The Spirited Church

Acts 2:1-4 and other Spirit texts
Pentecost
Elizabeth M. Deibert

It brings me great joy to speak about the birth of the early church on this first Sunday after Peace has been given a birth announcement by the presbytery. We are now an official church, a church ready to be chartered. I expect that twenty-five years from now, October 18, 2009, will be the date given as the birth of Peace Presbyterian, but those of us here now know how long the gestation period has been.

Let us give thanks to the folks who were here in 2005 and earlier, when Peace met around kitchen tables and on Sunday nights. Will you please stand. Let us give thanks for the people who came to help Peace launch a Sunday morning service at MCC in 2006 and those who joined in 2007 as Peace was developing its missional identity. Will you please stand? Let’s be grateful for those who came in time to celebrate the purchase of land in 2008 and those who are here now in 2009 to celebrate chartering. Will you please stand?

Though we had to wait for this day of delivery, we always knew a real, live church was developing and soon to be born. The presbytery, which has provided enormous support to us, and will continue to guide us, now celebrates with us that Peace is a viable and spirited church. Thanks be to the Spirit who has been with us all the way.

Today’s question is this: What does a spirited church look like?

100 people coming to receive the inspiring gifts of communion. Two people embracing in tears as they share the peace of Christ. Seven people listening intently to one who has a different perspective than theirs. Children joyfully giggling as they enjoy fellowship together. A mission team celebrating the generosity of others.

What adjectives might be used to describe the spirited church? Inspiring, authentic, nurturing, compassionate, responsive. These are Peace’s chief goals. Say them with me: Inspiring worship, authentic relationships, nurturing discipleship, compassionate outreach, responsive stewardship.
Today we read the birthday of the early church and we read the story of the first church birthing from Acts 2:1-4. If we read the rest of the story, we would hear people speculating that those crazy spirited people were drunk and Peter quoting from the prophet Joel that this is the coming of the day of the Lord’s salvation for all people, this inspiring day when the Spirit is poured out on all people, male and female, slave and free, so that all call on the name of the Lord.
When we read the whole book of Acts, we find a church inspired by the Spirit to worship God, bonded tightly in authentic relationships, forged by shared experiences. We see disciples sharing stories of what God has done, nurturing the faith of the young and the new Christians. We find the church reaching out with compassion toward those who are sick or in any need of good news. Not only that, but this early church shared their goods in common, so that no one had any need. That’s a responsive stewardship, I’d say. Inspiring Worship. Authentic Relationships, Nurturing Discipleship, Compassionate Outreach, and Responsive Stewardship. That’s the picture of the growing newly born church, empowered by the Spirit.

But let us always remember that while the Spirit is celebrated on Pentecost, the Spirit does not originate with Pentecost. The Spirit was there in the beginning, way back at Genesis. Read Genesis 1:2 (scripture on screen) The word for Spirit in the Old Testament is a feminine Hebrew word, ruah. By the power of the Spirit, prophets challenged God’s people to greater faithfulness or gave hope to the despairing. (Read Ezekiel 37,1,14) It was by the Spirit that our Lord Jesus Christ was conceived. (Read Luke 1:35). And by the Spirit and water that we are baptized. In the New Testament Greek pneuma is spirit, a neuter word, though in Aramaic, the common tongue of Jesus’ day, the word for Spirit was feminine. (Read Mark 1:8) And when Jesus was baptized, the Spirit descended like a dove. (Read Matthew 3:16)

I loved the way the Spirit was described by author William Young in The Shack. Sarayu, a Hindi name meaning Spirit, is the gardener, working in the messy gardens of our lives, tilling the soil and planting seeds, growing something beautiful from the hardened and weed-filled soil of our lives. With water and Spirit, we can become beautiful and healthy and strong.
The same Spirit who communicated how special Jesus was, “You are my beloved son. With you I am well-pleased.” That same Spirit took Jesus into the wilderness. (Luke 4:1) So many of the struggles of life are opportunities to hear the Spirit speaking. When he came out from the forty days of struggle, then Jesus began his preaching ministry. (Read Luke 4:18)

As he nurtures his disciples in faith and prepares them for his departure, he begins to speak a great deal about the Spirit (Read John 14:26) I believe the Spirit is the great reminder. One of the most significant ways I experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life is in remembering things. When a person is brought to my mind suddenly or when I remember something that I might have just as easily forgotten, I tell the Spirit “thank you for reminding me” I do not consider those things coincidental. In fact, I believe we can cultivate a sensitivity to the Spirit, such that we know to call someone when they need to be called, and we can reach out to someone when they most need contact with someone. I don’t pretend to have mastered this, but I pray to become more attuned to the Spirit in all my decision-making.

It is from the Gospel of John that the debate about whether the Spirit arises from the Godhead only or whether the Spirit also comes from the Christ. This debate is played out in the Nicene Creed. Does the Spirit proceed from the Father or from the Father and the Son?

But that debate does not excite me nearly as much as the promise that we too can receive power from the Holy Spirit, as was promised the early disciples. (Read Acts 1:8) It is the Spirit that empowers our sharing the Gospel. (Read Acts 2:38) The Holy Spirit is a gift given to all of us. Some people are more aware of the Spirit than others. The Spirit is the great Nudger, the conscience telling you what to do, guiding you when you are paying attention and filling you with energy and zest for life. (Read Act 4:31) Here again we see the Spirit providing that emotional, experiential piece of life, which is in the end what inspires us, makes us know we have encountered a Holy One beyond ourselves in worship or on retreats.

But this powerful force has through the years also led some people to create some division among themselves. So Paul reminds the Corinthians (read 1 Corinthians 12:4-7). The Spirit is for the common good.

Finally, we come to my favorite passage about the Holy Spirit in all of scripture. (Read Romans 8:26-27) The Spirit prays for you, groans with you when you have no words.

So you see, the Spirit is there with you in all times and all places, in periods of excitement and in depressed times.

The Spirited Church is the One full of people who are listening to the voice of the Spirit, being carefully guided by the Spirit, being inflamed and charged up by the Spirit, praying deeply in the Spirit. Let us pray for the Spirit to ignite our hearts and to illumine our minds, to unite with our spirits and bring greater love and self-discipline into our lives.