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When the Holy Spirit Comes
May 28, 2023

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto

JOHN 20:21-23; ACTS 2:1-4

After the resurrection, the resurrected Jesus told his disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And then on the day of Pentecost—wow! “A sound like the blowing of a violent wind… filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that… came to rest on each of them” and they began to speak in other languages. When the Holy Spirit comes, wow!

The Holy Spirit is God in action.The Holy Spirit moves with might and power. I'm not talking about some wimp of a god. I'm not talking about sweetness and syrups I'm not talking about a pat on the hand and an easy assurance, "Oh, it will be all right." I'm talking about power. Paul wrote to Timothy is 2 Timothy 2:7, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power.”

When the Spirit came upon David, he killed a lion! When the Spirit came upon Samson, he pulled down a temple. When the Spirit came upon Jeremiah, he preached to the king, confronted the king with what he was doing wrong (and Jeremiah was thrown into a well as his reward).

When the Holy Spirit came upon the timid, anxious, frightened disciples hiding in an upper room, the experience was so vivid they could hear the sound of a mighty wind. It was so real they could see flames of fire over their heads. The experience was so powerful, they left the upper room as people with power. They began to witness to the foreigners. Peter preached, 3,000 responded, were baptized and the church was born. 

When the Holy Spirit comes with power, people are transformed. The power of God reaches into the depths. The fire of the Holy Spirit cleanses and purifies, forgives and makes new. Old sins and long memories are rooted out. Anxiety and worry are gone. The control of bad habits and addictions is broken. Sorrow and grief are turned into gratitude and joy. Broken spirits and broken bodies are healed.

When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, the Holy Spirit sanctifies with fire to cleanse, purify, perfect you, make you the person you were created and called to become. The Holy Spirit comes with power and you find yourself acting in ways you never thought possible.

When the Holy Spirit comes, language barriers collapse. When the disciples left the upper room as people with power, people with courage, they began communicating in other languages. They witnessed, they told the visitors who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost all about Jesus. They found the words they needed. They didn't rehearse. The words were there. Communication barriers were transcended. When the Holy Spirit comes, we can find the words to tell about Jesus. And, we can communicate on levels deeper than language. We communicate with hugs of affirmation, smiles of encouragement, tears of compassion, and the laughter of joy.

When the Holy Spirit comes, we can forgive each other's sins. Did you hear what the resurrected Christ said to his disciples? John 20:21-23, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” What power! Look at the power we have over one another? A congregation, can build each other up or tear each other down. We can increase each other's pain or we can relieve pain. We can encourage each other or we can discourage. We can set each other free or we can increase the ropes of bondage.

When the Holy Spirit comes, we are given power to witness. Jesus told the disciples, Acts 1:8, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses." I'm not talking about a wimpy social club where the members sit around, wish things would never change, massage each other's egos, and keep other people out.

I'm talking about a church on fire, a church that has been blown upon by the Holy Spirit, a church that welcomes everyone regardless of who or what they are. Bill, a college student, decided to go to church one Sunday. With his wild hair, a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans, no socks, tattoos and things dangling from his ears, Bill walked into a very formal church where the men wore suits and ties.The service was already in progress, but the pastor stopped as Bill walked down the aisle, trying to find a seat. The church was packed, so he sat down on the floor right in front of the pulpit. 

There were gasps in the congregation; the tension in the air was thick. One of the saints of the church, an 80-year-old godly man, elegant and dignified, with silver-gray hair, wearing a three-piece suit, walked down the aisle with his cane. The congregation knew what he had to do. They were silent as they watched the old man walk slowly down the aisle, clicking his cane on the floor. When he reached Bill, he dropped his cane, with great difficulty lowered himself to the floor, sat down next to Bill, and together they worshipped. The congregation choked up with emotion. I suspect the Holy Spirit came upon that congregation with might and power.

When the Holy Spirit upon comes upon a church, I see a church where everyone is welcome, a church where people are transformed into witnesses, transformed into doing ministry, a church that loves and serves in Jesus' name, a church that serves food to the unhoused residents of Hotel de Zink. We are the hosts in June. Have you volunteered to bring a meal?

When the Holy Spirit comes, I see each of you as a person with power, power to be what God wants you to be, power to handle whatever is thrown at you—cancer, heart attacks, financial setback, power to do what God calls you to do with the gifts God gives each of you.

Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” How do you receive a gift? Do you try to receive the gift with your hands full or your fists clenched? Do you leave the gift wrapped? No, you empty your hands, you reach out with open hands, receive the gift, you open it and say, “Thank you. “ 

God offers you the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of power. In prayer, open your heart, let go of your worries, your anxieties, your anger, your preoccupation with things; let go of whatever is blocking, whatever is preventing you from receiving the gift; let go and receive the Holy Spirit.

Let me ask you some questions for self-examination. Are you experiencing power in living your life and doing God’s work? Is there increasing evidence of the fruits of the Spirit in your life—gentleness, joy, peace, self-control? Are you seeing in yourself a new kind of love for other people? Are you receiving gifts of the Holy Spirit to do your ministry? Have you asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Have you emptied your hands so you can receive the gift?

When you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, act on that which you receive. Why will God give you more if you haven't acted on what God has already given you? How can God give you big blessings if you haven't acted on the little blessings? When God frees you from anxiety and worry, give them to God and don't take them back. Leave them there. When God calls you to do a ministry, even if you think it is small and insignificant, do it. Even if you think it is too big for you, do it. Don't be afraid or intimidated. Act with power.

Now, how does a church receive the power of the Holy Spirit? Our church’s future is open. I like how Sandra Florstedt dedicated the flowers this morning—“in celebration of the church we are becoming.” A new pastor is coming. How do we continue becoming a church on fire? A church receives the power of the Holy Spirit through prayer. My prayer is that I leave this church undergirded with prayer. In fact, I am issuing a call to prayer, a call for each of you to pray for our church individually and in a group with others. I call you to prayer. Every Thursday at 1:00pm, beginning June 8, in the Wesley Room, please come as you are able. You will not need to pray out loud. There is power when believers pray together. As I read the literature on growing churches, and on churches that have turned around from decline to growth, there is a common thread. They prayed. There is power in prayer. Read my column in the Insights which will be available in a few days for more information.

© 2023 Douglas I. Norris