Return to Sermon Archive
May 19, 2002
by Tony Grant
Pentecost was a high-energy event. There were flames of fire, and fierce winds ripping through the area. And whenever you have unexplained sources of energy, you attract a lot of attention. The search for energy is the real history of humankind. So important is energy to human survival that myths were written to explain how we came to have it. For example, the Greeks had the legend of the Titan Prometheus who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humankind. To ancient man, fire was indeed a godlike gift. To have energy is to have power and control. That is a truth that seems self-evident in the current geopolitical climate of Middle Eastern diplomacy. That is why we are interested in alternative sources of energy--whether biomass, geothermal, nuclear, hydroelectric, solaror wind.
Some communities, especially in the western United States, are farming wind to harvest an unexpected source of energy. These wind farms appear as miles upon miles of large wind turbines, not unlike windmills, installed on farmland which has a strong and steady breeze. The rotor blades of these turbines spin in the wind and generate electricity for homes, businesses, and utilities, and they do so in an incredibly clean and efficient manner without disturbing the agricultural use of the land around them.
The potential of these turbines is staggering. To take a specific example, a 250-kW turbine installed at the elementary school in Spirit Lake, Iowa, provides an average of 350,000 kWh of electricity per year, more than is necessary for the 53,000-square-foot school. Excess electricity fed into the local utility system has earned the school $25,000 over five years. The school uses electricity from the utility when the wind does not blow.
And wind resources useful for generating electricity can be found in nearly every state. It is estimated that wind energy may be able to supply about twenty percent of the nation's electricity. That is a lot of wind and a lot of power.
Of course, a few bugs still need to be worked out--literally. Workers at wind farms have noticed that the turbines are plagued by strange and unexpected fluctuations in their power output. According to Discover magazine, a Dutch scientist named Gustave Corten and a Danish colleague suspected that crushed insects might be the source of the trouble. Experiments revealed that they were right. Smashed bugs accumulate on the turbines' propellers, adding aerodynamic drag and siphoning off up to a quarter of the windmills' energy production each year. Bug buildup is a real energy drain.
Go back now to the upper room of Pentecost and the special effects that went with it. The church is also a wind farm, powered by the Spirit which blew in on that first Pentecost. The Holy Spirit filled the gathered apostles and gave them the ability to speak in other languages, which they used to preach the gospel all the peoples of the world.
What's more, the Spirit inspired Peter to stand before a hostile crowd and preach with newfound courage and conviction. He promised that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (v. 21), and within minutes this news spread like electricity through the mob. Jolted by this offer, three thousand people repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. That is wind-generated church growth.
But let us go back to the beginning. When the scene opens in 2:1, we are told that the newly formed Christian community was all gathered together in one place for the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost was originally an agricultural festival marking the first harvest of the growing season. Called in Hebrew, Shevuot, or "weeks," it is seven weeks past Passover, or roughly the 50th day after Passover.
On that Pentecost, in Acts 2, the description of the arrival of the Spirit is first auditory. It is a "sound like the rush of a violent wind" from heaven. It is so loud it fills the house where the group is gathered. Then the sound gives way to a visual experience, a strange vision of "tongues, as of fire." These "tongues" come to rest on each of those present.
At this point the scene shifts from a private meeting to a public meeting. We learn that Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the feast heard "the sound," and then heard the Christians speaking in various languages.
Scholars debate what this spoken phenomenon was. Certainly, the disciples were not speaking in unknown tongues. The whole point of the passage is that they were speaking in known tongues. They were speaking foreign languages so that every one in the crowd could understand them. The meaning is that the gospel crosses all racial, ethnic, and language barriers.
This view is also borne out by the range of nations that are represented by the Jews present in Jerusalem. They are from points to the far east (Elam) and the far west (Rome). They are from African nations (Egypt and Libya), desert nations (Arabia), as well as island nations (Crete)which represents most of the known world of the time. The gospel is for the world.
Moreover, as the citation from Joel 3:1-5 makes clear, the Spirit not only intends to fulfill prophecy, but to inspire it as well, beginning a new age of inspiration intended for all people, male and female, of all ages and nationalities, signaling that the great Day of the Lord is dawning in the world.
The lesson to us then is that the wind of the Lord is a powerful thing, a Spirit that can fill and teach and inspire and convert people in any age and in any nation. But like the large turbines on wind farms today, we American Christians of the new millennium don't always make efficient use of this holy power. We don't move smoothly and swiftly when we feel the breath of God. We don't allow the Holy Spirit to flow at full power into our community of faith. We suffer from bug buildup.
We are afflicted with spiritual bugs that diminish the power of Pentecost in our lives. Let us talk about a few.
First, there is Christianus comfortabulus - the bug of comfortable Christianity. This bug does not want to put time and energy into learning the languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites and the residents of Mesopotamia. Creatures like this are not comfortable with the cultures of Eastern Europeans, Middle Easterners, Asians or South Americans. These insects do not even want to venture outside their narrow comfort zones and speak to Americans of other races, age groups, or political orientations - they want to deal only with people who look and act and think like themselves. As a result, the gospel goes nowhere, fast.
The next bug is stupor intellectualis--the bug of intellectual laziness. Bug buildup with this pest creates Christians who say they are interested in studying the Word of God, but never get around to it. When the church is populated with people whose intentions are only pretensions, the windmills of the faith come to a slow, grinding halt. Bugged by this bug, we do not know Abraham from Andrew, Daniel from Dorcus, Matthew from Mark. A person with this bug, if they had been present on the day of Pentecost would not have realized--as Peter did--that the coming of the Holy Spirit was a fulfillment of the prediction of the Old Testament prophet Joel.
