Watch for the Fire (the Holy Spirit’s fire)

given on Sunday, May 23, 2010

Today is Pentecost.  Everything seems fine, but maybe we should turn on a scanner this morning because we never know what is going on around us.  We walk into the church’s doors and step away from the daily routines, but we never know when the fire of the Holy Spirit will strike.

Thursday evening I was sitting at the desk, and Bruce had turned on the scanner.  I really had not considered why, but it was sending out those various beeps and alarm sounds and then through my clouded head I heard, “There is rotation over Hale Lake Road.”

Somewhere in my thoughts, I realized that the scanner was on due to weather issues.  Then I heard that statement:  “rotation over Hale Lake Road.”  That was close!  Of course, being fascinated by weather, I did not take cover, I had to see what it looked like outside.  Fortunately, it was not a tornado, but it could have been.  Would I have been ready?

The Apostles did not have a scanner to alert them to what was going to happen on Pentecost.  The Apostles were in a state of confusion and chaos after the crucifixion and the resurrection.  They knew they had a job to do, but getting back into the routine must have been difficult.  Here it was Pentecost, 50 days after Passover for the Jewish people.  The early Christians were still following many traditions of their Jewish faith as they struggled to carry out Jesus’ commission—to make disciples of Christ.

Researching Pentecost, I located a brief description of the events on the Jewish festival of Pentecost when the Apostles were together:

On the Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus (50 days from the Passover in which He was crucified), the Holy Spirit, according to the Acts of the Apostles, descended on the disciples in the form of tongues of fire accompanied by the sound of a rush of wind, and gave them the power of speaking in such a way that people of different languages could understand them.  The Christian feast of Pentecost is an annual commemoration of this event, and it is solemnly observed as the birthday of the church and the feast of the Holy Spirit.  (Accessed on May 22, 2010 at http://www.answers.com/topic/pentecost)

I think the Apostles must have felt the same sensation we do as we hear the tornado sirens go off or the fire truck begins screaming or a fire alarm sounds.

Place yourself right there with the Apostles.  Usually it is difficult for us to put aside our perception of daily life and Christian holidays to submerse ourselves in a different era and culture.  Yet reading first verses of Acts in the Message translation I think helps:

1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from.  It filled the whole building.  Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world.  When they heard the sound, they came on the run.  Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck.  They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans?  How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

I think that it is difficult if we have never had a life-changing experience as the Apostles did or an Aldersgate experience as John Wesley did.  In fact, when someone mentions that they had a personal conversion moment, my skepticism pops up.  Such a discussion can make me uncomfortable.

What is an Aldersgate experience”   In our denomination, this is phrase is an allusion, a direct reference, to John Wesley’s personal life-changing event.  Researching Wesley’s story on ask.com, I found this description:

In England, Wesley continued to keep in close touch with the Moravians.  At one of their meetings – in Aldersgate Street, London, on May 24, 1738 – he experienced conversion while listening to a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation, ” Wesley wrote, “and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

There may not have been any flames of fire dancing over the heads of those in the room, but Wesley knew that his Pentecost experience, for the lack of a better description, occurred right there in a meeting with other believers, at that moment on Aldersgate Street.  The experience lit up his life and like a wildfire, his passion for ministry spread.

The date of Wesley’s Aldersgate experience was May 24, 1738.  [Isn’t it interesting how that comes so near the date of Pentecost:  the 50th day after Passover?]  The Holy Spirit had descended upon the Apostles and those surrounding them on that traditional Jewish holiday, transforming them into the driven leaders of a new church, the Christian church.  On May 24, 1738, Wesley was among the Moravian Christians when he experienced the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Today, just May 23, have you experienced a Pentecostal or Aldersgate moment?  My personal history does not have one.  In fact, one experience while serving as a youth minister in Bonne Terre could easily have been one; or it could have scared me away from God, but it did not.  During Summer, 1973, I agreed to attend a group meeting of young Christians in the area.  They were not necessarily Methodist, but they all were believers and several church members encouraged me to attend.

I was totally unprepared for the experience; but thanks to hindsight and years of other experiences, I no longer have that sense of discomfort or fear that sent me, almost running, away from that meeting.  As these young people gathered in a circle to pray, they began speaking in tongues.  The sounds were unintelligible, clacking and clicking sounds, and I was startled—in fact, I admit that I was frightened.  Nothing had prepared me for that meeting.  I did not see any fires floating over their heads that evening, but I certainly did not feel comfortable.

Was that to be my ‘Aldersgate’?  I don’t think so, but I do think it slowed my faith journey.  In fact, it may have caused me to take a side road and park for a while.  I continued working that summer and again the next summer in that community.  The people I met and the work I did allowed me to learn more, to grow more, and to give more.  An Aldersgate experience is not necessary, especially when you have been raised in the Christian faith, follow the standards Jesus taught us, and work to improve your spiritual development.

Admittedly, there are times when it would be reassuring to personally know we have been baptized by the Holy Spirit in some dramatic, life-changing, concrete experience, but that is not a requirement to follow Jesus.  The Aldersgate experience came for Wesley years after he began his ministry.  He had already established the structure for our Methodist denomination.  He had set the standards for each of us in our faith journey.  He had translated the Greatest Commandment into his own mission statement:

“Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

Yet, that evening of May 24, 1738, sitting with the Moravians:

“…(Wesley) experienced conversion while listening to a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation, ” Wesley wrote, “and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Wesley was granted insight into his faith.  The Holy Spirit lit a fire in him that, at the age of 35, after serving as a minister for nearly 15 years, and traveling to America where he felt he failed, he reached complete understanding.  His fire was lit, his faith reflected the Holy Spirit, and his ministry continued until his death 50 years later.

Watch out for the fire of the Holy Spirit!  This fire will not destroy.  But, we know that this fire can yield results so unplanned, so beautiful, so renewing that it seldom signifies total destruction.

In your spiritual journey, you may not realize that the Holy Spirit’s fire has cleared out the bad in your life.  You may question whether you fully believe that Christ has died for your sins.  You may feel tired from the uncertainties of life and still question what will come.

You are not alone in all these thoughts; even the Apostles and John Wesley shared these concerns.  Yet, they continued to follow Christ.  They were doing all they could for all that they could reach in as many ways as they felt they could.

Watch for the Holy Spirit’s fire, but believe.

Watch for the fire, but take confidence in God.

Watch for the fire, but do not be afraid.

God loves you, Jesus taught you, and the Holy Spirit is with you.  Your fire is lit.  If you are given the gift of an Aldersgate experience, take joy in it.  If you do not, do not worry.  In all likelihood, others see the fire in your life.  You have your faith, you are living your Christian values, you are using your spiritual gifts, and you are a Christian.  The fire is burning bright within you.  Isn’t it wonderful!

Dear Holy Spirit,

We come today unsure how strong our faith.  We hear the stories of others and wonder why we have not had our own Aldersgate.  Maybe we have wondered if what has happened is an Aldersgate experience.  Help us to understand how our faith is solid and that with that faith we can light fires in the hearts of others.  Thank you for the gift of grace, the love of God, the service of Jesus, and your fire in our souls so that we may follow in Wesley’s shoes doing all that we can for all that we can.  –Amen

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