A Fire in the Belly
June 06, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Romans 8:14-17 Acts 2:1-21
As you may already know, this coming Sunday is the celebration of Pentecost and so today’s responsive readings, prayers, and even our communion liturgy reflect back (or perhaps it reflects forward) to that celebration. So, what is it that happened on Pentecost and why does it matter two thousand years later? Luke’s story in the book of Acts tells us that fire came down from heaven and touched each of the disciples and followers of Jesus that had gathered for prayer. But fire doesn’t begin to describe what really happened.
If it had only been fire, that would have been an impressive sight and it would have made for a good story to tell around the campfire on a cool fall evening, or after a drink or two at the local watering hole. But it wasn’t just fire. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised would come after he returned to his father, came down from heaven and in that moment, the Spirit of God, which looked like fire, entered into each of those men and women who had gathered together for prayer. If it had only been fire, it would have been a tale that was told among friends for a generation or two and then died, but what actually happened was not only a great story, but a story that had long-lasting, even eternal, implications and repercussions.
In the Old Testament we often heard stories about how the Holy Spirit came upon Sampson, or Gideon, Saul, or David and, empowered by the Spirit of God, they did great and amazing things that we still read about, and marvel at, two thousand years later. But these encounters with the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament were a rarity that only happened once in a great while and seemed to be limited to people of great faith. But no longer.
The story of Pentecost has power for us in the twenty first century because it was a transformational moment in history. Pentecost was the moment when God no longer empowered the occasional hero. It was the moment when the work of the Holy Spirit stopped being a once-in-a-while agent of change. Instead, as those tongues of fire entered into the followers of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit began working 24/7 empowering every single man, woman, and child that was baptized into the fellowship of believers and followers of Jesus.
It is because of the story of Pentecost that we have a divine confidence about the work that we are doing. It wasn’t the human strength of Sampson that allowed him to kill a lion with his bare hands or pull down the temple on the heads of the Philistine idol worshipers. It wasn’t just an active imagination that allowed King Saul to sit with God’s prophets and speak prophecy. These were not the acts of moral humans but the acts of a powerful God working through fragile and finite followers. As mortals, and as humans, we are well acquainted with our limitations and frailties, but as the followers of Jesus Christ, we must also remember that we are not alone. We do not work alone. We do not do our work through our own strength… alone. We, each one of us, do the work of Jesus Christ, and the work of the Kingdom of God, empowered and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit that lives within us. It is this same spirit that gives us a fire in the belly to do the work of Jesus even when people say that we are too young, or too old, or too sick, or too tired, or in mourning, or anything else.
Every year we repeat, and reread, and retell, the story of Pentecost, yes, even two thousand years later, not just because it’s a great story to tell around the campfire, but because it is utterly critical to our spiritual formation, and transformational to our behavior as the followers of Jesus Christ.
We must never forget that we are not alone.
We do not do the work of Jesus Christ alone.
The fire that we have in our bellies is the fire of the Spirit of God who lives within us and it is that same spirit that gives us the strength to be modern day heroes of the faith as we do the work of Jesus Christ.
Our mission is nothing less than to change the world.
One life at a time.
Not through our own strength, but through the strength of the God that lives within us.
First Reading: 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.
Second Reading: Acts 2:1-21
2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 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.’
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*You have been reading a message presented at Copeland Oaks in Sebring, Ohio on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.