Pentecost Prep

. 5 min read

Acts 1
Have you ever been overwhelmed by something
that you cannot touch, at least not in a conventional way?  Perhaps by an emotion – grief, joy, anger,
peace?  Felt yourself immersed in
something bigger than you, more powerful than you?  Have you ever felt yourself connected to
another person, not simply by being near one another or even by being in love
or “in like” with each other – but connected at the core of who you are,
connected at the level that goes beyond words, beyond touch?  We are made for that kind of connection.  And when we experience it, it is a glimpse of
what God wants to have with us every moment. 
In Ecclesiastes, we are told that “God has put eternity in the
human heart” (Ecc 3:11, NIV).  Saint
writes, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in
thee” (Confessions).  One of the
biblical expressions for this connection, for which God has designed us, for
which we long, is being “filled with” or “baptized with the Spirit”.
The Pentecost story is mind boggling.  The Spirit comes in wind and fire. The disciples
find themselves speaking a variety of languages they have never learned.  People are in town from every nation and they
hear the story of “God’s deeds of power” in their own language.  The story is weird and really cool.  What particularly amazes me is that the
miraculous demonstration – the speaking in many languages – was not clearly
understood as a sign of the Spirit of God. 
(Some folks thought the disciples had too much to drink.)  But, what they said in those languages was
clearly understood, “God’s deeds of power.” 
You see, while God desires direct and personal connection with each of
us, the gifts of God are not about us being worthy of the gift, but about us
fitting into God’s purpose in the world. 
Today, we’re going to focus on the story of preparation for
Pentecost.  And what can we do to get
ready for this gift?
I want to be clear about one common question about
filling with the Spirit.  Many times,
folks wonder, “When we believe in Jesus, don’t we receive the Spirit?”  Absolutely yes (Acts 2:38).  That’s what the Scripture says, over and
over.  John’s gospel talks about
conversion itself as being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5).  However, people who believe in Jesus, people
who have already received the Spirit, are nevertheless commanded to “be filled
with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).  And,
in the Acts stories, the same disciple band is recorded several times to be
filled powerfully with the Spirit (Acts 2, Acts 4:31).  Like any relationship, like any connection,
refreshment, reconnection is critical.

First step in Pentecost Prep: The Promise of
“You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit”
(1:5).  We don’t just long for this deep
to deep connection with God.  We aren’t
simply made for it.  It is God’s will for
us.  That’s what promises are about – an
expression of God’s will.  And there is
nothing that should prevent us from experiencing that gift.
“Wait for it” – for a punchline, a surprise
      Humor turns
“nothing” into something (Seinfeld)
      Taking the
kids to see the Avengers film –
The second step is more personally demanding: Prayer.
From Passover to Pentecost were 50 days.  Jesus spent 3 of those days in the grave and
40 of those days teaching the disciples before ascending to heaven.  What did they do for those last 7 days, the
final week of waiting?  “All these were
constantly devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14).  Most of the time, when we think of prayer, we
think of it in very narrow terms.  We
think about saying grace before the meal – a simple thanks.  Or, we think of our “laundry list” of needs
and blessings – God, help grandma; please heal the dog; help me get a job . . .
.  Those are prayer, and those are
important prayers.  But they are not the
stuff of constant prayer.  Constant
prayer is simple, fervent, and deep.  In
the words of the psalm writer, it is “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7).  And the purpose of this constant prayer is
not our list, but God’s will, and aligning our own hearts with the will of God
so that we want exactly what God wants. 
Magnets – needles – align.
      Today, with
your note sheet, I have included two prayers. 
One, by Saint Augustine, is a prayer to be filled with God.  The other, by Mother Teresa, is a prayer to
love the world.  I want to encourage you
to go home and post these prayers, maybe write them on a 3×5 card.  Post them at your mirror or some place where
you will see them twice a day.  And pray
one prayer each morning and the other prayer each evening for a month.  And just see what God will do.
St. Augustine
Too narrow is the house of my soul for you to enter
into it: Let it be enlarged by you.  It
lies in ruins: Build it up again.
Mother Teresa:
May God break my heart so completely
that the whole world falls in.
Third: Purity.
The story we have in Acts 1 includes the church’s work
to replace Judas, who had betrayed Jesus, expressed remorse, and died at his
own hands.  In this story, they make
clear how important it is to have leadership that is aligned around being a
witness to Jesus Christ.  That’s what
purity is about – not conformity to rules but alignment with what is most
important.  In our own personal lives,
purity means that everything in our souls is brought into alignment with the
promise of the Spirit.  Remember their prayer
as they selected Judas’ successor: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart” (1:24).
Fourth: Power.
Arm wrestling Caleb
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes
upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (1:8). 
This is what all the preparation is about – experiencing this gift of
God, this power of the Spirit.  It is too
easy to interpret this as power for miracles. 
But that is not what Jesus says here in Acts.  It is power for witness.
      The Greek
word “witness” comes from the courtroom. 
In those days, they didn’t have a “witness protection program”, so the
word also doubles for those who risk their lives to speak the truth, and it is
the root for the English word “martyr”. 
It is power for witness. It is power for suffering.

      But we
don’t just get a sense for a word from a dictionary.  We also look at its sense in context.  In Luke, the first volume of the Luke-Acts
combo, witness and mission is described in terms of serving and loving those
who were left out by the dominant society, serving and loving those on the
margins.  In Luke 4, Jesus began his
ministry by reading from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he
has anointed me to bring good news (gospel) to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the
captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”
(Luke 4:18).  Gregory Boyle, in Tattoos
on the Heart,
describes this mission as not about “taking the right stand”
but about “standing in the right place”, standing with those on the margins.