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Empowered for Mission (Pentecost)

May 19, 2024 | by Pastor Peter

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowers the church to carry out the mission Jesus gave the Apostles: being his witnesses everywhere. In this sermon, we look at three ways the Spirit empowers the church for its mission.

Sermon Summary

Last week we looked at how Jesus promised his followers that he would give them power as they were his witnesses all over the world. Jesus kept that promise when he sent the spirit on the day of Pentecost. We pick up the story in Acts chapter 2.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?…

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,

    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

    your young men will see visions,

    your old men will dream dreams. (Acts 2:1-8, 12-17, NIV)

The disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit to take the message of Jesus’s death, Resurrection and the inauguration of his kingdom to people all over the world. Today, I want to look at three ways. Ways the Holy Spirit empowers the church to do this kind of mission. 

Empowered to Communicate

 The most obvious way the church is empowered in the story is that God gives them the tools to communicate across the normal boundaries that stop effective communication. Jerusalem is full of religious pilgrims, diaspora Jews whose native language is not Aramaic (the language the common people speak), Hebrew (the language of the upper class) or Greek (the international lingua franca of the Eastern Mediterranean world). But the Holy spirit gives the disciples the ability to speak to these people in their native language, so the message about Jesus can be clear. In an age where we can translate unknown languages on our phone, this might not seem like a big deal, but if you’ve ever tried to communicate across cultural lines, generational lines, social lines, you know that it can be challenging. Challenging. I’m reminded of a story of an American short-term missions team that went to visit a church in Mexico. The pastor asked the woman leading the team to share what God was doing in her life, but didn’t warn her that he was going to do that in advance. Feeling put on the spot, the woman got up and attempted to explain her embarrassment in Spanish, but her Spanish wasn’t very good. She meant to tell the Mexican church that she was embarrassed and that it was the pastor’s fault, but the word she thought meant embarrassed –embarazada– doesn’t mean what she thought. It caused quite a stir, because what she actually said was that she was pregnant and it was the pastor’s fault. Cross cultural communication And sometimes trickier than we think.

Sometimes we have a difficult time bridging the Gap between our church culture and the culture of the community around us. Two or three generations ago, most people had a general familiarity with the Bible and its message about human sin and divine forgiveness. The church likes to remind people the good news that if people had faith in Jesus that God would forgive their sinfulness. But now most people in our community have never been to church, and they didn’t grow up in families where their parents had been to church. They don’t worry about being forgiven, because they don’t even know that they need to be. When you communicate with somebody you have to meet the more they’re at. Telling them God can solve a problem. They didn’t even know they had isn’t especially effective communication. Maybe, it makes more sense to address the loneliness crisis in our society. Maybe we lead with the idea that God wants to be your friend and wants to help you become part of a family of people with whom you can have a profound connection. We shouldn’t change the heart of the message, but we do need to adapt the way we communicate it so that it’s meaningful to our audience. We see the disciples doing this in the book of Acts. When Peter shares the gospel with religious Jews, he starts from the old Testament. When Paul shares the gospel with pagans and Athens, he starts by referencing an altar to an unknown God. He identifies a meaningful point of connection between these people and the God he wants to present to them. 

The Holy Spirit also empowers us to communicate the message of the Kingdom. The Holy Spirit can give us discernment to sense the places where people might be open to our message And the ways that we can make that message meaningful to them. So let us listen to the Spirit rather than just trying to communicate in the way that we have always done before.

Empowered to Bear Witness to God’s Saving Power

The second way the spirit empowers us for mission is by transforming our lives in a way that gives credibility to our message. When Peter spoke to the Jewish people on Pentecost, he referenced the miracles that Jesus had done as proof of his authority. “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22 NIV). The miraculous healings Jesus performed and his resurrection from the dead demonstrate God’s saving power at work through Jesus. In the same way, when God works through our lives he gives credibility to our message. John Newton worked as a slave ship captain, and later became an investor in the slave trade. After he converted to Christianity, he became a radical abolitionist. He’s best known for writing the song. Amazing Grace about the transformation that happened in his life 

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now am found

Was lost, but now I see

We might also look to the example of Saul of tarsus. Saul was a vitriolic persecutor of the church until he had an encounter with Jesus, at which time he became the church’s greatest missionary. When God changes a life, people notice. 

We can argue with people about theology, but it’s very hard for a person to argue with our experience. That’s why I think that testimonies are more compelling evidence of God’s existence. Then logical arguments are. So God gives us transformed lives to give authority to our message about his saving power. 

