Acts 2:1-21  Common English Bible (CEB)
Pentecost

2 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
18     Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
and the moon will be changed into blood,
before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

 This is the word of God for us, the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Howling Wind, Flames of Fire and the Big Red Tractor

On this day of Pentecost we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church.  And the gift came to the disciples in an amazing way.  The Holy Spirit that Jesus promised, and that the disciples had been waiting for, was poured out upon the disciples in the sound of howling winds and the sight of flames of fire – a very powerful image to say the least.  The very presence of God was now with the people – the very power of God was within the disciples.  And everyone heard them speaking in their own languages as the Spirit allowed them.  And this must have caused a lot of noise, because the scripture says “when they heard this sound, a crowd gathered.”

If you remember last week’s scripture, before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem.  And there was a major Jewish festival going on, so many of the faithful Jews from miles away were gathered in Jerusalem.  And the crowd noticed that these Galileans – these Jesus followers- were speaking in languages that they could all understand.  And this was really strange because the disciples were uneducated, and no one expected that they would have learned all these different languages.

Now I just tried to pronounce a lot of nationalities in the scripture, and I counted the presence in the crowd of people from sixteen different countries, so sixteen different languages or dialects were probably present.  And all these people of different nationalities could understand the words that the disciples were speaking.  And no, the disciples were not drunk the scripture tells us.  And the observers recognized that it had to have been the power of God allowing them to speak this way!

And in the next verses of this chapter if you continue reading, Peter preached the news of Jesus Christ after the coming of the holy spirit.  Peter who had only a few days earlier denied Christ three times and cowered in fear, was now so bold for Christ that he preached!  He called on people to change their hearts and lives, to be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.  And at end of Peter’s sermon, three thousand people responded and became believers.

This was the beginning of the church.  This Jesus movement started out with a few rag-tag disciples – Acts 1 tells us the believers numbered only about 120 at that time.  And with the power of God’s Holy Spirit, this Jesus movement became Christianity with believers in all corners of the earth numbering over 2 billion people today.  That is powerful – from 120 to 2 billion.

So what in the world is the Holy Spirit?  How does the Holy Spirit work?  And how does the Holy Spirit work in our lives today?  It seems so much easier to understand God and Jesus – most of us have images in our mind of God.  And even more of us have images in our mind of Jesus.  But this mysterious Holy Spirit seems harder for us to wrap our minds around.

Listen to what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit as recorded in John 15:

“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When the Spirit comes, he will guide you into the truth…he will declare to you things that are to come.”

Jesus told his disciples that it would be better for them that he go away so the spirit could come.  The spirit must have some mighty benefits if the spirit is better than the presence of Jesus himself.

Scripture tells us a lot about the spirit – it tells us that:

–The spirit will be our companion.

–our counselor – to comfort, guide, advise, encourage and give us strength.

–and our advocate, to argue in our favor.

–The spirit will testify to us about the truth.

–show the world its sin.

–and help us speak when we are in precarious situations and need to bear witness to God.

— The spirit will pray for us when we have no words.

–and give us power to be witnesses to God to the ends of the earth.

–The spirit will help us overcome our sin.

–and brings us life and freedom.

–The spirit fills us with hope and joy and peace.

–and produces supernatural fruit in our lives –

love and joy,

peace and patience,

kindness,

goodness,

faithfulness,

gentleness

and self-control.

Not just ordinary peace and patience, but the kind that could only come from God.  Not just ordinary kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, but the kind that could only come from God.  The Holy Spirit is present when people say about our lives, “That was surely God working.”  Just as the people on the first Pentecost must have said when they heard the howling wind and saw the flames and heard the disciples speaking in their own language.  That was surely God!

The sound of this howling wind and the sight of the flames of fire brought this amazing power from heaven to earth, to the disciples, and also to all believers – to you and to me.  And somehow, somehow, the holy draws near to us when we worship, when we praise God, when we pray, when we read God’s word, and when we serve one another.  When we spend time in God’s presence, the fruit of the spirit appears in our lives, and others notice it.  People notice it when we love one another – and when we make sacrifices for our neighbors.  People notice it when we exhibit peace in situations that are devastating.  People notice it when we display grace to those who have wounded us.  People notice it when we serve the least of these with no expectation of getting something in return.   This power is the only way we can successfully spread God’s love to others, to our families, to people in Atkins and ultimately across the world.  And that is where the big red tractor comes in.  I know you were wondering about the big red tractor.

The Big Red Tractor video is from a study on a book called the “Forgotten God” by Frances Chan.  Chan believes that the Holy Spirit has been forgotten, neglected and ignored by our churches today.  Chan says we’ve created a whole brand of churches that do not depend on the Holy Spirit.  He says, “We have a whole culture of Christians who are not disciples, and we have a new group of “followers” who do not follow.”  God doesn’t just ask us to fill churches on Sunday.  Chan believes we can fill churches with our own efforts.  If we have good enough music and a funny enough sermon – people will come.

Chan says, “God is not interested in numbers.  He cares most about the faithfulness not the size of his bride.  He cares about whether people are lovers of Him.  And while I might be able to get people in the doors of a church if I tell enough jokes or use enough visuals, the fact remains that I cannot convince people to be obsessed with Jesus.  Perhaps I can convince them to pray a prayer, but I cannot talk anyone into falling in love with Christ.  I cannot make someone understand and accept the gift of grace.  Only the holy spirit can do that.”

I hope you noticed that the people in the village of the Big Red Tractor worked very hard.  And because of their hard work and their own efforts, the villagers plowed the field a few feet a day taking months to accomplish the job, and the crop produced only enough to feed their village.  But with the power of the Holy Spirit, Farmer Dave plowed the whole field in a night and produced a yield that had never been seen before.  The harvest was so great that the village shared with many other villages.  And everyone noticed how generous they were.

If we are not living our lives daily under the power of the spirit, we are not truly following, but instead we are living on our own power.  Just like the villagers, we can be wonderful and good people under our own power.  But how much greater could we glorify God with our lives if we used the power available to us!

Now, the villagers in the town were ordinary people.  And the disciples were ordinary people.  You see, God chooses us ordinary people to do his extraordinary work through God’s great power.  Never forget that we too are God powered.  We too have the potential to do God’s great work, if only we obey and become God’s instruments through the holy spirit.  Preacher Rick Donovan says, “God’s Holy Spirit might enable you to become a great hero who moves the world along with mighty shoves – or the Spirit might enable you to move things an inch here and an inch there.  It doesn’t really matter.  God has a plan for your life.  All that is required is that you be faithful – that you worship and pray and serve and love.  God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, will take care of the rest.”  Remember, the Holy Spirit will guide you and comfort you and pray for you and give you words!  No need to fear!

So, what is the Holy Spirit that first appeared through howling wind and flames of fire?  The holy spirit is God’s power that shows up in our daily lives – it produces supernatural fruit in us [love and joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.]

The Holy Spirit is the power that keeps the big red tractor of God’s church producing a great harvest for God through our lives.   In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.