This is the message that I presented on Pentecost Sunday, 23 May 1999, at Neon (KY) United Methodist Church. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 2: 1 – 21, 1 Corinthians 12: 3 – 13, and John 7: 37 – 39.
This was the last Sunday for me at Neon. I would leave for New York following the service to begin a new ministry with the Walker Valley United Methodist Church and a new life with Ann. But I left knowing that this small little mountain community church would continue and I hope that it is going well today.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”
A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to break down and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 8)
This passage from Ecclesiastes, assumed to be written by Solomon or someone known as the Preacher, was talking about the passage of time through the ages. It has always been one of my favorite passages from the Bible. I suppose that it is because it was one of the first folk songs to ever be a rock and roll hit. And I am sure that there are many people who sing this song who have no idea that it comes from the Bible.
The measurement of time has always been a challenge to mankind. While we can say for sure that it is 1030 a.m. on Sunday, May 23rd, the telling of time has not always been so precise. In John Wesley’s time, clocks were bulky and highly unreliable. For the people of Jesus’ time, time was measured by the hourglass and by noting certain events (as noted in the Gospel reading for today — “On the last and greatest day of the Feast”)
So it was that time was seen in terms of the passage of seasons and the completion of tasks. But there are times separate from seasons and tasks. Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” While he was referring to the early days of the American Revolution when things were not going good for the colonists, such a sentiment could be justly as easily expressed today.
We look around us and see countless examples of problems for which we feel there is no solution. We feel hopeless and unable to comprehend what is going on.
But, while there is not a lot that we as individuals can do, there is a lot that we as a church and a community can do. While we may think that Jesus spent most of his ministry preaching the Good News, the majority of His time was spent building a community. Jesus knew that if His work was continue beyond His time on earth, it would have to be through the community of believers.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
But for the body to function, it must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Throughout the time between Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus told his disciples to stay as a group so that they could receive the Holy Spirit.
For without the Holy Spirit it is not possible to accomplish the great things Christ asks us to do. And without the community, there is no place to do His work.
The challenge is two-fold. As individuals, we must have a place where we can go to celebrate the presence of Christ in our lives. As a community, we must offer a place where others can see and hear what Christ is all about. And in this time when people are crying out for comfort and solace, the church must be ready to offer such.
But no matter how hard we might try, we cannot do it by ourselves. Paul noted that there are many different kinds of gifts and many different kinds of service. How we work can vary but it is only accomplished through the Holy Spirit. The miracle of Pentecost, what this day is all about, was possible because the people were filled with the Holy Spirit. As Paul noted also, no works could be accomplished unless each individual first received the Holy Spirit by accepting Christ as his personal Savior.
The Talmud, the Jewish commentary on the Torah, offers the following comment,
“In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.”
The time has come. The offer has been made. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
Jesus offers to all who believe in him the gift of living water, the gift of the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit in us, great things can be accomplished, both by individuals and by communities.