I love getting gifts. October is my favorite month because that’s when I get birthday presents! Just for me! And don’t get me started on Christmas! All kinds of gifts flowing around. I’ll bet some of you are receiving some graduation gifts this time of year – you know, because you’ve accomplished this little thing we call education. What a wonderful invention, this gift-giving!
On the Day of Pentecost, biggest birth day party ever, the birthday of Christ’s Church, everyone was given the best gift of all – the gift of God’s Spirit to live right inside of us. Jesus called the Spirit of God “another Friend” to come and be with us after Jesus ascended into heaven – this is the gift of “another Jesus.” This is not only a gift from God but also the gift of God.
And from the gift of that Spirit, we continue to be given more gifts. All kinds of gifts. It’s like October all the time! A generous time when we find peace and love and healing.
Paul tells us that there are varieties of gifts and services and activities, but only one God. Every one of us is given something unique, something special just within us – but it’s all given by God. Maybe you have the gift of healing. Maybe you have the gift of prophecy, or preaching. Maybe one of you has the gift of working miracles, or the gift of speaking in different tongues, while another may be able to interpret those languages. Someone may have wisdom, another knowledge, another faith.
Some of you are thinking “Nope. That doesn’t sound like me at all.” But the gifts are given as God chooses – not as we think ought to happen. All of us are given gifts, different gifts, but all given by the same Spirit of God – and all given for one reason. Paul says: for the common good of all.
Several years ago some friends of mine gathered together, formed a work team, and headed down to Mexico to do some mission work. True story. Now, two of my friends were United Methodist pastors and had been the best of friends for many years. And although they had traveled to Mexico for several years in a row, neither one of them spoke a lick of Spanish. Actually, these two men barely spoke good English – they spoke Southern. When they were in Mexico, they always had an interpreter with them, and except for a few badly pronounced phrases that John used from time to time, neither John nor Ned knew anything of the Spanish language. Especially Ned. Ned never even tried.
Now at the end of this particular week of mission work, Ned was invited to preach at the closing worship service. The mission team gathered with the people of the community there in Mexico, and with the interpreter’s help, he began to preach. Ned would speak a line or two, and the interpreter would translate it from English into Spanish. And so it went through the sermon.
And as Ned moved through his sermon, he began to feel his heart being moved. I don’t know that Ned would have named it “the movement of the Holy Spirit” at that moment, but he did recognize that God was alive and at work in the service. And he began to get caught up in the preaching of the Gospel message.
Now at that point in his sermon, when Ned felt his own heart being moved by the Spirit of God, he noticed that the people began to pay particularly close attention to what he was saying that was being translated into Spanish for them. And it was at that point that the translator actually stumbled a bit in the translating. But after a few lines the translator caught up, and Ned kept right on preaching from his heart. It was a particularly moving service and many people were touched by Ned’s preaching.
Well, after the service was over, Pastor John came up to Pastor Ned and said “Ned, what was that?” What was what? What was that sermon? And after a few minutes of trying to get at what the question meant, John explained to Ned that right in the middle of his sermon, right at the point where the people really got caught up in the Word, right in the moments when the translator himself had stumbled… that was the moment when my friend Ned, American United Methodist Ned, Southern English-only Ned, had switched to preaching in fluent Spanish.
That’s why the people had been so attentive. The Spanish speakers were hearing the Word in their own language, and the English speakers were reliant on the translation. That’s why the translator had stumbled. He had had to switch his train of thought from English to Spanish and begin moving from Spanish to English.
And Ned did not know he had done it. Ned, who didn’t speak a lick of Spanish, had preached in fluent Spanish… and he didn’t know it until John told him. To this day, my friend Ned doesn’t speak Spanish. But he did that night I believe through the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of our God who is alive and working in the Church today.
The Scripture describes that there were many Jews staying in Jerusalem because they had traveled for the Pentecost Feast – they were “devout Jews from every nation under heaven” – and when they heard the noise of the wind and the commotion of the Spirit, they came running to see what was happening. The Message says: “Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn't for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, "Aren't these all Galileans? How come we're hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?” They said “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works! … What’s going on here?” And some of them joked that the disciples were drunk on cheap wine.
But Peter stood up and spoke out – now remember Peter? He’s the one who just two months ago was so afraid of persecution that he denied he even knew Jesus. And in the past 50 days with Jesus’ rising from the dead and being with them, he has been hiding out with the other disciples not quite knowing WHAT to think. And in the past 10 days, since Jesus’ ascension into heaven (remember we celebrated that last week), in these last ten days, Peter has remained in a kind of hiding state.
