“Receiving the Holy Spirit”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Acts 10: 44-48
May 6, 2018
“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.” – Acts 10:44i
I have a colleague I greatly admire. She serves a United Church of Christ congregation. I would never have guessed that Sally (not her real name) spoke in tongues.
Well, that fascinated me.
I knew her church and I didn’t think they were the type who would appreciate such a Pentecostal gift. But I was also curious, so one day when Sally was visiting me, I asked her about her experience, of how she balanced this gift with a church that I wasn’t so sure would appreciate it. But before she answered, she asked me if I would like to hear her speak in tongues. You bet I would! I had heard about it but I had never been personally exposed to it. She shut her eyes and began uttering sounds that sounded like a language but one neither she nor I could decipher it. It lasted a little over a minute and she was back. She had no idea what she had said but she was sure it was a gift from God. Fascinating.
But here’s the rub. She never told her church, at least not when I knew her. She knew they would think it was weird, that it was something they did not want their pastor to be known for.
Well, I guess it didn’t seem weird to the early Church. We’re told in Acts 10 that the folks who heard Peter received this same ability to speak in tongues. Indeed, it was this gift of the Spirit that convinced Peter and the Jews who had come with him to baptize these folks.
There may be someone here this morning who has the gift of speaking in tongues. I am not one of them. I suspect that is true for most of us, and because it remains outside of my personal experience and defies logic, it often seems weird to me. So here’s the central question I want to address. Does an experience of the Holy Spirit have to be weird to be real? No. Here’s why.
The Church has been talking in tongues since its inception. We do it every Sunday – I mean right here at the Bradford Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ. We’re going to do it again today.
Right about now you might feel like turning to the person nearest you and say, “What on earth is he talking about? We don’t speak in tongues.”
Technically, you’re right. We do not practice what is called “glossolalia.” No one stands up and begins speaking words that no one can understand only to have it interpreted by someone who is up to the task. That doesn’t happen. And in the hands of a lesser preacher, that would be a problem! But let me suggest that we speak the language of heaven and not of earth, that not only do those outside the church have a difficult time understanding Christ’s message, we do too.
- Try making sense of turning the other check. See much of that going on in the world today?
- Help the very people who are oppressing you by not only doing what their law requires but exceeding their law’s requirements. You’ll look like a traitor.
- Tell the meek that instead of inheriting the dirt, they are going to inherit the earth.
- Speak about losing your life to find it, of how the cross and suffering itself can be redemptive.
Try any of these and people who take your words seriously will thing you are speaking in tongues! And you don’t have to stop with the teachings of Jesus. Listen to the prophets in the Old Testament:
- Read Amos 8: He speaks of buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of shoes.
- Read Isaiah 1: So filthy and corrupt are the people and their government that they must wash themselves and make themselves clean.
- Read Hosea 11: of a God who is the Holy One in their midst and will not come to destroy.
The voice of heaven is a foreign language many cannot take in. We hear the words and maybe we even know what they portend, but we act as if it is a language we cannot understand.
No, my friends, to be touched by the Holy Spirit does not have to be weird to be real. In the end, what it demands is the courage to not only hear the words but to fashion our lives to their meaning. We, too, speak in tongues. It is heaven calling us to repent. Let us pray….
i Acts 10:44-48
44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.