Did anyone get what we were trying to do last Sunday afternoon in this place? Clergy, adorned in red stoles symbolizing the fire of the Holy Spirit, came from all over the Oklahoma and beyond to surround the Reverend John Wheeler in this place. Do you know we were doing in this area down front, laying our hands on John or on somebody that was laying their hands on John?
We were trying to bring John a little Pentecost!
Because Rev. John, bless his heart, certainly needs a little Pentecost—
-Graduating from seminary;
-Pledging a commitment to vocational Christian ministry;
-Dedicating his life to preach, not just any message, but the message of one who was forced to carry a cross for that message;
-Vowing to walk in the steps of the one who loved his neighbors with such a radical grace and inclusion that he was called a glutton and a drunkard who ate and drank with the wrong kind of people.
-Accepting the call to do the works of one who was run out of many a village for those works, who never made any money because of those works, and was arrested, beaten and crucified for those works;
—Yes, Rev. John Wheeler, bless your heart, you certainly need a little Pentecost!
Pentecost is often called the day God gave birth to the ministry of all ministers—the day when the outpouring of God’s energy through the Holy Spirit swept down like wind and fire and touched all who had gathered for the Jewish festival.
New Testament professor Beverly Gaventa describes the energy that poured out that day as: “Sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life!”
And when you are called to be a minister, when you are called to be the church, to be the very hands and feet of one gave himself unto death, even death on a cross, oh how we need this life-giving power! Oh how we need a little Pentecost!
And this power came in dramatic, indescribable fashion. Gaventa writes: “It is as if not even the most lavish use of human language is capable of capturing the experiences of the day.” She writes: “All of the stops on the literary organ are employed: a heavenly sound like rushing wind, descending fire, and patterns of transformed speech.” That’s because there are just no words to describe this sudden, unmerited, irresistible gift of new life!
And this is exactly what Rev. Wheeler needs as he commits his life to ministry. And this is exactly what our church needs today if it is to continue to be the church God is calling us to be.
Before last Sunday’s ordination, perhaps the only thing that has come close to Pentecost for John and Sally was the time they held their son Luke, and a few years later, Chloe, in their arms for the very first time: feeling their soft skin pressed up against theirs, smelling their sweet heads, listening to their precious sounds. Sudden, unmerited, irresistible, new life. There are just no words in any language to describe the immense power of it, the sheer miracle of it.
This is what Acts 2 was trying describe that day that new life came.
Don’t you wished you could have been there at that festival that day to get you some of that! Don’t you wished you could have felt the wind, saw the fire, heard the miracle?
If only we, living today in the 21st century, could have been there on that day. Think of what Central Christian Church could be, rather would be, if only we could have been present on the Day of Pentecost. Think of impact we would have in our city and in our world if you and I could have received this indescribable gift of the outpouring of God’s energy. Think of all we could accomplish together in the name the Christ who loved all and poured out himself for all.
But we were not there, were we? Unfortunately for us, we were born nearly 2000 years too late. The Day of Pentecost was just a one-day, one-time event in human history, and we missed it all! God simply does not work that way in our world anymore.
Well, I don’t believe that, and I have this sense that you don’t either. That is why we had that ordination service last week for John: to make it happen all over again!
Theology Professor, Robert Wall, points out that the Pentecost experience of God’s Spirit occurred not only once, but is repeated several times in Acts. The images and language of Pentecost, Walls says, “are routinely recalled to interpret subsequent outpourings of God’s Spirit as the constant testimony to God’s continuing faithfulness.”
In the eighth chapter of the book of Acts, we read that after Peter and John laid their hands on the people of Samaria, they received the Holy Spirit.” They received sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life.
In the tenth chapter of Acts we read that while Peter was still preaching, “the Holy Spirit came on all who had heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.”
Again, in the eleventh chapter Peter says, “As I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us in the beginning.”
In the nineteenth chapter of Acts, after Paul baptizes twelve people in Ephesus, we read: “After Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them….”
Throughout Acts we learn that Pentecost, the power of sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life is not a one-day, one-time event in human history. The gift of Pentecostal power is an experience which is repeated and repeated often in our world. And it is still being repeated today.
The truth is that I believe we have experienced the possibilities of Pentecost on numerous occasions. We just didn’t know what to call it.
The exhilarating discovery that a new baby is on the way. The miraculous birth of that baby. The excitement of a new job. The anticipation of a new school. The hope of a new marriage. The promise of new friendships. Yes, we have all experienced the grand possibilities which come with new beginnings, fresh starts or second chances.
And it is not only in the special events of life that we experience these possibilities. I believe when we consider that all of life is a gift of God’s grace, there is no event which is so ordinary that the Spirit of God is not present in it.
Frederick Buechner writes that God’s Spirit can be found in the most common of places, “always hiddenly, always leaving room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly.” Because all of life is a gift of God’s grace, inexplicable new life can be experienced everywhere!
Buechner writes that it can be found “Taking your children to school, and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day’s work. Hearing the rain patter against the window.”
Yes, the possibilities of Pentecost can be experienced everywhere, but perhaps, most especially, as we reach out to others in unconditional love.
I do not believe it is a coincidence that in Acts we read that the gift of the Holy Spirit often came after Peter, John or Paul laid their hands on others. I believe one of the best ways to usher in the possibilities of Pentecost is by reaching out and personally touching others.
God’s energy is released and new life comes when we lay our hands on someone ordaining them to Christian ministry, but also when we graciously serve a meal to someone hungry, when we tenderly caress the forehead of someone in a nursing home, when we gently hold someone’s hand in a hospital, and when we empathetically embrace someone in a funeral home.
Pentecost comes when we, the body of Christ, lay our hands, which, by the way, are the hands of Christ, on all who are in need. Pentecost comes when we seek out someone who has wronged us to offer a handshake of forgiveness a hug of mercy, the grace of friendship. Pentecost comes when we welcome, accept and hold the hand of an outsider.
And the good news is that this sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life can come even in our darkest moments. Pentecost can happen, not just when something or someone is being born or reborn. Pentecost can come, not just with the sunrise of new day. The truth is that Pentecost can happen at what might seem to be the sunset. Sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life can happen even amidst the storm.
Peter, in his sermon, recalls the words of the prophet Joel. He recalls the signs Joel says are a prelude to disaster—blood, fire, darkness and smoky mist. However, the death and destruction prophesied by Joel is transformed on Peter’s tongue into a declaration of new life. For Joel, these signs of the outpouring of God’s Spirit are a prelude to disaster. But for Peter, with faith in the power of the risen Christ, these signs of God’s energy released are a prelude to the redemption of humankind.
Thus, whether it be days in our lives, or days in our church, that cause us to despair, God, with a power called Pentecost, can redeem the darkness of even death into the light of life.
Pentecost—this is our hope. And this is our purpose. May Central Christian Church, who may not have been present on that day nearly 2000 years ago, but has, in so many ways, experienced this power of Pentecost nonetheless, work together to share this gift of new life with our city and our world. May we share it with our words, but also through the laying on of our hands of service, so that sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life may rain down from heaven like wind and fire and touch everyone!