We find ourselves in the first four verses of the second chapter of Acts. The scriptures say it clearly. It was Pentecost. To the Jewish world, it meant it was fifty days after the Passover. It was also called the Feast of Weeks (Deuteronomy 16:10) or the Feast of the Harvest (Exodus 23:16). It was comparable to our Thanksgiving Day, a celebration of the harvest. To the Christian world, it meant it had been fifty days sense Jesus was resurrected. It also meant; it had been ten days sense Jesus ascended into heaven. Ten days is a long time to wait. They must have wrestled with Jesus’ last words about evangelizing the world. However, they also obeyed Jesus. They stayed in Jerusalem. They waited for something to happen and on the day of Pentecost, it did. While the rest of their world was celebrating the harvest, Jesus kept his promise. No longer reserved for select political or religious leaders, the Holy Spirit was unleased on all believers. Without warning the Holy Spirit blew into the disciples lives and everything changed. They were transformed. They did not change physically; they changed spiritually. The lessons they wrestled with in the past suddenly became clear. The things they could not do in the past became easy. It was an amazing moment. The words printed in your Bible are only shadows of the actual event. The first revival in the history of the world had begun and the church was born. The Methodist tradition should never wrestle with the Holy Spirit because we are a product of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember the story?
John Wesley (1703-1791) was the founder of the great Methodist movement. He was born in Epworth, England. His father, Samuel, was an Anglican priest. His mother, Susannah, was a stay-at-home mother, who set the standard high for all parents. She taught John and his siblings how to survive in this world and be prepared for eternity. John Wesley had everything he needed to be successful, but he didn’t have a clue. Until he was thirty-five years old, he only knew failure. He failed as a pastor, and he failed as a missionary. Tired of defeat, John Wesley went on a great spiritual quest. That quest ended on May 24, 1738, on Aldersgate Street, London. There is no other way to say it, John Wesley was touched by the Holy Spirit. We call it his sanctification experience. He was touched by God for a divine purpose. The only thing he ever wrote about that day was a simple phrase in his personal journal, I felt my heart strangely warmed. Those words are not impressive, but his life after that experience was. From that point on, he only knew success. He took the whole world on as his parish and changed history. When he died in 1791, he left behind 135,000 followers, plus another 541 itinerant preachers. Today, there are millions of people around the world who proudly claim the title Methodist. If we could resurrect John Wesley, then he would tell you that the Holy Spirit changed everything! Let me state the obvious.
I was not in the ministry on May 24, 1738. However, I was in the ministry two hundred and fifty years later, on May 24, 1988. I remember that year, because it was the first year, I was under a United Methodist appointment. I was serving in the old Morristown Charge in the old St. Clairsville District in the East Ohio Annual Conference; the congregations in Morristown, Lloydsville and Bannock. As May approached, I was looking forward to the anniversary of the great Aldersgate experience, because I had had my own sanctification experience. This is the truth. I was disappointed. Except for a few men riding on horses and dressed like circuit riders, there was no celebration. That year at Annual Conference, I expressed my disappointment to my District Superintendent. He was a spiritually mature man by the name of Abraham Brandyberry. He felt as I did. I asked him why the famous date was overlooked. He simply said, “Russ, there was no celebration, because no one in our time understands Wesley’s sanctification, because no one in our time understands the Holy Spirit.” There was no debate because I knew he was right. Many are ignorant of the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Fewer have experienced the Holy Spirit. Can I ask you a spiritual question?
Have you experienced the Holy Spirit?
For many it is not an easy question to answer. To help you answer that question I am going to ask you two other questions. The way you answer those two questions will be very revealing. Both deal with your priorities. Are you motivated by earthly things or are you motived by God? Be honest with yourself so you can answer the question, Have you experienced the Holy Spirit? If you are ready for my two questions say, “Amen!”
