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All in the Family

First Reading                                  Genesis 11:1-9

1Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

Psalm                                                          Psalm 143

1Lord, hear my prayer, and in your faithfulness heed my supplications; answer me in your righteousness. 2Enter not into judgment with your servant, for in your sight shall no one living be justified. 3For my enemy has sought my life; he has crushed me to the ground; he has made me live in dark places like those who are long dead. 4My spirit faints within me; my heart within me is desolate. 5I remember the time past; I muse upon all your deeds; I consider the works of your hands. 6I spread out my hands to you; my soul gasps to you like a thirsty land. 7O Lord, make haste to answer me; my spirit fails me; do not hide your face from me or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit. 8Let me hear of your loving kindness in the morning, for I put my trust in you; show me the road that I must walk, for I lift up my soul to you. 9Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord, for I flee to you for refuge. 10Teach me to do what pleases you, for you are my God; let your good Spirit lead me on level ground. 11Revive me, O Lord, for your name’s sake; for your righteousness’ sake, bring me out of trouble. 12Of your goodness, destroy my enemies and bring all my foes to naught for truly I am your servant.

Second Reading                                   Acts 2:1-21

1When the day of Pentecost arrived, {the apostles} were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians — we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

Gospel                                                  John 14:23-31

23Jesus answered {Judas, not Iscariot}, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 25These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.”


In his book God, Help Us!, R. J. Chandler tells the story of a church that celebrated Pentecost Sunday in an unusual, yet unique way.  They had the young children process down the aisle while carrying large poster board flames to symbolize the coming of the Holy Spirit.  However, as in most children’s programs, not everything went so smoothly.  One little boy became upset when he realized he’d forgotten his flame.  Not having a piece of poster board to carry, he ran up and down the aisle flapping his arms, then stopped and announced for all to hear, “I’ve lost my flame!”  A little girl ran up to him and tore off a piece of her flame and handed it to him.  “No, you haven’t,” she said.  “Take this.”

When she saw how happy she’d made the boy who received a piece of her flame, the little girl decided that this was the gift that keeps on giving.  So, she walked up and down the aisle tearing off more pieces of her flame and handing them to everyone within reach.  It’s a wonderful picture, and as far as I’m concerned, that little girl understood the real meaning of Pentecost.  She wasn’t going to keep the awesome power of the Holy Spirit to herself.  She was going to share her flame with everyone she could.  Today, as you’ve already guessed, we celebrate Pentecost–the day the Holy Spirit was sent and the day the church was born.

One of the things we, in this country, seem obsessed with is celebrating something.  We have black history month, Hispanic history month, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day administrative assistant’s day, St. Patrick’s Day, Ground Hog Day and the list goes on and on.  However, they’ve come up with a new one, at least it’s new to me anyway, and this one I like!  Did you know that this is National Family Month?  Apparently, National Family Month is observed during the five-week period between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and the purpose is to “focus attention on mothers and fathers as the most powerful support system for their children.”  I like this, not only because families are extremely important, it also celebrates something God establish from the very beginning, and it also recognizes that you and I are part of many families.  

With this in mind, I’d like to center our focus this morning on the two families that we’re a part of–the nuclear family, represented by the home . . . and the family of God, embodied by the church.  Both play an enormous role in our lives and both are based on extraordinary love.  And with family as our focus, I believe there are some lessons that we can learn from our celebration of Pentecost that will, in turn, help us build even stronger families.

Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, His followers were together praying and waiting, as instructed, for the gift of power, the baptism with the Holy Spirit, that Jesus had promised them.  We’re all familiar with the events of that day.  As they prayed, the Holy Spirit came roaring down and filled the whole house.  It appeared as flames of fire above the heads of those present.  Suddenly, those gathered were able to speak in a multitude of languages and tell of the wonders of God to the diverse crowd of people out in the streets.

And the power of the Holy Spirit wasn’t just manifested in roaring wind and flames and preaching in other languages.  It also resulted in great courage, love, unity and selflessness among the disciples.  That day, a new kind of gathering was created, one that had never been seen before–of people from every race and social class, of men and women and slaves and slave owners.  And all these people worshiped side-by-side and shared all they had with poorer believers.  Their gatherings were marked by overflowing praise and love for one another.

I think it’s appropriate that the day we celebrate as the Day of Pentecost falls during the season in which our secular culture is celebrating the family.  On the Day of Pentecost, God created a new and spiritual family, the Church.  Because of this, I think we can learn several lessons on building stronger nuclear families as well as stronger church families from the message of Pentecost.  The first lesson we can learn has to do with communication.

Starting in verse 4, St. Luke tells us that “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?”  I don’t know about you, but if I had been there that day, I would have been bewildered as well.  It was an amazing miracle.  

