Sermon
May 19, 2002
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
Write to Rev. Moran

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Scripture Readings

Acts 2:1- 4, 12 - 21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind,
and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as
of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of
them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages,
as the Spirit gave them ability.

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"
But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,
"Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and
listen to what I say.  Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it
is only nine o'clock in the morning.
No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit
upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your
young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon
my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and
they shall prophesy.

And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the
moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

Numbers 11:24-30

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered
seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.  Then the
LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit
that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested
upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad,
and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they
had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.  And a
young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp."

And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said,
"My lord Moses, stop them!"  But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my
sake? Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD
would put his spirit on them!"

And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

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Sermon: The Wind Blows Where it Wills

The other day I was reading an article on the Internet about a football
player named Lavie Dilweg.  Now I doubt that many of you have ever heard of
Mr. Dilweg, who played offensive and defensive end for many years for the
Green Bay Packers and was an all-pro almost every year of his career.  He
played football in the morning and in the afternoon was a lawyer, later a
Congressman, and eventually a member of the Kennedy Administration.  But you
've never heard of him and in fact the article about him was entitled: THE
BEST END WE EVER FORGOT.

There's a whole class of articles that regularly appear with titles like
that - The Finest Restaurant You've never heard of, or The most fabuluous
beach were nobody goes, or The holiest holiday nobody celebrates.

The last one I made up, and I think it could be applied to the holiday we
celebrate today - the Day of Penetcost.

At first Pentecost was a Jewish agricultural festival - 50 days after
Passover when the first of the corn harvest was presented in the temple.
Later it was a time to commemorate the giving of the Law to Moses.  But for
the Jews who became Christians, this holy day became associated with the
gift of the Holy Spirit and the formation of the church.

And so in the first lesson today we heard that: When the day of Pentecost
had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven
there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire
house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among
them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the
Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them
ability.

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"
But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

But Peter raised his voice and addressed them, This is what was spoken
through the prophet Joel: 'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I
will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters
shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall
dream dreams.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

Now I shortened the reading up a little then, in fact I shortened it up for
the earlier reading as well, for full version is something of a tongue
twister and not the favorite among readers.  The middle paragraph talks
about how many different people were in the crowd who could understand the
disciples in their native tongues:

Acts 2:7-11 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another,
Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?  And how hear we every man
in our own tongue, wherein we were born?  Parthians, and Medes, and
Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in
Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of
Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and
Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
(KJV)

You'll note that today speaking in tongues in Pentecostal churches means
using a language that no one can understand - which is quite the opposite of
the manifestation of the spirit on this first Pentecost - but more about
that later.

I also wanted to mention that in 32 years of ministry I've never before read
the second passage which was recommended for us this morning, the passage
from the book of Numbers.  It was the story of how the Spirit of God broke
out of the "official" "authorized" group of the seventy elders appointed by
Moses and gave the gift of prophecy to Eldad and Medad.

First of all, I think Eldad and Medad are like Lavie Dilweg - THE best
prophets we ever forgot.    I certainly was not familiar with their names or
their story, but now I know and so do you - Eldad and Medad, names to
remember, especially for anyone who does crossword puzzles.

Second, it's a great passage because when Joshua feels this is a slap in the
face to the authority of Moses - since God's spirit is moving outside the
circle of those appointed by Moses, Moses himself says: "Are you jealous for
my sake? Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD
would put his spirit on them!"

Finally, this spreading of the spirit in unexpected places echoes the words
of Jesus in his dialogue with Nicodemus in the third chapter of the Gospel
of John - the passage about being born from above by the Spirit.  Jesus
says: John 3:8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of
it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with
everyone who is born of the Spirit."

A minute ago I mentioned something called Pentecostal churches, and I don't
know if everyone shares the same picture of what that means.  In 1906 in Los
Angeles a movement began which had as its focus an ecstatic spiritual
experience accompanied by speaking in tongues, shouting, dancing, rolling in
the aisles, fainting, and generally seeking what was seen as the primitive
or authentic Christian experience.

This movement spread and out of it came a number of churches, most notably
the Assemblies of God churches which we know well in New Milford.  Now I don
't want to be like Joshua when the Spirit decided to descent upon Eldad and
Medad and say - hey - not my little group, can't be genuine.  Why not be
more like Moses and say: Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and
that the LORD would put his spirit on them!

But sometimes I do feel a little on the Joshua side of the fence, especially
when the gifts of the Holy Spirit get the kind of press that makes
Christianity look like some sideshow outside the traveling carnival.  I
think you know what I mean - the over emotional, over mascaraed,
overwrought, overproduced, over the top, miracle a minute, life changing
message, God wants you to be nothing but healthy, wealthy, and a good giver
brothers and sisters kind of Christianity.

Yet this is the fastest growing edge of Christianity - it's growing at the
southern border of New Milford, it's growing south of the equator in Africa,
it's what many people think Christianity is all about.  And that is an
unfortunate distortion of the presence of the Spirit.

The spirit, as I read the good book, is about much more than showmanship,
special effects, and religious spectaculars.  It's about the day to day
direction and growth of our life together.  St. Paul put it best in his
letter to the church in Corinth - a church that was struggling because some
in the congregation felt that had special, spectacular, spiritual gifts that
meant their faith was more powerful, more authentic, more blessed by the
Lord.  Paul wrote:

(1 Corinthians 12) Concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do
not want you to be uninformed. There are varieties of gifts, but the same
Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there
are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of
them in everyone.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another
the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by
the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit;

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the
body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the ear
would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that
would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an
eye, where would the hearing be?

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he
chose.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. Are all
apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  Do all
possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?  But
strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent
way.

From there Paul begins one of the most famous passages in all of scripture:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I
am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

To my mind the key phrase that makes us all Pentecostals, all seekers of the
Spirit, is where Paul writes:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

To each - not to some, not to most, but to each and every one - and not to
bring attention to yourself, but for the common good.  So finding the gift
of the Spirit that God has given each of us and using it in service is a
critical element of our journey of faith.

Sometimes we will discover things about others and ourselves that totally
surprise us.  Sometimes a quality or perspective that might have seemed a
liability in one set of circumstances suddenly becomes a life-saving
necessity in different conditions.

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do
not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is
born of the Spirit.

The life of faith is a life of discovery, surprises, revelations, epiphanies
and Pentecosts - none of us yet fully understands how God will use our
lives, our joys, our strengths, our sorrows and sufferings for the common
good, how God will bring forth gifts in us, not for our own sakes, but for
the sake of others.  None of us can fully grasp how working together as the
Body of Christ we might be equipped to serve one another or our community.

But Pentecost affirms for us that God has drawn us into fellowship with
Christ and with one another for his holy purposes and that God will bless
each of us with all the grace, gifts, and power we need for a life of faith
and service.  We, in turn, work together to be open to those gifts so that
the Body of Christ can be strengthened, the spiritual life of its members
can be deepened, and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord may be
saved.

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