Question #1: Are you more passionate about people or property? The answer should be obvious. However, it is not obvious to everyone. What we say and what we do are often two different things. For example, I have never been in the middle of a church debate about human need. I have never been part of a church debate to borrow money to help the forgotten. I am still waiting for the first person to fundraise to fight world hunger or homelessness. However, I have been in the middle of church debates to improve our church property. Ask yourself the question again. Are you more passionate about people or property? If you have been touched by the Holy Spirit, then the only thing that really matters is people.
In the creation story, God created everything, and everything was good. He made the earth and the sky. He made the seas and the dry ground. He made the fish and the animals and the insects. When God created those things, he said they were all good. However, when he made mankind, he said something different. God looked at mankind and said it was very good. Every person is made in the image of God. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. What is more important to you people or property? Once you have experienced the Holy Spirit the only thing that matters is people! And all of God’s people said, “Amen!” Have you experienced the Holy Spirit?
Question #2: Are you more passionate the invisible or the visible church? In other words, are you more interested in Jesus or the organizational church? Do you have an easier time quoting church rules or Bible verses? Are more comfortable talking about local church history or what God has done for you today? Do you have an easier time listing past pastors or disciples? The Holy Spirit only cares about the invisible or spiritual church. Have you stop to consider the word Methodist isn’t even found in the Bible?
Years ago, I was texting a regular worshipper of this church. They have been coming here for years and I consider them one of us. The problem is she and her husband have never joined. I was trying to correct that situation. She texted me this question, what do we have to do to join? She meant classes or something. I responded, “Nothing. All you need to know is Jesus and me.” How do you feel about that response? Maybe you do feel like we need classes or something? I do not require classes because my goal is not to make good church members or great United Methodists. My goal is to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The mission statement of the United Methodist Church. It really doesn’t matter if you know how many annual conferences exist or how long a bishop serves. It really doesn’t matter if you know about the history of Western Reserve? It only matters that you know Jesus. If you know Jesus, then you are part of the invisible church. Are you more passionate about the invisible or the visible church? The Holy Spirit only cares about the invisible church.
Have you experienced the Holy Spirit? How do you answer the question? There is only one correct answer. Your answer can not be, “Maybe.” Your answer cannot be, “I hope so.” In the life of the church, “No,” is not an option. The only acceptable answer is, “YES!” It is the question that will not go away. Have you experienced the Holy Spirit?
Wilmore, Kentucky is a small town, located seventeen miles from Lexington. It is not much of a place. According to the 2010 census, it has a population of less than 3,700 people. The only thing noteworthy about the place are the two academic institutions that call Wilmore home. They sit on either side of Lexington Avenue. On the south side of the road is Asbury Theological Seminary, my seminary. On the north of the road is Asbury University. Both schools are steeped in the Christian tradition. In my younger days I used to call Wilmore, Jerusalem west. Historically, an event happened in Wilmore that should not be forgotten.
On February 3, 1970, a revival broke out at a chapel service in Hughes Hall at then Asbury College. Chapel was scheduled to last fifty minutes, it lasted eight days. The students had been praying for a revival for some time. God heard their prayers. On that day, the academic dean, Custer Reynolds (1915-2005), was scheduled to speak. The problem was he did not feel led to speak, so he gave his witness and invited the students to share their personal experiences with God. Several students spoke. One young man came followed and told how he had been recently touched by the Holy Spirit. It was his Aldersgate experience. For the first time in his life, he was proud to be a Christian. There is no other way to say it. Like John Wesley, the Holy Spirit transformed his life. Other students followed him. They confessed their sins and told of similar experiences with the Holy Spirit. The altar was opened to anyone who wanted to pray. Hundreds of students rushed forward to pray and the crowd was washed by the Holy Spirit. People traveled from other time zones to be part of the revival in little Wilmore, Kentucky. Nothing else really mattered but God!
Seventeen years later, I enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary. I sat in chapel regularly with my fellow students. I can still hear all those men sing the hymn, And Can It Be. It was powerful.Regularly, the revival at the college was mentioned. Regularly, the words were uttered, “God, do it again. Regularly, in my prayers I uttered the words, “God, do it again.” If it can happen in Wilmore, Kentucky, then it can happen anywhere. It can happen here. It can happen to you! God, do it again!