June 4, 2017

Preached by Guy Laberge, Synod Summer Student, on June 4, 2017.

Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:24-34
Acts 2:1-21

The story of Pentecost tells about the birth of the church.  It has much to teach us.

First, Luke says, “Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place.”  Anyone who has ever attended a church board meeting (vestry meeting, session meeting, parish council, etc.) knows how amazing that is.  These disciples were all in one place.  They weren’t fighting with each other.  They weren’t insisting on getting their way.  They were all together and were all singing off the same sheet of music.

Then “suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”  Now I know that someone will say, “That must have been when the preacher started preaching.”  We preachers always have to struggle not to sound like a big wind, and sometimes we don’t struggle hard enough.  But on the day of Pentecost, the windy sound was not the preacher.  The wind was the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God.

And then it says, “Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them.”  “On EACH of them” – that’s significant.

The fire was a sign of God’s presence.  In the Old Testament, God often revealed himself as fire.  When God wanted to get Moses’ attention, he spoke to Moses from a burning bush (Exodus 3).

So this fire appeared among the disciples.  The Jews who were gathered in Jerusalem understood that something special was happening, and that it had something to do with God.

And a tongue of fire rested on EACH of the disciples.  That is instructive.  The fire did not descend only on the preacher.  The fire rested on EACH of the disciples.  The previous chapter (Acts 1:15), tells about a hundred and twenty disciples.  Apparently all hundred twenty received a tongue of fire.

The fire, of course, was the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God.  The tongue of fire that rested on the disciples showed that EACH disciple was empowered by the Holy Spirit, empowered by God.

That’s the way it is today too.  In the church today, it isn’t only preachers who must be inspired by God – or elders – or deacons – or Sunday School teachers – or youth leaders.  It’s all of us.  God intends EVERY disciple to do his or her part.  God calls EACH of us to a special calling – calls EACH of us to fill a niche that no one else can fill – calls EACH of us to do special work that no one else can do.  If we sit back and do nothing, our work for Christ will not get done.  It we don’t do our part, we poke a hole in the fabric of heaven.

Herb Miller is a researcher who studies how churches grow.  His research reinforces the idea that EACH of us has something special to contribute – that it’s critically important for all of us to be involved in the work of the church.

  • Miller discovered that churches grow, in large measure, because members invite friends to come to church with them.
  • He found that people are far more likely to visit a church if invited by a friend or neighbour than if invited by the preacher.
  • He found that 70-90% of the people who join any church come through the influence of a friend or relative.
  • He found that, when people visit a church, the most effective way to get them to come again is to have a layperson make a short visit to their home within 36 hours. The purpose of the visit is simply to acknowledge the visitors, to make them feel welcome, and to answer any questions that they might have.
  • Miller found out that having a layperson make the visit was twice as effective as having the pastor do it.  If the pastor made the visit, only 40% of the people would come to church again.  However, if a layperson made the visit, 85% would return (Herb Miller, How to Build a Magnetic Church, Abingdon Press).

But to have a program like that, it’s important to have lots of church members involved.  That makes it possible to assign appropriate people to make the visits – for  instance, to assign a woman to visit a woman visitor.

It shouldn’t be difficult to get lots of church members involved, because God has called EACH of us to do some sort of special work.  If we all respond to the call to which we have been called, the church won’t have trouble finding people to visit visitors.

  • The church won’t have trouble finding people to teach Sunday school.
  • The church won’t have trouble finding people to sing in the choir.
  • The church won’t have trouble finding people to lead small groups.
  • The church won’t have trouble finding people to sponsor youth groups.

If EACH of us responds to the call that God extends to us, the church will be able to do everything that it needs to do.  We will have a dynamic, vital church that will change people’s lives.  It will be a growing church – an exciting church – a  wonderful place to worship and a wonderful place to serve.

But it’s tempting not to do that.  It is tempting to come to church only when we feel like it.  It is tempting to sit in the pew – and to sing the hymns – and to walk out the door – and to let that be the end of it.  It is tempting not to get involved – not to do any work for Christ – not to give any service.  But, if we do that, the work to which God has called us will remain undone.

That happens in churches all too often, and it’s tragic.  There are so many things that the church could do that remain undone, because there is nobody to do them.

That is not just a problem for the church.  It is a problem for us, too.  If Christ calls EACH of us to a particular service – and you can be sure that he does – it isn’t only the church that is diminished if we fail to serve.  We are diminished too.  We grow as Christians, in part, by rendering service to Christ.  If we go through life ignoring Christ’s call to service, we doom ourselves to living stunted, shrivelled lives.  Our service to Christ is a kind of spiritual food that feeds us.  It is a kind of spiritual exercise that makes us strong.  We need to do the work to which Christ has called us:  for Christ’s sake – for the church’s sake – for the sake of those whom we serve – and for our own sake as well.

On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples – all one hundred twenty of them – were all together in one place.  None were missing, except Judas.  EACH of them received the fire – the Holy Spirit.  EACH of them began to proclaim Christ.

And then, at the appropriate time, they all stood back to let Peter preach.  And at the conclusion of Peter’s sermon, three thousand people were baptized.  Three thousand!

I can’t promise that we will baptize three thousand people here today if we all answer the call that Christ gives us.  But I can promise that it will revitalize this church if we will all do our part.

I have heard people say that most of us use only about 10% of our brainpower.  They say that, if we could only harness our full potential, the sky would be the limit.  I have always wondered how they determined that.  I think that I am using more than 10% of my brainpower.  But I know that I could be better organized – could work more efficiently.

And I also know that there are many people who never come close to their potential:

  • I’m thinking of kids growing up in ghettos, hanging out on street corners, scoring drugs, drifting through life.
  • I’m thinking of people in Third World countries who have never had a chance to go to school.
  • But I’m also thinking of kids in affluent neighbourhoods – and adults too – who spend several hours a day watching television, or playing video games, or surfing the web.

While I’m not sure that the 10% figure is right, I’m sure that many people don’t come close to their potential.  I wonder what the world would look like if we could get the kids off the street corners and into schools; if we could get people to watch less television and to read more books.  I think that the world would be a better place if people who are wasting their lives would come a little closer to their potential.

And so it is, too, with the church.  What would the church look like if EACH of us lived up to our spiritual potential – if EACH ONE of us would perform the service to which Christ has called us.  If we would do that, we would transform this church.  We would make a big difference to our neighbourhood or town.  We would make a difference to our world.

On the first Pentecost, one hundred twenty disciples gathered together in Jerusalem, and God gave EACH of them a tongue of fire – filled EACH ONE of them with the Holy Spirit.  Empowered by the Spirit, those few people lit a fire under the world – lit a fire for Christ.  Those few people changed the world.

We are the keepers of the flame today.  Pray for Christ to show how you can help.  Then stand up – get involved – do your part – answer your call – and expect to see the power of God working through your life. AMEN.