Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11
Gospel: John 7:37-52; 8:12
Today, our Church celebrates the Great Feast of Pentecost. We all know the story and we can see it depicted here in the Great window about the Holy Altar. When the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles it transformed them from frightened men who were hiding in the upper room for fear of the Jewish Authorities, into men that would literally set the world on fire!
The Holy Spirit is alive in our Church today, we have to believe this. The power of the Holy Spirit within us! For the Holy Spirit to be alive and active, guiding us! This is the goal of our faith!
St. Seraphim of Sarov, one of the greatest Russian saints of the 19th century, confirmed this when he said, “The goal of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit! Prayer, fasting, vigils, and acts of charity are all simply ways of trying to receive and maintain the Holy Spirit in our lives.”
Can any of us really say that we have experienced this kind of power? How many of us have seen tongues of fire over our heads? Do we realize that God lives in each of us, and wants us to concretely taste and experience His presence, the security of His love, the excitement of His joy, the depth of His peace, the invincibility of His hope!
Our faith is not some dead language or some reenactment of an event from long ago! Our faith is a living, dynamic, vibrant way of life! In his letter to the Hebrews St. Paul says that our faith is, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow, able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12)
How many of us here today can honestly say that we experience our faith as a lively source of power in our lives? Do we turn to this source seeking guidance and direction in the decisions that we are making? The thing we have to remember is that Christianity is not supposed to be a static, institutionalized religion. Our Orthodox faith is a way of life that affects every aspect of our beings!
Let’s look back at the story that is central to our celebration today. These people had betrayed, denied, and abandoned Jesus out of fear, they were afraid that they would meet the same fate. They received the power of the Holy Spirit that enlightened them and they began to understand what Jesus had been saying. They began to understand, it was not some magic act that gave them full understanding, but their eyes were opened and they began to understand. The proclaimed with boldness all that Christ had taught and teaches, the Good News! The received the power that would send them to the ends of the known world, and for most of them that boldness leads to their own deaths.
That same radical transformation can, and still, happens today and is ready to work in each and every one of us. This power will transform our lives in the same way that it transformed that of the Apostles. But how does this happen?
1. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand all things. Jesus made a promise to His Apostles that Spirit of Truth will guide them in all things. This is the Spirit that guides us along our Spiritual journey. Our faith is deep and hard to understand. The temptations of this world lead us astray and tell us we know better and we can do our own thing. The Holy Spirit enables us to bring clarity of thought to all of this.
2. The Spirit encourages us to boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. We see this in the examples of the Apostles and the Saints. They gave their life for the Good News of Jesus Christ. St. Peter, who denied Christ, received the boldness to stand in front of thousands of people and proclaim the Good News. The others ran when the soldiers came and all of them received the Power of the Spirit and the boldness that comes with it and brought the faith to the ends of the earth.
3. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be witnesses in the world. Jesus Himself promised that we will receive power when the spirit comes and we will be His witnesses in the whole world. This power is what helps us to overcome the temptations of this world. This is the power that helps us to just say no to evil. This is the power that helps us to follow the narrow path rather than the wide one. This is the power that helps us to live the Christian Life! This spirit also gives us the joy, peace, love, patience, kindness and all of the other virtues that aids us in living the Christian life, over the life the world wants us to live.
So what do we do with this power? God does not give us this gift just so we can keep it to ourselves. There is a purpose to this gift and that purpose is to live the life of a Christian and to be His witness in the whole of the world.
This week, I, along with many others, have been working in a distribution warehouse here in Southbridge. We are trying to bring some aid and comfort to the folks affected by the Tornado. We do not do this so we can say look at me, look at me! We do not do this so we can get our picture in the paper; we do this so we can be the hands of Christ. We witness the faith when we work in the warehouse, the food pantry, the community meal, or the many other ways the Church reaches out. We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. We need to take the message of His love into this broken world. There is poster that hangs in the entrance of the Church and in the hall. Is it from the Orthodox Christian Mission Center and says something along the lines of if not you then who? If we do not do this who will? Who will reach out the pierced hand of Jesus and offer help. Who will dip the ladle into the well and bring water for the Samaritan woman? If not us, then who? If not us, then who? Who will be the hands and feet of Jesus?
We are the ones who are being called and being empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the work that is required of us as Christians. It is time we got off the bench and into the game.
But we need to make sure we are prepared, we need the tools to do the right job. We have to carry our learning past Sunday and enclose ourselves in learning about the Scriptures and the faith. We need to spend time, each and every day, with God’s word and in prayer. We need to equip ourselves and break open that gift that has been given us by the Holy Spirit.
Mother Teresa once said, “To keep the lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it!”
What a wonderful image for the Holy Spirit in our lives. To keep the light of Christ aflame within us, we have to keep opening up the doors of our lives for the Spirit of God to flow freely through us.
Jesus is asking each of us to be His hands and His feet right here in our own community. The question that we have to ask today is are we willing to say yes, and then do what is necessary to get the job done.
If not us, then who?
Note: Thanks to Fr. Luke Veronis for the inspiration for this Sermon.