I enjoy creating acrostic sentences out of one word. I take the first letter of a particular word I have chosen and create words out of each letter of that word. I’ve used this in my preaching over the last 13 years a time or two. In writing this sermon, I found a website that helps to create what they call acrostic poems so that one types in the word one wants to turn into an acrostic poem and the site gives you a list of words for each of the letters of that word. I decided not to subject you to a 9 line poem for our word but instead created two separate sentences using the same word to guide a brief message for today.
The first sentence is: Particular Excitement (is) Necessary (to) Talk Especially (about) Concerns Of Spirit-Thinking. Using the first letter of non-parentheses words- what word does that acrostic spell? Yes, Pentecost, and of course today is in fact our Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Easter. Christians can show a particular excitement for this day because it is necessary to the celebration of the birth of Christ’s church- the Christian church universal- Christians throughout the entire world. We may also include that great multitude of Christians who have gone before us. In particular it is on Pentecost that we talk about the event especially concerning our thinking on the Holy Spirit as it establishes the Christian church. That, of course, is Pentecost. We in the PC(USA), as in other denominations, call it the birth of the Christian church.
It is exciting to remember that before his ascension into heaven, Jesus Christ promises the disciples that they will not be alone in their mission to spread his teachings and words to all who will hear them. This comes to fruition with the presence of the Holy Spirit in wind and flames on that first Pentecost day. It has to be an incredible experience for the 11 disciples as they are in one place, the Book of Acts chapter 2 tells us, when suddenly a strong, whipping wind is stirred up among them and divided tongues like fire land on each of them, therefore granting them the Holy Spirit Jesus promises them.
There were many people gathered around them, Jews from many nations who lived in Jerusalem or who came there for the Jewish Feast of Shavuot (vu-aut), because they heard the Galilean disciples speaking in the native tongues of their indigenous nations. They were astonished by what they were hearing and some people thought them drunk but many others joined with them in following Jesus Christ. The birth of the Christian church and, consequently, the faith in Jesus Christ, that then develops further throughout the Book of Acts and other epistles in the New Testament, go hand in hand.
This day is a day of Spirit-thinking. At times, we Christians seem to forget that Jesus’ Spirit is always with us so that Pentecost becomes a great time to remind ourselves of that truth. We may also remember that we have been baptized in the Holy Spirit and not merely by water. We are made a new creation at our baptism through the work and support of the Holy Spirit which continues throughout our lives. After Peter preaches to those gathered around the disciples concerning the new faith founded in Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension, about 3000 converts are made on that Pentecost day. Those converts are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit continues to convince and convert people and convict Christians today.
In chapter 11 of Acts we find out that Gentiles, non-Jews, are now being converted to belief in Jesus Christ, his teachings and salvation. Yet, these believers are scattered throughout many Middle Eastern nations because of persecution. Our passage takes place in Antioch of Syria, and it is the first time that followers of Jesus Christ are called “Christian.” There are only two other times in the New Testament that refer specially to believers as Christian. The 2nd is also in Acts, chapter 26, and the 3rd is found in the first letter of Peter chapter 4.
In Antioch, converts are made by two men who are not named but they are from Cyprus and Cyrene. In biblical times, Cyprus was an island that lay in the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea about 60 miles from Syria (as I believe it is today). In the Old Testament it is called Chittim. Cyrene was in Libya in Northern Africa. Cyprus and Cyrene were ancient Greek cities. The men are converting Greeks here. In this passage they are called Hellenists. The disciples hear of many converting to the faith and send Barnabas, spoken of as a man filled with the Holy Spirit and faith, to check out what is going on. Barnabas is excited by what he is witnessing for it seems that all of Antioch is impacted by the message of Jesus Christ. Barnabas then goes to get the Apostle Paul, still called Saul here, and the two of them spend a year in Antioch teaching believers about Jesus Christ. Many more converts to Christianity are made. An important aspect of the believers’ faith is stated in verse 29 as a Middle East famine is predicted in verse 28. Many in the prosperous city of Antioch send “relief,” or monetary help, for the abundant poor believers in Judea. It was common practice for converts to Christianity with means, or as scripture states ‘each according to their own ability’ and in this case it was likely substantial, to help those without.
That last statement is one important aspect of the practice of stewardship. It is one that this church practices often and quite generously- helping those in need monetarily and with goods and services.
This leads me to my 2nd acrostic sentence: Packaging Existence Needs (and offering) Talents (are) Equivalent Concepts (that) Occupy Stewardship Themes. (I’m sure you know the word referred to here in the acrostic- Pentecost, again!) Stewardship grows out of the Pentecost experience. It is a package deal. We as Christians simply cannot separate who we are as faithful believers, stemming out of the birth of the church on Pentecost Sunday, from who we are to be as good stewards of God’s creation and all our Lord has given us. We are reminded of this as we participate in the Pentecost experience. We are active participants in the Body of Christ one reason I, as I have said in the announcements, have you so involved with responsive and unison readings and singing the hymns of our faith in worship today. Our participation in worship as a faith-filled people is required of us just as it is in our lives of stewardship.
Everyone has the innate ability to exist although for some it much more problematic and challenging to come by than others. Everyone also has the basic human right to have, at least, their essential needs met. Meeting other’s needs is one essential reason that we Co-Pastors, and the Mission Task Force and Stewardship Committee, encourage each one of us to give monetarily each according to our own ability. We are to honestly reflect on our ability to give through prayer, scripture and learning opportunities. Many of the ancient people of Antioch knew they had the talent to make a living prosperously enough to help those in need of their assistance. And so, they, as others in the New Testament, at the very least helped meet basic needs of the poor and those subjected to a terrible famine as predicted in scripture.
Our passage in 2nd Corinthians is also an amazing biblical witness to giving and this time it is out of the poverty of the Macedonian believers that they beg Paul to allow them, each as they can, to give to the poor in Jerusalem and, in some cases, throughout Judea. Paul explains that “during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” Paul is very pleased with their astounding generosity. Our own stewardship theme this year once again includes the word “generosity.” God is pleased when we are generous!
Why am I talking about stewardship today? Because our church follows a year-round stewardship program and it is required of us to recall who we are as God’s good stewards all year, not only at the time of our Fall Campaign. As a Pentecost people, we, like the believers of ancient Antioch and Macedonia, are to give out of our own faithful ability what God calls us to give and we are to do so with great joy. That is the grateful response we offer to our giving God. Therefore, we remember the birth of the Christian church at that first holy, awesome Pentecost encounter, of which our membership and friends are a small part as it has come down to us through the ages. We also rejoice in the giving of the Holy Spirit present in our lives each and every day. Therefore, as God gives us the Holy Spirit, we give back to God as generously as we are able with our time, talent and treasure. Praise the Lord for Pentecost Sunday! Amen.