Life & Message of the Apostle Paul: Called to Follow Christ
Rev. Sandy Johnson
May 15, 2016
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
It was Pentecost Sunday. As the congregation filed into church, the ushers handed each person a bright red carnation to symbolize the festive spirit of the day. The people listened attentively to the reading of the Pentecost story from the Book of Acts about how the disciples had heard “what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven”; about how the Holy Spirit had appeared “like tongues of fire.”
Then came the sermon: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us,” the preacher began. “Like the powerful wind from heaven!” shouted a woman sitting in the first pew. Then she threw one of the red carnations toward the altar. The preacher began again: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.” The same woman’s voice rang out again, “Like the tongues of fire, the tongues of fire!” Again, she threw a red carnation toward the altar. The preacher looked straight at the woman and said, “Now throw your pocketbook.” To which the woman replied, “Preacher, you have just calmed the wind and put out the fire.”
I certainly don’t want to extinguish your fire for the gospel or your celebration of Pentecost. There is a festive feeling in the air this morning – both because of Pentecost and the waving of our streamers and also because of the baptism of young Michael. Today is a glorious day to worship the Lord.
The baptism of the Spirit comes to us at varying times in our lives. For the disciples that baptism came while they were together in Jerusalem, shortly after Jesus was resurrected. He appeared before them and instructed them to stay in Jerusalem. Jesus said: “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Jesus was referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit that was to occur in the days to come. Jesus knew of this baptism because it was prophesized in Isaiah, where it is written that the spirit will come. God said:
3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring.
Can you imagine the nourishing effect of water being poured on dry land? Can you hear the crackling of the dry soil as it soaks up the water, and is made new? Imagine that same Holy Spirit coming down upon you now, feel the coolness of the water as it envelopes you, dripping down and filling you up, restoring the dry spaces? Those areas of your life where you have held back from God?
The disciples each felt the magnitude of the Spirit through the tremendous sound, so loud they thought it could only be the wind. I imagine the sound of a great tornado, rushing wind, whirling debris and coming drastically in contact with the environment. With this enormous sound came the flames, “divided tongues” scripture says that then “rested on each of them.” In that instant they were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began speaking to one another in their native languages. The confusion was so pervasive, some thought they must be drunk. They were drunk, drunk with the Spirit, not with new wine as some supposed.
Peter then reminds the crowd of prophesy in Joel 2:28-29 which says:
28 Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
Scripture was being fulfilled in that moment and there sets the stage for us today as we understand that it is not only the Apostles who were filled with the Spirit, but all of us today.
For Michael, the baptism of the Spirit came this morning; his first initiation into the family of God. In the moment the water touched his head, the Spirit overflowed upon him, nourishing him, even before he was aware of his own need. That’s how God is, providing us what we need to sustain ourselves, even before we know we need it. Often through the encouragement of others.
This morning Becky read the story of Saul and his dramatic encounter with the divine. Saul was a devote man, educated and passionate whose mission in life was to cleanse the area of followers of “The Way.” He spent his time seeking out, arresting and persecuting followers of Jesus Christ. He did so with the blessing of the high priest. They sent him with letters of introduction to the synagogues of Damascus in the north. He was instructed to bring these Christ followers back to Jerusalem, bound for punishment and likely death.
While on the road to Damascus he encountered Christ. A light from heaven flashed down upon him and he fell to the ground. Then he heard the voice. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” What the heck?? He’s struck blind and now he’s hearing thing? They say when one sense is removed the others become heightened, but this was ridiculous. Now Saul was hearing things! Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Rut-Ro! Saul is busted by the one person who could bust him. He has been out persecuting Jesus’ followers and here is Jesus calling him out. I can only imagine what was going through Saul’s head when he met Jesus face to face. Guilt? Embarrassment? Contempt? Sorrow? It’s hard to say and we will never know exactly, but Jesus got Saul’s attention for sure. His traveling companions helped him up, dusted him off and escorted him into Damascus. For three days he was blind and neither ate nor drank. Waiting, waiting, waiting for a second encounter with the one he was hunting.
While Saul was waiting, Jesus approached a second man, Ananias and requested that he go and meet with Saul, that he might be made to understand that the Messiah had come, that Jesus of Nazareth is not someone to hunt and kill, but someone to worship and revere.
Ananias was understandably reluctant to do the task requested. Can you blame him? Knowing that Saul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples” he certainly wouldn’t want to meet up with this man and risk his own death. But the call of God is persistent and impossible to ignore.
“The Lord told him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself (Jesus said) will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.”
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit can be loud, it can be quiet; it can be a surprise or something that is sought like a treasure. When it is found and experienced it should be cherished, nurtured and held dear. As followers of Christ, we are all filled with the Spirit, not for our own pleasure but to do the will of the Father who has sent the Spirit to us. Paul was not converted on the road to Damascus purely for his own pleasure and self-promotion. No! God called Saul, now named Paul to a very important mission, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and the world.
As believers we are filled with the spirit to do the work of the lord here in our community. We are not to sit around and feel superior and self-impressed because we “have it!” and they “don’t!” Our responsibility to God in receiving this precious gift is to share it, to be the hands and feet of Christ right where we are.
“It’s important for us to submit our ambition to God, directing it to his glory and not our own, and for the most part that’s what Paul seems to have done for the rest of his life. We can avoid acts that are contrary to our faith, as Paul learned to do, by holding our religious convictions with humility and never forgetting the commands of loving God and neighbor.
“To help me with that task, I memorize scripture – like Psalm 115:1, which I often repeat as a “breath prayer,” (the kind of prayer you can say in one breath): “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory.” Say it with me. I commit to memory Jesus’ question in Matthew 16:26, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
“When we fail to surrender our ambition to God’s purposes, when we live to seek our glory and are willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead, we are bound to fall. But if we succeed in surrendering our ambition to God’s purposes, we will help others to find their way on the path of life. That’s exactly what Paul was about to do.”
All of us here are all called to follow Christ. Regardless of how the Spirit comes to us, it comes when we accept it and when we surrender our prideful, self-centered and sinful selves to our Lord Jesus Christ. In that moment, the Spirit envelopes us and acts as our guide. In the weeks to come we will continue to study about Paul’s mission and ministry and learn how we can be like Paul.
Let us pray: Loving God, who has called us to do great things in your name, empower us for the work ahead. Take away the excuses, take away the stumbling blocks that keep us from being our true, authentic Godly selves. Fill our hearts to overflowing with your Holy Spirit and keep us always focused on you. Amen.
 http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-bruce-howell-humor-tithes-tithing-givinggeneral-16052.asp Accessed May 14, 2016.
 Luke 24:49
 Isaiah 44:3
 Acts 9:4
 Acts 9:5-6
 Acts 9:1
 Acts 9:15-19
 Hamilton, Adam. The Call: The Life and Message of The Apostle Paul. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2015. Page 25-26