Acts 2:1-14
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 19, 2024 – Pentecost

For the fun of it imagine with me:  In heaven God the Father says to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, “What do You say we go to earth for a special visit – say, to Darfur?”  “That’d be good,” Jesus replies, “We could alleviate the suffering there.”  “Or perhaps,” the Father continues, “we go to Jerusalem?”  “That’d be good too,” Jesus again replies, “We could renew the glory of David’s city.” “Or maybe,” the Father muses, “we go to some Presbyterian church?”  This time the Holy Spirit replies, saying, “That’d be great!  I’ve never gotten into one of those before!”

All joking aside, I believe the Spirit has gotten into this Presbyterian church (and others).  But we do well to beware of our penchant to keep things under our control; for where’s no turning over of control, there’s no welcoming of the Spirit.  God knows how we can resist the Spirit’s control, especially when we think He wants us to do what makes us uncomfortable – like doing the work of evangelism.

Yet, the Spirit was sent to propel people into evangelism.  In His last words on earth Jesus said in Acts 1:8:  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.”

At Pentecost, the first followers of Jesus experienced the Spirit’s coming upon them.  Because they gave way to the Spirit’s control, He gave them a miraculous ability to tell others the story of Jesus.  They proclaimed it to a big crowd made up of folks who spoke many different languages; and each heard from those disciples Jesus’ story in his or her native tongue.  This resulted in three thousands of them becoming new followers of Jesus that day!

The Spirit gives people the capacity to winsomely communicate the story of Jesus and to invite everyone to let His story continue on in their lives. Evangelism matters mightily to God.  The only question is how much it matters to us.

This Pentecost we’d do well to ask ourselves two questions:  1) Do I value my life with Jesus as the best gift I’ve ever received? and 2) Do I care about those who might miss out on the best gift they could ever receive?

If we do value our life with Jesus that much and do care about others receiving the same gift, we’ll want to find out both how to give those who don’t know Jesus as well as they might a reason to give Him a second look and how to open them up to the possibility it might be worth their while to check Jesus out. We’ll do that if we let His story play out in our lives and allow Him to elevate our character and conduct.  We’ll then reveal by who we are and what we do what a marvelous difference He can make in a person’s life.

Effective witnessing derives from walking with Jesus and giving Him thereby the chance to change us, so that we more and more treat everyone with respect and kindness, take their concerns to heart and try to help them, warmly welcome new folks into our circles of caring, and work for social justice, environmental protection and compassion for the needy. In other words, we commend Jesus to others by following Him ourselves.

When I was a kid and got in trouble, I’d try to minimize the consequences of my bad behavior by saying all the right words of apology and promising never to do it again.  I’ll never forget my mother’s once shaking her head and saying, “Your words are right; but your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

Too often our bad actions speak so loudly no one can hear what we’re saying. Conversely, however, our good actions can speak so loudly that people want to hear what we’re saying.  St. Francis Assisi had a point when he urged us to “preach the Good News at all times; and if necessary, use words.”  Of course, if we are preaching Jesus’ story with deeds of love and justice, our using words become very necessary.  Otherwise people will just think we’re good people; but what matters is not how well they think of us but how well they think of the One behind our becoming better people.  In fact, we want them to recognize what poor specimens of humanity we’d be were it not for Jesus; and to see how, while loving us as we are, He keeps making us better than we used to be.  We want to prompt folks to think that if Jesus can improve the likes of us, He can improve anyone!

Of course, people can’t see how we were before Jesus got ahold of us or how bad we’d be had He not.  All they’ve got is our word, and they won’t believe our word unless we’ve proven ourselves to be honest people of integrity and thus people of credibility.

The Spirit gives us the wherewithal to earn people’s trust and to move them to at least consider our stories of Jesus.  Availing of the Spirit’s help in this regard, as we walk through life, is like walking through an airport on one of those moving sidewalks.  The conveyor belt carries us forward – further and faster than we could go on our own – even while our legs also carry us.

If we’ve earned credibility by our character and conduct, we can get a hearing about the One who’s behind what’s good about us.  We can explain we are not self-made but Jesus-remade.  We can make it clear there’s nothing special about us; we just know Someone infinitely special who wants to work His wonders in the life of anyone who chooses to follow His lead.

To bear witness to Jesus, we don’t have to say much.  It may be enough at first to just put out some feelers and rely on the Spirit to help us read the response and know whether to drop the subject or to improvise a next step in a dialogue that is appropriate to the time and place and the person.

One woman, for the sake of sparking spiritual conversations, bought an expensive cross necklace, because she felt sure women, seeing it, would exclaim, “I love your cross”, and that’d give her the chance to reply, “Thanks!  I love it too, but not as much as the One who hung on it.”  She’d then sensitively and prayerfully watch their reaction – and either graciously change the topic or delicately delve into deeper dialogue about Jesus.

But learning how to give witness is not so much gaining a certain kind of skill as gaining a certain kind of spirit: a spirit of love that only seeks to give a gift others might find to be the best gift ever.

The Holy Spirit inundates us with God’s love.  His living waters of love are not like waters contained in a pitcher that we might pour out when and where we want.  They are more like a mighty torrent in a flood channel we can’t control except by damming it up with our selfishness.  But we’re meant to be channels that take God’s waters of grace where He wants them to go.

May we relish the blessings that have flowed into us from Jesus and realize the blessings that can flow to others from our telling the best story ever, the good news of Jesus!  May we turn over control to the Spirit and let His waters carry us out into evangelism!

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