God's Story, Our Story: The Spirit Is Upon Us!

Preaching: Brian Keepers
Text: Acts 2:1-11

            Someone has said that the church is like a football huddle. You know that something important is being said there, but you can’t understand a word of it and all you can see is their rear-ends.

            Maybe so. But in all fairness to the church, it isn’t easy to be understood by the world. After all, what we are talking about in this huddle called the church is God. That’s hard to talk about.

            It’s hard to talk about because God is so much bigger than us. In the words of Job, “How great is God—beyond our understanding!” (Job 36:26) Even our best words fall short of fully describing the irreducible mystery of God’s being and God’s ways.

            Add to this our culture’s growing hostility towards saying anything public about God. Your faith is supposed to be personal and private, right?  It ranks right up there with politics. You are free, even encouraged, to have your opinions but please keep them to yourself. Wasn’t it William Buckley who famously quipped, “You may be able to bring up the subject of religion at a fancy dinner party once, but if you bring it up twice during the evening, you won’t be invited back.”

            The truth is, for most of us, we don’t want to come off showy or pushy in our faith, so we find it very hard to speak about God. We are reluctant. Apprehensive. It seems better to just keep quiet.

            Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, tells us that on the day of Pentecost, Jews from every nation were gathered in one place. They must have had trouble understanding one another because, even though they shared the same faith, they were separated by different languages.

            But then something amazing happens. The Holy Spirit is poured out like a rushing wind and descends on all the people in sputtering tongues of fire, and they begin to understand each other. The people are befuddled. They say to each other, “How is it possible that I am able to hear and understand you, even though I speak in a different language?” It was a miracle.

            Luke tells us that there were other people outside in the streets who heard all this commotion going on in the room at Pentecost. They begin to mock them. “Listen to those fools—they’re drunk out of their minds!”

            So Peter comes out and preaches to the crowd. Peter, of all people. Can you believe it? The same Peter who, on the night that Jesus was betrayed, melted into the shadows and denied Jesus three times! But now, in broad daylight, Peter preaches. Passionately, boldly, eloquently… he preaches. Peter tells out God’s Story to the crowd gathered, which Jesus as the central character, and invites all of them to find their own stories in this Story of Resurrection and New Life.  It is the miracle of Pentecost.

            Back at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus began his ministry, do you remember what he said there in the synagogue at Nazareth? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” And why was the Spirit of the Lord upon him? Jesus answers by quoting the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, freedom to the oppressed, recovery of sight to the blind.” The Spirit of the Lord was upon him to preach.

            The outpouring of the Holy Spirit makes speech about God possible. It takes ordinary people and turns them into preachers. We, too, receive the Holy Spirit in order to speak about God—to bear witness to the mighty deeds of God. This is the great commission that Jesus gives us at the beginning of Acts. Before Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, he said to his disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

            We’ve all heard the old adage “actions speak louder than words.” There is certainly some truth to this. If we don’t live our lives in such a way that authentically demonstrates our faith then our words are cheap and empty. On the other hand, if we speak only with our actions and never with words, then people will not know why we live the way we do.

            At some point, we must speak. We must use words to tell others about God’s deeds of power. The Apostle Paul makes this point so clearly in Romans 10:13-14: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they believe the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

            How can they hear without someone preaching to them? Maybe you’re thinking, “Well that’s why we ordain and install Ministers of Word and Sacrament like you, Brian! Isn’t that why were bringing on Lindsay and Nate, too? So you all can preach to us? That’s the job of you pastors—to preach. Our job is to listen (and critique your performance over lunch), right?”

            That’s not what Luke says here with the Pentecost story. In fact, Peter says something in his Pentecost sermon that we must not miss: All of this was predicted by the prophet Joel. In the former days, God’s word was spoken only by prophets, a few charismatic (or at least offensive) individuals who were called to speak the truth about God. But the prophet Joel foretold a day when, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, upon the young and the old, upon women and men, upon scholars, bankers, teachers, janitors, investors, stay-at home parents, migrant workers…anybody and everybody who calls on the name of Jesus!”

            If you are a follower of Christ, then the Holy Spirit has come upon you to be Christ’s witness, to testify to the hope that is within you, to tell people about Jesus. The Spirit is upon all of us to preach the good news to the poor, release to the captives, freedom to the oppressed, and recovery of sight to the blind.

