holy Spirit is now with us, praying for us, leading us, carrying our burdens, and providing hope of life for us. Thanks be to God! Amen!

Sermon: The Promise From Above

The Promise From Above
Acts 2:1-21
RUMC 4 June 2017

Once there was a Sunday school teacher who encouraged her class to memorize the Apostle’s Creed. On Children’s Rally Sunday, each child was to recite one section.
Sara began, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth.”
Rachel continued, “I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
Ricky added, “was crucified, dead, and buried, the third day he rose from the dead.”
Noah was next and said, “He ascended into heaven, and seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the living and dead.”
Then there was a long pause. Finally a girl spoke up and said “The boy who believes in the Holy Spirit is absent today.”

I think for a lot of people, there is a mystery as to who the Holy Spirit is and what he does. Today on this Pentecost Sunday, we remember how the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts became real in the lives of the disciples.  It is my hope that this same Holy Spirit will reignite our spiritual lives as well.

My text is Acts 2.
2 1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.
5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?
Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene;
Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes;
Even Cretans and Arabs!
“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”
12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” 13 Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”
14-21 That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy. I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous; And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”
This is the Word of God.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he gave final instructions in Acts 1:8  “But you will receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”  Ten days later the manifestation of the Holy Spirit was sudden and dramatic.

  1. First, there was the sound of the wind. The wind was the real attention getter, because it was sudden and in the house. This symbolized God’s presence.
  2. Then those present could see little flames hover over the heads of the apostles. It was not a devouring blaze, but more like the flame in the Methodist symbol. In this case, fire is the symbol of transformation that cleanses whoever it touches.
  3. Next the onlookers were startled to see the Lord’s disciples speak in foreign languages. This showed that the gospel was to be worldwide and that the prayer in the Holy Spirit is one of the spiritual gifts.

So on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, the church was born. The Holy Spirit changed the lives of the disciples, and they changed the world.  The Lord wants the same for us.  He wants us to be filled, controlled, and reignited with the Holy Spirit so that our personalities and talents can be used for the Kingdom of God.

In the 1960 movie, Ben Hur, the actor Charlton Heston was asked to drive a chariot. During those practice sessions he had trouble adjusting to the way it operated.  He told his director, “I can barely stay on this thing and I can’t win the race.”  The director told Heston, “It is your job is to stay on it and it is my job to make sure you win.”  Heston held on and the movie was a great success.  It is the same thing with us. The Holy Spirit orchestrates the events in our lives.  Our job is to simply stay in our chariot of faith.  If we do that, the Spirit of God will work through us in a remarkable way.

Once there was a blacksmith who had two pieces of iron that needed to be molded into one. So he took the two cold pieces, put them on the anvil, and began to hammer.  Of course nothing happened.  Then the blacksmith remembered something that he should never have forgotten.  He then put the two pieces of iron into the fire, took them out, laid one on the other, and began to hammer.  Soon they became one.  That is a picture of what the Holy Spirit does for us.  The Lord through the Spirit of God takes us and molds us so we can be useful in the Kingdom of God.

On January first of each year is the Tournament of Roses parade, held in Pasadena, California. One year a float covered with flowers suddenly sputtered and quit.  The unthinkable happened.  It was out of gas.  A good section of the parade was held up until someone could get a can of gas.  The funny thing about this float was that it represented the Standard Oil Company; yet with all of its vast oil resources, their truck was out of gas and couldn’t move.

What these two illustrations represent is that something was needed to complete the task. The blacksmith needed fire, and the float in the parade needed gas.  It is the same thing with the Christian believer; we need the presence of the Spirit if we are going to make a difference.

I think of a garden hose. If there are any kinks in it, the water may sputter or not come out.  We must unroll the hose and straighten it out to get the water going at full force.  It is the same thing with the Holy Spirit.  A lack of faith or not living right will block the flow.

If I could tie all this together: When we invite Christ into our hearts, the Holy Spirit gives us assurance that we are His children.  Pentecost becomes real to us when the “spiritual” wind blows into our lives; we become closer and deeper in our connection to God.  My hope is that you will allow more of God in your lives so that He can work through you.

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Sermon: Wise Men and Women Still Seek Him

Wise Men and Women Still Seek Him
Matthew 2:1-12
RUMC January 8, 2017

There are some people who have suggested that if the wise men had been women:

  • They would have asked for directions sooner and arrived on time.
  • They would have helped Mary deliver the baby and would have cleaned up the stable.
  • They would have brought much more practical gifts such as diapers, baby clothes and a perhaps a casserole to eat.