Empowered to CoSuffer

 A third way, the Holy Spirit empowers us for mission is by helping us suffer alongside the hurting. This doesn’t feel like a gift, but it is in our solidarity with those who hurt that we can bring. Bring hope to the hopeless. Some theologians describe the incarnation of God in Jesus as God running to the place where human pain exists. Jesus certainly doesn’t shy away from pain. He allows himself to be an  (apparently) illegitimate child. He’s born into an oppressed race under foreign occupation. He grows up in a poor family, and suffers a brutal death at the hands of the Roman military machine. Through Jesus’s suffering. Love God demonstrates his glory. 

Jesus commands that we follow in his footsteps, commanding his disciples to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow him. Just as Jesus brings God’s presence close to those who are hurting his disciples, filled with his holy spirit, bring God ‘s presence close to the hurting when they stand in solidarity with those in pain. This is what Paul is talking about when he writes::

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies…. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans (Romans 8:22-23, 26, NIV).

God’s Spirit transforms our imaginations so that we can envision a world unspoiled by sin. But our eyes see the world for what it is. This difference between what ought to be and what is causes us to groan inside ourselves. Sometimes this is in response to our own shortcomings. We know that God has called us to be holy, but we struggle to live in a way that is consistent with that calling. At other times this groaning is in response to the pain and suffering and evil we see around us. 

We live in a community suffering great pain. The violent crime rate in Kirkland Lake is over 2 and 1/2 times the provincial average. It wasn’t long ago that we had six homicides in less than a year, an astoundingly high rate for a community of this size. There’s an epidemic of drug addiction. There are many people struggling with the ravages of mental illness. There are many children whose parents aren’t able to effectively raise them in life-giving ways. Some of us are personally affected by this pain, and so we have no choice but to engage with it. Others are not directly affected, . If that’s us, we may be tempted to adopt a posture of comfortable disengagement. But the example of Jesus is one of uncomfortable engagement. I’m called to See the evil around me. But when you spend a lot of time doing this, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it. A friend of mine who’s a police officer told me that what they found is that police officers who are the most empathetic are also the most likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder from the different things they see in their line of work. We may want to protect ourselves by cultivating a detachment from the evil that surrounds us. How do we face the hurt without being destroyed by it? 

I believe the answer to this lies in the resurrection of Jesus. By raising Jesus from the dead, the father takes the evil things that we have done and transforms them into something life-giving. If God can literally raise the dead, he is also at work figuratively raising the dead. Every person whose life displays the power of sin and death can be transformed by the grace of God into a person filled with true life. When we hold to this belief, we can be hopeful even when we are surrounded by pain. The story of Peter walking on water is illustrative. Here. The disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm. Jesus hadn’t come with them on their Journey. Wow! They struggled to keep the boat from capsizing. They saw the shape of a man walking on the water. In their fright. They concluded it was a ghost, but the man called out to them saying that it was Jesus. Peter asked if it really is Jesus that he should command him to get out of the boat and walk on the water. Jesus told him to do just that. So Peter walked on the water until he took his eyes off Jesus and got distracted by the storm around him. Then he began to sink. In the same way we can stand in the storm as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, but if we take our eyes off him and focus solely on the storm, we’ll be overtaken by it. We can safely endure the storm if we stay focused on God’s presence with us. 

There are some pitfalls we need to avoid when we stand in solidarity with the hurting. 

Misidentifying the Enemy

When we see the terrible things that one human being can do to another, we may desire to see God’s judgment poured out on the perpetrator. To be sure, people are responsible for the things they do. At the same time, ultimate responsibility rests not with the person who carries it out, but with the spiritual forces of darkness that deceive a person into harming their brother or sister. That’s why Jesus cries out for the father to forgive those who are crucifying him, because they don’t know what they’re doing. This is also why Paul warns the Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Epesians 6:12, NIV). We must never forget those who harm others are not outside of God’s grace. Rather than crying out for God to destroy them, we should be praying that God would redeem them. God’s grace is powerful enough to take the most wretched person, the kind of person whose life works deaf in the lives of those around them, and transform them into the kind of person whose life gives life to others. 

Trying to fix the problem with human effort 

We often try to take matters into our own hands when trying to right the wrongs around us . We often try to do this using politics. We see evil around us and we want to help people. This is a good impulse, but we must have realistic expectations about what our efforts can achieve on their own. We might try to change laws. An example of this is the conservative Evangelical church in the United States and its opposition to the supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Many Christians concluded that if Roe v. Wade could be overturned abortion would end. 2 years after the judicial decision was repealed, abortions have actually gone up in the United States. Legislation can’t deal with sin. That’s why the Jewish law could convict people of sin, but it couldn’t transform their hearts and make them faithful. The only way that real transformation comes is when God transforms human hearts. So we should do what we can to help alleviate suffering, but we must never forsake our obligation to pray for God’s transforming power to work in the lives of those who need his grace.

The job of telling the world about Jesus and showing his transforming power at work in our lives is a daunting task, but God’s spirit empowers us to carry out this task so that the world may know God’s saving power.

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