Summary: This is a Pentecost Sermon focussing on the Wesleyan idea of Christian Perfection
The Power to Be Perfect Acts2:1-12
Today is Pentecost Sunday. What comes to mind when you hear the word Pentecost? Pentecostal? Do you think of strange other-worldly languages, dancing in the aisles and jumping over pews? Often the day of Pentecost that we just read about in Acts 2 is referred to as the “birthday of the Church” and rightly so. However, the discussion soon falls apart as it tends to focus on a fringe detail, the strange new speech of the disciples, instead of the real miracle of Pentecost—the power to be perfect.
The power to be perfect? How can we be perfect? Nobody is perfect. For example here are some imperfections that wound up in church bulletins:
• Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles, and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
• The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.
• The audience is asked to remain seated until the end of the recession.
• Ushers will eat latecomers.
• The third verse of Blessed Assurance will be sung without musical accomplishment.
• For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
• The Rev. Merriwether spoke briefly, much to the delight of the audience.
• Next Sunday Mrs. Vinson will be soloist for the morning service. The pastor will then speak on "It’s a Terrible Experience."
• Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.
• The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the church basement on Friday at 7 p.m. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
• The concert held in Fellowship Hall was a great success. Special thanks are due to the minister’s daughter, who labored the whole evening at the piano, which as usual fell upon her.
• 22 members were present at the church meeting held at the home of Mrs. Marsha Crutchfield last evening. Mrs. Crutchfield and Mrs. Rankin sang a duet, The Lord Knows Why.
• Hymn 43: "Great God, what do I see here?"
• Hymn 47: "Hark! an awful voice is sounding"
• On a church bulletin during the minister’s illness: GOD IS GOOD Dr. Hargreaves is better.
• Potluck supper: prayer and medication to follow.
• Don’t let worry kill you off - let the church help.
Well, I concede the point; nobody is perfect, if you are employing a legalistic definition of perfection. But what about the Bible? God calls us to perfection: In Matthew 5:48 Jesus said, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Why would Jesus ask us to do something we cannot do? He wouldn’t, so maybe we need to explore perfection a little further…According to Dr. Larry Wood, a professor of mine at ATS, “Perfection has to do primarily with purity of intention rather than the performance of good works” (this quote and the information that follows through the second end note come from Dr. Wood’s Paper “Trinity Transformation). John Fletcher, a friend and defender of John Wesley, allowed that one could refer to this as “imperfect perfection” because it means being “not legally but evangelically perfect.” That is, it is a perfection of the intent of the heart, not a perfection of performance. Albert Outler, a 20th Century Methodist theologian, showed that perfection with the Greek Fathers had a dynamic meaning, a progressive instead of static meaning, a “perfecting perfection.” This dynamic meaning is seen in a sermon by Gregory of Nyssa (335 – 394) who defined perfection as “participation” in “perfect holiness,” but he noted that “this is truly perfection: never to stop growing towards what is better and never placing any limit on perfection.” This is what the apostle Paul was talking about in his letter to the church at Philippi when he said, Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained (3:12-16).
So what does all this have to do with what we read in Acts 2:1-4 this morning? Everything! The Pentecost miracle, the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit is how we can live up to the perfection that Jesus calls Christians to embody. 10 days prior to the event recorded in Acts 2, Jesus last meeting with His disciples and His ascension into heaven are recorded. His final words to them were, Acts 1:4-8 "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:4-8).