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Songs of Faith – Sermons of Grace: The Day The Mighty Tide Of God Rolled In

Acts 2:1-4

A family traveling in a large camper pulled up in front of a church just as the minister was leaving. They struck up a conversation and the minister admired the camper, and the owner proudly said: “It can sleep eight.” Continuing the conversation, the owner of the camper said that he admired the church and asked what the capacity was. The minister glumly replied: “It sleeps about 300.”

It’s startling to realize that so often the church in our time bears little resemblance to the church that existed on the first Pentecost. The sound of the wind, tongues of fire, persons speaking different languages, thousands of people coming to faith in Jesus Christ—what excitement! It’s for sure no one was sleeping. But where is that excitement today? I heard about a fellow who drove into a sleepy little town up in the Florida panhandle and stopped for gas. As he was paying the attendant, he asked: “What do people around here do for excitement?” The attendant replied: “Around here folks don’t get excited!” That seems to be the way it is for many churches these days. But that’s not the way it was on the first Pentecost because that day the disciples felt empowered by God. And thankfully that’s not the way it is in this church because here people are experiencing that same empowerment by God.

Some time ago, the newspapers reported on a ship which had strayed off course near San Diego, California and run aground on a reef at low tide. Twelve tugboats tried to pull the ship free but they failed. The captain of the ship then dismissed the tugboats and waited for the tide to come in. When it did, the ship floated free. Something like that happened on the first Pentecost. There in the Upper Room the disciples had gathered, stuck on a reef, so to speak—confused, afraid, helpless and hopeless. Then suddenly the mighty tide of God rolled in and the church was born. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, these once discouraged and despondent disciples went charging forth from the Upper Room filled with excitement and enthusiasm, ready to turn the world upside down.

Here then is what I want you to remember …

To be a disciple does not mean that you must be a special person. Those original disciples were nothing special, believe me. I have often thought that if some management firm had given an examination to the original twelve, the results wouldn’t have been very impressive. They would have pointed out that the twelve were lacking in cultural sophistication, educational experience and vocational aptitude. They would have illustrated the case by pointing out that Peter was unstable, James and John were possessed of volcanic tempers and prone to selfish ambition; Thomas had a tendency to undermine the moral of the group; Matthew had already been blacklisted by the Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; Simon showed very radical tendencies and probably would have scored high on a manic depressive scale. Yes, the original twelve were by most earthly standards of measurement a rather sub-standard group. But what happened was that they received a power from outside of themselves, from beyond them, and, as a result, this sub-standard group was transformed into a company of the committee—committed to utterly change the world. That’s what Jesus meant when he said: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” When we become disciples of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit enters into us and we begin to experience a new power for living—a power which enables us sometimes to triumph over our difficulties and other times to triumph in spite of our difficulties. That’s the promise of Pentecost power.

And that power is loose in this church. The other day, a man, not a member of this church, called to tell me that he had been riding the Lymmo (our downtown transit system) and two women were in the seat right behind him. They were talking. One of them was describing the difficulties of her life to the other. The other woman listened a bit and then said: “I’ll tell you what you need to do. If you really need help you need to get off at the stop for First Presbyterian. That’s a church where they always do what they say they will do.” Well, I was thrilled when I was told by that man who heard it, because it is true. Here we guide little children into the life of faith. Here we inspire young people with a vision of Christ. Here we warn those who don’t know Christ about the consequences of sin. Here we heal countless hurt souls and broken hearts. Here we put a bright, shining star in the dark sky of people’s grief. Here we befriend the lonely. Here we help people to point their lives toward heaven. Here we cherish those who are older. Here we heal the sick and protect the fearful and strengthen the weak. And we are engaged in that kind of significant witness for Jesus Christ simply because here in this church we have experienced the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit.

Well…

The hymn which most clearly speaks of the need for the Holy Spirit to fill our lives with power is the hymn: “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart.” Interestingly enough, it’s a miracle that we even have the hymn to sing. Let me explain. George Croly was born in Dublin, Ireland, the son of a prominent doctor. After graduation from Trinity College, he was ordained to the Gospel ministry. In 1810, he moved to London to begin his service to the Lord. In 1834, his bishop asked him to re-open a church in the worst slum area of London. The church had been closed for 100 years and it seemed to be a hopeless situation. However, under George Croly’s forceful, dynamic preaching and engaging personal warmth, that church began to attract those London slum-dwellers who quite literally came by the hundreds. The church not only grew in numbers but it began to exercise a transforming influence in that God-forsaken area of London. In order to celebrate his 20 years of remarkable ministry in that place, in 1854, George Croly wrote a small collection of hymns to be used by his congregation. Shortly thereafter, a fire at the church burned that collection of hymns. Only one sheet of the music survived, but fortunately it held the words of the hymn George Croly called his favorite hymn. They are the words Christians all over the world love to sing, especially on Pentecost:

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart,
Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move,
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art
And make me love Thee as I ought to love

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love
One holy passion filling all my frame
The baptism of the heaven-descended dove,
My heart an altar and Thy love the flame.

Two thousand years ago, the Spirit of God descended upon the hearts of the disciples, empowering them to create the most powerful institution the world has ever known—the Church of Jesus Christ. May we encounter the same Spirit and experience the same power today …

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