What God had done at Babel, by confusing the language and scattering the people, God was now bringing back together through the newly formed church.  The barrier that separates people was now being brought down.  It’s important to note here, that the Bible says they spoke in the language of the people, not “unknown” tongues.  They spoke known languages; languages other than their own.  The disciples were speaking in other languages, but those in the crowd that day was hearing his or her own language being spoken.  God wants us to be able to communicate with one another.

On one occasion, Helen Keller, who, as you know, was both deaf and blind, was asked the question: “If you could have either hearing or sight, which would you prefer?”  Her answer was, “Hearing.”  This surprised me since I depend so much on my eyes.  However, in terms of how we interact with the world and with other people, think how helpless we would feel without the ability to hear and to understand what we hear.  Think about it, in most cases we hear something before we see it.  Communication is so vital to successful living.  And ladies seem to be more conscious of this more than men.  

Years ago, a popular women’s magazine polled over 30,000 women and only one problem ranked above conflicts over money, “poor communication.”  Researcher Terri Schultz writes that, “Although many women chose their partners based on sex appeal, research shows that if they had to do it again, they said the ability to communicate is much more important.”  Let’s face it guys, generally speaking, we men are notoriously poor communicators in the home.

Perhaps that’s why most of us value our mothers so much.  Mothers are usually better listeners and listening is, after all, the crucial area in successful communication.  Listening is said to be an art, a ministry and sometimes a chore–as any mother of small children will tell you.  Listening requires more than simply hearing sounds, it requires your attention, it requires the processing of information, the assigning of meaning and the formulation of a proper response.  Even if that response is to say nothing and listen even more.

Writer Bill Vamos tells about a cartoon he once saw of a mother driving home with her four small children, the family dog, and several bags of groceries.  On her face you can see a combination of tension, frustration, anger, and near hysteria, as the steering wheel begins to vibrate under her ever-tightening grip.  Behind her all four small children are talking at the same time.  In the cartoon, the author shares what’s going on in the car: “Tell Billy to stop waving at the car behind us.”  “Which bag are the suckers in?”  “Blow your horn and make that police car get out of the way, Mom.”  “Janie just dropped the ketchup bottle on top of the prune juice, and the bag’s leaking.”  “Drive faster, we’re missing a good program on TV.”  “Stop bouncing the car, I can’t read the message on the cereal box.”  “It’s cold back here, sitting on the frozen food.”  “Who put the fingerprints on the back window?”  “Why’d you turn the radio off?”  “Jimmy’s opening the cookie bag.”  And finally: “Mommy, you don’t smile very much when you drive, do you?”  Makes you wonder if this mother was the one who invented car seats!

I see by the nervous laughs of some of you, that you can personally relate to this cartoon.  And to be honest, none of us could make it with children at home or in a car if we couldn’t “tune out” every once in a while.  However, tuning out isn’t our real problem; our greatest challenge to good communication, in our society today, is our attention span.  Let’s face it, we live in a 15-second sound bite world.

Our attention span is being trained to be limited to the 160-character limit imposed by Twitter.  Additionally, commercials on average run 15 to 30 seconds.  World news tonight gives you the headlines in 60 seconds and the news stories themselves are 2 minutes or less.  We text, we tweet, use snap chat and use Facebook for quick communication.  The idea is to get something said in the least possible space and using the least amount of words.  As many of you know, I post a morning devotion during the week on my and the church’s Facebook pages. 

When I got started, I was told to limit my post to 200 words.  The reason?  That was the average attention span of the Facebook user; 200 words!  I was told not to add the scripture passage because it would make the post too long.  Now for those who do read those postings, you know I blatantly violate this rule.  I not only use more than 200 words, I also add the Bible passage.  The point I’m making is, we struggle with our listening skills because our attention span is being trained to only absorb information in 30 second or less bursts.  We need to recapture the art of listening.  There is no greater ministry at home or in a church than that of really listening to other people.  The first principal contained in the story of the first Pentecost is that of communication.  The second lesson we can learn has to do with commitment.

I don’t believe God would have sent the Holy Spirit to the early church if He had not known that they would do something with it.  The Holy Spirit came upon them in a mighty way because they were facing a huge challenge.  God had called them to turn the world upside down.  In fact, they were called to such an intense commitment to the world, and to one another, that it would one day cost most of them their lives.  The Holy Spirit wasn’t sent for their enjoyment, but their empowerment.  

If we don’t feel like we’re experiencing God’s power in the church today, maybe it’s because we’re not as committed to God’s work as the first century disciples were.  Why would God give us His power only to see us squander it on little goals that we set–goals we know we can achieve on our own?  The crisis in the church, in our homes and in our communities isn’t just that we have a communication problem, we also have a commitment problem. 

The story is shared of an interview with members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang.  The individual recalling this interview said that he was impressed by their creed.  He says, “Do you know what they kept holding up as their greatest supreme virtue?  They kept saying: ‘We’re a family.  We’re together.  We live together, fight together, die together.  We stick together.’”  One would think that the saints of God would at least be committed to one another as Hell’s Angels.  Just looking around at the struggles faced by not only people, but congregations as well, it makes you wonder.