            Maybe you’re still not persuaded. You just can’t see yourself as a preacher. You say, “But I can’t speak well in front of people—my knees shake and I fumble my words.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “How can I preach, I don’t know enough about the Bible. What if I mess up? What if I say the wrong thing? What if someone asks me a question I can’t answer?”

            When God called Moses to go and speak to Pharaoh and bring God’s people out of bondage in Egypt, do you remember Moses’ reaction? Moses hid behind a long litany of excuses. “No, God, you don’t want me to go and talk to Pharaoh! They’ll never listen to me! I’m a nobody! Besides I can’t speak well. I get tongue-tied easily.”

            God replied to Moses, “Who gave humans their mouth? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and teach you what to say.”

            God says the same thing to us. Now go, I will help you speak and teach you what to say. This call to preach is not about us. It is about God’s wisdom and power. It’s the Holy Spirit who takes our words and gives them meaning and effectiveness. We need only to be faithful, and by the power of the Spirit God gives us what we need to say and opens the heart, mind and ears of those to whom we speak.

I love these words by 19th century preacher P.T. Forsyth: “The one great preacher in history...is the church. And the first business of the individual preacher is to enable the church to preach....He is to preach to the church from the gospel so that with the church he may preach the gospel to the world.”

Forsyth is saying that my role as a preacher is to equip you—and us together—to go into the world and be preachers. Not necessarily preachers like I’ve just done this morning, where you get up and deliver a sermon in worship. But God takes your ordinary life, your ordinary voice, and he turns it into his mouthpiece.

 Yes, the Spirit of the Lord is upon us to preach—to be Christ’s witnesses and tell out this Story of all that God has done, is doing, and will do.

I want to end my sermon this morning with an embodied illustration of how the Holy Spirit has been poured out so that we can tell of God’s mighty deeds. Over Spring Break, four members of our Mission Crew—Tracy Jansma, Kristi Rosendahl, Karen Vander Sluice, and Mike Thorsby—traveled to Blue Fields, Nicaragua to witness firsthand how the Spirit has been poured out on Pastor Adrian and Dr. Bernadette Bob-Kelly and to see all that God is doing among the beautiful people of Blue Fields.

Blue Fields is on the east coast of Nicaragua, the poorest region of an already poor country. That’s where Adrian and Bernadette provide public health and medical services, as well as spiritual and pastoral education. They work with the Moravian Church there as RCA mission partners. We are so excited to identify the Bob-Kelly’s as one of our key focus mission partners moving forward as our congregation intends to develop a deeper relationship with the Bob-Kellys and the people of Blue Fields. In fact, it’s already started. Do you remember the “Live Simply” Jars and the special offering we took at Easter? This was for the Bob Kelly’s work in Blue Fields—providing food and clean water to the children there.

So I want to invite Kristi, Karen, Mike and Janelle (who is representing Tracy) to come forward and speak about the mighty deeds of God in Blue Fields, Nicaragua.

Karen, Kristi, Mike and Janelle come forward and share the following testimonies in their own words and voice…

My name is Karen Vander Sluice, and let me tell you what I witnessed the Lord do in Blue Fields, Nicaragua. I was excited about getting to visit Pastor Adrian and Dr. Bernadette and to see the work they’re doing to better learn how we can partner with them. Right away I see how much love and devotion Adrian and Bernadette have for these beautiful children they work with. Bernadette tells us they have been working together 13 years in Bluefields, which is the place where she grew up. I’m amazed at how they seem to know everyone in town.  

I see God at work in such powerful ways through the different programs we experience for the three days we are there. A lunch program that feeds 160 hungry children, six days a week.  An orphanage/foster care home to give safety and nurture to children who have been abused. We meet 13 girls and 3 boys who are living in the home at this time.  We are inspired to see the ways all these children are learning about Jesus through songs and Bible study, and the holistic approach to ministry that cares for their overall health and keeps them in school.

Adrian plays the guitar and sings well.  Bernadette and her Nurse Practitioner assess the health of the children and help with their education. Bernadette is fixing up the clinic they had loaned to the government and hopes to work there with the children and women. When we ask them how we can pray for them, they say, “Pray that we will have wisdom and good health to continue this work.” And we were all amazed at what the Lord is doing.

