The spirit in the church (Acts 2.1-21, 41-47)

The Spirit in the church (Acts 2.1-21, 41-47)
Eastminster United Presbyterian Church, Pentecost C, June 9, 2019
Tom James
Some people call today “the birthday of the church,” and they celebrate it with banners and balloons. I don’t think that’s quite accurate, because the church has existed wherever and whenever the faithful have gathered. But there is a sense in which the day of Pentecost marks an incredible new beginning. All the hopes for what the church could be are given voice in these verses. The second chapter of the book of Acts is a celebration of the way that the spirit of the risen Christ enters the hearts of people. I don’t know if you can see it from where you’re sitting, but we put up a new sign in the hallway to your right saying “set our hearts on fire.” It’s from a popular church song, and a line from the song struck me this week as a Pentecost prayer. “Blaze, spirit, blaze: set our hearts on fire.”
For the group of disciples gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost on that day, fifty days after the Passover, the blaze of the Spirit was a spectacular, and momentary, ability to communicate across the language barrier. This was significant, for a couple of reasons. First, people were gathered in Jerusalem from across much of the known world. They shared a faith but they spoke a wide variety of languages, and we can imagine that they had a lot of different cultural habits as well. These people were in the same place, but they were divided. And, as divided people, they were not very powerful but were under the control of an empire that forced its own language on them and its own culture.
There is a very interesting parallel in this story with the story of the tower of Babel. Perhaps you remember: in Genesis 11, people were scattered in small, nomadic tribes, but tried to unite together and engage in a massive building project that would allow them to scale to the heavens. But God sees the danger of pride in their collective power and scatters them by making them speak separate languages so that they can no longer understand each other. It was as if the dangers of empire, of being unified by a central power, of having a life that revolves around meeting the needs of a small ruling center, of conforming your opinions and your view of the world to the one approved by kings and emperors, were being warded off in advance, by a curse. But here, the curse of different languages is momentarily lifted. As if to say, now that we are already in a situation of empire, the worst has already happened, and, now, the only hope is to come together, to understand each other and to unite our thoughts and our prayers and our power. In the power of the spirit, maybe this world of darkness and violence can be turned upside down, and God’s dream can be fulfilled.
But, in some ways, the language issue isn’t the most important, or the most divisive. Acts Two is very up-to-date, for then and also for now, in recognizing that the main division in society that has to be overcome in order to realize God’s dream for humanity has to do not with language but with property. If we skip to the end of the chapter, after Peter has preached his remarkable sermon and many people (some three thousand, we are told) become followers of Jesus, we get a glimpse of what happens in a Spirit-filled church. They broke bread together, as we will do in a few moments. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, which was not some centuries-old dogma to be preserved but a fresh and new vision of God setting the world on fire, bringing the dead to life and setting prisoners free. They rejoiced in each other’s company. They were charismatic in the sense that people around them noticed them, and they found favor with their neighbors. And, most importantly, they gave up the false god that enslaves people in every age: the god of wealth, the god of owning things, the god of property lines, because they realized that, in Christ, they were free to share in God’s abundance without regard to anyone’s merit or worth. The work of the Spirit was to unravel all the fixations with wealth by dissolving the anxiety that makes people feel like they always need a little more than the other person. In Christ, we have enough, not because we learn how to make do with less, but because we can rely on each other. In Christ, there is abundance. In Christ, divisions are healed, and we become invested in each other so that your need becomes my need, and your pain becomes my pain, and your joy becomes my joy.
There’s a myth that these verses in Acts 2 were quickly dismissed by the growing church. In fact, the spirit of this vision continued as the church exploded across Europe and beyond in its first few centuries. It was only when the church became a recognized and supported religion in the empire that it became invested in the empire and therefore began to accept its gods of materialism and militarism. It was then that the church began to own stuff, compiling great wealth in land and buildings and cash that made a mockery, perhaps, of this earliest, Spirit-filled moment. And so it has continued from there.
A real question for us, after this long history, is whether the spirit of Acts 2 still breathes fire into our souls today. Are we as free as those disciples who gathered to await the Spirit at the feast of Pentecost? Do we trust God’s provision enough to let go of our anxieties and our need to possess? If you are like me, you have trouble with it. We don’t come to our faith on our own, but in the context of a long history during which Christianity betrayed its faith, exchanging it for the security of a prominent place in society. And, so, probably, you and I have some worries left over, even after faith takes hold of us. We wonder if the Spirit is enough.
But let us receive this vision of the Spirit in the church on Pentecost not as a word of condemnation nor as a reminder that we don’t quite measure up. Let’s hear it as a call to freedom. Let us open ourselves to Pentecost once again, praying for the Spirit to come. Set our hearts on fire! Because the Spirit of Christ is still here, and still calls to us to freedom and to joy. Amen.


