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Empowered by the Spirit

John 20:19-23

The 1993 movie The Sandlot, is a coming-of-age sports comedy about a boy named Scott Smalls. He moves to a new town with his mother and new stepfather at the beginning of the summer. He would rather stay inside, but his mom encourages him to go outside and find new friends. He finds a group of boys playing baseball in the local sandlot and tries to fit in but isn’t any good at baseball. But the best player Benny befriends and encourages him. The ensuing film is a story about how this boy (who his friends call his last name Smalls, as in “you’re killin’ Smalls”)—about how he and his friends have all kinds of adventures, and he ends the summer a much more confident young man. Throughout the summer Smalls has fun, builds confidence, and learns to be comfortable in his own skin. He grows closer to his new stepfather, after taking his Babe Ruth autographed baseball thinking it’s just another ball they can play with. Overall, The Sandlot is a story about how friendship empowers Scott Smalls to be confident in who he is and to be the best version of himself.

The theme of empowerment is what the day of Pentecost is all about. After all that Jesus had said and done, the disciples were now without him. They were happy that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. But they had no idea what to do next. Where to go from here. After watching Jesus ascend into heaven, they might’ve thought it was all over, mission accomplished. At this point I’m sure they weren’t as sad and distraught as they were on Good Friday. But they were still confused, unsure of themselves, and uncertain about where to go from here. The disciples understood how amazing Jesus was, but had no clue what to do next. They may have believed in Jesus, but they didn’t yet believe in themselves. They were stuck without the confidence and empowerment that they needed to continue Jesus’ mission of manifesting the Kingdom of God.

How often do we feel stuck like they did? How often do we lack empowerment? How often do we lack the confidence to move ahead? Whether it’s in sharing our faith about Jesus or simply in growing to be the best version of ourselves? We often lack direction, confidence, or courage. Life has a way of beating us down with stress, worries, and doubts. There are so many hurdles to overcome that we might as well just give up. There’s too much staked against us. We have these thoughts repeating in our heads like a broken record telling us we’re not good enough, not strong enough, not competent enough. Lies that tell us we’re too stressed, too nervous, too depleted, too disempowered to do anything better.

But then, when it seems like all hope is lost for us to ever live up to our potential, the Holy Spirit swoops in and gives us power from on high. Awakens in us power we never knew we had. We’ll find ourselves doing things, and it is truly us doing them, but by the Spirit’s empowerment. Because of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we can take that risk we weren’t so confident about and do a great job. Because of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we can raise children to be good people, even though we had no idea what we were doing at first. Because of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we can provide care for our aging loved ones and be a rock for them even though we felt no confidence about it at first. Because of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we can stand up to unjust systems and change laws, even though we felt afraid and unsure of ourselves. Because of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we can share the Gospel message and offer our love and service to a world in need, even though we questioned if we ever had it in us. Because of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we can follow God’s calling for our lives and do truly anything things, no matter how daunting it first seemed.

We are just like the first disciples at Pentecost, who had no idea what they were doing. But who received a call and the power to do it. They had no idea how they were going to continue Jesus’ mission without him. But to those unequipped, uneducated, unconfident disciples God provided the Holy Spirit. To empower them. To support them. To guide them through life. To show them God’s plan and give them power, courage, and skills to be successful. To give them the words to speak. To give them the fire to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Just look at Peter. Throughout the Gospels he was always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. He was stubborn and thick-headed. He had some moments of promise but many moments where he seemed like he didn’t understand anything at all. And after what we read in Acts chapter 2 this morning, from the day of Pentecost onward, the Bible presents Peter as a fearless leader in the early church. As incredibly competent, a skilled leader, a gifted preacher, a man who was empowered and confident, who knew God’s will and did it flawlessly. He went from always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to being a man who always has the right words to say and knew when to say it. Peter became a model and example for us of the great things mere mortals can do when we entrust ourselves to the power of the Spirit.

If God can do that with Peter, just imagine what God can do with us! If we invite the Holy Spirit to take root in us, to empower us, to transform our lives—then we will most certainly be equipped, empowered, and transformed. Just like Peter. We will be capable of doing whatever God calls us to. We will be capable of telling others how much God loves them. We will be capable of working for peace and justice. We will be capable of embodying goodness and love. We will be capable of changing our lives. We will be capable of manifesting the Kingdom. We will be capable of doing whatever God calls us to.

The Good News of Pentecost is that God empowered those bumbling, scared disciples to be people who literally changed the world. There’s no historical debate about it, they did change the world and grew the church in unprecedented ways. In ways that can only be described as miraculous. In ways that no human could ever achieve alone. But humans did do it—with God’s help of course, but they were people like us! Those mere mortals were capable of spreading the gospel throughout the world. Because of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, these disciples changed the course of human history.

And so let us follow their example. Not because we need to in order to be saved or deemed worthy by God. We don’t have to do great things or be filled with the Spirit to earn God’s love; God already loves us unconditionally. But who wouldn’t want to be filled with the Spirit and live your best life? Who wouldn’t want to be empowered by the Spirit to face our fears and overcome great obstacles? Who wouldn’t want to be filled with the Spirit and learn to manifest the Kingdom of God? Who wouldn’t want to be equipped by the Spirit to serve a world in need? Who wouldn’t want to join this ministry of reconciliation, this awesome thing God is doing? Who wouldn’t want to be transformed and grow into the vehicles of divine love that we were created to be?

This is an exciting thing we get to enter into! This is a new life where we get to live in alignment with God and follow the Spirit’s guidance to do amazing things. That’s what God provided for the early church on Pentecost. And that’s what God invites us to do every Pentecost and every day. So let us invite the Holy Spirit in to transform us, empower us, give us the direction and guidance we need to live into the amazing plan God has for our lives. A life in tune with the Spirit. A life devoted to prayer and worship. A life dedicated to serving a world in need. A life spent sharing God’s love with all people. A life filled with the Spirit where we are empowered and transformed to be the grown-up children of God (the vehicles of divine love) we were created to be. Empowered by the Spirit, let it be so.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pastor Brian, Pentecost Sunday 2023

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