Looking Back … Moving Forward

A little late, but here is the text to the sermon I preached on Sunday morning. The sermon comes from Acts 2:1-13.

Today’s worship service has focused on two important ideas. These ideas, or themes, have been that of our heritage and Pentecost.

On their own, these ideas could lead an entire worship service. Together, they help us experience something important about who God is. Our hope is that these themes inspires a deep worship experience.

When our attention is focused on our heritage, we think about what God has done throughout time. In May, we in the United Methodist Church take a moment to look back on our heritage and history. We have a deep heritage as Methodists. We’ve talked a lot about how our church has influenced our communities. There is so much more we could say about our movement of faith in Christ. Our heritage is of a body that has shared God’s grace, inspired communities to care for the poor and forgotten, sent their preachers out on circuit rides, and have led many to a deeper walk in Christ. Looking back on our heritage allows us to see how God has blessed our churches and faith communities through the years.

As we look back, we are also reminded of Pentecost. Today is Pentecost Sunday. It has been 50 days since we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning. In Biblical times, the Pentecost was the festival where the Jewish community would bring an offering of the first harvest of wheat to the Temple. They did this seeking God’s blessings over the remaining crop. It was also a time when the Jewish community remembered when Moses received God’s law at Mount Sinai.

We, however, celebrate something spectacular that Luke tells us that took place during one particular Pentecost. It was during the Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension that the Holy Spirit came down from heaven and entered the world. Acts 2:1-13 tells how the Spirit came like a mighty windstorm, with tongues of fire that filled the souls of about 120 followers gathered together. This moment gave birth to the church.

While our heritage and Pentecost are two separate ideas, together they tell us something important as we seek to be the church today – the mission of the church is alive and well.

Sometimes there doesn’t seem much to celebrate and be excited about the church today, yet our heritage and Pentecost reminds us there is so much to celebrate, embrace, and give praise to God. The church is the living witness of Jesus in our world. The Spirit of the Living God, the Holy Spirit, is active in our world today, breathing life into the church. Just as the Holy Spirit guided the witness of the church in the past, the Spirit continues to do so today in some amazing and beautiful ways.
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. When we think of the triune nature of God, we say that the One God can be seen through three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity works together in relationship to share of God’s name, love, hope, and desire for the world. Former United Methodist bishop and theologian William Willimon says the Holy Spirit serves as the engine for the ministry and mission of the church.

Think about what that analogy might say to us this morning. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in Jerusalem and inspired their ministry and witness. All that transpired in Acts, and truly throughout the church, was inspired, guided, and directed by the presence of the Holy Spirit working in and through those who sought to be used by God to bring about the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit is the Advocate Jesus promised the Disciples and us. The Holy Spirit not only inspires ministry and witness, but also reminds us of Christ’s truth and the Father’s love. The Holy Spirit reminds us of God’s grace. The Holy Spirit shows us the way to the Father through faith in Christ. All we are as disciples of Jesus Christ is equipped, taught, and encouraged by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

We can look back and see where the Holy Spirit has been at work. When we mentioned these special memories and moments of our church, we recognized what the Holy Spirit has done in our churches throughout the generations. We praised God for how the Holy Spirit inspires us to being faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ in Mackville, Perryville, Springfield, Harrodsburg, Danville, and all the places we influence each week. The fruits of this witness have been produced by what the Holy Spirit does in us. This is true for the entire church, as well. Since the days of Christ and the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has led the church to be the witness of Jesus’ truth and love. While there are certainly places where the church has got it wrong in its witness, there are more places where the church has gotten it right.

Looking back allows us to see that the Holy Spirit has been with us all along. God’s presence has been with us as we have sought to be the hands and feet of Christ. The Holy Spirit walks beside us and guides our path to be a faithful witness and disciple of Jesus in this world. We look back to remember that there is not a day, a moment, or a second where God’s presence isn’t with us. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are reminded that God’s love is always here.

Yet, this Pentecost Sunday calls us to not only look back, but to move forward. The movement of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem at Pentecost sent the church out into the world. Acts 2:9-11 signifies this. Luke’s narration of the different regions that the people were able to hear God’s word in their own language is symbolic of the church’s mission. The church is called to go out into the world and spread the message and hope of Jesus Christ. God’s spirit equips the church to proclaim hope, to serve in love, and to share God’s grace.

Pentecost calls us to remember that the Holy Spirit is active in our church and throughout the world. The Holy Spirit invites us to join in what God is doing in the world today, bringing the world to a deeper level of trust and dependence on the Lord. With this, I think of the church in Africa and the Global South that is experiencing tremendous growth in the the church. I think of how people in parts of the world proclaim the name of Christ at risk of their own lives. As well, I think of how communities here in the United States focus on how we engage one of the largest mission field of people who do not know Christ’s love in the world. We could go on. The message is simply this: the Holy Spirit is still at work leading and shaping the church to do the work that began in Jerusalem and continues to all the corners of the earth today. This work is to share God’s love in ways that are holy and powerful.

In both looking back and moving forward, we’ve taken a helicopter view of how the Holy Spirit is at work yesterday, today, and always. There is also another way we can look at the Holy Spirit’s work, and that is by looking at our lives. We can look throughout our lives, both our past and present, and see where God’s presence was active and leading us. Even when we might not have noticed it, God has always been at work through the Holy Spirit. Today, as we strive to be the church, seek to serve, and desire to care for our friends and families, God is there deepening our faith, showing a light upon the path, and helping us to see the Lord more clearly.

Today is a great day. It’s always special when we can look back and see where the Holy Spirit has been active. As well, it’s always important to recognize and remember how the Holy Spirit is working still today. Yet this day also calls us to take a moment and ask where God is active in leading us in our lives today. The Holy Spirit is active in each of our lives. We are invited to embrace what God is doing in us in bringing us to a deeper love of the Father, through faith in Christ, by the presence of the Spirit in us. Ask yourself, where is God active in my life today? What is God seeking to show me to move forward in faith? Where has the Holy Spirit been at work in my past, and how does that acknowledgment help me to see how God is active in my present?

At the same time, this day of Pentecost invites us to be in prayer for how God is calling us to move forward, take a leap of faith, and join what God is seeking to do in our communities. Where is the Holy Spirit at work in our communities? Where my God be calling us to move forward in joining the Holy Spirit in sharing of God’s love to all? Even more, in this time of transition how is the Holy Spirit asking us to move forward as a church in this new season of life?

Our heritage and Pentecost remind us of the truth that the Holy Spirit is always at work. We look back in order to move forward. We look back to be reminded of God’s presence and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the mission of our church, so that we can move forward in sharing God’s love in the mission of today.

That’s the message of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has come. The Spirit sends us out into the world to share God’s love. We know where the Spirit has sent us in the past. Where is the Spirit sending us in our present and our future?

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