My name is Kristi Rosendahl, and let me tell you what I witnessed the Lord do in Blue Fields, Nicaragua.  It is the morning of the second day, and we all pile into Adrian’s pickup truck. A couple of us crawl into the cab but the rest of us climb into the back of the truck.  The sun is already up and it is hot. We are on our way to the boat dock to take a trip down the river to visit a remote village that is part of the Bobb Kelly’s medical missions.

As we are driving in the truck, we notice one cloud growing larger and darker above us. When we arrive at the dock area, Adrian leads us through a crowd of people and wards off those eager to help us carry our water and other supplies. We wait to board the boat under a metal roof that offers shade but at this moment it also protects us from the downpour which seems to be magnified as the huge rain drops land on the roof.

We then pile into the glorified row boat and take a seat on the wooden bench where we will ride for the next 3 ½ hours down the bumpy river. Once we are all situated and Samuel, our driver, steers the boat out from under the metal roof, amazingly the rain stops! Adrian asks Samuel to stop the boat and Adrian prays a beautiful prayer, asking for God’s protection and blessing on our day. And we are off! Seconds later to our left we notice a rainbow that seems to be placed there for our purpose.  There are so many details to share about this trip but the bottom line is: we were all amazed at what the Lord is doing.

My name is Tracy Jansma, and let me tell you what I witnessed the Lord do in Blue Fields, Nicaragua. It’s the third day of our trip, and Adrian brings us to the second, smaller feeding center. We are walking and before we can even see the building, a young girl comes running up to Adrian and grabs his hand. She smiles a beautiful smile and Adrian smiles back. She walks with him the rest of the way, holding his hand. Her anticipation is obvious. I wondered to myself, does she do this daily?

Adrian is carrying his guitar with him, and when we get inside the building, he shares the joy and love of Jesus through singing. The kids sing along—they sing so loudly. We sing along, too. How can we not?  It is so very hot, but the kids don’t seem to mind. Even in the heat, time is taken to pray and praise God before the meal. Adrian turns to us and tells us that he is filled up by sharing his faith. He has the best smile and love flows from him to the children and back. It is clear that Adrian is truly the hands and feet of Jesus right where he lives.

Adrian and Bernadette rent this building for this second feeding center. It is small and limited and they only have access to it 6 days a week for this allotted time. But the children and adults in the community desire so much more. They want Adrian and Bernadette to teach them and mentor them and help them grow.  But this is difficult because they do not have the adequate space where they can meet to do these things. Adrian and Bernadette have been praying about this situation.

Adrian then tells us something remarkable. He says that someone shared with him on Easter Sunday that they had property in this very neighborhood they were interested in selling.  Property that would be perfect for developing the ministries the people want. While we are all sweating from the heat and humidity, we also get goose bumps. We look at each other in amazement. It was on Easter Sunday—that same day—that Fellowship Church, miles away, had collected over $7000 from our special Easter offering and our “live simply” jars. These gifts would be given so the children of Bluefields could receive food and clean water. Is this just a coincidence? Or is it the providence of God? And we are all amazed at what the Lord is doing.

My name is Mike Thorsby, and let me tell you what I witnessed the Lord do in Blue Fields, Nicaragua. Adrian and Bernadette are locals; he is from eastern Nicaragua and she is from Blue Fields. Matthew 13 v.57 states, “…A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” I have always had some element of cynicism and doubt, especially when assessing situations or evaluating personnel. I can honestly say my heart was hardened.

Then, I saw, no, I witnessed Adrian in action as he engaged people in the village, on the docks, in the clinics, working in the stores, and begging on the streets. The Holy Spirit oozed out from every pore and captivated whomever he addressed. Now mind you, there was no flashy-smooth salesmanship or booming voice; but rather, a calming, logical, and always appropriate style in how he addressed each person. I saw the Holy Spirit move Adrian to accommodate every person with the appropriate compassion, or sternness as may be needed to get a loving point across or an action accomplished.

Likewise, Bernadette absolutely beamed with love, excitement, and enthusiasm when she discussed the clinics, food programs, orphanages, and the spread of spiritual growth throughout her beloved city. The way she interacts with the children and mothers in her care is with so much love and compassion that it could only come though the Holy Spirit.

Observing Adrian and Bernadette, you see their dreams, vision, passion, and work ethic are boundless. During just those few days, I understood where that energy came; it originated from the Holy Spirit working within them. We from Fellowship were exhausted just following them around for three days; but even more so…we were all amazed at what the Lord is doing.

End singing:

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us

Melt us, mold us, fill us, use us

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Renee Krueger