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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Holy Spirit Reveals

Walk in the Spirit, a sermon series after Easter on Spirit, Holy Spirit, our spirit, week 6 of 7, preached May 19, 2024



We are in a series called “Walk in the Spirit.” We are giving seven Sundays to recognizing and worshipping God who is Holy Spirit, and we are reading and preaching from First Corinthians and Acts of the Apostles, the two books of the New Testament that refer to Holy Spirit more than any others.

So far, we’ve discovered the God we know in Holy Spirit .

INSPIRES us to challenge religious theologies and traditions, and

ENCOURAGES us to serve not just some but ALL, even if it there is risk or resistance.

Holy Spirit REFRAMES what we think Scripture and Law say… to be less judgmental or divisive, and more loving and inclusive, and

Holy Spirit CONVERTS us from any of our former ways that hurt or judge others in God’s name. Last week,

Holy Spirit AWAKENS us to deep curiosity and commitment to what God is doing, what God has always been doing, that is beautiful and holy even if it means taking a different road, hopping into a new relationship with a stranger and welcoming them into the faith.

Today is the official Sunday of Holy Spirit, Pentecost Sunday, so let’s pray then hear the word from Acts 2, what some call the birth of the church…

Scripture               Acts 2:1-47

2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every people under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But some others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them all, “Fellow Jews[a] and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be revealed to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you supposed, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, 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 shall see visions,

    and your old shall dream dreams.

18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,

    in those days I will pour out my Spirit,

        and they (too) shall prophesy.

19 And I will show omens in the heaven above

    and signs on the earth below,

        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

20 The sun shall be turned to darkness

    and the moon to blood,

        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

22 “Fellow Israelites,[b] listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth,[c] a man attested to yall by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as yall yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to yall according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, yall crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.

24 But God raised him up, having released him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power...

36 “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made (Jesus) both Lord and Messiah,[h] this (same) Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers,[i] what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus the Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And Peter preached with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent more time together in the temple, they broke bread at homes and ate their food with glad and generous[l] hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved…”

Sermon                 Reveals

If we drew a spectrum and placed different Christian communities or denominations across that spectrum based on practices or beliefs, we would often find Presbyterians and Pentecostals at opposite ends. With Pentecostals, we Presbyterians believe Jesus is somehow God embodied, and that his life, teachings, death, and resurrection changed things between God, humanity, and creation. We both read the same 66 book bible, though we talk about scripture’s origin and accuracy differently. We both ordain women and men as preachers, though we have very different styles. After that, we would find we have more differences from our Pentecostal sisters and brothers than similarities.

For example, Pentecostals expect individuals to believe and accept God’s grace of their own free will in order to BE graced by God, forgiven. That’s why they only baptize people old enough to believe and confess on their own. And when they baptize, they expect full immersion, submersion under the waters as a sign of being totally washed of their former selves and raised from the waters as a new self.

For us, we say our belief, our choosing of God makes a big difference in our lives and in the world, but we confess our belief is insufficient. We cannot fully choose God because even our will isn’t fully free, but weak with sin. So God’s grace needs to be a gift, given freely by God to whomever God gives it, not just to those who ask for it or accept it, but maybe even to those who reach for it and want it but doubt, and also maybe to those who spend a lifetime running from it and trying to reject it. Even if we could choose God, our belief, our will could not be pure enough to earn forgiveness. We would ask for it for selfish reasons. So we say our belief, our faith IN Christ makes A difference, but its God’s belief, Christ’s faith, the faithfulness of Christ on our behalf us that makes THE forgiving, saving difference.  That’s why we can baptize infants or teens or adults. We baptize as a sign of Christ’s faithfulness, not our faith. And that’s why we can baptize with a little or a lot of water, because neither our beliefs nor our rituals forgive or save… God does.

Another area of difference is that Pentecostals are charismatic, meaning they believe the gifts of the spirit are constantly being revealed and shared. The first baptism with water is important, but the next baptism, the baptism of Holy Spirit, is equally important. So their worship can be big and loud, unpredictable, with a wide variety of prayers and music styles, all looking for the arrival of Holy Spirit into the community through gifted individuals.

Presbyterians are more skeptical of these kind of “spiritual gifts” like speaking in tongues. If a Presbyterian wants to speak in tongues, we take it upon ourselves to study a foreign language. We are hesitant to assume any individual has special God-given abilities in ourselves, and we are distrustful of someone who puts themselves forward in worship saying they have a unique gift or message from God. That’s why our worship is typically ordered, and liturgical, with lots of effort and study done before hand, behind the scenes, by trained ordained professionals rather than by someone who says they’ve been suddenly struck by the spirit.

