5-15-16 Pentecost Sermon: “Listen to the Spirit”

5/15/16 Pentecost “Listening to the Spirit” Rev. 3:13; 1 John 4:6; acts 2:1,2; 37-39  Dr. Sloan

To view a video of this sermon as well as the confirmation class’s joining, click here.

If you want to find the Holy Spirit, you might think you should open your eyes, but it seems that scripture tells us to open our ears to listen to and for the Holy Spiirt.  Someone rightly said the organ of Christianity is not the eye but the ear. This is also true in our passages:  Rev. 3 says, “Whoever has ears let them hear what the Spirit says.”  It is in whether we are able to listen to the apostles that is the recognition between the spirit of truth and falsehood (1 Jn. 4:6).   I have seen many a movie portraying Pentecost where the upper room has a wind blowing through that blows their hair to the right and left and blows stuff off the table.  But in our Pentecost passage it was the sound of a wind that filled the house.  You know when I pictured Pentecost, I have always pictured a tornado coming through the house.  But it doesn’t say the wind blew through the house.  It says only the SOUND of the wind filled the house.  It was a like a loud, tornado-like sound, a freight train- an alarm clock.  It was an alarm clock from God- saying, “It is time to wake up to God.” It is when the people then heard the sermon at Pentecost that they responded to Peters call to repent and be baptized.   So we are called to listen to and for the Spirit of God.

  1. LISTENING FOR THE SPIRIT- In the Rocky and Bullwinkle show that was made into a movie a few years ago, they would begin every show by saying, “Listen… the spirits are about to speak.” The context was a séance. Perhaps if you were in a dark room trying to communicate with the dead, you might be on edge with any sound that you hear. I would love it if we had that kind of expectation in church.  I think if we had the expectation that the Holy Spirit was about to speak to us from beyond the grave- beyond this world- we might be a bit less critical and a little more attentive.  Sometimes things happen in our lives that wake us up and we start listening but then we go back off to sleep again.  I think about an old army movie where the sentry is guarding the whole encampment but drifts off to sleep.  He hears a couple of twigs break and then he is wide wide away- “Who goes there!”  Then, slowly when there is no answer, no noise- the sentry starts nodding off again.  There are things that wake us up to God- maybe a death in the family, maybe a sermon that is preached, maybe a beautiful sunset, or a friend’s word of advice, or maybe we were reading scripture and got inspired.  We come to church and listen- but we don’t hear anything and we start nodding off again.  John says, “Whoever has ears let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  The Spirit speaks today.  Jesus said the same thing- the kingdom of heaven is not far off- the king is coming- don’t drift off to sleep.           There are lots of voices out there.  Many words of advice.  Now there is something called a “lifecoach” which is an amateur psychologist or counselor who is supposed to help you make decisions.  1 John 4:6 says to be careful what you listen to.  There are false spirits and the true spirit.  Now you may reject that and say everything is good.  But do you really want to do that?  Would you say the spirit that ISIS fighters listens to is the same as yours?  Would you say that the spirit that the drug addict listens to saying, “Go ahead take the hit” is the same as the Spirit of God?  The test 1 John says, is do you listen to the voice of the apostles (the “us” there).  The faith handed down to us from Jesus to the apostles to us.      We cannot manipulate the Spirit of God.  There are those who claim to be psychics or magicians who think they can control the Spirit.  But the Spirit is something Jesus said to wait for and to listen for.  There is a mystery in waiting- we are not in control.  Jesus talked about the Spirit as being like the wind- blowing wherever it wishes.  We cannot bottle it up.  We cannot institutionalize it or organize it so we may control it.  The Spirit is free because God is free- our response is to listen.  I remember writing a sermon once on the Spirit of God and the electricity went off five times in a thunderstorm.  This is a problem when you are writing on a computer with little battery back up.  I appreciated the power but could not control when it came back on.
  2. MOVED BY THE SPIRIT- The Spirit does not come to us in order for us just to have a good feeling. We are a culture that is so consumed with feelings. When Pentecost came that first time the apostles and those gathered didn’t look at each other and say, “How did you feel?”  or “Did you feel that?” The Spirit encourages us to ask the question, “What Shall We Do?”  Our call is not to be a spectator or a fan who simply feels.  We are not called to be a religious philosopher or analyst who simply thinks.  We are called to be participants- players on the stage- those who not simply feel or think but believe and do.       Let me tell you what we must first do is have a listening ear- listening prayerfully to scripture.  We are a scripturally illiterate people today.  What will make America great again is not industry, not prosperity- but our soul.  If God comes to us- our churches are filled again, and our lives are filled again with both peace, meaning, love and hope.  The church has an urgent message for the world, but it is a message from the Spirit- to come back to God.  Someone said that if the Holy Spirit were pulled out of our churches 95% of what we do would continue.  But we cannot advertise, organize, or manipulate the churches to grow in the proper way.  The Spirit fills us and grows us.  The people who try to use the church for personal gain or an emotional kick will in the end be sorely disappointed.  We do not move the Spirit- we do not simply seek to be moved by the Spirit.  We seek the Spirit Himself.  Seek to be filled with the Spirit- more of the Spirit and you will be filled, moved, inspired, and you will ask, “What do you want me to do next Lord?”  Do you want me to help someone?  Do you want me to go on a mission trip?  Do you want me to reach out to that lonely neighbor?   When the Spirit comes- we don’t just smile with contentment- we ask, “What shall we do?” The answer is found in commitment.  When the Spirit comes, commitment comes.

