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Never The Same!
May 30 and 31, 1998

ACTS 2:1-4, 38-42

Never the same! When the Holy Spirit (and the Holy Spirit is God-in-motion!) moves in a mighty, powerful way, you are never the same.

Can you imagine what happened on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit moved in a mighty, powerful way? We don't how many received the Spirit. Acts 2:1 says "they." In the preceding verses, 120 believers are mentioned. However many of them were gathered together on Pentecost, a conversion occurred, a dramatic change with consequences extending even to our generation. We are here today because of what God did at Pentecost. With wind and fire, the Holy Spirit came, and they were never the same.

After Jesus died and was raised from the dead, they were bewildered, confused, uncertain about what they were to do next, and, I suspect, they were afraid. Their leader had been arrested, sentenced, and crucified. What might now happen to them? When Jesus would tell them about his imminent suffering and death, they didn't want to hear about it. They plugged their ears, and in denial assured Jesus that would never happen. But it did happen, and now what?

Astounding is a word to describe what happened to them at Pentecost. With the sound of a mighty wind, with tongues like fire over their heads, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. God moved in a mighty, powerful way, converting them, changing them from confusion to certainty, from weakness to power, and then sending them out into the streets of Jerusalem where they miraculously spoke in the languages of the Jewish people who had come from all over the Roman Empire to celebrate the festival called Pentecost.

A huge crowd gathered. Peter stood up and preached a powerful sermon. The Holy Spirit moved in a mighty, powerful way and 3,000 people were converted, changed from their old ways. They were baptized, and the church was born!

Saul led the persecution of Christians; vehement and zealous in his opposition. But, the Holy Spirit moved in a mighty, powerful way, striking him with a brilliant light and speaking, "I am Jesus." Saul, whose Greek name was Paul, was converted; changed from persecutor to missionary. With power, Paul spread the church throughout the Roman Empire. The church was never the same!

1,500 years later, an Augustinian monk was climbing the stairs in Rome on his knees, confessing his sins, seeking to be cleansed, to be rid of the chains that were binding him and the guilt that was stifling him. The Holy Spirit moved in a mighty, powerful way, and said to him, "Martin Luther, why are you climbing on your knees? You are justified by faith, you are forgiven through faith not by climbing on your knees!" Martin Luther returned to Germany to preach and teach, and the Protestant Reformation was ignited. The church was never the same!

200 years later, a priest of the Church of England also struggled for forgiveness. He searched for a sense of peace; he yearned to have his sins forgiven. The Holy Spirit moved in a mighty, powerful way and John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed. Converted, changed he began to preach with the certainty and power of the Holy Spirit that God's love and forgiveness is available to everyone. The Methodist movement was born, and the church was never the same!

100 years later in 1870, the Central Pacific Railroad sold 50' x 150' lots, and the village of Merced was born. Merced blossomed. Soon there was a large railroad building, three blacksmiths, three restaurants, three general merchandise stores, three grocery stores, and four saloons; but not a single church. The Holy Spirit moved in a mighty, powerful way, and both southern and northern Methodist preachers began holding services. Prior to the Civil War, the denomination divided into North and South. In Merced, both churches were active.

The northern Methodists were the first to organize and build. On June 1, 1873 (125 years ago Monday), the Reverend G. C. Starr dedicated a building on Canal Street, between 19th and 20th Streets, to the glory of God. It was the first church in Merced. The building cost $1,650, with a debt of only $500.

In October of that same year, the Roman Catholic Church was dedicated. The Presbyterians and the southern Methodists followed in 1875. The southern Methodists built a building on 18th St. where the Fire Department now sits. The two Methodist congregations merged in 1928, the separated denomination reunited in 1939, and today we are known as the United Methodist Church of Merced.

Through the 125 years of Methodism in Merced, we can see how the Holy Spirit has led, and as a result, we are a strong church today. But, beware! When the Holy Spirit moves, the devil wakes up! The devil's favorite tactic is to divide, to antagonize and set Christians against one another so that their energy for God's work is dissipated. The future of our church indeed looks bright as long as we remain faithful to God and united in our mission to "experience and share the love of Christ." The Holy Spirit is moving in a mighty, powerful way. On most Sundays, someone kneels at the altar to make a first-time commitment, or to renew the commitment of their lives to Jesus Christ. Youth are being confirmed during the 10:25 service. Three of them are being baptized, brand-new Christians. We pray the reception of the Confirmation Class into church membership will truly be a Pentecost experience for them. We pray they are never the same! The Holy Spirit, through our church, is converting, changing individuals, the community, and the world.

What about you? I have briefly sketched the movement of the Holy Spirit from the Day of Pentecost to our present congregation. Where are you in this picture? Is the Holy Spirit moving in a mighty, powerful way in your life?

After Peter's powerful sermon, the crowd asked, "What should we do?" Is that also your question? Peter answered, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

"Repent," said Peter. Turn away from how you have been living. Turn around, and turn to Christ that your sins may be forgiven. Martin Luther and John Wesley were very conscious of their sins and the effect their sins had on their relationship with God. Sin doesn't seem to be part of our every-day conversation anymore. However, even though we may not use the word, we may be turned off by being called sinners, we may resent the notion that our sins need to be forgiven, we may not like the old-fashioned words and concept, the effect is still the same. The problems are still with us. The condition is current. People are yearning for a sense of peace, yearning for focus and direction, longing for the assurance that they are loved, wanted and needed.

What so many don't understand is that what they are seeking is what we call salvation. Salvation is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and whatever is blocking that relationship is what we mean by sin. The Holy Spirit is also longing-- longing to bridge the gap between you and God. God reaches out to you with forgiveness, reconciliation, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a gift, not something you earn or deserve, but a gift; the gift of a new life, the gift of God's love, the gift of reconciliation, the gift of salvation. Repent and receive.

When the Holy Spirit moves in a mighty, powerful way in your life, you are never the same!

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris