A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sermon (May 15/Pentecost Sunday) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Red Hot!"


    It’s no contest.  No contest at all.  My wife is a lot tougher than I am. 
     For example, when we’re in a restaurant and we order chicken wings for both of us, it’s a bit humiliating when I have to say, “She’ll have the ‘killer sauce’ and I’ll have whatever sauce you have for toddlers and young children.”
     How many of you liked to eat those fire ball candies?  Let’s just say that they’re not my favorite candy.  They leave me feeling like I have a sore throat for the next three weeks. 
     On a scale that has “red hot” at one end and “ice cold” on the other hand, I would suppose that many of us like to be somewhere in the middle.
     But our scripture reading this morning doesn’t give us that option.  Our scripture from the Book of Acts reminds us that we the church, are to be red hot followers of Jesus Christ.
     Red hot.  Not cold or lukewarm.  Red hot and on fire!
     You might recall what John has to say about one of the seven churches from the Book of Revelation.  John, in writing about the church of Laodicea says, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish that you were either cold or hot.”
     Just a week ago, the disciples were filled with joy as they went back to Jerusalem after having seen Jesus lifted up into heaven.  Specifically, we are told that after Jesus ascended, they worshipped him and returned to the city with great joy and they continued in the temple blessing God.
     Now, keep in mind that this was before Pentecost had even happened.  This is what the followers of Jesus were doing during this “in between” time.
     Think about this with me for a moment.  If the disciples were filled with joy and were praising God even before the Holy Spirit was sent upon them, can you imagine what the Day of Pentecost must have been like?
     It wasn’t like the disciples were cold going into Pentecost as we sometimes portray them. These disciples were filled with joy and they were blessing and worshipping God at every moment. 
     You can’t go wrong with that, blessing and worshipping God continually.  That’s powerful stuff when you have followers of Jesus together and waiting eagerly for what God is going to do next.
     And when the Day of Pentecost finally came, we don’t find timid disciples standing on the sidelines.  Luke tells us that they were all together in one place, which tells me that they were together because they were praying and they were eager for what God was about to do.
     We get this same sense of joyful and hope-filled waiting in the Season of Advent, which is the church season that leads up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  In that great song of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which we know as the Magnifat, Luke tells us that Mary prays, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
     Mary had a red hot faith even as she was carrying the Son of God in her womb.  In a similar way, those first followers of Jesus had a red hot faith even as they were waiting expectantly for the birth of the church through the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit.
     Pre-Pentecost or Post-Pentecost, we find a red-hot community of disciples eagerly anticipating what God was about to do next.
     That’s the wonderful thing about being red hot in our faith.  Awesome and wonderful things happen.  And it leads us to anticipate the next awesome and wonderful thing that God is about to do.
     This kind of active faith and radical trust in the power of God at work in our lives is especially good news for our confirmands who are joining the church this morning. They have been meeting for the past several weeks to prepare for this very special day.
      To our confirmands who will be standing before us today, I want to say to never forget that you joined the church on a Pentecost Sunday. Never forget that on this Day of Pentecost, you have the gift of the Holy Spirit. You are to have a red hot faith, a faith that will make a difference in the world.
     Yes. God wants to use ordinary people like you and me to proclaim and live out the good news of Jesus Christ in our various walks of life.  And God promises to be present with us through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. 
     Luke tells us that when the wind of the Spirit came upon the disciples on that Pentecost Day that divided tongues of fire appeared among them and rested on each of them.
     Things got red hot as God’s Spirit enabled them to speak in different languages in order to communicate the message of the risen Christ to people of all nationalities who were visiting Jerusalem on that day. 
     And really, the entire Book of Acts tells the story of how the early church was living out its red hot faith.  People came to know Christ day by day through the powerful witness of the disciples.
     I was talking to a couple of pastors in our District after a meeting.  You know how we Methodists like to have an unofficial meeting after the official meeting? 
      Well, we were having a meeting after the meeting and one of the pastors all of the sudden got really fired up and he said,
    “I didn’t enter the ministry just so that I could play church.  I became a pastor so that I could be part of something awesome for God – to reach our neighborhoods and our cities with the love of Jesus and to see real transformation.”
      And he wasn’t finished.  He said,
    “There are people who have no idea that Jesus is real, and yet we the church are just standing by as if we don’t even care.  I’ll tell you right now, I’m pretty sick of it.”
     It got really hot all of the sudden, and I think I got singed. 
     The Christian author, Evelyn Underhill put it so well when she wrote, “The church wants not more consecrated philanthropists, but a disciplined priesthood of theocentric souls who shall be tools and channels of the Spirit of God.”
     The quote is too good to not say it again.  “The church wants no more concescrated philanthropists, but a disciplined priesthood of theocentric souls who shall be tools and channels of the Spirit of God.”
     At one of my previous churches, I was asked to offer a prayer before one of our meals that we provided for the community. I looked at my watch and noticed that it was close to noon when the lunch would start.  I quickly went downstairs to offer a prayer before the meal.
     When I entered the kitchen, I was surprised to find a new person helping our team of volunteers with the lunch.  Just when I was about to ask if they were ready for me to pray, our newest volunteer, whose name was Jason beat me to the punch, and with great enthusiasm he said, “I’ll go out and say the prayer!”
     I remember in that moment feeling sorry for myself and thinking, “But I usually get to say the prayer.”  I shrugged it off and as Jason was offering the prayer, I turned to our lunch crew and said, “Well it sure seems like Jason has a lot of energy!”  And one of our volunteers said, “Yeah, but he’s wearing us out!”
     Just then, Jason pops back into the room and with a great big smile says, “Finished the prayer!  I’m ready to take the plates of food to the tables!”  I remember in that moment thinking to myself, “But I usually get to take the plates of food to the tables.”
     Jason worked at full throttle speed, taking plate after plate of food out to our guests.  Our kitchen crew couldn’t dish up the food fast enough for Jason.  In just a short amount of time after leaving the kitchen, he was back in the kitchen ready to take out more plates. 
     What usually took about ten minutes for two or three of us to feed 50 people, took Jason only about three to five minutes.  He was a one man wrecking crew.
      Once everybody was served, our crew sat down to eat.  We had just started eating when we heard the dishwasher running.  It was Jason!  He had already eaten and was now single handedly washing the dirty dishes!
     I finished eating and went into the kitchen and I introduced myself to Jason.  I said, “Jason, we really appreciate your help today.  We’re not used to someone with your energy and enthusiasm.”
     He replied with a great big smile, “Oh, no problem.  This is my way of giving back for everything your church has done for me.”  And he went on to share how our church had helped him get back on his feet again during a very low point in his life.  He couldn’t stop thanking me for what our church did for him.
     He said, “I felt that the Lord wanted me to meet you so that I can receive some mentoring as a new Christian.  Can you meet with me sometime?”
     And so, Jason and I ended up finding a time to meet.  And one of the things I shared with Jason was to affirm him for his red hot faith and his enthusiasm in serving the Lord.  I told him that I longed to have some of his energy and joy in serving the Lord.
     But then I said, “You might want to think about slowing down a little bit or you’re going to wear us all out!”  Jason has a red hot faith.

