Friday, June 1, 2007

Sermon for Pentecost, 2007

Life in the Spirit
Acts 2:1-21

When Chelsea Cawley sets her tongue on fire, people watch with rapt attention. Holding a small, homemade torch in each hand, the 26-year-old opens her mouth wide and touches the end of one torch lightly to her tongue, blotting it with a coating of fuel. With the torch in the other hand, she sets her tongue ablaze and sticks the flaming appendage out as far as she can. Some people in the audience scream, others cheer her on, but the majority just watch, spellbound, their own mouths hanging open.

Fire is an attractor, a narcotic visual force laden with potent symbolism. Combined with music and motion, it creates a dramatic, mesmerizing vision. Spectators can't take their eyes off those fiery orbs, licking brilliant tongues through the darkness, the intense heat and flame just inches away from scorching human flesh.

When I read this article on the Internet, I thought of the words of the prophet Jeremiah who said “God’s word was in my heart as a burning fire, shut up in my bones and I cannot hold my peace.” I can understand Jeremiah. I understand what happens to you when the Word gets in you; you forget yourself. You cannot hold your peace because God’s word cannot be contained. When God’s word gets in you, you must tell somebody what God has done for you. You must speak it, write it, sing it, hand-sign it, preach it through musical instruments. It is like a flaming fire within our bones that eternally burns and will not let us rest.

Have you ever felt that way – like your tongue was on fire with a message that needed to be shared? “A burning heart will soon find for itself a flaming tongue.”

The first Pentecost was like this. One hundred and twenty people were gathered together in a larger upper room. The disciples were moping around and trying to figure out what they were going to do now that Jesus was gone. All of a sudden, the Holy Spirit came upon them. Scripture says that there were tongues of fire above their heads. There was a wind blowing. In that wind and fire, the Spirit came upon the disciples. They began speaking in different languages so that all who were gathered together heard the message of God’s love in their own language. Some of the other people who were on the outside looked at them and said “ Those folks are all drunk”. The disciples defended themselves, “You know, it’s ten o’clock in the morning. We’re not drunk. This is something different. This is the Holy Spirit.”

Imagine a prairie fire in you mind. Pentecost was like a prairie fire, flaming across the Midwest on parched dry fields of grass. It was like a forest fire being driven by the wind, in a very dry forest with tinder wood. It was like a fire on an oil slick on the ocean, flames leaping across the water. It was like the flame of Jesus Christ was spreading across the whole world.

How did that happen? I know how it happened. “A burning heart will soon find for itself a flaming tongue.”

Those first Apostles who were filled with the Holy Spirit started a church, and then went to a second village or town, and started another church. They went to a third village or town and planted another church. Then they would go back to the first village or town. Do you know why? Every time they started a church, they left a group of people in that village who were committed to Jesus Christ. In the original Greek, they were called the laos, which means “the laity,” “the people,” “the people of God.” The Apostles always left people whose hearts were on fire, whose tongues were on fire, who hadn’t gone to the seminary, who hadn’t seen Jesus face to face, who hadn’t talked with him in the flesh. These were not the Apostles. These were not the twelve disciples. These were the people of God in each town who spread the Gospel from house to house, and neighbor to neighbor and friend to friend and family to family. This fundamental principle is always true; it is the laity, the people of God, who become inspired by the Holy Spirit. They are the ones, not the twelve, not the Apostles, not the pastors. It is the laity, the people of God, who go about winning souls to Jesus Christ and nurturing those souls into maturity.

“A burning heart will soon find for itself a flaming tongue.”

Well, that’s what happened in that first century. The year is now 2007, and the flame of Jesus Christ is still spreading like wildfire. The spreading flame of Pentecost is greater in this century than in the first century. It’s true! The spreading flame of Jesus Christ is greater in this century than in any other century of Christian expansion. Let me give you several examples of this spreading wildfire on our planet today. Today, on the average, how many people on this planet were baptized? 63,000! How many new congregations were formed today? 1600! Last Easter Sunday, how many people were gathered together in worship to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ? More than one billion people. 25% of the Earth’s population.