It’s very satisfying to me when I meet someone who is really committed to their church.  Many of you fall in this category.  I know I can count on you to be here–a core group of you, every time we have a worship service.  I know that you will speak positive, encouraging, uplifting, words about our church whenever those words are needed.  I know that our church is in your thoughts, your prayers, your budget, as well as your schedule.  And what I’ve noticed here is, that when people are truly committed to the church, they’re also committed to their family–these two seem to go together “hand-in-glove.” 

Dr. Charles Swindoll, host of the radio program, “Insight For Living,” and his wife Cynthia declare their commitment to each other several times a year.  He says, “We get alone, often for an overnight somewhere cozy and private.  While there, we look at each other and verbalize our promise to remain faithful.  We actually declare aloud our commitment.  We can’t explain how or why it works, but there’s something reassuring about putting things like that into words.  As our ears hear what our mouths are saying (from our hearts, actually), our loyalty is reaffirmed.” 

This might sound corny to some, but such a practice would probably strengthen many marriages.  At the very least, it couldn’t hurt.  Beyond that, some of us need to renew our commitment to our children as well.  A very busy man of God recently said, “I have a date with my boys just like I have an appointment with anyone else; and when something tries to break in on that, I say I have an appointment.”  We can learn something important from this man; he’s a man whose priorities are in their proper order. 

Most of you know my attitude when it comes to families, and I don’t think it can possibly be overstated.  Aside from our commitment and relationship to God, families are the most important thing in our lives, and this includes our church family.  If we would return the family to the core, the center of our priorities, we could fix a tremendous amount of what’s wrong in this country.  Communication–commitment–but one final big “C” and that is compassion.

Compassion, as you know, is the ability to “feel with” another person.  The church that came out of Pentecost was a compassionate church.  They set up one of history’s first welfare programs for widows and orphans–for those who were unable to provide for themselves.  The early church wouldn’t have grown as rapidly as they did, if the common person hadn’t been able to say, “They care about me–they understand what I’m going through–I really do matter to them.”  The ability to “feel with” or empathize with other people has always been the church’s greatest asset.  And this is a great asset in the home as well.  

Some of us need to take a second look at our spouses, our children, our parents and ask ourselves, “Do I have any understanding of the experiences that have brought him or her to this place?  Is there anything that I can do to make their life a little easier?”  In 2010 when the Texas Rangers won their playoff series, the team had a big celebration in their locker room.  

Player Josh Hamilton was worried about attending the party.  He had struggled with substance abuse issues, and he didn’t want to place himself in a tempting situation.  But Hamilton’s teammates, out of love and respect for him and his struggles, had replaced the traditional celebratory champagne with ginger ale.  They wanted to ensure that no member of the team got left out of the celebration.

Communication–commitment–compassion.  These are the keys to better families–whether it’s the family in the home, or the family which is the church, or the entire human family.  God wants His people to live in community, this is why He gave us the ability to communicate with one another, to commit ourselves to one another, to “feel with” one another. 

Therefore, Pentecost is as good a day as any for each of us to make a new commitment to the family–this family, the church, or to our family at home and to the greater human family of which we’re a part.  Communication, commitment, compassion–simple ingredients that indicate and engender love within the family. 

Officer Ryan Holets with the Albuquerque, New Mexico police department was responding to a report of a possible robbery in progress at a local convenience store.  Instead of a robbery, Officer Holets found a young couple sitting outside the store shooting up heroin.  Officer Holets was particularly concerned when he noticed that the woman with a needle in her arm was pregnant.  When he confronted the woman, 35-year-old Crystal began to cry.  She knew she was hurting her unborn baby, so she told Ryan that she had been praying that her baby could be adopted by someone who would love it and give it a good life.

As Officer Holets spoke to this young woman, he heard God telling him that he was that someone.  Even though Holets and his wife, Rebecca, have four children, he offered to adopt Crystal’s baby.  With great joy, she agreed.  When Holet told his wife of this encounter, she immediately agreed that this was God’s will for their family.  Three weeks later, Crystal gave birth to a beautiful baby girl with serious addiction-related health issues.  The Holets named her Hope.  As Ryan Holet says, “I was led by God to take the chance.  It was God who brought us all together.  I really don’t have any other way to explain it . . . I’m so thankful and blessed and humbled that we are allowed to have Hope in our family.”

“God brought us all together.”  That’s true in our families.  That’s also true in our church family.  And we’re thankful and blessed and humbled when we have hope in our families:  Hope that comes from the guidance and wisdom of a loving God.  Hope that comes from a courageous, selfless faith.  Hope that comes from the unity of the Holy Spirit.  It’s only this power, God’s power, that draws us together and makes us a powerful witness of God’s presence in this world.             


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