III. THE SPIRIT OF COMMITMENT- In our culture we do not like to commit. We might not be able to keep our commitment.  But if you do not commit for sure you will not be committing!  Sometimes Not committing is also making a commitment.  For example, if you are walking along the railroad track in Chapin and hear the train coming- you may ask yourself, should I go to the right or the left.  You may mull the decision over and weigh the depth of your jump.  But in the meantime- while you are deciding- you are still on the track- the train is coming.  Until you make your decision you have defacto decided to stay on the track.  This is true of our commitment to Christ.  If you have not made a commitment for Christ you are not in a neutral place.  You are in a place of not committing to Him- not being His follower.  The call from Peter to the people who asked “what shall we do?” was to “repent and be baptized. “  Repent means to change the way you are living.  To be baptized means to change the way you believe.  To the first Jews who were baptized it was clear- that being baptized as a follower of Christ was a huge decision to believe and follow His teachings.  It is always a risky thing to be baptized, because you can’t be unbaptized.  But we do it because we love God and we baptize our children because we want them to love God and know God’s love.  The Spirit works through the commitments of repentance and baptism to touch more and more people. I want to talk a bit about membership today.  On the day of Pentecost 3,000 were added to their number.  The church went from 500 who saw the resurrection to 3,500 who experienced the Spirit.  If that didn’t happen, we probably wouldn’t be here today.      Now at LMPC we have just under 500 at worship on average (488).  If on one Sunday we suddenly had 3,500 what would happen?  I could predict for you some of the things I would hear.  I would probably hear someone say, “Someone is sitting in my pew!”  I might hear, “We are out of bulletins- what can we do?” Maybe someone would say, “there are no parking spots.”  I might hear- the sound system won’t reach everyone.  I might hear, “It sure is hot in hear with all these people- and some have to stand outside in the South Carolina May heat.”  Maybe someone might say, “We’ll have to start another service.”  Or, “How can we know everyone of these 3,000 names?” These are all organizational and institutional concerns.  If this is our attitude we have lost something= we would have lost the Holy Spirit.  I am so grateful that this church has always been so open to new members and to reaching people for Christ even at the expense of organizational discomfort. Of course we want to try to accommodate people-but above all- we want to reach people for Christ.  There is no sign at the door- nor will there ever be at LMPC- that says, “Keep out- we’re full.”  Someone told me when we were moving to Chapin- “You’ll love it here- the schools are great, there is a Christian atmosphere, there is a low crime rate and you’re only 15 minutes from the best stores in the state.  But as soon as you move here you’ll want everyone else to stay away.”   Or as someone said, “as soon as you move you want to put a sign behind you to keep out.”  Or as someone from the PNC told me, “You want a sign in Hilton that says, ‘Chapin- it’s further than you think.’”   I understand the problems of growth- please don’t think I am not for the safety and making things right for our area.  But I just want us to see we must be careful to not quench the Spirit when people come here. As a church, our job is to be welcoming and hospitable in the name and for the sake of Jesus.         Let me talk about being a member for a minute- for it was on Pentecost that is says, “3,000 were added to their number.”  The term “membership” was rarely if ever used before the New Testament.   Paul says, we are “members of the body of Christ.”  He said that we are all parts- members of the body of Christ- and the eye cannot say to the hand ‘I don’t need you.”  We need each other.  A hand by itself can do nothing.  But a hand that is connected to a body with a head and with feet can do a lot.   Being a member means we are different, but we work together for the good of the whole body- not our institution- but the body of Christ.  Being a member too Is like being a member of a family. I told the confirmation class that a foster child may eat at the table, sleep in the house, hear  voices and have input but the foster child is not fully a member.  When that child is adopted into the family and becomes a member of that family- there is a commitment there- both from the child and the family.  When you join LMPC you commit to us, but we also commit to you- and we all commit to God.  We share values, hopes, dreams, mission and work.     Today, safety and comfort is such a major concern.  It has not always been that way.  There are things worse than being safe and comfortable.  It is suffocating.  As someone said, “You can wrap yourself in layer after layer of safety until you have suffocated and aren’t able to breathe.”  The Spirit of God is the breathe- the ruach of God- that cuts through the suffocating layers we build around ourselves- taking layer after layer off until it gets down to reality- the real life underneath it all.    There is a freedom in giving yourself- to breaking free of fear out of love.  Listen to the Spirit.