Spirit Leads Us On
oday is Pentecost Sunday when Christendom celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit in a new way into our hearts. Pentecost is a kind of culmination of the events that marked the last weeks of Jesus' life. We have remembered his death, resurrection, post-resurrection appearances, and ascension. In tonight's service we will read the story in Acts 2 about flames of fire, the miracle of languages, powerful preaching, a vision of world evangelism, and the potential inclusion of everyone into the Church whose birth we also celebrate today.
Pentecost was a time of closure for the disciples. Jesus has attempted to prepare them for His physical departure but they never seemed to fully understand that He must go away so that He could return to all of them in an even more profound way as the ever-present Holy Spirit. They had known that God was the Spirit that was present in Creation and throughout the Old Testament; however, it took the experience of Pentecost for them to begin to grasp this new way in which the Spirit wanted to come to them as the continuing presence of Jesus. Their emotional crescendo at Pentecost seemed to be the catalyst that finally enabled them to begin to experience closure and understanding.
Closure is not closing a book, but it is more like ending a chapter of a book and reading further with a new light. What is really going on at Pentecost is a new way of experiencing God on a very personal and emotional level. Closure is not a closing out but a gathering in of memories. It is a new way of going on, of starting over.
Marilyn and I heard Dr. Maurice Boyd at The City Church of New York last Sunday. He illustrated this idea of closure by sharing that he had just the day before been watching the Yankees and Cleveland Indians baseball game and the TV announcer made the comment that all Yankees fans were glad that Bernie Williams is hitting better, and then the announcer remarked, "Bernie has achieved closure." Evidently his father had died and it had taken him some time to deal with it but now he is hitting as he used to.
This speaks to all of us. We have been in that time between times when we were dealing with a change of jobs, a new school, or the loss of a dear one. We too have struggled with moving on and resuming a new life. Closure can bring renewed enthusiasm. It was the disciples renewed outlook that gave birth to the Church and propelled it around the world. It is that same Power of God's spiritual presence that is our source of life today.
Our former church member Henry Grady, Editor of "The Atlanta Constitution" after the Civil War, must have known the strength of Jesus' presence. As the "Architect of The New South" he encouraged his fellow southerners to put that terrible war behind them and to build a new life. He was calling for closure. He certainly remembered the atrocity of the burning of Atlanta and Sherman's destructive march trough Georgia, but Grady was willing to forgive and forget. Theologian Paul Tillich described forgiveness as, "Remembering that we can forget." All of us have to remember to forget at times. Not that we wipe our memories clean, but we look back differently through a new set of spiritual eyes.
Jesus' ever-present Spirit makes a difference in how we live our lives. Our text says that we are not led into the future as slaves but as adopted children of God; joint heirs with Christ. This same Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are indeed a part of the Father's family. This is the source of our power to continue building God's Kingdom.
Without His infusion of strength we would be as powerless as were the Apostles prior to Pentecost. Our text says that when we face trouble the Spirit comes and joins with us in bearing up under the pain. Just to have Him with us is enough.
And we have His guidance too. My parents taught me to wait on the Spirit's direction before making a major decision, and in fact, to live so close to Him that all of the little decisions that determine destiny will be in accordance with His will. Daddy would say, "Bobby, if you are not sure don't decide yet, wait on clear direction before you jump in!" And that was great advice that I have not always followed. Have you ever traded cars on a whim? Have you not later seen that old car in traffic and felt that it was better than the expensive new one?
Sometimes it's hard to follow the leading of the Spirit because others are attempting to lead. This has been a problem in the Methodist appointive system. District Superintendents have called and said, "You are going to..." And we went with no questions asked, and never kicking too hard. We have always been able to look back and see the leading of the Spirit through the authority of the Methodist Annual Conference that we submitted to at ordination. We freely made that choice that has determined subsequent decisions. When I was first ordained we would usually hear the appointments read on the final day of Annual Conference, and then be expected to move in one week. In today's collegial decision making process we are supposed to have more input, the Cabinet listens, but doesn't always seem to have heard. Or, maybe so. Perhaps they are listening harder.
Our coming to this great church was different. It was offered, we could have said no, but Marilyn and I remember well how clearly we felt the call of the Spirit in coming here. And it has worked out well. And I am possessed by the same Holy Spirit as you are. We together have come a long ways. We have suffered together with the Spirit. We have wrestled with the Spirit. And we have experienced a foretaste of Glory. Our growth has been in membership and numbers, but in our faith too. I hope that you would agree that we have learned to lean on Him more, to love Him more, and to serve Him more.
And tomorrow will be an even better day!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor