Saturday, May 23, 2015

That's the Spirit!

That’s the Spirit!                                                                                 5/24/15
Leviticus 23:15-22, Acts 2:1-24
Final Sermon in the Path of Discipleship Series
Pentecost Sunday

A teacher or coach might see a member doing something positive, and encourage that person, saying “That’s the Spirit!”   They mean that the person’s behavior is a positive expression of the group’s values or message.

Christians will look at an event or outcome that was surprising and say that God’s hand was present in the outcome.  Believers might say in those situations “That’s the Holy Spirit!”

Today is Pentecost.  It is a unique day in that Pentecost is a biblical feast described in the Hebrew Scripture, and we remember this day on the Church Calendar because of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples.  Jesus said that he would send the Holy Spirit to his followers:  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).

Pentecost comes from the Greek word for “Fifty”, and the feast is 50 days after Passover.  In the Bible, it is called the Feast of Weeks.   In Jewish Tradition, it is a day to commemorate that God gave Israel the law at Mt. Sinai.  Leviticus does not mention the connection between the feast and the law. Pentecost is listed in a chapter telling of the “appointed feasts of the Lord”, the “sacred assemblies”.  These include the Sabbath, Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, FirstFruits, Weeks, Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles.  These feasts tell the story of the Lord’s salvation for Israel.  Christian Scholars point that the feasts also point to Jesus Christ, and his life a fulfillment of all the law and feasts were meant to be.

Most of the feasts in Leviticus have some common elements.  Sacrifices and gifts are offered to the Lord as a sign of God’s provision.  These gifts are to be the first of what is received, reminding the people that God is our priority.  In Leviticus, the smells of the sacrifices produce an aroma pleasing to God, and God commands the people to observe these feasts as “a lasting ordinance throughout the generations, wherever you live”.  So, while we do not observe them all today, they are important to God, for they point the people to God’s past and future work.   The Feast of Weeks also includes a reminder to the people to be kind and just, by sharing parts of their harvest with those who are hungry.

So the disciples had all gathered in Jerusalem to observe the Feast.  With the building of the Temple, the great feasts were observed by going to Jerusalem.  The disciples are alongside fellow Jews from throughout the world to celebrate the feast, with those nations listed in Acts 2.  It is during the Feast of Weeks, that the Holy Spirit comes and fulfills the words of the Lord.  If they had thought they were gathering to remember God’s giving of the law, they now experienced the coming of the new covenant by the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit.  As Paul would later teach, the law ultimately shows us how we have fallen, but “The Spirit gives life” (II Co. 3:6).

The Scriptures speak of a scene that caused a stir:  violent winds, people hearing multiple and familiar languages at the same time, something that looked like tongues of fire resting of the heads of disciples. 

The result of this unique moment is a classic divide of interpretation.  Believers, having encountered God in a new and powerful way, contemplate the meaning:  “What does this mean, they ask perplexed and amazed.  Others are dismissive:  They are just drunk.  What about you?  What do God’s works stir within you?  Are you dismissive, or inquisitive?

Peter uses faithless and dismissive reaction to proclaim the good news.  The Spirit’s coming is what God intended.  Also, the Spirit’s coming is because of the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Are you old?  Good, dream dreams.
Are you young?  Good, see visions.
Has God poured his Spirit upon you?  Good, prophesy.
Male and female, prophesy.  Tell the wonders of God.  Speak of God’s power.  Help everyone call upon the name of the Lord.  Those that do will be saved.

We will be saved because of Jesus Christ.  Peter tells his Jewish brothers and sisters gathered that Jesus, Jewish himself, had come from God.  He did miracles, wonders and signs.  The audience already knew this.  And they also knew that the powers that were had put Jesus to death on a cross.

Peter teaches that God knew this.  He knew beforehand.  It wasn’t surprising to God, in fact, it was God’s set purpose.  God raised him from death.  God freed Jesus from the agony of his sacrifice.  Death could not hold back innocent blood.  Impossible. 

This is why the Spirit, Holy Spirit, had come.  Jesus, alive, needed witnesses.  He gave his life to bring people back to God.  The Holy Spirit is God’s deposit, guaranteeing our future with the Lord. 

It wouldn’t shock me if you wondered as we read the morning Scriptures:  Leviticus?  Wave offerings?  The Spirit coming as little flames of fire above people’s heads?  What is going on?  This doesn’t seem familiar and we don’t know what to do with this.  But Pentecost is important.  It was on that day that the Church grew by thousands, and moved its message from Jerusalem to a world wide message.  The Spirit would live in people’s hearts.  All who put their faith in Jesus Christ would receive the Holy Spirit.

Individually, we can know that we will belong to God, forever.  The Holy Spirit lives in our heart through faith.  Paul writes:
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.  And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.  Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come”  (I Co. 1:20-22)

As a congregation today is a very important day.  The Church does not observe the Feast of Weeks, nor any of the festivals in Leviticus.  Ultimately, we say that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross took the place of our need for a sacrificial system.  But that the Apostles were present that day, observing it, and within that observance, the Spirit came.  There are lessons within the feasts.

  1. Do what God says.
  2. Put God first.
  3. Do those things which please God.
  4. Proclaim a sacred assembly to those around you.
  5. Stop regular work when it is time to commemorate what God has done.
  6. Commemorate wherever you live.
  7. Don’t take everything for yourself, share and share some more.

Ultimately, these lessons are the reasons the church exists and are all acts of our call to worship God.  So when we practice these lessons, the Holy Spirit, already in our hearts through faith, might come to the congregation, even in surprising and unexpected ways.  But when the Spirit comes, those who believe know what to say:
“That’s the Spirit!”

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