But this same Peter has just been empowered by the Holy Spirit who is alive and at work, and he stands up and, backed by the other eleven, he speaks out with what the Bible calls not just urgency but bold urgency. He speaks with passion and excitement. He raises his voice and says: “Listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren't drunk… They haven't had time to get drunk — it's only nine o'clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen…” And then Peter quotes from the Book of Joel which would have been familiar words to those who were listening.
You see, Peter is no longer afraid to admit that he is a follower of Jesus. He’s not the same guy who heard that rooster crow awhile back. He is actually excited about being a Jesus Freak because he finally is understanding the big picture. And Peter wants to tell other people and help them understand that what they are seeing is the Spirit of God being given to all of them.
Peter is reminding them what Joel was talking about and how it makes sense now. Joel had said that God would pour out God’s Spirit on the people – look at it there in verse 17: “God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh [on all people]… and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy [he’s saying ‘Even on my servants, both men and women] I will pour out my Spirit… Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'” … through the power of the Holy Spirit who is alive and working in the Church that day.
Now, we didn’t read the rest of the story in Acts, but Peter goes on to remind the people about Jesus – the one who had done all the miracles through the power of God. Peter reminds them of how they had put Jesus to death, and with his newfound voice, Peter maybe even surprises himself by telling them that Jesus is alive!
He tells the people that he has seen Jesus – has spent time with him – and that Jesus now has ascended to be with God the Father because that same Jesus that the people killed IS God’s own Son, and that same Jesus IS the Lord and the Christ.
Well, when the people hear Peter’s speech, they start to see a little clearer about what has happened, and they start to understand how wrong they have been in killing Jesus. They yell to Peter and ask him what they can do, and Peter’s answer is to turn from their evil ways and be baptized. They have to believe that Jesus will forgive them for the way they have been living – and when they do that, God will give them the Holy Spirit.
That very day “about three thousand persons were added” – My children’s Bible says: “about three thousand people [say] that they believe in Jesus and want their sins to be forgiven. They are all baptized, and with great joy they become part of this band of disciples here in Jerusalem. Those who are saved from their sins become members of Christ’s church... All the members are like one family; they love one another with a love like Christ’s. And when others see this wonderful love, they come to believe on the same Savior.”
That’s what we are celebrating today – the birthday of the Christian Church. Without the influence of the Holy Spirit, who is alive and working in the Church today, there would be no Church today – we wouldn’t be here worshiping the One True God whom we recognize in the Father, the Son AND the Holy Spirit. We would be lost and floundering and maybe wondering who we are and what our purpose is to be.
But WITH the gift of the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost Day, we were given that purpose. We know who we are and why we are here – and we KNOW that our purpose is to take the message of this day, and the power of our stories, out into the world – to share with those around us so that they see in us the love that those first church members had for one another – a Christ-like love.
“That outpouring of the Spirit that began at Pentecost has never stopped.” Oh, sometimes we may think that we have stopped seeing it or witnessing to it in our midst, but it hasn’t stopped. The people in Mexico can testify to that! Today is a day to live into the spirit in worship and languages and hearing and understanding as we are reminded of the power of the Word!
Now, I may not be speaking in other languages – I haven’t been given that gift yet, – but I guarantee you that every week in our church someone hears something that they need to hear whether I actually said it or not.
I hear it all the time – someone will come to me and say: When you talked about this or that, it really spoke to me. And I’ll think to myself, YES! The Holy Spirit IS alive and at work because I didn’t say anything like that! But when you hear what God wants you to hear, when your heart is open to hearing from the God who is alive and at work in his Church, that is confirmation that the Spirit of God is alive and working in our lives!
That’s one of the most exciting things about being surrounded by people who are ready and open to hearing God’s message for their lives. It’s exciting to watch it happen! And it’s happening to the people who are around you – whether it’s happening here or in Mexico or in a Zoom Sunday School class or in Bible Study or at work or at the grocery or the drive through window – the Holy Spirit is alive and working in the lives of people everywhere. And there’s power in that life and work IF we take the step of accepting the gift of the Holy Spirit!
When we do that, we are given the tools we need and the words we need and the languages we need and the experiences we need to be God’s people. And with that guidance comes the passion and the excitement of Peter as we embrace the role we are called to fill, and we recognize the power of sharing the stories that the Holy Spirit is alive and working in God’s Church. It’s the best gift ever! Happy Birthday Church!
 Beautiful Bible Stories, The Southwestern Company, Nashville, Tennessee, 1964, 439.