This morning I would like to parallel the story of the Magi, or Wise Men, with our story of faith. My text is Matthew 2:1-12.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.

In Old Testament times, there were many prophecies or predictions about a Messiah who was to save Israel from its enemies. We find one such prophecy from Numbers 24:17 which says:  I see him, but not now.  I behold him, but not near.  A star out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.

Please understand, for hundreds and thousands of years, the Jewish people would search the night skies for a sign of the coming of the Messiah. But the odd thing was that when this star or comet or super nova did appear, it wasn’t the Jewish people who saw it.  The star was recognized by a select group of men called Magi who lived in modern day Iraq or Iran.

These men were special advisers to kings and highly educated in the sciences and humanities. The Magi were also very knowledgeable about the prophecies of the Jewish Messiah.  When the Magi saw the star in the sky, God confirmed in their hearts that, yes indeed, the Messiah had been born.  And they knew they had to come and pay homage.  You see it wasn’t enough for them to know that the Messiah had been born or even to send gifts.  They had to come and experience the wonder of it all.

Many of us are like the Magi in the sense that God has breathed into our souls a longing or a desire to know truth. I think many of us in this church are like that; we heard the Word of God and responded in our hearts.  The Holy Spirit became reality in our souls when we made it a part of our lives.

When I was in New Hampshire, I taught a Bible Study on world religions at our local library. For 10 weeks we covered a different religion each week–Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Taoism, Judaism Bahia and others.  When we finished the study, I asked the group, who were primarily church people, “Now which one of you would give up your Christian faith for any other religion?”  I did not have any volunteers.  Many other religions tell us that we have a soul, but only Christianity tells us how someone (God, the Holy Spirit) can indwell and fill that void.  I like to think of Christianity as more like a relationship where people seek to know God, than a religion.

Many in our congregation have a testimony of how each found the Savior. For some it was early in life.  Others went through a period of rebellion and searching, but when you did find Christ and made a profession of faith, there was now a relationship.

The journey that the Magi planned took 3 months. For such a trip, they needed to carry enough food, and water.  In our Christmas cards, our nativity scenes, and even in the movies and plays we see three men on three camels but it was more likely that it was a large caravan of men and camels to carry tents, extra supplies and body guards.

When the Magi did finally arrive in Israel, they went straight to the official head of the nation. King Herod was a person you wanted to avoid.  Although he was 70 years old and had ruled for over 40 long years, he was suspicious and paranoid of everyone and everything.  So much so that he commissioned thousands of slaves to build 10 emergency fortresses, all heavily armed and well stocked.  In addition he established an elaborate network of spies to search for anyone who had any intention of overthrowing Herod’s reign of power.

When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, Herod was already sick. We are not exactly certain what was wrong.  Ancient historians have written that Herod was often in pain and suffered multiple convulsions, and that he often screamed throughout the night.  His breath was foul and his skin was covered with open sores.  It was also believed that Herod suffered from some form of dementia.

When Herod heard the disturbing news that the Messiah had been born, he called together the high priests, both past and present, and all the learned rabbi’s and asked when and where the Messiah was to be born. The answer was an immediate and emphatic.  It was Bethlehem; that’s all he needed to know.  After this the Magi left Jerusalem, and they continued to follow the star.  What I find interesting is that the Magi had traveled for several months and hundreds of miles to find the Christ child.  However when the priests and the teachers of the law were told that the Christ child was only 5 miles away, they didn’t even make an effort to look and see if it was true.

There comes a point in our lives when we have to make an effort to know God. We can’t rely on the faith of our parents, godparents, grandparents or even the minister to find us faith.  There must come a point in our spiritual walk, where we have to do it ourselves; that is to take an active part in our faith.  If we are passive or noncommittal, we will have only enough religion to make ourselves miserable.

By the time the Magi had come, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus had probably moved out of the stable and into a rented house. Verse 11 says: On coming to the house.  They saw the child with his mother.  It was here that the Magi had found Jeshua or Jesus the Messiah with his mother.

The scriptures tell us that the Magi presented the baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; spiritually we carry their equivalents with us today

Gold was an appropriate gift for royalty.  Spiritual God deserves the very best that we can bring him, which is our hearts.

Frankincense was used as incense in the temple.  Our prayers and good works are like that pleasing aroma that ascended to the throne of God.

The myrrh was a spice used for burial and represented the death that Jesus would die for our sins.

It is believed that the gifts the wise men brought, when sold, provided the funds for Joseph and the family to move to Egypt.

