The Church’s Power: the Holy Spirit

Sermon preached at Our Savior for the day of Pentecost on June 12, 2011. Sermon text: Acts 2:1-21

Do you have a secret weapon? It’s something that people might not know about, it might not be obvious at first, but it makes a crucial difference. Sports teams are known for having secret weapons. There might be a player who doesn’t seem like much of a threat, but who absolutely dominates the game when the game is on the line.

pentecost1But when I think of secret weapons, I think of the end of World War 2 and a weapon that at the time might not have been secret, but it was new. It was the atomic bomb. When the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, it didn’t take long for the war to end. Why? Because this weapon was so powerful! Its sheer force was able to level entire cities, with more destructive power than had ever been imagined before.

But there’s another weapon I really want to talk about today. I want to talk about a weapon that does not kill and destroy, but a weapon that works for eternal life. I want to talk about a weapon with way more power than even the strongest atomic bomb, but power that is only used for God’s purposes.

Of course I’m talking about God the Holy Spirit. It’s his power for us that we celebrate on this day of Pentecost, and it’s his power that we rejoice came to us and comes to us by Word and Sacrament. And just like the atomic bomb, you never want to take the Holy Spirit for granted. Even though we can’t see him, we see his work in our lives and in our hearts. And while the atomic bomb might make us cringe or be afraid, the Holy Spirit makes us rejoice. He is the church’s power. 

 

The story of the day of Pentecost makes it seem like the Holy Spirit could never be considered a secret weapon. Because when the Spirit came to the disciples, it was quite a production. When the day of Pentecost came, they  were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)

What a scene! There’s a violent wind that is so violent and so focused that the wind actually filled the house where the disciples were. You know it’s windy outside when you can feel the wind inside. But the disciples did. And not only could they feel and hear the wind, but these little flames of fire came down and rested on top of their heads. And instead of needing to stop, drop, and roll, they start speaking in all sorts of other languages.

Can you imagine this? If anyone has ever tried to learn another language, you know it’s really hard. It takes years of work, and even then, most people never speak the new language perfectly. The disciples knew the languages perfectly in an instant! Yeah, I’d say the Holy Spirit is powerful.

And as you can imagine, people took notice of this. First of all, there was that huge wind and noise that brought a huge crowd to the house. Jerusalem would’ve been packed full of travelers for the festival of Pentecost (a harvest celebration that God commanded in the Old Testament). So there were a lot of people from a lot of different places nearby. And when they heard this noise, they just had to see what it was.

Then when the disciples came out speaking all sorts of languages, you can just imagine what the crowd thought of that. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?”…Amazed and perplexed they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:7-8,12)

What power the Holy Spirit showed on that day! How amazing that a few people, mostly fishermen, were filled with that kind of power. What a blessing that God would make such a big show of the Spirit’s power at just the right time in just the right place so that a huge crowd was right there, ready to listen to everything the disciples had to say.

What amazing power the Holy Spirit had for the church…back then. I say “back then” because, as you’ve probably noticed, we don’t seem to see these kinds of things today. There was no huge sound of wind that led you here today. I have not suddenly been giving the ability to speak in lots of other languages perfectly. We don’t have crowds of people, utterly amazed, wandering in off the street to see what’s going on here.

Things are pretty different for us than what the disciples had in our text. That might make us doubt how much power we really have from the Holy Spirit. We find out later on in this chapter in Acts that after this day of Pentecost, there were about three thousand new believers. Today, if we add a handful of new members in a year we feel pretty good.

But most of the time, we’re not worried with controlling the crowds coming in the door, we’re worried about the people going out of it. We are concerned about the people we don’t see here in church and it makes us wonder, “where is the Spirit’s power?”

We look at what happened on the day of Pentecost in our text, and it’s exciting! It’s amazing! It makes us wish we could’ve been there! But we think of coming to church here, or living our Christian lives outside of this building, and it doesn’t seem nearly as exciting. It seems dull, lifeless. It seems like something must have gone wrong. And we wonder, “where is the Spirit’s power?”

The disciples in our text were able to declare the wonders of God fearlessly to complete strangers in all sorts of languages. We look at our lives and we have enough trouble speaking English. We have trouble speaking up about God to our own family and friends, let alone strangers. Why is that? What has happened? Where is the Spirit’s power?

Where is the Spirit? He’s here. He’s here in the Word that is proclaimed in this place. He’s here in the water of baptism, ready to work another miracle. He’s here in my heart, and he’s in your heart, making alive in Christ a person who was born dead in sin. He is at work in us as we live out our faith, as we witness for our Savior, no matter how much we may stumble or falter.

We have the Spirit, and we have the power of the Spirit that God has promised us, even way back in Old Testament times. In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:17,21)

When you want the Holy Spirit’s power today, don’t look for what’s flashy, don’t look for what’s impressive on the outside. Look at what changes hearts on the inside. Every one of you here who is a Christian, who trusts in Jesus alone as the only way to heaven, all of you are the result of a miracle of the Holy Spirit’s power. Maybe it was at your baptism when you were just a baby. When a little water and God’s Word were there, the Holy Spirit came into your heart and you believed. You couldn’t speak, but you believed! That’s the power of the Holy Spirit.

When we come to church and God’s Word is read, and the message of Jesus Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection to life are proclaimed, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. He builds up our faith. He strengthens us to serve. He takes people who would probably wonder away from the faith if left on their own and he puts the fire of his love in our hearts. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit.

And when we live our lives, and the opportunity comes up to speak to someone else about Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit is there, too. You might not see it. It might not feel like there is any power in your awkward words. The fact that the person you are talking to might not even listen to you might tempt you to think the Holy Spirit wasn’t there, that he wasn’t working at all. But he is. He does work in our hearts. He works in God’s Word. He works in our lives.

He is the church’s power. So use his power. Don’t let the power of the Holy Spirit be a secret weapon in your life! Don’t ever keep it a secret! Instead, rejoice that the Spirit’s power came to you and made you a believer. Rejoice that the Spirit’s power comes to you in the gospel and reminds you that your sins are forgiven. Rejoice that the Spirit is with you as you witness for your Savior, wherever you might be.

Rejoice in the Spirit’s power. More powerful than an atomic bomb, a power that can turn people to God, a power that gives eternal life. A power that is here with us today. A power that is in your hearts now and forever. May the Holy Spirit grant that we use his power, the church’s power, in all we do and say.

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