Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Breaking Out and Breaking Open"

Acts 2: 1-13

Joel 2: 28-29

      Today is Christian Pentecost; the fiftieth day after Easter.  Doesn’t it seem somehow strange

this year; Easter already seven weeks past.  It’s certainly a seven weeks we’ll never forget; weeks of

quarantine; of physical distancing; of curtailed activity; of dashed dreams and ruined plans; of disagreements,

debates, and even fighting over every facet of this thing.   And now, civil unrest and

disorder.   Yet here, we – the church – have arrived at that day traditionally called the “birthday of

the church.”  That’s a fitting commemoration.  But in a broader sense, Pentecost is very much

connected with Easter, as both events were marked by the release of tremendous spiritual power

and renewed life. 

      Think about it.  On that first Easter, the power of God’s Spirit literally erupted from the heavens

into human experience.  The Spirit moved, and things began breaking out and breaking open.  The

Gospel of Matthew records that on Easter, there was a great earthquake, and an angel of the Lord

descended from heaven and rolled back the stone from the mouth of Jesus’ tomb.  And by the

power of that one same Spirit, Jesus’ life burst forth from the tomb, reclothed in a resurrected

body which would never again know pain and suffering; a spiritual body, immortal and eternal.

      On that first Christian Pentecost fifty days later, the Holy Spirit of God again erupted from the

heavens into the human experience.  This time, it was the disciples who were, for all intents and

purposes, quarantined by their fear; entombed in a sense in an upper room; afraid to venture out

into a world hostile toward the now crucified Jesus, and anyone associated with Him.  Then God’s

Spirit moved, and things again began breaking out and breaking open.  As Luke describes the episode in Acts,

it’s nothing less than surreal.  There was sound; perhaps at first like that distant and rapidly approaching rumble

that sends us into the basement when we’re under a tornado warning. The rumble becomes a roar, literally shaking

of the house from its rafters to its foundation.  In the very milieu of all this, the disciples look around at each other -

first in horror, then in amazement – seeing what appeared to be flames flickering above each of their heads.

  They were described to Luke as “divided tongues, as of fire.”  At that same moment, their literal tongues

were loosed as Luke relays:  “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other

languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”  I’m not sure there’s anything in our experience with which

we could compare this.  I imagine it was chaos, but at the same time control.  It was pandemonium, but at the

same time order.  It was commotion, but at the same time community.  And just as quickly, this erupted onto the

streets of Jerusalem.  We envision wild-eyed disciples pouring out the doors and climbing out the windows; overcome

with passion and spirit; wanting to do nothing but boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus.  Those with ears to hear,

whatever their native language, understood what the disciples were talking about, and were moved; many, transformed. 

Those who were hard of hearing just assumed the disciples were drunk, and moved on. 

      In this hour, the disciples were no less than brought to life from the dead as the Spirit broke out

and broke open for the second time in fifty days.  This frightened, quarantined, entombed band of

followers were re-clothed by the same Spirit, the same Power, the same Force of life which brought

Jesus from the grave fifty days earlier.  So Pentecost was not an isolated, one-day episode.  It was a

continuation of that spiritual quake which, on that first Easter Sunday, changed and keeps changing

forever the lives of people of faith.

      If Pentecost did indeed represent the breaking out of the power of God’s Holy Spirit into human

experience – an eruption which brought life out of death, and in the case of the disciples, brought

 boldness out of fear and trembling -- how do we make sense of Pentecost on the occasion of the

church’s 1987th birthday, in the midst of a pandemic; in the midst of great civil unrest?  What could

a fresh breaking out and breaking open of the power of God’s Spirit do for the church, which in

this day has lost so much relevance, and cultural authority, and prophetic voice?  How will the

rushing wind of that same Spirit which re-clothed Jesus on Easter and the disciples on Pentecost re-

clothe us, and return us to relevance, and to cultural and prophetic authority? 

      First, we’ll be given the gift of understandable speech; reaching others with the gospel of Jesus

Christ in ways that make sense to them; that speak and relate to their real life experience; that

meet them where they are in 21st century America.  And whether we like it or not, folks of the pre-

sent generation are at a very different place than they were a few generations ago.  Even at this

very moment in time, the church is charged to reach out into the reality of an unprecedented cultural

crises of health, and economy, social justice. 