When the Magi found the Christ child, there was a sense of satisfaction and personal fulfillment. It is the same with us. When we find Christ and invite him into our lives, the search is over.  There is no need to look further.  When we have the Lord in our hearts, we are given an inner witness that Jesus is the light of the world and the savior of our souls.

One summer during the 1950’s, Rev. Howard Mumma, a Methodist pastor, served as a guest minister at the American Methodist Church in Paris. After one Sunday worship service, he noticed a man in a dark suit surrounded by admirers.  He was told it was the noted author Albert Camus, famous for his novels and essays.  Mr. Camus later told the pastor: “The reason I have been coming to church is because I am seeking. I am almost on a pilgrimage seeking something to fill the void that I am experiencing and no one else knows.  Certainly the public and the readers of my novels while they see that void, they are not finding the answers in what they are reading.  But deep down, I am searching for something that the world is not giving me.”  Mr. Camus went on to tell the pastor that he came to church, because he was starting to find what he was looking for.

You see, God has given each of us a soul that longs to be filled with his Holy Spirit. There is a void that must be filled.  Many of us, in our spiritual journey, have had that longing and fulfillment met when we asked the Lord into our hearts.  That is what a Christian is; He lives in our hearts.

2000 years ago, the Magi also searched. And when they found the Christ, there was fulfillment.  My prayer for all of us at RUMC is that we will be a church of wise men and women who seek, who serve, and who worship Christ, whose birth we celebrated on Christmas Day.

If you are still looking for that peace, start the New Year off by dedicating your heart and life to the Lord.

Sermon: Why Should We Go to the House of the Lord

Why Should We Go To the House of the Lord?
Psalm 122
27 November 2016

One day the telephone rang in the rector’s office at Christ’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia; it was the church where President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended. On the telephone line, an eager voice asked.  “Tell me, do you expect the President to be in church this Sunday?”  The Rector answered, “I cannot promise that, but we expect God to be here and we believe that will be incentive enough for a reasonably large attendance.”

Here at Rockville United Methodist Church, we believe God is with us and there is an assurance that he is in our lives. That is why we attend church every Sunday morning.

My text for this morning is Psalm 122 and it is about the love a believer has for a place of worship.
1 I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. 4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David. 6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you. 7 Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.” 8 For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” 9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.”
This is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God.

Psalm 122 was a song sung by Jewish pilgrims when they got into view of the temple. As they began to walk up the slight incline into the city, they began to sing in preparation for worship in the temple.

In February of 2014, I went to Israel with about 40 ministers and Bishop Devadhar. When we arrived in Jerusalem, I found that once we began to walk up the gradual incline to the old temple area, it was not an easy climb.  You had to be in somewhat good shape to walk those long and hilly slopes.

As I meditated on Psalm 122, I thought of the routine that many family members use on a Sunday morning when they are about to leave their homes. This expression will sound familiar to many of us as we have all called something like, “It is time to go to church” to get the family moving.  Let me suggest a phrase with a richer meaning, verse 1 of this psalm. “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

As you entered the doors of this sanctuary this morning, it is my hope and prayer that each of us felt God’s presence. I hope as we spend time together in service, we will each experience the presence of God, the holy, the divine, the peace and assurance of God.  That is why we come.

As a child, I was fortunate to have parents who instilled in me a desire to be in God’s House. As I look back on it, that provided me with the framework for me to find Jesus as my Savior and a foundation to go into the ministry.  In those early years, I got into the habit of attending worship services on Sunday.  Even today, if I am not in the house of the Lord on Sunday, I feel incomplete and as I get older, I don’t ever want to get in the habit of staying away for whatever reason.

Hebrews 10:25:  Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 

Incidentally, the church I attended as a youth, Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church in Quincy, MA closed its doors a couple of years ago. It was sold this past year to a developer who had it demolished on Columbus Day weekend.  Prior to the demolition, I contacted the developer and received permission to go into the church one final time.  When I went inside, the church was just a hollow building with most of its sacred items removed, but in my mind it still felt like the house of God.

For those who do not have a personal relationship with the Lord, a church is a building where nice people go on a Sunday. But for those who have Christ in their hearts, a church building is more than that.  It is a sacred place to meet God and hear his word.

I have great respect for the people needing a cane or walker who come to church. Sometimes they come in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank.  I know it is an effort for these people to be here and I appreciate their faithfulness.

I remember in the first United Methodist Church that I pastored we held a Saturday afternoon worship service. A 96 year old church member would have his health aide drive him, and they would sit together.  On one Saturday afternoon, I saw that the health aide was alone.  After the service, I asked where the man was and she said the parking lot.  He had a bad cough and didn’t want to disturb anyone.  I gave him a one minute sermon and served him communion.

