The Power of Words, May 23

The Power of Words

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church, and online; May 23, 2021


Rick and I have been packing up stuff from around the house that we don’t expect to need at least until fall.  That includes novels, poetry, most of our CDs and DVDs, and puzzles and games.  In the process of packing, we discovered that we own a number of conversation games – those packs of cards with questions on them intended to spark interesting conversations beyond talk of the weather, baseball, and who we think the next pastor will be.  Questions like, which three historical figures would you like to have lunch with and why or if you could have a superpower, what would it be?  My answer to the historical figures is different every time that card comes up, but my superpower is an even more difficult question.  In truth, I’d take any superpower were offered one, but given the choice, I don’t think I’d opt for leaping tall buildings in a single bound.  Yes, it would be fun, but not hugely useful.  Racing locomotives also doesn’t interest me much.  Maybe flexibility like Elastigirl or invisibility like Harry Potter achieves with his magic cloak. 


Jesus’ disciples probably didn’t need cards to keep their conversations entertaining; they had spent time with Jesus, who could walk on water and heal the sick like no-one they had ever seen.  And Jesus had told them that he would send a helper, an Advocate, an encourager who would give them power.  Did that mean they would be able to do the super things Jesus did?  Would they be able to calm the waves and raise the dead?  What exactly would this Spirit, this power, this helper like Jesus enable them to do?  What would it feel like to have a superpower from God?


We heard this morning that excellent story of the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit came upon the gathered disciples with the sound of a rushing wind and flames as of fire which descended on each of them.  And they were given power – to talk.  That’s the essence of their superpower. They could speak.  This first manifestation of the Spirit of Jesus in the lives of the disciples enabled them to communicate, to tell the world, the whole world – in many languages, about the wonderful things that God had done in Jesus Christ.  The many languages is central to the story.  The word we have to share goes far beyond our circle of familiarity.  Difference and diversity are always at the center of the church of Jesus Christ. 


On that Day of Pentecost, the Spirit gave them power to speak the things they already knew – that God so loved the world that he came to us in Jesus, that Jesus stood up to the powers of this world and got killed for it, and that even death itself couldn’t hold God’s power of love down.   They knew the story, they loved the story, the story had brought them to where they were on that Sunday morning – changed by the good news and excited for what would happen next.  They had found life in Jesus Christ, even in his death, in spite of his death because his death was followed by resurrection and new life.  They had life.  The rush of the wind and the flames of fire pushed them beyond dwelling in the life they’d found to movement into the world.  Their movement became the church, people who had a story to tell because they, too, had found life in Christ.  That’s who we are still.  We are those who have found life – and joy and purpose and hope in the good news of Jesus Christ. And because the Spirit is still among us, we are pushed/called/encouraged/compelled to tell the world about the life we’ve found.  The Spirit binds the church together and pulls us apart to send us into the world to tell more people.  The Spirit binds us together here at Catskill/Palenville and is sending me to Delhi – both of those seemingly contradictory things are true.


If the power to speak, to communicate, seems underwhelming, remember that’s it’s God’s favorite thing to do.  God creates the world by speaking it into being.  God said, let there be light, and there was light.  God said let there be plants and trees, creeping things and flying things, and the beauty and life of the world around us came to be.  And God made us in the divine image, and behold, like God, we speak.  Throughout the story told by scripture, God continues to speak – calling Abram, giving words to Moses and to the prophets.  The gospel of John specifically names Jesus as the Word, the speaking of God, the clearest revelation of God’s essence and God’s message to all of us.  And here on the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit of Jesus, the spirit promised by Jesus, gives the disciples the power of speech, words for the gathered crowd to hear, words not just for themselves but for everyone, all over the world. 


The story of Jesus was first told aloud, from person to person, from friend to friend.  Soon it was written down, in words, and brought to people in cities far away from where it began.  Now we can hear not only friend to friend, but across radio waves and electromagnetic waves to television antennae, we hear over the internet and we see words on screens and billboards and phones in our pockets.  And still we speak the word of God in worship, we read the texts aloud, so that we might hear the good news again, that it might seep a little deeper into our hearts. 


The power of the Spirit and the call of the Spirit is still the same, that we should tell the world about God’s love in Jesus Christ.  And the words we convey needn’t be more sophisticated just because our tools are fancier.  Because the stories that compel us, the stories that we still long to hear are stories of hope and of life.  The technology is more complex, but the challenges of life – finding meaning for a life that matters, seeking hope in the midst of pain and love in the midst of loneliness, starting over again after failure or setbacks – these are just as much a part of our lives as they were in the world of the disciples. 


There’s a hurting world out there.  We know the depth of the hurt, because we’ve been through it and in it ourselves.  Speak to the pain, friends.  Remember how the love of God, and the love of friends who love you, have helped and are helping you through your toughest days.  Acknowledge the hurt, help people to name it and not to be ashamed.  And then let the Spirit of Jesus fill you with power to tell your own story. There’s a word in First Peter, chapter 3 – always be prepared to give account for the hope that’s in your heart.  That hope, and the opportunity we’re given to speak of it, is at the heart of the good news of Pentecost.  We are given superpower.  It’s the power to tell the old, old story – of hope and joy, of a peace that passes understanding.   God sends the Spirit of speaking, on all the people – that the young will see visions and older folks will dream dreams. That people will share their hopes and speak their stories.  That we will build friendships and build the church, bound by the Spirit.  And tell the world again and again – that Jesus’ love and life is for all.




Acts 2:1-21

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.


5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, 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, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”


14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon 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 upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before

the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”





Psalm 104


1Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty,

2wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent,

3you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind,

4you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.

5You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken.

6You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.

7At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.

8They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them.

9You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.

10You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills,

11giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst.

12By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches.

13From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

14You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth,

15and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.

16The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.

17In them the birds build their nests; the stork has its home in the fir trees.

18The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.

19You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting.

20You make darkness, and it is night, when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.

21The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.

22When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens.

23People go out to their work and to their labor until the evening.

24O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

25Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

26There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

28when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

29When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

30When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

31May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—

32who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.

33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

34May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.

35Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!

Romans 8:22-27

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.






John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

26”When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

16… “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.

7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

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