This flame of Jesus Christ is spreading all over the Earth like wildfire. Let’s talk about Africa. Africa is rapidly becoming a Christian continent. Namibia, for example, down in the southern tip of Africa; 50% of the people in Namibia are Lutheran Christians. 85% of black Namibia is Christian. That’s 20% “more Christian” than good old USA. Tanzania. Madagascar. These are Christian nations. The flame of Jesus Christ is spreading all across Africa. Every pastor and missionary knows this. Whenever the flame of Jesus Christ is spreading across village to village and town to town and city to city, across all of Africa, we know why: The laity always spark the great missionary expansions in every century. “A burning heart will soon find for itself a flaming tongue.”

Let’s go to South America – to Sao Paulo, Brazil. It is one of the largest cities in the world, at around 10.5 million people. That great city is heavily Roman Catholic, and the Roman Catholic community is very much alive. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, there are more than 80,000 Base Christian Communities. Each community is like a home Bible study group. Can you imagine it? In one city there are 80,000 home Bible studies groups. Do you think there’s a pastor in any of them? No! Each has a layperson who leads the Bible study and organizes of each of these 80,000 Base Christian Communities. It is a movement led by the laity. It’s spreading like wildfire. “A burning heart will soon find for itself a flaming tongue.”

Let’s go to another continent. Let’s go to Korea. A generation ago, Korean was 99% Buddhist. Today, 2007, it is 20% Christian...within one century! And the largest Christian congregation in the whole world is found in Seoul, Korea, with a membership of more than 500,000 members. This church didn’t begin as a missionary church from a mother denomination. It was founded and spread Korean lay people. The flame of Korean Christianity now spreads to Indonesia, and the Philippines. The Koreans are even sending missionaries to Japan. “A burning heart will soon find for itself a flaming tongue.”

Let’s talk about the good old United States. No, let’s talk the Town of Trumbull where we live, work and do ministry. Trumbull has a population growth rate of about 3.3%. The rate has been consistent over the past decade. You know how many members we gain in our church each year over the past decade? We don’t gain any. We lose about 6-8%. This is happening all over the United States. The proportion of the American population that can be classified as Christian has declined from 86% to 77% in one decade. The truth is that the mainline protestant churches have been on a steady decline from their high-water mark in 1955. Can it be possible that the laity is no longer on fire by the power of Jesus Christ? Is it possible for a church to gradually become a self-contained unit that has lost all sense of spiritual fire?

The big question for our congregation is this: Do we all understand, not only with our heads but with our hearts -- do we truly understand, that for us to be the church in the town of Trumbull, that “A burning heart will soon find for itself a flaming tongue.”

Welcome to Pentecost in the Year 2007! It’s time to open up to the mind‑blowing, heart‑ warming, life‑changing power of God.

The power of God can invade the body,

inflate the mind,

swell the soul,

lift the Spirit

and make us more than we ever imagined.

It'll make you young when you're old,

and it'll make you live even when you die.

The power and presence of the Spirit will disturb, delight, deliver and lift.

When God sends forth the Spirit amazing things happen:

barriers are broken,

communities are formed,

opposites are reconciled,

unity is established,

disease is cured,

addiction is broken,

towns are renewed,

races are reconciled,

hope is established,

people are blessed,

and church happens.

So be ready...God is up to something...

discouraged folks are cheering up,

dishonest folks are 'fessing up,

sour folks are sweetening up,

closed folk are opening up,

gossipers clam up,

conflicted folks make up,

sleeping folks wake up,

lukewarm folk, fire up,

dry bones shake up,

and pew potatoes stand up!

But most of all, Christ the Savior of all the world is lifted up.[1]

The Holy Spirit wants to ignite us to proclaim the gospel, to worship with awe, to serve the world with the passion of Jesus. Don’t miss out on what God wants to do in your life, because the Spirit is moving. So how about it? “A burning heart will soon find for itself a flaming tongue.”

[1]Rick Kirchoff, Germantown United Methodist Church, Opening remarks to the 2000 Memphis Annual Conference.

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