(Acts 2:1-21) – J G White
11 am, Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019 – UBC Digby
It’s been a long time since I watched the 1981 film, Quest for Fire, about a primitive tribe of ‘cavemen,’ who are seeking a new technology we call fire. The tribe had fire, but it goes out; they do not know how to start it again. They send a few of their warriors out to find fire. In time, they discover from another tribe the secret of starting fire on their own.
In a sense, we are on a quest for fire in our reality, here and now. And no, I don’t mean deciding upon the best energy source: coal, oil, biomass, wind, solar, hydro or nuclear. I mean the spiritual fire that gives energy to human souls and human faith communities.
Many branches of Christianity celebrate today as Pentecost Sunday, with the story of Acts 2. The Holy Spirit comes with power upon the disciples of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem. The Church is born, we say.
Two thousand years later: what is your spiritual quest for fire? What is of greatest interest to you, a spiritual being, may be different from what attracts me. I looked for a few, illustrated in the Biblical story of Pentecost, in Acts 2.
There is, of course: The Quest for Fire in our personal life of Faith. I think of the lines of a classic, Holy Spirit hymn.
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But, take the dimness of my soul away.
(Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart, George Croly, 1780-1860)
We speak and sing so much, as church people, of the individual walk with God, the personal experience of salvation and obedience, the potential for spiritual growth. And we have the experience in our lives of simply needing the dimness of my soul taken away.
The biblical story today takes place seven weeks after Jesus came back to life, resurrected. Fifty days. His followers are obediently waiting in the city for the promised arrival of the Spirit, whatever that means. Then, during the next big Jewish festival, it happens.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit… (2:3-4)
Perhaps you feel, you feel you know, that this is what is needed. For believers to get fired up, get Spirit-filled, be revived. You want it for yourself; you want it for others around you. I believe a key thing we do to be ready for this is the practice of spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, confession, worship, study, simplicity, meditation, and so forth.
For some of you, something else, more cosmic, is important to you, as a Christian. The Quest for Fire of the Last Days: the Second Coming of Christ. The quest to understand this, and be ready, be watching, as Jesus taught us to be.
Once the powerful and supernatural things happened that Pentecost day in Jerusalem, disciple Peter gets up to explain, to preach. He takes as his text one of the fiery prophets. This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” (2:16-17)
The last days. We know there has been so much taught, and written, and preached about the second coming to us of our Messiah. Some of you have found this so interesting, so important, so compelling. Some of us read, years ago, the Left Behind novels, about future days when the things of Revelation, and Daniel, and Mark 13, and so on, come to pass.
There are several complicated systems of understanding the second coming of Christ, the apocalypse, the end times, the rapture, the final judgement, and all the rest of it. I have never settled on a way to put it all together for myself. I need to keep it simple. [Our own Basis of Union for the Baptists of Atlantic Canada, from 1906, includes this article, which keeps things to a minimum:
General Judgement — There will be a judgement of quick and dead, of the just and unjust, on the principles of righteousness, by the Lord Jesus Christ, at His second coming. The wicked will be condemned to eternal punishment, and the righteous received into fullness of eternal life and joy.
Our Basis of Union allows us freedom-loving Baptists to have a lot of different opinions on the last days and the second coming.]
We know the frequent Biblical commands to be watchful, be waiting, be prepared. Part of our preparedness is to see and celebrate the breaking in now of the Kingdom of God, before the finale.
Beyond all this, I think that so many people of the pews are quite interested in this: The Quest for Fire in the glorious Light of Heaven. Are some of you focused, in your faith, on heaven and its glory?
Beyond what John read for us from Acts 2, Peter goes on in his Pentecost sermon to say of Christ: God raised Him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. (2:24) Death does not get the last word. There is life, life eternal!
Maybe you see, like I do, the strong connections people feel with deceased loved ones. We count on the grace of God in Jesus Christ to be reunited with them. And there are the highly motivated Christians, who are deeply concerned for their unsaved loved- ones and neighbours. We want the bright glory of heaven for them all. Just as our God wants this for them all. Some of this motivates the next quest.
The Quest for Fire in the fiery Truth to be spoken and win the day! Peter ends his sermon about Jesus saying: Therefore, let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified. (2:36)
The 23 verses here that tell us Peter’s sermon are surely just the synopsis. At the funeral for Rev. Dr. Randy Legassie on Friday, we were reminded of Randy’s advice to preachers, even preachers in Africa: sermons should not be longer than twenty minutes! Surely Peter’s full sermon on the day of Pentecost was actually a full twenty minutes.
And what Peter sounded like, the energy and force of his preaching, we can but imagine. Most Holy Spirit hymns and songs are so gentle and sweet. The fired-up sermon is not so. And that’s what some Xians look for and long for today. Maybe you also. There is also that longing for the voice of the preacher to be heard again in our whole land, and influence our Canadian culture. We must speak the Truth today!
You who are here often know I continue to quote the Church leaders and scholars who tell us we must understand our times, and understand our people. This knowledge is something the Spirit will use in us, to influence our wider world.
I see also one more, a fifth spiritual quest of Christians. The Quest for Fire in the Renewal of the Church today. We read the whole of Acts 2 to be completely inspired and instructed. We love this success story. After Peter preached, we hear: So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. (2:41)
I think you know as well as I do, that I tend to harp on about things of this nature. How can we, who come in here, be changed, to make a greater difference out there?
In a sense, I have just given you one multiple choice question, with five possible answers. What is your spiritual quest? What kind of spiritual fire do you want to see rekindled?
I think there is another question to be asked; and this, at last, is my point today. What is God’s Quest for Fire? What does the Holy Spirit desire, and design, and do among us now? What you or I want is not as important as what the flow of the Spirit actually is. What is God’s spiritual quest, among us?
Step back from Acts 2 and notice how it all happened. It was planned. It was prepared. It was prompted by the Spirit. Not the choice of the believers, those waiting disciples. Yes, they were trained. Yes, they were obedient. Yes, they were praying. But they did not make Pentecost happen.
Nor do we renew ourselves or our churches or our neighbourhoods – without the will and way of God. We can do a lot of fake firing things up, in our religion. But the Holy Spirit is the One who brings new life, in new ways.