Another bug is solo individualus--the bug of the individual only. A person with this bug thinks that faith is a strictly private affair not to be complicated by connections to a community of any kind. Solo individualus produces the "I believe in God but have no time for the church" syndrome. Jesus and the apostles do not make community an option. It is difficult for a Christian to grow in isolation. The practice of the early church is clear: The early Christians "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers ... . Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple" (vv. 42, 46). Fellowship, the breaking of bread, much time together in worshipwithout these aspects of community life, the Christian faith is not complete.
Still another bug is neglectum supplicationisthe bug that neglects to pray. The early church was a praying church (v. 42), lifting up pleas for healing, as well as prayers for boldness. Just imagine praying today as the first apostles did in Acts 4:29-30, saying to God, "grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus"
Then there is bugis businitus. We can talk on the phone as we eat fast food while using the ATM. And so we hurtle through life faster and faster, becoming busier and busier. The result is that in our busyness we are becoming increasingly efficient at leading meaningless lives.
Still another bug is persona primoris - the bug of "me first" or selfishness. In the church of the apostles, we read in Acts 2:44-45, "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need." Nothing was more important to these Christians than the well-being of the community, nothing was more critical than meeting the needs of their brothers and sisters in the faith, and so church members who owned lands or houses sold them and donated the proceeds to the church. As a result, "There was not a needy person among them" (4:34).
Finally, and most crippling of all, there is fides absentisthe bug of "absent faith," or unbelief. Too many of these bugs, and the church fails to respond to the power of the Holy Spirit, and can not follow the Spirit's guidance, inspiration and control. Like turbines that are thoroughly caked with bug buildup, they do not necessarily disapprove of the power of the wind it is just that they cannot free themselves to move along with it.
This bug creates serious problems, because it attracts the wrong kind of attention. It looks lifeless and stuck, like a wind farm turbine that isn't spinning in the breeze. "The last thing we want," observes Christian educator Josh Hunt, "is for people who are not filled with the Spirit running around telling people about it. A car manufacturer is not excited about the attention his car is getting when it is broken down on the highway with steam flowing out from under the hood." In the same way, God is not excited when the church appears to be a gummed-up, stuck up, lifeless place, unresponsive to the movement of the Spirit. God would probably be content if that church never told anybody about Jesus or made any reference to the gospel.
Attend "Singly" to the Spirit
I have mentioned a few bugs that contribute to bug buildup in our spiritual life:
The bug of comfortable Christianity
The bug of intellectual laziness
The bug of the individual only
The bug that neglected prayer
The busy bug
The bug of selfishness
The bug of unbelief.
You might think that we need to swat all these bugs and straighten out our lives before we can allow the wind of the spirit to flow properly through our souls, and the Spirit will then give us all those gifts of God that make life worthwhile. That is not usually the way it works. Christianity is not a self-help religion. It is the spirit itself that is the bug killer. The wind of the spirit blows these bugs from our lives. As we turn more and more to the spirit, the spirit convicts us about being to comfortable or too lazy in our religion, about neglecting our prayers or being so busy with the things of this world that we miss Christ.
John Woolman (1720-1772) was a Quaker mystic who spoke to this issue, urging us to have "an increasing care to attend to that Holy Spirit which sets right bounds to our desires and leads those who faithfully follow it to apply all the gifts of divine providence to the purposes for which they were intended" . The spirit, so Woolman says, curbs our desires, blows away our bug buildup and leads us to the gifts of God.
Again, Woolman speaks about a difficult visit he had to make. He says, "Entering upon this visit appeared weighty, and before I left home my mind was often sad, under which exercise I felt at times that Holy Spirit which helps our infirmities, through which in private my prayers at times were put up to God that he would be pleased to so purge me from all selfishness that I might be strengthen to discharge my duty faithfully "  Here Woolman speaks particularly of the selfishness bug that I mentioned earlier. He does not say, I am just not going to be selfish any more. I am going to give up that selfishness habit. Not so. He pleads that the Spirit will purge him of that bug. He asks Gods help.
Now does that mean that God will do it all, that we can just turn to God and God will adjust our sinful attitudes and give us the kind of holy character we ought to have. It is not that simple. The Spirit convicts us and inspires us, but we still have our part to play. We are responsible for obeying the spirit. We are responsible for our own lives. Having said that however, the first part of our responsibility is to turn to that same spirit that empowered the day of Pentecost. Again, John Woolman has some key words for us in his diary. He speaks of "of attending singly to the pure guidance of the Holy Spirit" . He says in another place that he is " feeling an increasing concern to be wholly given up to the leadings of the Holy Spirit..." . That is our ambitionthat the Spirit would lead us and guide us. That is what we need to doto attend "singly," only, to the Spirit. That is how we get the bug buildup removed from our lives. When we focus on the Spirit, then the spirit moves through us like the wind and empowers us to do the will of God and to live as Gods people. Amen.
American Wind Energy Association, "The most frequently asked questions about wind energy," awea.org/pubs/factsheets/FAQUPDATE.PDF. Retrieved November 15, 2001.
Hunt, Josh. "Holy Spirit as power." youcandouble.com/Acts1HolySpirit.html. Retrieved November 16, 2001.
Weinstock, Maia. "Splatting in the wind." Discover, November 2001.
Quotes from Woolmans Journal are from Quaker Spirituality: Selected Writings edited by Douglas V Steere, Paulist Press, 1984.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 5/30/02