It’s Pentecost Sunday and we have no choice as to the scripture reading. It’s like Christmas Eve, and Easter Sunday. The appropriate biblical story is pre-selected. The subject matter is pre-determined. The biblical account of the Day of Pentecost is Acts 2: 1-17.
The Message of Pentecost
I once asked Harolyn how she sees this dramatic Pentecost story. She said, “The wimpy disciples were just hanging out; bumping into each other, not knowing what to do. Jesus was the teacher, the leader, the project manager. But now he was not there. The disciples were unfocused and dysfunctional. Then the Holy Spirit came and put the fire in their bellies.”
This is a near perfect description of what happened at Pentecost. Believers from every nation under heaven were there; A gale-force wind was blowing; Everyone had something like tongues of fire resting on their heads; If something like that happened here we would evacuate the building. People were talking funny; Some said the believers were drunk.
It’s hard to describe. It defies characterization. It’s not amenable to analysis. It outruns discernment. It’s weird, I tell you. But, it’s important.
We point to this story as the moment when the church was born. We can’t replicate what happened at Pentecost. And we’re not supposed to.
The wind and fire and magic language can only be understood metaphorically and symbolically.
All these are metaphors describing power. The wind has power to overcome or turn over. The fire has power to consume. The word has power to defy language barriers.
What happened at Pentecost is power. But here’s the key to understanding that power.
- This power is purpose-specific.
- This is power for a particular task.
- This is not the power to perform miracles.
- This is not the power to govern a nation.
- This is not the power to heal the sick or feed the hungry.
No, this is power to tell a story.
And at Pentecost this power happened in a particular way.
It showed up as fire in the belly of the disciples.
The Fire in the Belly
For three years the disciples were in training. For three years they sat at the feet of Jesus trying to get the message straight. For three years they pondered what this would all mean. Somewhere along the way they began to understand that the work would be handed off to them.
But when the time came. When Jesus was resurrected and returned to the Father. When the disciples were left holding the bag. They weren’t ready.
This was no fault of their own. There was nothing they could have done to prepare.
No, Jesus had instructed them to wait for the Holy Spirit.
We’ve all seen daring acts on television with the disclaimer: “Don’t try this at home.”
Jesus had offered a similar disclaimer: “Don’t try this on your own. Wait for the Holy Spirit.”
So, they waited.
These “wimpy” disciples, as Harolyn called them, sat around the table; slouching in their seats; some were doodling; some were texting; some were looking out the window.
Simon Peter was sitting at the head of the table, as he always did. He was wearing a power tie and a navy blazer. Then it happened. Unexpectedly, powerfully, the Spirit came. Like wind and fire. Simon Peter leapt to his feet and cried: “Simon says – ‘I got it. I’ve got the fire in the belly’.”
And then all the disciples jumped up and shouted: “I got it too.”
And the onlookers said: “What’s wrong with those guys?”
That’s what happened at Pentecost. The disciples got it! They were changed:
- Changed from wimpy to energetic.
- Changed from despondent to determined.
- Changed from unfocused to clarity of purpose.
- Changed from wanting to – to – able to
They had the fire in the belly.
That’s the biblical understanding of “Spirit” – “fire in the belly”.
The word “spirit” in the Bible means “breath” – plain and simple. Breath, as in the respiratory function. Breath is what you have if you’re alive and what you don’t have when you are dead.
Thus spirit = breath = life; aliveness, and power, and energy; awareness, and attitude, and motivation.
To speak of a person’s spirit is to speak of that person’s life force. This is how the Bible presents the idea or concept of “Spirit”. Energy, aliveness…oomph!
And what happens when “oomph” teams up with “Holy”?
What happens is Pentecost. Holy Oomph! Fire in the belly!
For the church today, the message of Pentecost is simple.
It is a question:
- Has the Holy Spirit come upon us?
- Do we share in the empowering of the Holy Spirit?
- Does the presence of God, working in us through the Holy Spirit make us able?
- Do we have the fire in the belly?
Jumping in the Air
For the disciples at Pentecost; Confidence led to boldness. Purpose was co-mingled with power.
Now, they are ready to take on the world. Now, they are ready to do what they had not been able to do before.
Dr. Leslie Borsay tells about the days when people were experimenting with electricity.
Some Frenchmen wanted to know how fast electricity moves, so the abbot of a large monastery volunteered his monks for an experiment. They lined up a thousand of them, each holding the hands of those on either side. Then an electric current was applied to the first man in line, and according to an account of this experiment, every one of those 1,000 monks jumped up in the air at precisely the same moment.
Dr. Borsay drew three conclusions from this story.
- First, electricity moves with astonishing speed.
- Second, abbots in French monasteries in the 18th century had tremendous authority over their monks.
- And third, wouldn’t it be wonderful if 1,000 people in the church today could get excited enough to jump into the air at the same time?
-Eugene Brice, Net Sermons, August 1986
That would be a Pentecost moment. And that is precisely what needs to happen in the church today. We all need to jump into the air at the same time.
We need a Pentecost moment that calls for bold leadership. Our elders should all jump into the air at the same time. We need a Pentecost moment that demands renewed commitment and extra effort. Every man, woman, and child, should jump into the air at the same time.
We need a Pentecost moment with joyful and sustained giving. All of us should take out our checkbooks, and credit cards, and I-Phones and jump into the air at the same time.
We need a Pentecost moment that produces more music and praise. Everyone who likes to sing or enjoys the music should, what? No, no, they should join the choir not jump into the air at the same time. If everyone who enjoys the music jumped into the air at the same time … it would cause our neighbors to talk.
Now, some of us have been jumping in the air for a long time. Some of us have always had the fire in the belly. Some of us have carried the water over the years. And we have done well. Some of us have already done, quote “our share”. And there can be no argument about that.
But you can still pray for the church. You can still encourage your brothers and sisters in the church. You can still be “present in spirit.” You can still participate “in spirit”. You can still see visions and dream dreams.
And if you can no longer jump into the air…fake it. God will understand.
We’re In Over Our Heads
I read a story about a man named Charlie Riggs. He had always been a stalwart in the cause of Christ. He had a job and a family but still he possessed an amazing capacity and ability to get things done in the church. Late in life he was asked how he had managed to do so much, so well.
His response was: “I always asked God to put me in over my head. That way, when I had a job to do, either God had to help me or I was sunk.”
That was the situation on the Day of Pentecost. God had put the disciples in over their heads.
That is the situation in the church today. God has put us in over our heads.
But Pentecost tells us that God is on call; that the Spirit of power is available.
This, I think, may be the most important message of the Bible. The story of what Jesus did… The story of salvation for those who believe… The stories that describe the mission of the church… The stories that lay out the doctrines or beliefs of the church… These are all critically important!
But what is most important is that God promises to help us do what we believe. That is what we most need to hear. That is what we most need to believe.
Some of us will lead the praying. Some of us will lead the encouraging. Some of us will lead the giving. Some of us will lead the work. Some of us will do all the above.
But all of us will answer the call;
Riverside Presbyterian will continue to preach the gospel.
Riverside Presbyterian will continue to serve the community.
Riverside Presbyterian will continue to make disciples.
Riverside Presbyterian will continue to change lives.
Riverside Presbyterian will continue to be the church of Jesus Christ is this place.
And everybody in Brevard County will be amazed at what is going on here. We will be the talk of the town. And what they will be saying is: “Those Presbyterians, they sure have the fire in the belly.”