“Out of the Believer’s Heart”
Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39
There are many Holy Days in our church calendar. Days where we celebrate different aspects of Jesus’ life: his birth, his baptism, his fasting in the wilderness, his death and most importantly, his resurrection. And of course all along we are reading his teachings and the impact he has had on people’s lives, whether through witnessed accounts in the Gospels or through the letters of those who continued his work.
But today we celebrate something else. While what we celebrate today is still something Jesus promised, it’s something he’s not physically active in as he is in the other celebrations. He don’t read how he touched someone or what he said. We don’t hear of what he was doing. On Pentecost we only hear about the disciples and what happened to them.
The disciples began the day sitting together in a house. Seems innocent enough. They have probably been doing this quite a bit since Jesus left them to be with the Father in heaven. I wonder if they had any idea that today would be any different… if they had any idea their lives would change… again.
Hadn’t things changed enough already? They left their work. They left their families. They left everything they had ever known to follow this Jesus. So they continued to gather in this house to talk and reflect on what they experienced and how they knew they could never go back to the way things had been. They had seen too much. They heard too much. They had experienced so many things in their journey with Jesus, they were new men never to be the same again.
So they gathered together in this house, day after day. They found a replacement disciple for Judas, Matthias, and tended to other minor business while they waited… for what, I’m not sure they knew.
But then it happened. As they sat in the house, the wind began to blow and filled the entire house. Tongues of fire appeared and rested on each of them. And their lives changed… again. Jesus Christ was delivering on his promise to send them the Holy Spirit to be their companion and guide in his absence. This was his promise to never leave them, to always be with them, and he sends the third person of the Trinity to fulfill that promise. And once again, the disciples will never be the same.
The Spirit comes within them and they begin to preach and proclaim the deeds and power of God among all who have gathered. But they are speaking in many different languages so that all who are around them can hear in their own language about the goodness of God who came in Jesus Christ and has gifted them through the power of the Holy Spirit. And those who heard it were amazed.
From there, Peter stands up and begins to preach. He recites the prophet Joel, the prophetic voice predicting the return of Jesus, the promise of the Spirit to be poured out on all people, and how all people who believe in him will be saved.
We read only the start of his sermon, Peter goes onto to preach in the street, to all who are gathered, about the risen Jesus and the gift that he offers. When he finishes, the people ask Peter what they need to do, and he replies, “Repent and be baptized.” After what we might call the very first church service, the very first sermon of the Christian church, 3000 people joined the church that day.
When I think about this story, I cannot help but make a parallel to the way our churches function today. Many of our churches sit around and wait. Our churches gather on a regular basis to deal with some business, much like the disciples sitting around figuring out who should be added to their group to replace Judas. They gather and share some stories and experiences of Jesus, much like we do on Sunday mornings. And they sit and wait for something to happen, yes, just like our churches.
Pentecost is the birth of the church. 2000 years ago, 12 men sitting in a house were moved by the Holy Spirit to be the beginning of something new. They had walked personally with Jesus, watching, listening, learning. They were attentive students, and this is their graduation. They have been sent from their school and into the world to make a difference.
And what a difference it has been! There is a very rich 2000 year history, not all of it good, I’ll give you that, but 2000 years of working with people in order to relieve pain and suffering in the world through offering of the love of God in the name of Jesus Christ.
We are carriers of this tradition. We inherit this legacy, and it is our duty, our call, to pass this onto the world around us. Not just our children and grandchildren, but to all people. We are offered the same Holy Spirit which came to rest upon the tongues of the first disciples, who in their first day of existence as a church welcomed 3000 new followers among them. They taught them, they walked with them, they did the things Jesus did with them.
This comes after sitting in the house for a while, when the Spirit moved them to move out into the community, and it was there where God was able to reach others, by the multitudes, and create new believers in Jesus Christ, His Son.
There are periods in church history where not everything has been happy and successful. Times when the church really struggled in understanding its mission and existence. As you look back over history you can see it every couple of hundred years, where there’s a big upheaval in the church and things are forced to change. A time when you see that the Spirit worked within a few individuals and took the church in a new direction and helping find a whole new group of people find the love of God through His Son.
History will show that the church is at one of those moments right now. The whole church is struggling, every major denomination in western society is struggling with this issue. The dramatic decline in membership, the lack of resources to keep buildings open, the lack of leadership and clergy to keep the church moving forward. It is a tough time for the church right now.
But God’s Spirit is still with us. God’s Spirit will continue to lead us and speak to the callings in our hearts about what God would have us do. Like the early church, we are waiting, but we also need to know that God has already sent the Holy Spirit to awaken the church. Pentecost is the reminder, that 2000 years ago God awoke His people and started something new by introducing people to the risen Christ through a small group of people who knew Jesus, not just as a man, but as the only Son of God.
In our Gospel reading from John, Jesus stood among a crowd of people and said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”
The church is thirsty. The church needs a drink from the well of the Holy Spirit. These words of Jesus remind us that we have this Spirit within us. He said these words before the Spirit had been sent, because Jesus was still teaching, he was still among them. But we live after this event. We live in a world in which the Holy Spirit has been released to move within the hearts of believers so that others will see the works and love of God.
We live in the presence of this Spirit. We live in the rich tradition of a movement which began 2000 years ago in a small group of people, in a small home in a middle-eastern city. A movement which spread to cover a very large piece of geography in a time when long distance travel was not only difficult, but very dangerous. Since then countless lives have been changed as they are introduced to the living Christ we still worship today. Lives that could not remain as they once had been because they were moved by the Holy Spirit to become followers of Jesus Christ and change their ways.
The next chapter of this history lies within the people who gather in the world’s churches today. Jesus promised that the living water will flow like rivers out of the believer’s heart. The Spirit of the living Christ lives within us all. How might we share this love, this spring of life giving water, this gift, with the world today? Who needs a drink? Who needs the love of Christ in their lives? Who will share the water with them so that Christ may fill their hearts as well?
Christ has moved within his people. Christ has done many great things, far too many to recount in any one person’s lifetime. And he continues to do great things today through those who are open to the movement of the Spirit within them.
May we, as believers and followers of Jesus Christ, be open to this Spirit among us, and let it move us in ways which will touch the hearts and lives of people of every time and place, as the church looks for new openings, new places, new lives to share this great and wonderful gift of life, love, joy and hope.
May Jesus Christ open our hearts, as people of God, to this life giving water, this Holy Spirit who opens the hearts of listeners everywhere to the love offered through the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forevermore. Amen.