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Rivers of Living Waters

  • June 4, 2017
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for June 4, 2017 (Pentecost, Year A)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35,37; John 7:37-39

Title:               Rivers of Living Water

Happy Pentecost, my friends! The Lord is risen indeed and he has not left us orphaned. He has sent the holy spirit to fill us and to overflow within us as rivers of living water. Alleluia! This is good news, and we must sing God’s praise.

But, let’s be honest. Pentecost is also a major challenge for us. Because Pentecost is God’s way of introducing some chaos into a system that has grown stale and become stuck.

This is a major challenge, because we don’t like chaos, do we?

At least, I can speak for myself! I know that I’m not a fan of chaos. I prefer order and routine and a predictable schedule.

And besides, to make matters worse, chaos is the goal of terrorists.

And they are working with extra diligence in this month of Ramadan to introduce as much chaos around the world as possible. Every single day they launch a new attack somewhere on planet earth. So, frankly, I am not interested in any more chaos.

I will take a bit of peace and quiet and calmness, thank you very much, Lord God! And I don’t think that I’m alone in that request.

So, given this reality, how do we welcome the coming of the holy spirit which brings chaos and unpredictability into our lives? How do we actually celebrate the gift of Pentecost?

To begin, you need to understand that there are two broad and strong rivers of the Holy Spirit that are flowing right now through the world of humanity.

One is the ordered and established church. That’s the experience with which most of us here are familiar. Through the sacraments, through the apostolic heritage, through the regular hearing of the word of God, the holy spirit continues to work in our Episcopal Church, in our Anglican Communion and in all the historic, established churches of the world.

But there is another river of the spirit. It is Pentecostalism. It is the ecstatic experience of supernatural power. And this river continues to flow in places all across our planet.

Did you know that one of the largest churches in the world today is found in Santiago, Chile? It is the Evangelical Cathedral of Chile, nicknamed as the Jotabeche Church. It’s impossible to count with any certainty, but this church currently meets in 77 different locations each week. It seems that these neighborhood groups must take turns worshiping in the central Cathedral which can seat only 19,000 at a time.

So the best estimates are between 60,000 and 100,000 worshippers each week as part of this Jotabeche church in Santiago.

That is astounding, isn’t it? Would you be surprised to know that this congregation came into being because of chaos and confusion?

It began in the late 19th century with Methodist missionaries sent to Chile. One missionary preacher in particular heard about new movements of Pentecostalism around the world and was interested to know more about these experiences.

This was the Rev. Willis Hoover, a Methodist minister from Chicago. He prayed to experience the power of the Holy Spirit, and guess what?

It happened! Another Pentecost! Power and energy was unleashed in his Methodist congregation.

The fire of the Holy Spirit brought extraordinary gifts, strange languages, people crying, laughing, having dreams and visions, amazing healings, and above all, a powerful sense of repentance, the confession of sins and full surrender to the will of God.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the Methodist Bishop who was supervising the work of Rev. Hoover demanded that he renounce this crazy nonsense and return to a stable, predictable, orderly Methodist way of being church.

He refused and thus was born in 1909 the Pentecostal Methodist Church in Chile – a new kind of church! They kept their Methodist roots – with bishops and infant baptism and communion – but they infused it all with Pentecostal experiences.

What is even more telling is that this Pentecostal church in Chile experienced their most rapid growth during the years of repression under the dictator, General Pinochet, in the 1970s and ‘80s.

In fact, history clearly suggests a strong correlation between circumstances of anxiety and supernatural experiences of the holy spirit.

When the disciples gathered in that house in Jerusalem, they had absolutely no idea what the future had in store for them.

Yes, their Master was alive, but he was brutally executed by the government who continued to wield oppressive power over the people. The Romans continued to crucify people every week. Would they be next?

And even apart from this very real threat of violence, how were they to feed themselves? Was it time for them now to all go back to work, back to their ordinary lives?

In the midst of this anxiety and uncertainty, they devoted themselves to common prayer – to praying together in community (Acts 1:14).

And together in community they experienced the ecstatic power of the holy spirit.

It’s the same in all of the great Pentecostal experiences in history. They have always occurred in similar circumstances of anxiety and stress.

The greatest American revival of all took place at Cane Ridge in Kentucky, just east of Lexington, in August of 1801. This was the frontier and life was very difficult. Perhaps as many as 25,000 people gathered over the course of one week to experience the holy spirit with weeping and crying, fainting, falling over in a coma, shouting, quick jerking movements. It was bizarre, even to the preachers who had organized it!

And a century later, the great Asuza Street revival took place in Los Angeles in 1906 with blacks and whites and latinos and Asians all worshipping together in an old run-down building with a dirt floor and old planks for benches, with women preaching and the holy spirit causing people to act a bit crazy, even while the KKK was at the height of their power and influence within American society.

Just one year earlier, in 1905, this same kind of ecstatic revival broke out in a home for widows and orphans near Mumbai, India that was run by a famous reformer named Pandita Ramabai. Young women gathered together to pray and were overcome by the burning fire of the holy spirit.

What is the common thread in all of these diverse movements of the holy spirit?

In Jerusalem under government oppression, on the harsh frontier of Kentucky, in the midst of racial tensions in Los Angeles, in the face of the caste system in India, during a time of violent repression in Chile – in all of these scenarios, when disciples of Jesus gathered to pray and asked for God’s power to help them, the holy spirit responded in ways beyond anyone’s expectations.

In each situation where anxiety and uncertainty abounded, the holy spirit brought energy and power beyond the meager resources of the humans gathered in each place.

It may look like chaos, but what the holy spirit brings is power to change the world.

William Seymour was the great preacher at the center of that Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906. He explained the movement of the holy spirit like this:

“The Pentecostal power, when you sum it all up, is just more of God’s love. If it does not bring more of God’s love, it is simply a counterfeit…Pentecost [the power of the Holy Spirit] makes us love Jesus more and love our brothers [and sisters] more. It brings us all into one common family.”

THIS, my friends, is the true meaning and consequence of Pentecost.

In the spirit, we are empowered to truly love God and our neighbor with more passion, more enthusiasm, more intention, more devotion.

My friends, you and I need more of the holy spirit.

We need to experience more of the spirit’s power.  We need to pray and ask for the holy spirit to fill us and overflow out of us as rivers of living water.

Yes, it may feel like you are opening yourself up to chaotic energy and unpredictable power.

And you are right! But that is what we need more than anything else!

Would you prefer that everything stay orderly and settled, safe and calm?

Sometimes I will admit that this sounds good, but deep down I know that life – my life, your life – can never reach its full flowering and potential apart from the Holy Spirit.

And so every day, let us open our hearts and say: Come Holy Spirit. Fill us with everything that you have and all that you are.

Come holy spirit and change the world through us.

May it be so. Amen.

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