6/8/03, Pentecost Sunday
Were All Together
he ideal image of the Church is that it exists together as one unified body. We must be unified to accomplish God's will, or God's will not be done. He calls us, provides the vision and the ability; but we must cooperate with His grace in order to fulfill His plan. God reveals His will for our individual lives, and for our life together in the Church, but unless we willingly plug into His will, it will not be happen. In His unfathomable wisdom, the Almighty God has limited himself to our fickle willingness to work the plan.
Today's text records the familiar story of the first Christian Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection and just ten days after the Ascension of Jesus back into heaven.. We find the small band of believers continuing to meet together in Jerusalem, as Jesus had instructed, waited on the promise of the Holy Spirit. They were hungry for the new experience, although they did not understand the exact nature of how they would be used to establish and build up this mysterious Kingdom that Jesus had promised. Lots of things in life cannot be explained until we have experienced it. So, we find the Disciples of Christ all together in one accord, waiting on whatever it was that Jesus was going to do. They trusted Jesus and wanted so much to somehow continue to experience an inward relationship with Him. Jesus had promised that they would know Him even more completely after the Holy Spirit came alive in their individual lives, and in the Church.
One thing that they knew from Jesus was that they would receive some kind of spiritual power when the Holy Spirit came. After Pentecost they learned that this power was meant to build the Church and provide the quickening in hearers hearts as they went out to proclaim the Good News about Jesus Christ. Those who received the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost had already been bonded by their common experience of walking and talking with the living Christ, both before and after His Crucifixion. However, at Pentecost they were cemented together further through the experience of God's pouring out of His presence in their hearts. After the Day of Pentecost they did have minor disagreements on minor issues, but their differences were overshadowed by their common friendship caused by the mighty experience they had shared.
Power can be used in several ways: It can be unleashed as an explosive force, or it can be harnessed for gradual use over time. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit exploded like a bomb. The believers received the ability to speak all of the languages of the world and also felt a great sense of power. This sudden rushing of a mighty wind and the miracle of flames of fire suspended over every believer's head was meant to get the new Church started with a big bang.
This explosive power was also harnessed to be gradually used for the long process of bringing in new members and building a world wide ministry. In just one hundred years the Gospel was carried as far West as Spain and as far East as India. They also built churches as far South as Ethiopia and within two hundred years they had carried the Good News to Northern Europe. Churches were established everywhere these first believers went and new Christians in those places experienced the same power that had been first felt at Pentecost. Through this power within the lives of folks like us, much of the world has received the Gospel. Yet still there are many who have not heard the Good News.
In the 1840's missionaries followed the Rail Road builders West as they set up crude temporary housing in Thrasherville on this ridge line and renamed it Terminus. As the town grew it was named Marthasville and finally Atlanta. We celebrate the one hundredth year anniversary of the construction of our fourth Sanctuary here at Atlanta's First Church. All of this has happened because persons waited on God, received His power and went out to implement His Plan. It is through the gradual utilization of this harnessed power that the Holy Spirit has accomplished His greatest work.
Even though splinters and disagreements have occurred throughout the Christian Centuries, the Church has been at its strongest and most effective when it has been unified. The Christian Movement is always weakened by fractions and fighting. We are either one body or we are less effective than we could have been. Unanimity of heart and mind causes a concentration of power that has proven to be most effective. Although it is true that broken bodies of believers have at times been used to keep the historical Church alive, it has been at its best during those times when they were "all together in one accord." Pentecost Sunday is an annual reminder of our need to get along in order to be most effective in fulfilling our calling to "Go make Disciples."
Pentecost Sunday is also the annual birthday of the Christian Church. Today is a time to question our commitment to our mission. Do we still feel the Power that was first experienced on that first Pentecost Sunday? Do we have a vision for doing our part in reaching the world with the Gospel? Are we merely a monument here in the Center City, or are we an alive and on fire movement seeking to reach unchurched persons? Are we doing all we can to expend our resources to cry out the clear call of Christ? Are we "all together in one accord," or are we splintered to the point of ineffectiveness?
When we speak of Jesus' followers prior to the Day of Pentecost we do not refer to them as the Church. This emphasizes the fact that the Church cannot exist apart from the Holy Spirit. Local bodies that call themselves "Christian," but do not possess His Power, or seek to achieve their mission, are more like social clubs than they are true churches. It is true that God has sometimes even used weak churches to give birth to more effective bodies. It was out of a corrupt church that the Lord brought about the great Church of England.
When the Anglican Church became almost dead, the Methodist Revival was born in an explosive period of Grace. Through the Methodist denominations worldwide God has carried forth His message in a magnificent manner. However, our strength has continued to be an ongoing experience of the power of Pentecost. At times, and in places, the warm heart that has characterized Methodists has nearly become cold, but still today God is using times of revival to keep the flame burning. Our source of strength, individually and collectively is the power of the Spirit of God through our unified effort. For over thirty years now our logo has been the two red flames of fire unified and intertwined around the Cross of Christ. As we travel across America we see church signs bearing that familiar symbol and we feel unified in a special way with that local church.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor