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When Pentecost Meets the Family
May 14, 1978

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

JOEL 2:28-29 ACTS 1:5-8 EPHESIANS 5:21-33

It is unusual to have two high festivals fall on the same Sunday—Mother’s Day in popular culture, and called the Festival of the Christian home by United Methodism. And Pentecost. These two events rarely fall on the same Sunday. I found it very intriguing and interesting this week to put these two events together. Usually when I look at the event of Pentecost, the coming action of the Holy Spirit on our lives, I think of it in terms of relating to us as individuals, or I think of the Holy Spirit relating to us as a church or to the world in general. But I found it interesting to apply the coming of the Holy Spirit as experienced on Pentecost to the family. Pentecost was a Jewish Festival where a Jewish male who lived within a 20 mile radius of Jerusalem was required to go to the temple to give thanks for the barley harvest. Other Jews who lived in other lands, if they could afford it, would also come to Jerusalem at this time. So there was a huge crowd of people. 

What happened to the Christians on that day, what happened to the church on that day transformed the Pentecost Jewish festival into a Christian Festival, which we call Pentecost because it happened 50 days after Easter. During that 50 day period, the disciples and that small Christian community gathered in secret, mutually supporting each other—studying, praying, and waiting because Jesus told them to wait. They gathered for 50 days, then on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit acted upon them in a dramatic and significant manner, appearing to them as tongues of fire over their heads. We remember that by using the color red during Pentecost— red, the fire of the Holy Spirit. The disciples left the room, went out into the streets and began to speak to the people, communicating with people who'd come from all parts of the Roman Empire, communicating with them in their own tongues. Peter stood up and preached, and 3,000 people were baptized that day. The functional beginning of the church occurred on the day of Pentecost. 

Now, let's apply the Pentecost event to the family. The Holy Spirit can come not only into the life of an individual, the Holy Spirit can come not only to the community of the faithful—the church—but the Holy Spirit can also act upon us as families, on the unit called family. Each family has a spirit as each team has a spirit, each school has a spirit. We speak of team spirit, school spirit. Each nation has a spirit. Each group of people has a spirit and each family has a spirit unique to that family. How would you characterize the spirit of your family? How would you characterize your family? What kind of a spirit is it? Does it have the spirit where everybody is competing, struggling and fighting for recognition? Does it have a competitive spirit? Is there a spirit of love? Mutual respect? Is there a spirit where everything is done by Dad's way? Or Mother's way? Like the little girl talking about her family, “My family is like a zoo.” And they said, “What do you mean?” “Well, my mama is daddy's dear. The baby is Mama's little lamb. My brother is just a kid, and my dad is the old goat.” 

But, whatever the spirit of your family, the Holy Spirit can come and make a change, a dramatic change. Your family can reflect the Holy Spirit. What this means was demonstrated on Pentecost. Pentecost demonstrated what the presence of God, the indwelling presence of God means. Let me lift up three characteristics of your family if the Holy Spirit is really present, if the Holy Spirit came upon your family like tongues of fire. 

First, when the Holy Spirit breaks in upon us, barriers, distinctions and blocks are destroyed. We read in the Old Testament lesson how the prophet Joel foresaw what God would do. Joel wrote, “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.” Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Sexism is abolished. There is no distinction between male and female. In the Holy Spirit, in Christ, there's only one, said Paul, there is no male and no female, there is just unity in Christ. When the Holy Spirit is present, the distinctions between male and female are abolished— no one has authority over the other. The head and foot business is abolished in the kingdom of God. There is equality where people work as a team, not a dictator with subjects. Where people work as a team is evidence of the coming of the Holy Spirit, where there's mutual support and love as Paul so beautifully wrote in the book of Ephesians—mutual subordination where husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church. And Christ loved the church by giving up his life for the church, and wives be subject to your husbands as the church is subject to Christ, meaning a mutual interdependence, mutual support and equality. 

Secondly, in the family, there are no distinctions based on sex or on age. Joel preached that age distinction is abolished by the Holy Spirit, “Your old men shall dream dreams and your young men shall see visions. The distinction on the basis of age is abolished in the Holy Spirit. We see this in the home a lot. When a child spills milk on the tablecloth, it's carelessness, but when father does it, it's an accident. A couple days ago, we had an experience where mother drove the car which Jack usually drives. She left the lights on and the battery was dead. Jack profoundly pointed out, that if he had left the lights on and the battery was dead, it would have been irresponsibility. But when mother does it, “Well, those things happen.” That must ring a few bells. When the Holy Spirit blesses a family, that kind of distinction is abolished. 

It's amazing how parents can have fun with the children, find wisdom and support when there is unity, where there's communication, where there's mutual support. It's amazing what a good time you can have with the kids. It's amazing what good ideas they have, and what wisdom they can bring to family problems. It's amazing how things can be worked out together, not just one person deciding and declaring an edict. And it's amazing from the children's point of view how parents really are human. That's a great discovery if you're fortunate to have discovered that parents are human, that parents are people who can be talked to and related with, that parents can be fun, and that parents do know something about something. 

And likewise, parents can learn from children. Jesus said a little child shall lead them. In the kind of world in which we live, most of the answers to our problems are still in the future. And the children may have as much insight or even more because of their flexibility. They may have answers to our problems. When the Holy Spirit blesses us, distinctions on sex and distinctions on age are abolished. 

Thirdly, when the Holy Spirit comes upon our family, our mission, a task is given to us. Jesus said to the disciples, “Wait for the Holy Spirit and when the Holy Spirit comes, you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Sumaria and to the ends of the earth.” You shall be my witnesses, you will have a task, you will have a mission, you will have a goal. And as individual people need goals in order to live, in order to function, in order to be the best we can be, in order to pull out of us the best that's in us, so families need goals. And a goal of meeting each other's needs is not enough because that gets incestuous and sick. A family should be united around goals and tasks for that family. God called our families into existence for reasons. And the best reasons that give us a sense of unity and purpose are those reasons that are in Christ— serve the Lord, be witnesses, be the best kind of families we can be for the sake of God, for the sake of the world, for the sake of love, justice, and peace—those kinds of goals. Those kinds of tasks can unite our families when we are united in common purposes and common goals. And the Holy Spirit unites us in our goal. 

The church has been able to survive during persecution and great pressure when the church has had a goal, as it did in those early days. To survive under Roman persecution, the church had a goal, it was empowered, it had power. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we are empowered. Jesus told the disciples, “When the Holy Spirit comes, you shall have power.” The day of Pentecost illustrated the power that they had. The strength that they had in those next days, months and years, was evidence that they had been empowered, that they had been powered by something greater than themselves. 

When the Holy Spirit comes on our homes, we can be empowered. Just think of how the power in our families is so often wasted. Think of the energy that's expended by bickering with each other. Think of the energy that's expended in being competitive, struggling for recognition, struggling for attention just to find one's place. Think of the energy that's dissipated. Think of the energy that is exhausted in our families trying to manipulate each other, trying to get our way—maneuvering by parents, manipulating the children, and spouses manipulating each other. Think of the energy that's dissipated by finagling. 

Think of the power, the energy, when we're freed, when we’re channels. Like the power in a surging waterfall, the electricity it can produce when it is harnessed and channeled, think of the energy in our families when we are focused with cooperative team effort. Just think of the latent talents and abilities within your family waiting to be empowered, waiting to be freed, waiting to be released, instead of being hung up in competition and manipulation. Think of the talents of each individual person, the skills, the abilities, the wisdom, that is waiting to be set on fire and waiting to be liberated, to be freed, unleashed. Look what can happen when the Holy Spirit is present—distinctions are banished, a task, a mission is given, and power is poured out. 

Now, how does his happen? How do we receive the Holy Spirit? How do we receive the power of God? Peter laid it out on Pentecost (Acts 2:37-38). When he was done with his preaching, they said to him, “That sounds wonderful. What shall we do?” And Peter said, “Repent. Turn away from your sins and be baptized.” Repent means to turn away, to turn from, to turn from whatever you're doing that inhibits and prevents and blocks God from moving and operating in your life. Turn from that and turn to God. Think about what repentance for a family would mean, how a family might repent.  Repent for a family means to turn from inadequate power sources, inferior tasks, ineffective methods. Turn from the attempt to find unity for the family in inadequate things, such as being directed by one person, such as building the family around one of the family members, and expecting the energy, wisdom and power of that person to sustain the family. That's an inadequate source of power to sustain family in this day and age. 

Turn from the power source of just trying to imitate what all the neighbors are doing. Turn from the power source of recreation, or trying to get enough money, or whatever we're looking at to find unity for the family. Turn from those things in which you're trying to find unity that are inadequate. Turn from inadequate goals, such as being happy. When the purpose of your family is that everyone will be happy, that’s a very inferior goal. Happiness is too elusive. Happiness is a spin-off rather than a major goal. To try to find happiness is to miss it because happiness is a gift. Happiness is a gift when one is doing what is right and in the right direction, and fulfilling the will of God. Turn from inferior goals like getting the kids raised. When the goal is to get the kids raised, get them educated, get them out of the house, then the spouses don't know what to do with each other. And so they divorce after they fulfilled their inferior goal. Turn from inferior goals, turn from those ineffective methods of family life like competition, manipulation, or buying the kids off. If I just buy them enough things, if I give them enough money, surely they will be content. That's an ineffective method. 

Turn from all these inadequate power sources, turn from these inferior goals, turn from these ineffective methods and turn to God. Admit one's powerlessness. Admit before God and before the rest of the family, I don't have all the answers. I don't know. It's beyond me. I cannot do it alone. I don't have it all. I need the Holy Spirit. I need you. I need your ideas. I need your insight. St. Augustine discovered this centuries ago in the third century. He wrote, “Let you and I lay aside all arrogance. Let neither of us pretend to have found the truth. Let us seek it as something unknown to both of us.” Let us seek the truth as unknown to both of us. Then we may seek it with love and sincerity when neither of us has the rashness nor presumption to believe that he already possesses it.

 Admit powerlessness. Admit the need for other people, the need for one spouse for the other, and include the children, for the children are a part of this search for God, for truth. Ask the children, “What insight do you have on this situation? What would you suggest we do? How are we going to reconcile this problem we have in our family? What wisdom do you have to offer?” It's amazing all they know. It’s amazing how good those insights are. 

Admitting one’s sense of inadequacy and powerlessness even as a father and even as a mother is to repent and to admit one's powerlessness and the need for the Holy Spirit.

© 1978 Douglas I. Norris