What does the Spirit do?
When we meet followers of Jesus in the beginning of the book of Acts, they are so afraid that they aren’t doing anything. They have a great story to tell – the Easter morning resurrection glory halleluiah story – but they are afraid to tell it. They have amazing ministry to do – powerful, healing, life-altering, mind-bending ministry– but they are afraid to do it. All the people who knew Jesus the best and loved Jesus the most are sitting around in locked rooms, twiddling their thumbs and biting their nails. They are too afraid to do anything at all.
We would be afraid, too. We would be afraid to say anything about Jesus, or do anything in Jesus’ name. Jesus had a lot of enemies. He did surprising things and gathered a lot of followers. These were not twitter followers, or facebook friends, but something even more amazing: real people who physically followed him around and waited to see what he would do next. The leaders of the people decided that Jesus meant trouble; so they handed him over to the Romans. The Romans asked the crowds what to do with Jesus; and the crowds decided that Jesus meant trouble; so they handed him back to the Romans. In the end, the Romans decided Jesus meant trouble, and Jesus ended up dead.
It wouldn’t make you want to walk around Jerusalem with a pin that says, “I heart Jesus.” The followers of Jesus are afraid of their friends. They are afraid of their leaders. They are afraid of the Romans. They are afraid for their lives. So afraid, that they’re not doing anything at all.
Have you ever been afraid? So afraid you couldn’t do the right thing? So afraid, you couldn’t do anything at all?
What does the Spirit do? It’s amazing. The Spirit comes and fills the followers of Jesus until they can’t stay silent anymore. The Spirit comes and fills the followers of Jesus until they can’t stay stuck anymore. On the day of Pentecost, the followers of Jesus sing and shout about God’s great deeds of power in the past. They prophesy, and see visions, and dream dreams of what God will do in the future. Peter steps up to give an impromptu sermon, three thousand people are baptized, and the church is born.
Talk about doing something. It doesn’t stop there. The disciples carry out wonders and signs, preaching and healing. The brand-new baptized members of the brand-new church learn and eat and pray together. And they are all in from the very beginning; they sell everything they have and share all things in common so that everyone’s needs are met – I’m guessing no one came here this morning ready to do that, and we’ve had a lot more time to think about it.
It’s true, a few things go wrong along the way. Some of the folks who hear the Holy Spirit testimony on Pentecost simply think the people are drunk. After Peter preaches and heals, he gets arrested. But even though some of their fears are realized, the followers of Jesus don’t seem daunted at all. Instead, they pray for the boldness to keep on going. And as they pray, the place in which they are gathered shakes; and they are filled with the Spirit again.
It’s amazing what the Spirit can do. What has the Spirit done here? I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about West Concord Union Church, where we’ve been and where we’re headed.
I think about the Covenanters who came together to found this church on what might have been considered the wrong side of town, and all the folks who worked so hard to form that first fellowship, buy land, build this church from nothing, and hire the very first pastor.
I think about all the different eras the church has passed through over almost 125 years, seasons of abundance and seasons of scarcity and conflict. I think about all the folks who stuck it out and saw it through; some of you are here among us; some are among the saints that we remember and give thanks for today.
Our congregational giving theme this year is Rejoice, Give Thanks, and Sing. Because it feels like this is one of those times that it’s important to notice and give thanks for how the Spirit has moved us past fear and into amazing new possibility. Think about something in our community that you want to give thanks for today; a gift of the Spirit that you want to raise up; one of the reasons you showed up this morning or are dedicating a pledge card.
(The congregation shared thanksgivings, with the kids up front making a joyful noise after each one)
It’s amazing what the Spirit can do. The Spirit has done a lot here. She’s not done. This is a time to give thanks, and it is also a time to pray, as the disciples did. We need boldness, to live into the new size and activity level of this congregation. We need boldness, to recognize and empower new leaders to serve us in 2016. We need boldness, during our 125th anniversary, as we set a vision for our future and raise the money to make it possible. Will you pray with me?
Holy Spirit, you came among us on the day of Pentecost and you have been filling the hearts of the saints ever since, making amazing things possible. Drive out the fear among us today.
Fill us instead with thanksgiving for your deeds of power and with hope and vision about what you will do among us in the future. May we, your servants, be truly bold as we carry out ministry in the name of Jesus. Amen.