This is the message that I presented on Pentecost Sunday, 15 May 2005, at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 2: 1 – 21, 1 Corinthians 12: 3 – 13, and John 7: 37 – 39.
In every learning opportunity, there comes a time when you realize that you have learned something. You have been trying to learn something and it hasn’t been easy. But suddenly, without any forewarning, you find that you understand perfectly clear what it is that you are trying to learn. And the funny thing about it is that after you understand this new concept, it seems so simple and clear that you wonder why it seemed too hard in the first place. That moment of learning is known as the AHA moment.
It is really hard to define this moment in any other terms simply because the time and place are determined by the characteristics of the learner and what may be that moment for one will not be the same for another.
Today may be considered such a moment. It is that moment in time when the early church became immensely aware of the power of the Holy Spirit and the true meaning of the Gospel message. But there is a difference between one’s knowledge of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s own life and the sudden acquisition of knowledge.
The one thing that these two events have in common is that how one gains the knowledge, be it of the Holy Spirit or just “book” knowledge, is different. As Paul pointed out, each person comes to know the Holy Spirit in a unique and singular manner. And what one does with the acquisition is determined by one’s own skills, not by some common definition of utility and usage.
Now, it is entirely possible that you can go through life without learning the intricacies of some abstract concept. But you will know when the Holy Spirit has come into your life. It is also possible to go through life without having to use the knowledge of various abstract concepts but you will find that life is immensely different because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.
Notice what happened to those gathered that day when the Holy Spirit came into their lives. “They spoke to each other in their own language yet were able to understand what the others were saying.” You can spend most of your life working to acquire particular concepts but the presence of the Holy Spirit is an immediate occurrence.
Finally, learning and studying will prepare you for that moment when things all come together but no studying or preparation can actually prepare you for that one singular moment when the Holy Spirit enters into your life. The one example that illustrates this is the degree of preparation John and Charles Wesley put into their efforts to become faithful followers of Christ.
But for all their efforts, all their studies, all their hard work, neither Wesley could truly say that they had found Christ or that Christ was a singular point in their lives. They both knew who Christ was but they did not know Christ in their own lives.
For John Wesley, the moment when the Holy Spirit came into his life is that moment in the Aldersgate chapel when he felt his heart “strangely warmed.” What John did not know was that at that moment when the Holy Spirit was changing his life, it was also entering and changing the life of his brother Charles.
Charles had accompanied John on the mission to Georgia and served for a time as the secretary of the Governor, James Oglethorpe. As was the case for John, this experience was a disaster for Charles and he returned to England in December of 1736 (John remained in Georgia until February of 1738). During the year apart from his brother, Charles was able to gain a measure of strength and self-respect. But it appears from history that Charles’ struggle to find Christ in his life lead to many illnesses. The Moravian missionary, Peter Bohler wrote “His brother [speaking of Charles in reference to John] is at present very much distressed in his mind, but does not know how he shall begin to be acquainted with the Savior.”
In the month of May 1738, the Wesleys were in London. Charles was recovering from a recurrence of illness in the home of some Moravians in Little Britain, not far from St. Paul’s Cathedral. Through the humble concern and sincere Christian testimonies of his hosts and others, Charles was deeply affected. God was truly dealing with him. Opening his Bible at Isaiah 40:1, the light of salvation shone upon him! His Journal entry for May 21st reads:
“I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ….. I saw that by faith I stood, by the continual support of faith…….I went to bed still sensible of my own weakness….yet confident of Christ’s protection.”
On the following day, Charles strength began to return. He also commenced what proved to be the first of some 6,000 hymns! The day after – May 24th – John himself found assurance of salvation during a meeting in nearby Aldersgate Street. Charles wrote of his brother’s experience:
“Towards ten, my brother was brought in triumph by a troop of our friends, and declared, “I believe.” We sang the hymn with great joy, and parted with prayer……….”
The joyful account is not complete without the hymn (UMH #342):
Where shall my wondering soul begin?
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire!
How shall I equal triumphs raise
Or sing my great Deliverer’s praise?
Exactly a year later, Charles wrote the more famous hymn, “0 for a thousand tongues to sing”, which he recommended for singing “on the anniversary of one’s conversion.”
For both John and Charles Wesley, that moment in time when they became aware of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s presence in their live was the changing point in their individual and collective ministries. As D. M. Jones wrote, “After this experience Charles Wesley was for a time at least lifted quite above all timid introspection and anxious care about his own spiritual state. It seemed as if this release was all that was needed to make him a channel for immense spiritual forces.” (http://www.christian-bookshop.co.uk/free/biogs/cwesley.htm)
It has been said that the church was born on this day some two thousand years ago. Because the people gathered that day opened their hearts and minds to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, others were to come to know the same power and presence. And, as Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, how the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is used by each individual in the church is unique and separate. But while unique and separate, put together the works of the individuals come together for the benefit of the whole church.
In bringing people into the church, we integrate church and culture. Unfortunately, in today’s society, we find a battle ensuing in this attempt. There are those who would place the culture under the auspices of the church and there are those who would rather the church just quietly go about its business and leave them alone. Unfortunately you cannot distinguish between faith and culture. You cannot separate the work of the church from the work of society.
It was the work of the early Methodists, preaching salvation by the Grace of God that changed England in the mid-18th century. It was the evangelical revival first started by the Wesleys and the early Methodist church that had a profound impact on stemming a revolutionary tide sweeping England. Conditions improved by changing the hearts of the people; the wealthy become more caring and lower classes more respectful and civilized.
It would be nice if we could say that this was still true today. Unfortunately, evangelism no longer has the same connotations that it held for the Wesley brothers. One thing is true; opposition to the evangelism of Wesley is still true today. Both Wesleys were attacked by those claiming to be Christian.
Today, you have a chance to be one of three individuals. The first can be called a separatist. They have their Christian friends, their Christian music, and their Christian church. They wear their faith all the time but fail to relate to the world around them. They pride themselves in having a pure faith. But they fail to see that no one wants to hear about their faith because it is so completely irrelevant to the culture. When you challenge them to integrate their faith with their culture, they get a frightened look in their eyes. They don’t want to integrate the two because then they would have to give up control.
The second individual is a conformist. These individuals live a one-day religion, going to church for two hours on Sunday and then placing their faith on the shelf and living a life of the current culture for the remainder of the week. When it is needed, they bring their faith down from the shelf and wear it when it is convenient; they remove it when it becomes too uncomfortable.
The third type of individual would be called a transformist. Like both John and Charles Wesley, they sought to make faith a part of culture and used their faith to change society, not for the purposes of a self-proclaimed religion but rather for society. Such individuals understand that one cannot categorize faith, love for God, and love for people into separate and independent categories. Such individuals integrate their faith with their culture and their love for God with their love for people. (Adapted from The Journey Towards Relevance by Kary Oberbrunner)
The question for today is what type of person will you be? The world is a big place and each of us is just one person. That may well have been thought of those present that day some two thousand years ago. On that day, their lives were transformed and with that transformation, the world changed. On this day, we are offered the same opportunity to let the Holy Spirit come into our lives as was offered to the people hearing the Gospel message that we heard today. “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink. Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
On that day some two thousand years ago, people’s lives were changed. On this day, your life can change just as theirs did.