Sunday Worship Service begins at 10:30 AM
Third & Adams Street, PO Box 9774, Moscow, Idaho USA | (208) 882-3715

The Way The Spirit Moves - June 4, 2017

Acts 11:1-18
Revelation 21:1-6

I was raised in a pretty traditional UMC and I don't remember any specific teachings on the Holy Spirit. I know it was there. I learned about the Trinity and believed in the 3 persons, including the Holy Spirit. I knew it was part of God, but beyond that, we never really talked about it doing anything tangible.
So, this story in Acts always seemed a little far-fetched. The Holy Spirit came and then the disciples started speaking in languages they had never learned. The spirit showed up like tongues of fire. Thousands of nonbelievers hear about Jesus and decide, that day, to

follow him. Then the community of faith keeps growing daily.

It may not be impossible, but it certainly seems improbable.

The thing is, we talk about Pentecost like it's a one-time thing. If we can stretch our minds to find it conceivable, we often come to believe it's something that happened then to those people. But I doubt many of us are looking for the Spirit to fall on us like tongues of fire, or believe we might speak languages other than English, or those we learned in school. And how many of us believe that if the Spirit showed up to Beasley Coliseum or the Kibbie Dome, and the story of Jesus was told, that thousands would come to faith?
It makes a cool story, but could it be a reality? If you had asked me 15 years ago, I probably would have said it couldn't happen. I might have buffered that with "of course all things are possible with God", but I don't think I would have actually believed the Spirit moves today like it did back then.
But in 2005, I went to Cuba with the church and it changed my life. In 2005, Fidel Castro was celebrating 40 years in power. There were religious embargoes and travel embargoes, but we were able to go on a religious visa and gathered with other Methodists from Mexico, Central, and South America. It was an evangelism summit led by a couple of old North American white guys and I tell you what, we got schooled by the believers in Cuba. They weren't trying to teach us their ways. They were simply living their faith and they showed me a whole new side to church. Our group was a bunch of seminarians from various Methodist schools and we did some touristy things for the first part of our trip. But when we gathered with the other delegates we were at the main church in Havana and we worshiped together, prayed together, ate together, and discussed the Bible and faith in small groups.
I remember early on one of the first days, one of the US delegates was slain in the Spirit and began speaking Spanish. She was from Texas, so I kind of rolled my eyes thinking that most people from Texas could speak at least a little Spanish. Growing up, I had only seen things like people being slain in the Spirit or speaking in tongues when I saw televangelists. And years later I saw some documentaries on them, so my skepticism was high.
As the conference went on, we heard testimonies from others in the group who had experienced the Spirit in big ways. They shared that when Castro took power, he instituted a religious embargo where no religion was to be practiced anywhere. Church membership tanked and most of the Methodist churches only had 2 or 3 people who continued to claim their faith and say the church was theirs. But in 1995, Castro lifted the ban, slightly, and people were allowed to practice religion, though they still had to keep the lid on it. Those 2 and 3 members from the churches started sharing faith through Vacation Bible school. they figured if they started with the kids and the kids wanted to go back, they would insist to their parents that they go to church. And they were right. After 10 years of rebuilding their churches, each of the churches was full. It may not seem like a big deal to grow a church in 10 years, but to go from religious persecution to limited freedom, and only a couple of practicing believers, through 1.5 generations who had grown up without faith being practiced, to dozens and dozens of churches flourishing around the country, was a big deal.
They also told stories of the Spirit moving. People being healed. People being anointed with holy oil by the Spirit, not by a person. People being slain in the Spirit. And people speaking in tongues. I started to believe the Spirit might actually be up and doing things....and not just for them, but maybe the Spirit would move and touch me too. So I started to pray, "God, what does it feel like for you to touch me? What do I need to do to make it happen?"
A few days later, we were in worship. Most of our delegates sat in the front row. I was translating through a headset, so I stayed up front. At one point in the service, there was an invitation to come forward for prayer. The sanctuary was full to start with, and people flooded to the front. there were maybe 5 feet from the front pew to the altar rail and it was packed full of people and the center aisle was full too. It was amazing to see so many people ready and willing to ask for prayer. It was so crowded, I couldn't move from where I was. So I simply started reaching out to those around me who had come forward for prayer. I prayed for one young boy who was brought forward by his grandmother. And someone else, and someone else. And then the woman in the pew behind me asked for prayer. There wasn't much time to ask for specifics, so I simply prayed how the Spirit led me. With the woman in the pew, she remained seated and I kneeled on the pew to reach her. I took her hand in mine and closed my eyes and began to pray. As I prayed I felt a change in how she was holding my hand and I opened my eyes and saw she was slumped forward. It didn't elicit fear. I didn't worry she was sick, she was just bent forward. I continued to pray and the next thing I knew, she had slid to the floor. She wasn't hurt. And I still wasn't worried about her health. Somehow I knew the Spirit had touched her. I was a bit confused about how to finish praying, so I simply prayed and what came to me, squeezed her hand and let go. And when I turned around there were still others asking for prayer.
It was all pretty amazing. God was showing me first hand what it looked like for the Spirit to move in concrete ways. It wasn't scary or alarming. But it could be very powerful. And it wasn't just theatrics. It was real. These people weren't on TV. They weren't trying to prove anything. They simply wanted God to move in their lives and were open to that, and sure enough, God showed up.
My time in Cuba convinced me that God isn't just someone we talk about in a theoretical sense or Jesus someone who lived and died and was a good person. God showed me that God does more than speak through the scriptures. God can touch us, not just emotionally, but physically too. And God can do powerful things if we create some space and expectation that God will do those things.
One of the things that strike's me about the scripture passage and a lot of what we heard in Cuba is that the message is simple. Peter was speaking to the people in Jerusalem and he didn't add a lot of fluff. He told it straight. God sent Jesus and he lived among us. He was crucified, died, and was buried and on the third day, he rose again. He conquered death. And the people were cut to the heart. If you read Peter's message, it's not because he spiced it up and people were compelled by him, at least not in my mind. It's because the Spirit was there and the Spirit convicted them and touched their hearts.
I think sometimes when we think about sharing the gospel message and the story of Jesus, we think we have to make it fancy—that we have to explain how Jesus could be fully human and fully divine. And we get scared that we couldn't do that, or at least not do it well. So we shy away. But if all we had to do was share the story. Keep it simple. And let the Spirit do the rest? Well, first, we'd have to believe the Spirit is actually active and ready to do that, but then all we'd have to do is tell the story.

One of the ways the story comes alive for us is through Holy Communion. We remember and tell the simple story. Jesus came and lived among us. And while he was here he shared a special meal with his disciples. And while they ate, he took the bread and gave thanks to God and broke it, saying, this is my body which is broken for you. Take and eat and do this in remembrance of me. And after they finished eating, he took the cup of wine and gave thanks to God and shared it with his friends and said, this is my blood which is shed for you, take and drink and do this in remembrance of me. And as we remember, we ask God to bless this bread and this juice. To make them holy, so that we might be moved by the Spirit of God as we eat and drink. Consecrate this time with your Spirit, Lord. Show up. Move in this place. Make yourself known to us through your Word and through the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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