The sermon I wanted to preach!


This past weekend, while the Spirit was descending upon those gathered in Jerusalem, the 24-bug from hell descended upon my body and rendered me worthless for worship. Thanks be to God for Pastor Edgardo and others in the RUMC congregation who helped everything in worship move smoothly.

As an aside, Edgardo and I have decided to both put a Wesley sermon in our “back pocket” for future such occasions. Of course, we will slightly rework such sermons for preaching in today’s context, but both of us agreed that no matter the church season, it is always good to hear a rousing Wesley sermon. I will be browsing through some of them in the coming weeks to get the first one in the hopper. I think I may start with “On Visiting the Sick!”

Rushing Wind, Living Water
Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104, I Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 7:37-39

Fred Craddock tells a story about a time he went to speak at a seminary on the West Coast. Just before the lecture he was to give, a student stood up and said, “Dr. Craddock, before you speak, I need to ask you a question. Are you Pentecostal?” The room got quiet quick. Fred looked around, wondering where in the world the dean was at the moment. Taken aback, Fred responded: “Do you mean if I belong to the Pentecostal church? He said, “No, I mean are you Pentecostal?” Fred replied: “Are you asking if I am charismatic?” He said, “I’m asking if you are Pentecostal.” Fred said, “Do you want to know if I speak in tongues?” He said again, “I want to know if you are Pentecostal.” Fred finally replied, “I’m sorry but I don’t know what your question is.” He said, “Obviously, you are not Pentecostal.” And he left.[1]

I understand Dr. Craddock’s confusion. When someone says the word Pentecostal, it is hard to know what they mean. What does it mean to be Spirit-filled? Is it denominational affiliation? Is it speaking in unknown tongues? Is it holding your hands in the air? Does it mean getting your shout on? More expressive worship? Being slain in the spirit?

I also understand the student’s question, at least in one sense. He refused to let the word Pentecost be a noun. I think that is right. For the church, Pentecost should never be reduced to a mere date on the liturgical calendar, a single event we celebrate sometime in May, a single story we read about in Acts 2, or an ancient festival of the Jews that we study. The church must insist that the word not just become a memory, a static event in history, or a time way back when. The word must be an adjective that implies action – that implies movement – that implies engagement. Pentecostal. I have news for you church. I’m Pentecostal. I have news: the church is Pentecostal. I have news: all those who have been born of water and the Spirit are Pentecostal. But having said that, what do I mean?

It may help to think of the metaphors for the Spirit that are found in the Bible. In Acts 2, the Spirit is described as a rushing mighty wind. In John 7, the Spirit is described as living water – meaning running water, flowing water, moving water. No one can actually see wind, but one can see its effects. A good brisk wind has a way of stirring up the air and pushing things around and mixing things up. Living water is the same. It has a way of swirling in pools, stirring up sediment, and carrying things from one place to another. In other words, we know wind and water more by what they DO then what they ARE. So what does the Spirit do?

According to Acts chapter 2, the Spirit confounds: Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered (confounded), because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. The Greek word for confound is sunkheon – literally, “to pour together;” “to commingle,” “to disturb one’s mind or stir up.” In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is busy stirring things up, confusing the crowd, and baffling all the onlookers. God’s Spirit has a way of causing a commotion and disrupting the status quo. Just like wind and just like water – God’s spirit mixes things up.

What does the Spirit confound? What is the Holy Ghost stirring up? Language – for one thing. The official language of the Roman Empire was Greek and the crowd got a little confused. What are those people doing talking in other languages? Don’t they know where they are? Don’t they know that if you come to Jerusalem you need to speak Greek? Here is Acts 2, God’s Spirit pours together a multitude of languages in one huge, confusing gathering. Only comfortable with Greek? Prefer that people respect the one authorized language of the land? I’m sorry – God’s Spirit is coming to stir things up, confound our convictions, send you to language school, and throw you right into the middle of multilingual ministry, first century style. The Spirit confounded the monolingualists of the first century and monolingualists of today. Being Pentecostal means participating in the translating services of the Holy Spirit so that all people might hear of God’s mighty salvation in their own native tongue.

What does the Spirit confound? What is the Holy Ghost stirring up? For a second thing – our notions of nations, peoples, and families. At Pentecost, God was not just blessing America, or Israelites, or Greeks – God was busy blessing Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, people from Judea and Cappadocia, from Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes. Every time this Scripture is read in worship, I have to smile. No one wants to read Acts two. Why? Because of the names. How do you pronounce them? How do you get them right? It is confounding and perplexing – which is precisely why such an experience is so Pentecostal. In Pentecost, God is busy mixing up and pouring together the nations of the world in a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s power: Iraqis with Americans, Arabs with Jews, Hutus with Tutsis, Salvadorans with Mexicans, English with French, Chinese with Tibetans. In Pentecost, God is busy erasing borders between poor nations and rich ones, between English speakers and Spanish speakers, between documented and undocumented, between men and women, between Democrat and Republican, between people who live in the hood and people who live in haciendas.

What is left is something like holy chaos where people are mixing it up, prophesying in the Lord’s name, seeing visions, dreaming dreams and being accused of being drunk. God takes a person with a different last name, different color hair, and different skin pigmentation and says to call such a person “brother.” God takes a stranger from around the world with a different history and a different language ands says here is your “sister.” At Pentecost, God is busy taking many peoples and many families and making them one through baptism by water and the Spirit.

What does the Spirit confound? What is the Holy Ghost stirring up? Thirdly, the Spirit confounds the world with unexplainable phenomena. It messed up the crowd in Jerusalem that first Pentecost, and it left everyone scratching their heads. It messed up some Jews in Damascus in Acts 9, when they discovered the Paul, who had been enemy no. 1 of the Christian church, was now missionary numero uno. What? Perplexing and confounding. We like our good guys to stay good guys and the bad guys to stay bad guys. The world is easier to understand that way – but that is not the way of the Spirit. The Spirit has a way of taking a murderer and turning him into a missionary. The Spirit has a way of taking a thief and making her a theologian. The Spirit has a way of taking a sinner and making them a saint. The Spirit has a way of taking bitterness and turning it into gratitude; of taking despair and turning it into hope; of taking doubt and turning it into faith; of taking sickness and turning it into health; of taking of taking death and turning it into life. It is so God-blessed perplexing; so God-blessed confounding; and so God-blessed disturbing. It is down right Pentecostal.

What does the Spirit confound? What is the Holy Ghost stirring up? People like you and me. God gathers us here today to co-mingle us with divinity and pour a little water and Spirit into the mix. God is busy taking hearts that pump blood and turning them into believer heart’s that are pumping stations of living water. God is busy taking spiritually arid and dry disciples and transforming them into fountains that pour forth Spirit-fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). God is busy taking people who think they are empty of value and filling them with gifts of the Spirit like knowledge, prophesy, faith, healing, miracle-working, tongues and interpretation of tongues. In short, God is busy mixing it up, confounding the wise, lifting up the simple, exhorting the strong, sustaining the weak, filling the hungry with good things and quenching the thirst for justice, peace, and reconciliation.

Confused? Perplexed? Stirred up? Bewildered? Confounded? You bet. That is the work of the Holy Spirit – and now, as it was then, and as it is again today at this baptismal font – it is down right Pentecostal. Amen.

[1] Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories, p. 22.



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One response to “The sermon I wanted to preach!”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    >Your link to Craddock Stories seems to be going into your gmail, which, sadly, I can’t access. ;]

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