By Ken Miller
IGRC Lay Leader
Bishop, it gives me great pleasure to announce today that yesterday, the laity took an offering for our school that we support in Liberia, and they raised $5,379 for that school. Congratulate yourselves on that. What a wonderful thing that was.
I want to share a scripture with you that was shared yesterday, but I believe it of course talks about what we're all about as far as that's concerned.
"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seems to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the spirit enabled them." (Acts 2:1-4).
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be there and to witness what those people saw? How awesome would that have been and what a great experience? Imagine the fact that you're having this prayer meeting and all of a sudden you hear this sound of this huge wind blowing fiercely not outside the house, but inside the house.
Now, it's bad enough, and I've been through a couple of tornadoes, so I know what it's like outside the house, but imagine this inside the house. Even more amazing, you see tongues of fire resting on the heads of the people. As if all those things were not enough, you have all these people speaking in different languages and everybody understanding them.
Can you imagine what Hollywood would have done with this? The special effects people would go crazy, wouldn't they? It'd be a dream come true for them. The Spirit of God had come upon those people at that time. Now, they had been told that the Spirit of God would come upon them, but I'm sure that they did not expect anything like what they experienced. They were overcome by a spirit that unites, a spirit that empowers, a spirit that creates and re-creates. The Spirit fell on them. The Spirit came to them, but more importantly and if you don't hear anything else I say today, the Spirit worked through them, just like the Spirit can work through us today.
They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and because of that, they had special powers. Lest we get caught up in the dramatics of the rushing wind and the tongues of fire, granted, they helped set the scene, but the most important part of this story is that the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Luke tells us again that they were talking in tongues and in different languages. Why is that important? Because it enabled all the people there to be able to understand what they were saying.
When we think of the mission of the church today, the idea of many languages becomes even more important than it was back then. We need to use whatever language we can to get the message of Jesus Christ into the world.
Why were those early Christians so successful? I think it comes down to three things, and I want to share those three things with you very quickly this afternoon.
First of all, it comes down to prayer, just as Bishop Beard said. Prayer is a powerful force in our lives. It gives us a chance to be sensitive to God's leading. Prayer gives us permission to give voice to the deepest concerns of our hearts, and we can do it anywhere and at any time. You know what? It's always appropriate. It doesn't matter when or where.
The second thing is love. What about love? Those early Christians loved each other. Nobody was in need because they shared everything. No one was excluded. No one was forgotten. It didn't matter who they were. They all felt welcome.
There's a story of a youth pastor who decided that his youth group should paint the youth room. Because they could not agree on one color, he allowed them to paint each wall a different color.
What he forgot was that the church's adult Sunday school class also used that room. Well, the senior members were a little upset about that, and to keep his job, the youth pastor came up with a great solution. He informed the senior members that he was proud of the team's spiritual maturity. One wall was blue to represent heaven, one wall was black to represent the power of sin, one was white to represent the purity that only comes through Jesus Christ's cleansing power, and one wall was red to stand for Jesus' blood shed for us. Not only did that diffuse the situation, but those colors remained for the next 14 years because no one would paint over the blood of Christ.
You know what, wouldn't that be wonderful if all of our differences could be resolved in that way? After all, folks, we are Christ's body, and they loved and respected each other. If we can't do that, what hope is there for the world? There's a deep divide among our churches, nowadays, a divide that keeps us from mounting a unified witness in the world.
... us mounting from mounting a unified witness in the world, but we can overcome that.
My second story is about an old folk tale of a town in Tennessee. There were two churches in the town, one Baptist and one Methodist. The Baptist Church preached against the Methodists and the Methodist Church preached against the Baptist. The town was equally divided.
Then the rains came and the flood tore through the town. The Baptist minister hurried to move his family to higher ground, but they were trapped, and suddenly a huge wave came by and wrenched his baby girl from his arms. Suddenly, a man on the bank jumped into the water and swam to the little girl. Reaching or just in time, he pushed her onto a ledge, saving her life, but instantly the man was swept away by the raging water. His body, the body of the Methodist minister, was found a few days later.
One of the churches was destroyed by the flood and they never rebuilt it. Instead, they renamed the remaining church Sweet Harmony Chapel, and the Baptist minister never preached against anyone ever again. We're all followers of Christ and we need to love and respect each other.
The last of the stories is about passion, and I think this story illustrates that point very well. The Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco has a real ministry for people that few churches have. Their most effective ministry by far as their addiction recovery program. In the late 1980s, drug and alcohol addiction rates skyrocketed in San Francisco, especially in the inner-city neighborhoods.
Glide's pastor, Cecil Williams, decided that his church would offer the best addiction recovery program available. But how would the church get the word out about the recovery program among the addicts? They decided to organize a march on Valencia Gardens in San Francisco because that was the most crime ridden public housing project in the city.
Over 600 people carried to take the message to the Gardens. Marchers carried signboards reading "It's Recovery Time" and "Welcome Home to Recovery." Those who did not have signs carried platters of food. Imagine what it was like for the residents of the most broken down, crime-ridden neighborhood to witness the invasion of hope, to have more than 600 people march down your streets singing songs of praise, bringing gifts of food, and announcing a much-needed drug rehabilitation program. It probably seemed like Pentecost all over to those people.
There is something wonderful about a unified group of people joining together in one common task and serving others. They feel good about themselves and they feel good about each other.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to experience the joy, the unity, the commitment that characterized the early church. You know what? I truly believe that we can do that. If we pray more, if we love more, and if we serve Christ in our community more, the Holy Spirit will flood this room, just like it did those many years ago. You know what? The sky's the limit folks. The sky is the limit.
It changed the lives of the disciples who were gathered there that day, and they went to every corner of the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ with every person they could find. Now, the early church had none of the things that we think are necessary for success today. They didn't have buildings, they didn't have money, they didn't have political influence, they didn't have social status, and yet the church, one multitudes through Christ in the Roman Empire, because they had the power of the Holy Spirit and it was energizing their ministry. The good news, brothers and sisters, is that we have that same spirit available to us today. We just have to step out in faith and use that power.
Vance Havner said, "We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Holy Spirit of God." May it be so. Amen.