      May 24th will be the anniversary of when the founder of Methodism, John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed.  During a prayer meeting in 1738, he received an assurance that Jesus Christ died on the cross for his sins. 
     That heart-warming experience ended up igniting a red hot fire of transformation and newness of life throughout England and then here in America that continues to this day.
     Methodists will always be known as a people of warm hearts.  But will we be known as a people with a red hot faith?
     My friend, Dr. Ed Zeiders, who served as President of United Theological Seminary in Dayton believes that every church needs to think, act, and behave, as if it was the only church in the county.     
     “That’s how urgent your mission is,” he said to me.  “What would you do differently if you knew that you were the only church in existence in this whole surrounding area?”
     I’ve often thought about the significance of what he said.  There are almost 65,000 people living in Athens County.  And just think if there was only one church in this large area to share the good news of Jesus Christ with so many people.  What would we do differently?
     No time to play church. It’s Pentecost.
     No more mild sauce. Only red hot will do.

     At least for this church…

A Red Hot Faith
Small Group Questions
Acts 2:1-21
May 15, 2016

Pentecost Sunday is the 50th and concluding day of the season of Easter. The church calendar calls this season, “The Great Fifty Days.”

Looking back on the Easter season, share a time or experience where you felt the presence of the risen Christ in a particular way.

Pentecost marks the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a mighty way. These disciples ended up sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to the known world. It’s amazing to think that this small group of followers who had denied, betrayed, and forsaken Jesus, were now “red hot” in their faith.

How does God help you to have a “red hot” faith?

John Wesley’s “heart-warming” experience (May 24, 1738) served as a defining moment in his life. His new found assurance of faith motivated him to help people to have a red hot faith through the formation of “faith sharing” small groups.

How does your small group help you to have a “red hot” faith? Before leaving your small group today, break into groups of three and take turns praying for each other. Prayer is an important way for us to stay connected to the Holy Spirit.

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