Sunday, June 4, 2006

Pentecost: When the Spirit Fills the House

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost Sunday has had a warm place in my heart since 1983.
Twenty-three years ago, on this day,
the first congregation I served as pastor,
Emmanuel Mennonite in Gainesville, Florida,
had it’s first Sunday morning worship service.
We decided to begin on Pentecost for obvious reasons.
Pentecost was the “birthday of the church.”
So this fledgling congregation next to the University of Florida,
decided to give birth to itself on Pentecost Sunday, 1983.
It was a rather inconspicuous birth,
a home birth, in the Brenneman’s livingroom.
It was an exciting, unnerving time.
Irene was there, of course, with our babe-in-arms, Andrea.
And Laura Rhodes was there.
She probably doesn’t remember the service.
She was in third or fourth grade.
I preached a Pentecost sermon to the 15 adults in the room,
I still have my handwritten notes, on a legal pad.
“Alive in the Spirit,” was the title.

That’s the warm memory I associate with Pentecost.
I don’t know what you associate with Pentecost, if anything.
But I’m glad the image that comes to my mind,
centers around the gathered church,
a group of people who with sincere hearts,
got together to worship and seek the Spirit’s guidance,
so they could do what God directed them, as a church.
I imagine church life is not the first thing
that comes to people’s minds when they hear “Pentecost.”
See, the story of Pentecost,
when we read it with modern Western individualistic eyes,
often comes out completely spiritualized and privatized,
as if the only thing the Holy Spirit was concerned about,
was giving these new believers
an ecstatic inner spiritual experience,
a feeling of spiritual warmth, and divine presence.

Nothing wrong with that, of course.
A deeper life in the Spirit may very well bring about personal blessing.
We should all seek the experience of God’s love and presence.

But I noticed something interesting in the text.
In Acts 2, I don’t see any reference whatsoever,
to how any of the 120 disciples felt about their experience.
We see the outsiders had certain opinions and feelings.
Some were intrigued, amazed. Some said they were drunk.
But the writer apparently thought testimonies of individual disciples,
wasn’t significant enough to include in the story.
It just wasn’t a point of interest.
You know, if something like this happened in our culture,
every journalist would be out getting the personal story,
the first-person, human interest angle.
Good Morning America would get Bartholomew into the studio.
“So Bart, tell us what it felt like when those so-called
tongues of fire came down on your heads.
Were they hot?
Were you afraid when the wind started blowing?
What are you going to do now,
since you’ve gotten all this attention?”
There would be book deals, to get the personal stories out.

No, when you read Acts 2, you get none of that.
This is a story about what the Holy Spirit did to the church.
To the whole church, as a church.
They were altogether in one place, waiting, anticipating,
and the Holy Spirit blew in,
and changed the church.
Changed the character of their community life,
changed their forms of worship,
changed their way of living in the world.

I noticed something interesting as I studied this text from Acts 2,
alongside the reading from Ezekiel 37,
the prophet’s vision of the valley of dry bones.
There’s a certain phrase, just a quiet little phrase,
that shows up in both readings.

In Ezekiel, the Lord says that these dry bones
which the Spirit-wind filled with new life,
are “the whole house of Israel.”
And in Acts, it says that when the wind of Spirit blew,
it “filled the whole house where they were sitting.”
In both places the Spirit fills “the whole house.”
It’s very clear, in both scriptures,
that the Spirit of God was moving en masse.
The Spirit was blowing life into the whole house, everyone in it.
Not a few chosen leaders,
with designated authority to speak for God.
Not a few blessed lay people
who had exceptional spiritual maturity.
Not any one person in particular, but everyone.
The Spirit filled the whole house.

Let’s not forget that.
That’s what Pentecost is about.
It’s why we celebrate it.
It’s the day the Spirit blew through the whole household of God,
and filled it with life,
filled it with love for God, and love for the world,
filled it with a passion to live out God’s calling in the world.

The house of Israel in Ezekiel’s day,
and the houseful of disciples in Acts 2,
both were in desperate need of being filled with the Spirit-wind.
Maybe the household of God today has a similar need,
including the household at Park View.

But let’s look at the state of the house in Ezekiel and Acts,
and then decide whether there’s a parallel to our house.

First, the house was in need of Spirit-wind,
because it was dry and lifeless.
In Ezekiel’s vision, it was symbolized by a desert valley of dry bones.
About as lifeless as it gets.
In Acts, the disciples were in a state of lifeless grief,
over the death of Jesus,
the death of a dream.
But Spirit-wind filled the house with new life—
not a recovery of the old... but new life.

Secondly, the house was bereft of hope.
In Ezekiel’s vision, the bones said, “Our hope is lost.”
The house of Israel was in exile.
They saw no future for themselves.
Same for the disciples.
No Jesus, no hope.
They had thrown in the towel.
But Spirit-wind filled the house,
and bones got up and walked,
and disciples rose from their stupor.
Suddenly they had a future, with life in the Spirit.

Third, it was a captive house, a house of oppression.
The bones were the people held captive in Babylon.
Violently oppressed, robbed of their freedom, enslaved.
The disciples, not technically prisoners,
were nonetheless held captive by the powers that crucified Jesus.
Their captors had them where they wanted them.
Frightened into submission,
into a forced silence.
But Spirit-wind filled the house,
and bones became living people who had freedom,
and ability to move out on their own,
and disciples were let loose,
and became an even greater threat
to the powers that crucified Jesus.

Fourth, the house was displaced.
It had come off its foundations,
and in Israel’s case, was not even on its own soil.
The disciples were also suffering from extreme displacement.
They had already forfeited homes and land to follow Jesus.
Now Jesus was gone.
They were disoriented and displaced.
But the Spirit-wind filled the house,
and the bones came together and returned home,
and the disciples discovered a deeper meaning of home,
the home they had in each other,
as a community brought into being by the Spirit.

Do these issues sound vaguely familiar?
Do they bear any resemblance to the state of the house
in the church today?
in this church?

Does the church of Jesus Christ ever find itself in a state of dryness?
Of spiritual lifelessness?
Does the church ever find itself bereft of hope,
without a vision for a common future?
As a church, are we truly free in this world,
or are we captivated by our western culture,
no longer free to be God’s peculiar people?
Are we truly at home, in this spiritual house,
or are we displaced, disoriented, on foreign soil?

Well, when we look at the state of the house,
in some places we do see evidence that Spirit-wind is blowing,
and breathing new life into old bones.
Praise God for that.
But we probably also see some old bones just lying there.

But I think we can with certainty, having looked at Ezekiel and Acts,
when the Spirit fills the whole house,
the house changes.
Not a small corner.
Not a few people.
But the house.

When the Spirit fills the house,
people from all kinds of languages, backgrounds, and perspectives
find a deep and overriding oneness,
they all hear the same good news.
When the Spirit fills the house, people in need find help,
people make personal sacrifices to care for each other, everyday.
When the Spirit fills the house, the lonely find community,
in the breaking of bread and prayers,
in regular, and deep, Christian fellowship.
When the Spirit fills the house,
God is worshiped in Spirit and in truth.
When the Spirit fills the house,
the surrounding community sits up and takes notice.
Some might criticize, say they’re drunk with cheap wine.
They may not fully understand, but they’ll notice.
When the Spirit fills the house,
the safe and predictable life is overturned,
and the members of the house embark on a risky,
but life-giving journey.

I don’t know about you,
but I’d like to see the Spirit fill the house again, and again.
It can happen, if together, we are open.
If together, we invite the Spirit.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

—Phil Kniss, June 4, 2006

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