There are other differences too, like the powers of pastors or the congregation, or how we think about the current times, or life beyond death. Suffice it to say, Pentecostals and Presbyterians are quite different from one another.

Now, don’t hear me poo-pooing the Pentecostals. Yeah, I’ve chosen to worship in Presbyterian congregations, then go to a Presbyterian seminary, and have served as a pastor only in Presbyterian churches, but not because I think we are RIGHT about everything, or better than anyone else, or even because I prefer our worship style.

I do hope we are right about God’s grace being God’s choice more than ours. I do hope we are right about the amount of water in baptism or being baptized at all doesn’t matter one bit at the end of whatever God is doing. So if someone does Christian things another way, without hurting the people’s heart and spirit, without mispresenting the God we see in Jesus, so be it. I’m Presbyterian mainly because I love how ultimately, we trust God with all this stuff, and teach and preach God’s sovereignty even over our beliefs and rituals.

But I do love me some Pentecostal worship from time to time. If I can turn off my theological critic, I love to be in the midst of people who aren’t thinking and watching worship, but FEELING it and DOING it, who don’t sit politely, quietly, but who move, respond, and engage. There’s a power to Pentecostal worship. Its why they are called Pentecostals, because in their worship, they are seeking to recreate the first Pentecost of today’s scripture.

There was suddenly a rush of wind. There was suddenly a lot of noise. Everybody was involved, and lots of people were leading, and lots of languages were spoken so everyone could be engaged, hearing something that felt like it was just for them. No one followed the bulletin line by line. The prayers weren’t said with a shaky nervousness, but with a fresh energy. Everyone was so moved they couldn’t help but participate from the heart, each from their own experience. They shouted out what they heard and felt, whatever was helping, whatever made sense, whatever brought meaning and purpose to their lives and helped reveal God’s love for all people.

Baptists, Catholics, and Pentecostals sometimes debate which is the oldest Christian tradition, all tracing themselves back to this moment, the birth of the church. But I like to say we Presbyterians were there at the beginning too. We are the ones who said, “Good grief, what’s wrong with them? Did they put a little something special in their coffee before worship?” That’s how we Presbyterians often engage passion, spontaneity, playfulness in worship, as irreverent, or disrespectful.

We don’t encourage responses to sermons but consider it rude. We don’t applaud amazing performances from musicians, because we like to say they weren’t performing to us but to God so the only applause that matters would be God’s, not ours.

At one Presbyterian Church Jill and I and our boys attended, the choir was high and behind us in the balcony, and one year, they did the hallelujah chorus after the benediction. It was amazing, and down below we were standing there, and as they sang, the congregation below turned and looked up, and enjoyed it so much. When they finished, we all spontaneously applauded them! And the Director of Music gasped and turned on us below and shook his finger, shook his head and shushed us. We had suddenly gone too Pentecostal for a good Presbyterian church.

Or at one church I pastored, I would invite the children on Communion Sundays to meet me at the communion table after the benediction, and I gave them the rest of the bread, and let them dip it over and over again into the cup. A few ladies accosted me after worship and said I couldn’t do that anymore. It made too big a mess, and those children were too loud, and unruly. We had gone too Pentecostal for Presbyterians.

Even here at this church, Caitlan and I and the worship music arts committee have tried a few wild things, guest musicians, or crafts in the middle of worship, moving the pulpit, table, and font around, different décor, fabrics, or flowers. We’ve added sharing the peace of Christ, or tried questions to discuss with a neighbor. Each of these is our attempt to light a Pentecost spark over everyone in this Presbyterian congregation. Some of yall really dive in. Most everyone will participate, or at least tolerate. But Caitlan and I will sometimes get feedback… let’s not do that again, let’s not sing that song again, let’s not…

I guess, what I hope on this Pentecost, is that we aren’t trying to maintain or grow our preferred church. I hope and pray we are wanting to be God’s Holy Spirit Pentecost church, where young and old dream and see visions of fruitful ministries, where young and old are baptized and new persons come among us often. Where we are all devoted to learning and studying God’s love and justice, and we enjoy one another’s company, in worship and at meals. Where we can’t ignore all the issues in our community and world, and where we can’t believe all the good God is doing through this little congregation on the Eastern Shore. Where we give generously to support this congregation and give extra beyond this congregation to support agencies and partners who serve peace. Where day after day, we spend time with one another, at church and in homes and out and about, not just for ourselves but for the goodwill of everyone.

When we come to this table today, remember, its not a Presbyterian table. Its Holy Spirit’s table, on Pentecost. May the fire and warmth of Spirit be on us all.

Amen? Amen.




Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you this day, this night, this moment, and forever more. Amen? Amen.

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