Sunday, June 4, 2017

Tongues on Fire

He was a little guy with a big Afro, but, other than that, there was really nothing remarkable about his appearance at all. In fact, he looked like most of the other kids in school. And he was shy, so you might walk right past him in the hallway. If you did happen to look his way, he might smile and nod. He was a polite kid. Quiet. Low key. He was smart and a decent student, but he just wasn’t the kind of kid who attracted attention. Except when he played music.[i] And then everybody noticed. He had a rare talent, the kind that would lead to 7 Grammy awards and 19 top 10 hits.

So what was it? What turned a shy, quiet kid from Minneapolis into the world-renowned pop star known as Prince? He found his voice, and miraculous things happen when people find their voice.

For Jesus, that moment was his baptism. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was praying when the Holy Spirit descended upon him, and it was the Spirit who gave Jesus the power to speak with authority. It’s as if his tongue were on fire! Jesus was God’s spokesman here on earth. And he came preaching freedom!

Throughout Luke’s Gospel, voice or speech is linked with issues of authority and power and truth. People realized that Jesus was a prophet sent by God by listening to his voice. And Jesus had plenty to say! But, throughout the story, the disciples really don’t say much … until Pentecost.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were gathered to pray, which is EXACTLY what Jesus had been doing when the Spirit came upon him. And, sure enough, while they worshipped, they were filled with the Spirit! They received the same gift that Jesus had been given. The gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift of power. A gift of inspiration. A gift of speech. It’s as if their tongues were on fire!

For years, the disciples had seen God’s power at work in Jesus, but after Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, they were given the power and authority to speak for God. They had almost nothing to say until they were filled with the Holy Spirit. And that Spirit came upon them as they worshipped. The Spirit came upon them as they joined together to lift up the name of the Lord. The Spirit came upon them as they spent time in God’s presence. The Spirit came upon them as they sought to deepen their relationship with the Creator.

It is almost as if the gift of the Spirit was a reward because the disciples had been faithful. They had kept the covenant. They had kept open the doors of communication. They were open to receive God. They were open to receive instruction. They were open to receive God’s word. They were open to God. And their openness pleased God, so they were given the very essence of God. The Lord came to them as Spirit, and when the disciples embraced that Spirit, they found their own voices. Their tongues were on fire!

Each of them was filled with power from on high. They were given the power to speak God’s Word. They were given the freedom to speak for God. In fact, they were instructed to speak. And sing. And shout. They were sent out to tell the whole world all that they had seen and heard and experienced as they followed Jesus.

Miraculous things happen when people find their voice. And it sure happened that day in Jerusalem. It started with a group of about 120 people. Men and women. People who had followed Jesus. But there were hundreds of Jewish people in town that day. They had come from every nation under heaven. And they spoke hundreds of different languages. But they all heard the wind that blew through the house where the 120 were gathered. And it got their attention. What’s going on there? They wondered, so they went to investigate. And they were amazed by what they heard.

Those 120 disciples who had been filled with the Holy Spirit were all talking at once. Their tongues were on fire! Each one spoke a different language, even though they all came from the same place. They were all Judeans! They had all grown up speaking Hebrew. But their tongues were on fire! The Spirit of God had given them the power to speak in other languages. Languages they couldn’t possibly have known on their own. But God gave them the power to speak in other languages so that everyone who came that day could hear God’s Word and understand.

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites. Residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappodocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya. Visitors from Rome. Jews, proselytes, Cretans and Arabs. Everyone. Everyone could hear. Everyone could understand. Everyone had the opportunity to hear the gospel that day.

The 120 were filled with the Spirit. Their tongues were on fire! So everyone got to hear about Jesus. There wasn’t just one person speaking for God anymore. The Holy Spirit had been set loose upon the earth. And anyone who embraced that Spirit could be God’s prophet.

See, I told you. Miraculous things happen when people find their voice.

Sons and daughters prophesy. Young men see visions. Old men dream dreams. Slaves and free, men and women – they all become vessels for the Spirit of the Lord. Their tongues are on fire! They become prophets, proclaiming good news to the poor, release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind! They become prophets who cry out for God, “Let the oppressed go free!” They become prophets, singing, “Jesus loves all the little children of the world.” They become prophets so that everyone, everyone, everyone in every time and place can hear the good news of God’s saving love and be set free from sin!

Miraculous things like THAT happen when people find their voice.

So, come, Holy Spirit, come! Pour out that Pentecostal Power on us today!

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.[ii]

[i] The story of Prince is told in “The quiet one: A high school classmate recalls the Artist as a young man” by Jon Tevlin, which was published by The Star Tribute on March 13, 2004. It was posted on their website at Accessed June 2, 2017.
[ii] Daniel Iverson. “Spirit of the Living God.” The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989. 393.

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