Looking at American history, George Washington’s pastor once said, “No company or visitor ever kept him away from church. The pastor went on.  “I have often been at his breakfast table which was filled with guests.  But to him, there was no excuse for neglecting his God and losing the satisfaction of setting a good example.  Instead of staying at home out of imaginary courtesy to them, he used to constantly invite them to accompany him to church.”  President Theodore Roosevelt, in spite of all of his duties and responsibilities, did everything in his power to never miss a church service.  He took the promise he made at his confirmation seriously when he pledged that he would be faithful.  If Roosevelt could not attend a worship service, he sent a letter to his pastor and explained why he had to be absent.

Unfortunately for today’s society, we have had at least two, maybe three, generations where the parents were not as faithful in raising their children in the Christian faith or bringing them to church.  For faith to work, parents have to teach, to set the example and bring their children to the house of God.  Otherwise, if you let a child make the choice, most likely they won’t.

When I look at Psalm 122, there is something else that jumps out at me. It is verse 1 which says.  I was glad when they said to me. Let us go to the house of the Lord.  Notice there is no hint of reluctance, nor is there a sense of duty or obligation.  The psalmist is glad and looks forward to the experience.  I hope that is our experience as well.

Have you ever seen the Olympic ice sport of curling? Curling is like watching shuffleboard on ice with brooms.  It is not terribly exciting except to those who have a genuine interest.  To me it doesn’t exactly get the blood flowing, but if you are a true fan, you are passionate and it is exciting.  When it comes to worship, if a person does not have Christ in their life or does very little to nurture their spiritual life, church worship could be like curling.  It will become irrelevant, and people would rather stay home.

However when a person’s spiritual life becomes renewed and that person becomes born from above, church becomes the House of the Lord, and worship takes on new meaning.

A good worship experience requires some concentration and preparation. In Biblical times, when Jewish pilgrims came within sight of the temple, they began to sing 15 of the Psalm of the Ascents; Psalm 122 is one of them.  As they sang, they began to prepare themselves for worship in the temple.

I think our worship experience would go much better if we had some preparation when we get up on Sunday mornings. Perhaps we should keep the TV off and hold off checking our messages on the computer.  We can listen to some type of spiritual music in the car as we ride to church.  With the proper preparation, when we arrive in the parking lot we can say, “I am glad when they said to me.  Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

In many third world countries, people who have to walk to church have rich worship experiences. It does take an effort to get there, but when they arrive the songs are sweeter, the prayers are richer, and the meditation is life enriching.  On that same trip to Israel with the Bishop, we were given a chance to do anything we wanted on the Sunday in the middle of our tour.  I decided to attend the English speaking St. George’s Anglican Service in East Jerusalem.  To get there I walked from my hotel, which gave me time to think and prepare my heart for worship.  When I arrived, I discovered that there were many similarities to our United Methodist worship service.  But this time, because of my spiritual preparation as I walked to the church, I was more than ready for worship.  After the service was over, I walked back to the hotel and I found myself deep in the thought of what I had heard and experienced.  It was rich.  Normally when I come to the House of the Lord, I just jump in the car and within minutes I am here.  But when I had to walk, what a difference it made.

Let me close with this thought. When you come to worship, I encourage you to prepare yourselves.  Then you can say, “I was glad when they said to me. Let us go to the house of the Lord.” 

Sermon: The Day of Pentecost-Then and There; Here and Now

The Day of Pentecost-Then and There; Here and Now
Acts 2:1-21
RUMC 15 May 2016

Years ago, two young brothers, Peter I and Ivan V, occupied the throne of Russia.  Although those co-rulers, or co-czars, were very young, they had to make very important decisions.  They needed help.  Princess Sophia sat hidden by a curtain behind the two thrones and whispered answers to the difficult questions for the two young rulers.  Princess Sophia worked behind the scenes to help her brothers without the Russian people realizing it.

Just as Princess Sophia helped those two boys, the Holy Spirit will help us on our journey of faith.

Today is Pentecost Sunday—the day when originally the Holy Spirit descended upon the early disciples in the form of wind, tongues of fire and the speaking of tongues.  My text is Acts 2:1-21.

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 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, 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!”  12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”  13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 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.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Before Jesus had ascended into heaven, he gave one final command to his disciples.  We read that conversation In Acts 1:4, when he told them “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father.

Ten days later at precisely 9:00 in the morning, the Holy Spirit appeared in a special way:

  • In the form of wind, this symbolized God’s presence among his people.
  • In the form of a gentle flame, this signified the cleansing power of the Spirit of God.
  • And in the form of unknown tongues, which was to empower believers to speak boldly for Christ.

