Worship » Sermons » Fired Up!

Fired Up!

with Rev. Laura Sherwood

May 28, 2023

The story of Pentecost is remembered as its own kind of Graduation day, when those first disciples moved from being worried about how their faith would survive without Christ to being spirit-filled believers who were empowered to look beyond themselves and see all that they had to share in the name of Christ, in word and deed, for the rest of their lives.

The Scripture

Acts 2:1-21

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.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Romans 8:14-17

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

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I was so happy for Alex last Sunday when he got to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a Graduation Speaker.  I think he did a tremendous job of it and I appreciated his message that as you move on from graduation to your next set of goals to stay grounded in your faith and remember that “What defines success is the love in your heart when you’re pursuing your dreams.” To that I say, Amen!  

We are in the season of graduations, with many ceremonies and celebrations every weekend from mid-May to mid-June.  This time of year always brings back memories and emotions for me as I reflect on my own graduations and the meaning of graduation in our lives. I also tend to think about my brother, Thomas, and the great achievement of his own high school graduation after many years of struggling in various ways.  

Thomas, who is just over a year younger than I, has always been very bright and a quick learner – he still is and loves to learn new things on all different topics. But, for some reason he had trouble in school, even though he always tested very well.  I remember in late elementary and high school he would often get in trouble for goofing off during class, not doing his homework, or being somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be during class – meaning he wasn’t in the classroom, and sometimes not even on school grounds.  Apparently, the trouble started “at the beginning,” as our Mom used to say, just before his First Grade year.  

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Up until that point, Thomas had loved school which had, so far, encompassed Preschool and Kindergarten.  Then it was time to begin Elementary school and as that time got closer, we were all talking about school and what first grade would be like for Thomas.  Mom doesn’t remember exactly how it came up, but at one point she was explaining to him that school was not only fun and important, but that it was also required by law starting in the 1st grade. I think something in my brother’s 6-year old mind snapped when he heard that.   

“You mean it isn’t my choice? I’m legally bound to go?” I guess you could say that even at that young age, my brother had some issues with authority.  It was all downhill from there – Thomas never wanted to go to school again if he “had to.”  Of course he did go, but it was always a struggle after that until he was past his legally bound years after high school graduation. (Interestingly and somewhat ironically because of his resistance to authority, he became a marine at the age of 19.) 

Last Sunday we celebrated all our graduates in worship and many of us are looking forward to more graduate celebrations among family and friends.  I’m going to Cincinnati this week to celebrate my niece, Rachel, Thomas’s youngest, who graduated from her high school last Sunday.  

There are many points of graduation in our lives – in school, we now celebrate preschool graduation, graduation from elementary to jr high, jr. high to sr. high.  For some there is graduation from degree and certificate programs, work training programs and even graduation from different phases of life.  But one of the things that is unique to high school graduation is that it is the end of the time when we are legally bound to go to school.  Everything we do or study after that is basically our choice. 

Do you remember that feeling of being finished with high school?  Alex described it well last week, It’s exhilarating because you’re entering into a new phase of your life. You’re going to have the freedom to be whatever you want to be with the opportunity to explore the world and enjoy many incredible experiences.  

It is an exhilarating time when you’ve learned and experienced most of the basics you need to move on into adult life.  Of course, you come away with some things many of us say we’ll never use again – like geometry, or chemistry – or in my case – Home Ec. (just come up to my office sometime to see the various plants that are struggling to live under my care).   

 But there is so much more that we do take with us like knowing how to read and write, how to problem solve, friendships that will continue.  We saw and heard that last Sunday when many of our high school graduates spoke about what was next for them.  I know that what they have learned and experienced in their school years will serve them well as they begin their next phase of learning and living. 

I still remember that feeling of exhilaration from happiness and relief to be finished with high school, as well as a deep sense of being “fired up” to get underway with what I thought of as my “real” life.  I wanted to take all that I had learned and become and finally be on my own as an adult to experience the rest of life on my own terms.  I was “fired up” because I had been equipped all my life with good education, support and love and I was ready to start making my own way in this world – even though I would still need plenty of education, love and support to do it. 

On that first Pentecost, the term “fired up” was probably an understatement about how those early believers felt.  In so many ways, they had been prepared, too – educated in the scripture and in the teachings of Jesus, they had personally experienced the love of God in Christ and were each other’s support in this new faith community, but until that Pentecost day they had not been fully ready to go out on their own.   In the Acts story, when Jesus ascends into heaven he sends them the gift that He had promised, the Holy Spirit of God.  As Adam read for us earlier, Acts 2:17 ‘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. 

The pouring out of the Holy Spirit of God through Christ at Pentecost was the turning point of the early church. Many scholars see what is described in Acts 2, as a sequel to the Genesis story about the Tower of Babel which tells about the division of people on the earth by language. Until then, it says, all the people had one culture and language and had started building a tower that would go up into the heavens.  Their goal, it seems, was to elevate themselves to the status of God, That’s when God’s power came down and divided and dispersed them all over the earth by making them speak different languages so that they could no longer understand one another.  The Acts story describes the first Pentecost as a miraculous event when tongues of fire rested on each person’s head so that even though they were from many different cultures and languages, once they had the spirit, they could understand each other. 

On that Pentecost day, the fire of God’s spirit replaced ignorance with understanding and created unity where division once stood.  Our text from Romans says that, For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. In their new ability to truly understand one another, the people who were gathered from so many different places, were able to see not only themselves but also each other as beloved children of God and joint heirs with Christ because God’s own spirit had testified with theirs. 

In this moment of Pentecost, they were able to understand in the depths of their spirits that the great gift of God in Christ was still there with them and among them.  It enabled them to hold onto all that they had learned and experienced about God in scripture and through the ministry of Jesus and His disciples.  As a result, they were “fired up” because in this outpouring of God’s spirit, they realized that they had been given everything they needed to venture out on their own as believers of God in Christ, equipped to incorporate that truth in their lives and to share with all who would listen.

In many ways, Pentecost was their Graduation Day.  They had received good education, love and support from their faith tradition, from their encounter with Christ and now they knew they would never be alone because they had the spirit of God within them.  Beyond that, they were able to see with spiritual eyes their brothers and sisters in Christ who were all around them and who would continue to be there to offer the love and support they would still always need. 

This is the day when the people graduated from being individual believers who weren’t exactly sure what to do about it into the Church, the living, breathing body of Christ in the world.  This is the day they graduated from being worried about how their faith would survive without Christ to being spirit-filled believers who were empowered to look beyond themselves and see all that they had to share in the name of Christ, in word and deed, for the rest of their lives. 

May each one of us experience the power of God’s Holy Spirit just like it was on that first Pentecost day so that we may be “fired up” once again to see all that we have to share in the name of Christ, in word and deed, for the rest of our lives. Amen.