Pentecost 2017

 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2

 

Last year, the Olympics were in Rio.  Admittedly, I didn’t watch much of the games last year, but I usually like to.  It’s inspirational.  It’s exciting to root for your country.  It’s fun to celebrate the achievements of individual athletes and share stories around the water cooler like, “Did you see watch the archery match last night?” I mean honestly, most of us say a phrase like that every fourth year at best.

But, you know what my favorite thing about watching the games is?  Pretending I know anything about these sports.  I have the audacity to think – or even say out loud – “Oooo… He really should have tucked tighter to get a better rotation on that dive!”  It is ludicrous that I think I should look at the best athletes in the world and say, “You know what they should do different?”  But somehow I do with a perfectly straight face.  That’s the Olympic spirit of a couch potato for you.

You know, I think we can do this about church sometimes, too.  “You know what this church really needs?”  “You know what’s wrong with this church?”  “You know what this church is missing?”

Just like me watching the Olympics, the commentary probably has some merit, but lacks the thorough knowledge and insight that the real pros have.  I would dread having an Olympian basing their performance on my advice.

So, who is the expert that we should turn to? Who has the thorough and intimate knowledge of how a church should perform?  Who has the insight and foresight to cast a vision for the church of tomorrow?

Of course, it’s Jesus.  And on this day of Pentecost – the day that celebrates the explosive growth of the church and the unleashing of God’s gospel power on the whole world, why not look at Jesus’ strategy?

Are you ready for it? “Wait on the Holy Spirit.”  Got it!  We’ll do some grassroots, viral marketing and then… “No.  Wait on the Holy Spirit.”  Got it!  So we’ll start building a suitable worship space and… “No.  Wait on the Holy Spirit.”  And then?  “And then… it’ll happen.  You’ll do the right thing, and you’ll be amazed at yourself and the people around you.  You’ll… you know what?  I’m not going to spoil it for you.  For now, wait on the Holy Spirit.”

But what if he doesn’t show up?  “Have I ever broken a promise?” No… but… “But nothing.  Wait on the Holy Spirit.”

Can you imagine what sort of mess the disciples would have made of things if they hadn’t waited on the Holy Spirit’s power? At best, their efforts would have been futile.  At worst, they might have been successful but made it into something completely different than Jesus intended.

Sadly, this is true for many churches today.  In his book, “Radical,” David Platt wrote, “I am most concerned [that]… I am part of a system that has created a whole host of means and methods, plans and strategies for doing church that require little if any power from God… God’s power is at best an add-on to our strategies.  I’m frightened by the reality that the church I lead can carry on most of our activities smoothly, efficiently, even successfully, never realizing that the Holy Spirit of God is virtually absent from the picture.”

What about Hope?  How much do we rely on the Holy Spirit in how we do church?  Not just by way of a theological footnote where we acknowledge his work after the fact, or just assume that he comes alongside whatever our plans are.  How much of doing and being church are we trying to do under our own strength and wisdom and how much are we depending on Him?

I think this is part of why they were told to wait on the Holy Spirit.  The Pentecost experience could have happened the moment Jesus ascended into heaven.  But God chose to wait over a week.  Why? Because God needed to establish for the apostles that the church He was building was His work.  They had to learn that they are not in control of it.  They needed to learn that God often has plans that He doesn’t reveal to us ahead of time.  They needed to experience the difference between life with and without the Spirit’s power.  They needed to see that the Holy Spirit is way, way out of their control… and that that’s a very good thing.

In 2,000 years, very little has actually changed – and God hasn’t changed at all.  This is still His church.  It is still out of our control and in His hands.  The Holy Spirit is every bit as surprising, powerful, and in charge as He has ever been.

If we’re feeling tired, lost, or confused then it’s time to refocus on Him.  Because God is not tired, lost, or confused.  It may be that we’ve been trying to run on our own steam – which only works for a little while.

I know that waiting isn’t fun.  It isn’t a great battle cry.  It isn’t inspirational.  But it is one of the constant refrains throughout scripture. God wants us to give in to Him.  He wants us looking to Him, and depending on Him.  This stresses control freaks straight out, but there’s no getting around it.  Without the Holy Spirit’s power and leading we cannot be God’s church.

But when He empowers us, when we wait on Him to lead us, the picture is incredible.  He shows up in supernatural power and does amazing things through regular, humble people.  When we think about the apostles, it’s easy to think of them as these elite exemplars of faith and piety.  But that isn’t how the Bible describes them.  They were common, thickheaded, flighty, and fearful regular Joes… except when the Spirit comes on them in power.  And then they do the kinds of things that Jesus did.

Why shouldn’t that be us?  If God hasn’t changed, if the apostles were regular folks, if God’s mission is still the same, if human needs are still the same… Should we be expecting something other than what God was doing back then?  Should we be pursuing our plans, relying on our power, seeking human wisdom… Or should we wait faithfully for the Holy Spirit’s power, and then move how He leads?

To get there, we’re going to have to grow in our prayer life.  We’re going to have to become more expectant and more patient.  We’re going to have to learn to set aside our plans and preferences and really learn to listen to God’s leading.  And when He shows up in power, and only when, we’ll be ready to move.

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