June 9, 2019 – 10:00-A.M.
Reverend Thomas James
As we join together today to offer worship to God, we welcome all who share this worship with us.  If you are here for the first time we invite you to return again.  Please take a moment to fill out a welcome card that may be found in the cardholder at the back of the pew.
If you have concerns, prayer requests, or need to convey information to the Session or Deacons please use welcome card in the pew.
Now, let us greet each other saying: “The Peace of the Lord be with you” and Response: “And also with you.”
Leader:       How amazing are your works, O God!
People:     In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of
                 your creatures.
Leader:      You send forth your spirit, and they are created;
People:     and so you renew the face of the earth.
Leader:      I will sing to God as long as I live;
People:     I will praise my God while I have breath.
*HYMN…………..…….”Come Sing, O Church in Joy!”…….….…………..……305
Without your power, O God, we are lost. We have done the things we would avoid, and what you desire, we have not done. By your purifying fire transform our lives; guide us into honesty and compassion so that, filled with your peace, our dreams and visions may be one with yours; through Jesus Christ, who came to make us alive. AMEN.
NEW TESTAMENT (Pg. 948)…..…..………………………….…..Acts 2:1-21, 41-47                           Response: “Thanks be to God”
SERMON.  .  .  .  .  .  .   .   .   .   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    “The Spirit in the church”
*HYMN.……..…………………”Breathe on Me, Breath of God”………………..…286
*DOXOLOGY (#606)
*HYMN……….…….……..……”Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness”……….…..……..……291
*CONGREGATIONAL BENEDICTION.  .   .   .   .   .   .   . “Tune of Edelweiss”
May the Lord, Mighty God, Bless and Keep you Forever,
Grant you Peace, Perfect Peace, Perfect in Every Endeavor.
Lift up Your Eyes and See His Face, And His Grace Forever.
May the Lord, Mighty God, Bless and Keep you Forever.
June 9 – June 16
 Sunday June 9 ………………………………………………….………….Worship @ 10am
 Wednesday June 12……………………………………………..PW Luncheon @ noon
 Program………………………….……………………………….Anne Jenkins on Quilting                   
 Sunday June 16……………………………………………………………Worship @ 10am
Thursday June 20………………..………….Strategic Planning Meeting @ 6pm
A special Thank You to the congregation for their donations to
                                    “You and Me” camp!
Eastminster’s 125th Anniversary Homecoming on Sunday,           September 29, 2019.  More details will be forthcoming.
Counters for May/June
        THIS WEEK – June 9
          Holzhauer Team
   NEXT WEEK – June 16
         VanGorder Team
                              HEAD GREETER FOR JUNE
                                          CRAIG GALE                                                                                                                                                                            
         CHURCH FAMILY                                  PRAYER CHAIN
Looking for a church family?  
We would love to have you here at Eastminster. Please call our Secretary Jenny, and she will be happy to help.  419-691-4867.
Are You in Need of prayer? Please call our Secretary Jenny, and she will see your “Prayer Requests” are answered. 419-691-4867
Rev. James has started a blog with sermons and other
information from the church. You can check out the information at
If you need to contact Rev. James you can do so by either e-mail ( or his cell 1-248-990-3041.

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