      Perhaps we’re being afforded an opportunity to avail ourselves of the breaking out and

breaking open of God’s Spirit in how we deliver the timeless word; learning how to communicate

through media which speak to the hearts and minds of every generation we’re trying to touch with

the good news.  At least two if not three generations have now grown up learning, not just by

hearing, but by seeing, and experiencing.  How are we communicating to them in their native

language of the visual and experiential?  We need to ask the Spirit’s leading and guidance as to how

we best do that here, especially now, in light of the many changes in worship which will be

required.  I’d like to believe that we can begin to “speak in other languages, as the Spirit [gives us]

ability,” so everyone who enters this place, or accesses this Facebook page – whatever their age, or

background, or status, or worldly station – will be able to hear and understand, and be transformed

by the gospel of the resurrected Christ.

      Second is related to the first:  God’s Spirit will move us and shake us to go beyond the walls of

our upper room with that speech.  By the force of circumstances - by the hand of this terrible virus -

we have been moved and shaken to what?  Friends, we’re doing it!  While folks around the church

have said in passing, “We should record both the audio and video of the services so others could join

us,” the idea never really gained much traction.  And in part, I am to blame as I’ve not pressed for

this, or for much technology in general.  Frankly, I’m afraid of it.  I’d rather cower in my safe upper

room where the scary world of live streaming and video feeds is outside the walls.  Yet here we

are, and here I am – not by our own will or choice -- delivering and receiving the word through a

miracle of technology;  going public in a way this church, in 169 years, has never done.  Theoretically,

we can reach the entire world!  How could we doubt that the Spirit is behind this, breaking out and breaking open?

     Let’s make no mistake.  It’s the movement of that one same Spirit, which re-clothed Jesus on

that first Easter, then re-clothed the disciples on that first Pentecost, who is now re-clothing  

Central Presbyterian, moving us and shaking us to go further beyond these walls than our forebears

could have ever imagined.  And as we remain open to the rushing wind of God’s Spirit, there is no

limit on how far we can take the gospel of the resurrected Jesus.

      Third and finally [don’t we just love to hear those words: “and finally”?], we’ll find ourselves attracting a crowd. 

Luke tells us that “there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven……and at the sound the crowd gathered….

Don’t you know that when God throws a party, people show up.  At the sound of the disciples speaking in languages

they could understand, they all showed up.  The newborn church’s Spirit-filled testimony brought a diverse and

divided people side-by-side; into close relationship; into one accord. 

      Here lies a vision for the larger church, and for our church here in Massillon.  What an impact

could be made on our culture and society if the church of Jesus Christ could speak in one voice, in

one language all could understand, not within the confines of its sacred and hallowed halls, but

outside the walls, where the people are.  We in the mainline church talk about decline.  Maybe the

decline is in part because we’ve been cloistered in here, waiting for others to come in. What if the

Spirit is breaking out and breaking open, saying to us in this unprecedented time of crisis and

change, it’s not time to wait for others to come in.  It’s time to go out!  And as we do, many will

gather to hear what we have to say.  We’ll draw a crowd – literal and virtual.  Yes, there will be

those who are hard of hearing who will mock and deride our message.  But those with ears to hear

will come in number.  How many might the Lord bless our small church here in Massillon to reach

through these miracles of communication?  Again, how could we doubt that the Spirit is behind

this?  

       I believe this 1987th Pentecost may be the best of times in the worst of times; a once-in-a-generation

opportunity to witness and live into a release of tremendous spiritual power and renewed life; for Central Presbyterian,

and for the church of Jesus Christ at large.  In this unprecedented season, we are called by the Spirit to speak to people

in language they understand; to leave the safety of how it’s always been for the challenge of how it can be better. 

We are called by the Spirit to take the good news of Christ from behind these walls and into the streets – even into

homes and to families – using every good means available to us.  And by the Spirit’s call, we’ll find ourselves attracting a crowd.

  What will be different is that much of that crowd, we won’t see or be able to count.  We may never again know

what actual worship attendance is.  But that doesn’t really matter much.  While we will someday be gathered again

in this beautiful worship space, many more will join us from the worship spaces of their homes, and their workplaces.

  [I heard that several weeks ago, Sam Kulesza’s team from the emergency room at Summa Medical Center in Green were listening to our worship service]

      There is no question that all these Easter and Pentecost Sunday’s later, God’s Spirit continues

breaking out and breaking open; erupting; bursting forth; resurrecting us to a renewed and richer

life; placing before us fresh visions and thrilling possibilities; calling us to a new season of proclamation and service.

 O Holy Spirit of power and might, may this Pentecost Sunday mark a new chapter of Your church’s life,

where we can be more than we ever thought we could be, and become everything

You have called us to be.  This we pray in the name of Your resurrected and glorified Christ.  Amen.