A few years back there was a guy named George who had a problem. George desperately wanted the presence of God in his life and wasn’t sure what was holding him back. He talked to Pastors, Ministers, and Priests. He heard words of judgment that seemed to echo the counsel of Job’s “friends”. He heard words of absolution, saying that it was alright because all were fallen and none were righteous. What he didn’t hear were words that spoke to him, or the condition he found himself in. The words he heard were of no comfort or challenge and eventually he felt that he had to give up on the church. When he finally gave up and cast himself before God in his lament he heard a voice that said to him “There is one, even Christ Jesus who can speak to thy condition.” OK, it was more than a few years ago, that guy named George was George Fox, one of the founders of the Friends movement, and that voice that spoke to him which guided him to Jesus was the Holy Spirit. Very quickly he was drawn to today’s passage, and his understanding of the nature of our relationship with God was molded and formed by the words of Joel as repeated by Peter. Every single human being on Earth has access to the voice of the Holy Spirit pointing them to the truth and to righteousness. Some choose to obey that voice and others do not, but all have access if only they would listen and obey.
When the Holy Spirit came to the disciples on Pentecost instruction was given to each on what to say, and everyone who heard the words of the disciples that day heard them in their native tongue, simply because the disciples listened and obeyed. They were no longer a bunch of people in hiding, coming together to remember their departed friend. They became bold and energized, and they began to speak out. They told the crowds of the resurrection of the Messiah and that God’s kingdom had come. They told the crowds that they can be part of this kingdom if they would turn from the priorities of the world around them, and obey the instruction of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Those who heard probably did a quick look around to see just how many Roman soldiers might be in earshot and were probably thinking something like “If the messiah has come with the kingdom, why are those Romans still here? I don’t see anything different other than a bunch of guys yelling in different languages. Even if they aren’t drunk they must be crazy.” Some others were wondering why a bunch of hicks from the sticks could suddenly speak in all these languages. The mix of confusion and scorn was getting near the boiling point, and at this point some in the crowd were probably edging towards an exit in case the Romans did show up to see what was causing a disturbance.
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Acts 2:14-21
Peter, the fisherman, the guy nicknamed “Rock”, stands up and addresses the crowd with a previously uncharacteristic eloquence. He shares straight from scripture one of the fulfilled promises of what was to come. All flesh now had access to the Spirit of God, without priests, rituals, sacrifices or temples. This would lead to people speaking the words of God and spreading the good news of the kingdom. Before we go on, I want to make sure that a common misconception is cleared up. Throughout the Bible there are many people who are called prophets and for the most part they are not forecasting the future. The future can be an element of prophecy, but from a biblical perspective a prophet is someone who speaks words that come from God. A prophet’s focus is not usually to speak about future events, but to let people know God’s perspective on what is going on now. Everything in the list that Peter runs down are things that have already happened, Peter is reminding the Jews of everything that has happened as a result of the Roman conquest, the Roman suppression of rebellions and the results of Jesus’ death. Now the Holy Spirit had come and those who repent, literally turn away from the direction they were going, and submitted the direction of their lives to obeying the words of Jesus that come from the Holy Spirit they would be saved. Through Jesus work and in obedience to the promised Spirit all people could enter into the promised kingdom of God. Then Peter proclaimed the truth of who Jesus is. One of the truest signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit is not speaking in tongues, or any of the other gifts, but is a change of agenda for one’s life. If we look at what is going on here in this text and don’t worry about the mechanism that was used, we see a bunch of people suddenly through word and deed proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God. Before Pentecost these guys had repented and accepted Jesus, but they still kept themselves hidden and lived like everyone else, with the same priorities as those around them. Then the Holy Spirit came in and lives began to change. These incredibly ordinary people began to hear what God’s priorities for their lives were and they began to speak and act in accordance with those priorities. Let us not forget that salvation is not the end goal, it is only the starting point. Staying focused on the starting point would be like deciding to go to Multnomah Falls, driving to the parking lot, going to the tunnel entrance that leads you under the highway, looking around and staying right there, and then going home. You could technically say that you had been to Multnomah Falls, but you would have never experienced them.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh people began to call others to pay attention to and obey that Spirit. When people obeyed, the Good News of the kingdom of God was proclaimed. Lives were saved from the self-centered paths of destruction that direct us when we ignore God’s Spirit. My starting point was a little more than 35 years ago, and I have found that when I am listening to the voice of the Spirit, my life and my priorities are changed. I talk a lot more about the God who calls me out of the priorities of the world, and I grow in my ability to listen and obey. God still changes my priorities and my values, and as I grow in my ability and desire to listen for God’s voice through the Spirit, I change and am transformed even more. The more I am changed and transformed, the more God opens my eyes to the ways He is at work in the world around me, and as I see God at work in people’s lives I can, like Peter and the others that day, speak words that go directly to the heart of who people are and point them to Jesus. Our goal is to continually point to Jesus through our actions and words. Then Jesus can do the hard work of salvation and transformation.
Like my fictional traveler to Multnomah Falls, it is much easier to hang around the entrance, not walk through the unlit tunnel, climb the stairs and see the two falls, follow the path to the bridge, cross the bridge while admiring the awesomeness of God’s creation, then take the steep path with its switchbacks to the top where we can look out from above. The journey we are called to is much harder that the climb to the top of the falls, and it requires us to let go of the priorities of the world around us, to submit to the directions of our king, and to spread the good news of the kingdom all around us. We have a mission, and that mission is not only to get people to the beginning of their journey with God, but to walk beside each other as we journey together, to provide encouragement and resources as needed to help each other take the next step. Jesus says it in this way: “19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 To have every part our lives pointing to, representing, and in relationship with the person and character of Jesus can only be done through listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit with humility and an obedient spirit. When Peter quoted this passage from Joel, he was reminding people that God’s desire is that all flesh have immediate and unmediated access to His voice, to experience the presence of God in our lives every hour of every day, and to know God’s will for every situation we encounter. The disciples met in that upper room to come together around God’s will, and that faithfulness was rewarded with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which we have that same access to. I hope that we are gathering together with that same motive in mind, to listen to God’s Spirit and obey His voice as we work together to spread His kingdom and His way of being and doing what is right.
During our time of communion in open worship we practice listening together so that we can better hear the voice of the Holy Spirit as we minister through our lives. Take this time to invite the Holy Spirit to speak into your life, and if you do hear something, obey those words and those promptings to point your life towards Jesus.
This afternoon we have a business meeting and the way we do business is based on this promise that Peter says has been fulfilled by the coming of the Holy Spirit. If during our meeting we are actively listening with an attitude of obedience, we will hear God’s words spoken through us, we will make decisions that come from the desire to spread God’s kingdom, and when we in good conscience obey what we hear, God will work things out for the good of his purposes in our church and in the community God has called it to serve.