And so, with all of these things, the disciples were changed, in terms of holiness, a desire to be in God’s presence and a new found boldness.  This is similar to what the Holy Spirit does for each one of us.

When we invite Jesus Christ into our hearts, we become recipients of the Holy Spirit.  But as children of God, I don’t think we can really grasp the type of spiritual help that is available to us.

An example of this would be similar to the situation Mr. Ira Yates, a West Texas cattle rancher faced.  Mr. Yates owned a lot of land, but he also owed a great deal of money to the bank.  Things looked bleak until a seismographic crew from an oil company informed him that there might be oil on his land and asked permission to drill.  Mr. Yates agreed and signed a lease to drill.  At 1100 feet, the oil company struck a huge oil reserve, which they calculated as large enough to produce 80,000 barrels of oil per day.  The company drilled more holes and soon discovered there was twice that amount of oil.  Up until that time, Mr. Yates had no clue that he owned a fortune, because it was all hidden underground.

From a spiritual standpoint, I think it is fair to say that many of us might be like Mr. Yates in the sense that we may not truly know what is at our disposal when it comes to spiritual resources that are available.

  • Instead of faith, we worry.
  • Instead of prayer, we stress.
  • Instead of trust, we despair.

The great Scottish preacher, Alexander McLaren once said: “We may have as much of God as we will.  Christ puts the key of the treasure chamber into our hand and bids us take all that we want.  If a person is admitted into the bullion vault of a bank and is told to help themselves and comes out with one cent, whose fault is that he is poor?”  

When I first asked Christ into my heart, I soon realized that I was not alone in my spiritual journey.  Although I couldn’t see the Lord, I sensed that it was the Holy Spirit who directed my life.  My faith in God was more of a relationship than a religion.  When good and unexpected things began to happen, I thought they were mere coincidences.  As time went on, I realized that it wasn’t luck or good fortune, but the Lord who worked on my behalf.

The turning point of my walk with the Lord took place when I was in college at a prayer meeting.  On that particular night, a visiting Episcopal priest spoke about Pentecost and after his message, he asked if any would like to have the laying of hands.  So I went forward that I might have a closer walk with the Lord.  John 10:10 speaks of that: “I have come that they might have life and have it to the full.”

Several days after I received the laying on of hands, I began to notice a deep desire to read the Word of God beginning to form.  Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might sin against you.”  I soon discovered that the Bible was not outdated, but relative to my needs.

Another result of the laying on of hands was I wanted to be in the house of God on Sundays.  Psalm 84:2: “My soul longs or yearns for the courts of our God.”  From that point on, I have made every effort to be in church on Sunday.  If I do not make it to church, for whatever reason, there is a feeling of emptiness.  I cannot stay away for the entire summer or long periods of time.  I am not wired that way.

Through my Holy Spirit experience, I felt more strength to live the Christian walk.  One notable impact was my tongue.  Back in the day, I used to say whatever came to mind, including certain colorful words.  But when I read James 3:10 which says, “blessing and cursing should not come out of the same mouth, ” I knew I needed to change the phrases I used, and with God’s help, I did.

Finally I wanted to tell others about my experience.  Matthew 28:19 instructed us to “Go into all the world and preach or share the gospel.”

Notice the symbol of our Methodist church. It is both the cross and the flame.  The cross is for Jesus’ death, for forgiveness of sins.  The flame is the power of the Holy Spirit and what Christ does through us.  We can’t have one without the other.

Power can be used in at least two ways.  It can be unleashed or it can be harnessed.  If a person were to drop a match in a 10 gallon can of gasoline.  It would cause an explosion.  If the spark was to be channeled by the means of a combustible car engine, then we can be safely transported. Explosions can either be destructive or useful.

With regards to our faith, the Holy Spirit is a controlled source of power which works through the church and through us.  Specifically it works when we are convicted of sin, it helps our belief in God, it is present in the worship experience in church, and it helps us to do service.

The infilling of the Spirit should not be restricted to the once a year ordination service where the bishop gives the laying on of hands to the new ministers or a confirmation service where the pastor gives the laying of hands to young teenagers.  But the infilling of the Holy Spirit is to help us live the normal Christian life.  If we truly allow the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts, he will change and refine us.

May we all be open to have a closer walk with the Lord.

Prayer:  Come Holy Spirit, come as mighty wind or gentle breath.  We ask that you blow on the embers of our faith.  Empower us to speak and act and serve so that we might touch our generation.