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Evan Earwicker: Fences and Wells, Acts 2:1-8

May 20, 2024

Audio Recording

The significance of Pentecost emphasizes that the Holy Spirit empowers believers to reach out and communicate God’s love to outsiders. The importance of a welcoming and inclusive church community is highlighted, focusing on living in community, loving neighbors, and keeping Jesus at the center, rather than setting high barriers for entry.

Westside Church Podcast
Westside Church Podcast
Evan Earwicker: Fences and Wells, Acts 2:1-8

Sermon Transcript:

From Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thank you for tuning in. Welcome to Westside.

Give me faith to receive all you have for me.

Well, good morning. Hello, everybody.

My name is Evan, one of your senior pastors, and I'm reminded this weekend this is why everyone moves here for this weather. And the sun is out and you are here in a dimly lit room. Congratulations.

I also want to welcome those watching online, wherever you're at. I hope you're having a great weekend, and we want to say thank you for joining us as well. Well, today is something that christians around the world are celebrating in the annual calendar, which is the day of Pentecost. And today on Pentecost Sunday is that moment in our year where we remember that record that was given by Luke in the book of acts, where the Holy Spirit, which had been promised by Jesus to his followers, was poured out and was given. And what it reminds us of today is that we're not here just to remember what happened in the past, but we are a part of the story.

If the Holy Spirit was really poured out on the day of Pentecost so long ago, that means that today, when we stand in this place and we worship together and we pray and we ask God, would you come close to us? We're not just saying that to the ether, but instead we're inviting the real active, living presence of the spirit of God to be among us. And that means that today in this community, as we are gathered, when we sing songs like we did this morning, where we say, spirit of the living God, come fall afresh on me, we have this hope that he hears and he responds. And like those believers who were gathered in a room in Jerusalem so many years ago, today, as we pray those prayers, that the Holy Spirit responds, and we can be filled with his presence and his life and his power.

Okay. All right. So that's really exciting. For a lot of christians around the world, that excitement is still making its way to bend. It's okay. All right.

Yes. Thank you.

This is the moment when the church is born, is when the holy spirit is poured out. So I wanted to start today with that story again on Pentecost Sunday. Out of acts, chapter two, Luke tells us that on the day of Pentecost, all the believers were meeting together in one place. And suddenly there was a sound from heaven, like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. And then what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them, and everyone was present. Everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. And at that time, there were devout jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. And when they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. They were completely amazed. How can this be? They exclaimed, these people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages.

I think it is fascinating and informative to us as a community centered around the way of Jesus that the very first public work that the Holy Spirit does amongst these believers is not somehow to get everyone on the outside of their group to understand the message that they were bringing. But it was the very first work of the Holy Spirit to get the believers who were huddled in an upper room to begin to speak the language of outsiders.

And this is the beautiful work that God does through his Holy Spirit every day, but especially on Pentecost Sunday in our community. I believe that as we pray, Holy Spirit, come and rest on us. Holy Spirit, come and fill your church. What he's going to do is he's not just draw people that will somehow figure out how we talk and figure out how we dress and figure out how we live and figure out the way that we see the world. And once they've assimilated into that, then they will get to experience salvation through Jesus. No, what the Holy Spirit does is he comes to a place in a room like this, and when he falls on us, we begin to, under the power of the Holy Spirit, speak the language of outsiders.

And I have this heart and this, I'm so passionate about that for our community that we would not be the ones that have raised the bar so high that no one can quite understand how we do things and that we have asked people to cross so many gaps and so many ways of understanding to come in and belong and be part of a community. Instead, the Holy Spirit's work would leak out of this place, and we would begin to speak a language that others, far outside and far away from God, would begin to hear the good news that Jesus sees them, knows them, accepts them in the language that they speak.

And this is not about, like, hey, you know, can we. Can we be really cool? I mean, that ship sailed for me long ago, as you can tell. I don't know about you, but that is a losing battle, I think. And we see it, you know, when churches try to be the hippest, coolest, most attractive thing on the block, you know, let's compete with all the other things that people could do on a Sunday morning. Listen, we're not in that kind of world where we're gonna compete for people's attention because of how clever or cool or savvy or smart we are. No, but instead, when we ask the Holy Spirit to dwell in our community, what it does is it begins to take the message of Jesus that has held power ever since it was put to pen on page, that we would carry this and not try to transform it into some way that's cool enough and entertaining enough and gets enough attention. But instead, it would be so infused with the power of the Holy Spirit that you and I would be the ultimate expression of Jesus in the real world, that when people meet you, they experience something of the life and the presence and the love of Jesus, not because you got so good at church, but because the Holy Spirit has rested on you, you as it rested on them in acts chapter two.

I thought that was pretty good.

Like the Holy Spirit at work in the world. That's some good news. That's some good news.

And oftentimes, here's what we do.

Religious people, I'm talking to you, and I know there are people. Maybe you're in the room and, like, you don't know about all this stuff, you're new or you're very skeptical.

Today I'm going to talk to christians. However, I want you to know what you can expect in a community like ours. I want to speak to some christians today that we need to shift and adjust some of our mindsets and some of our ways of being and our posture in the world. But for those who you feel like an outsider to this whole world, I want you to know what kind of community you can expect here at Westside Church.

So oftentimes we consider the mission of Jesus in the world through churches, to somehow reward people for their religiosity. Right.

Those who can do the church thing the best, those whose behavior seems to line up with what we think is acceptable enough, that God comes to reward the righteous and the religious. And yet we look in the gospel and we see Jesus, the incarnation, the man.

That was the very expression of God's presence. He doesn't come to reward the righteous and the religious. He comes to redeem the whole world. The whole thing. The whole thing.

And so when we stay kind of cloistered in our religious settings and we see everything on the outside as either an opponent, an agitator, or somebody to avoid, we miss the point that the Holy Spirit comes to push us out into the world, to bring life and love and redemption to everybody. Everybody.

And so this has driven some of our values. And I want to put these on the board, some of the things that mark us. And if you've driven down Shevlin Park Road, you might have seen our sign where it says these three words that are core to our values and how we think about the world around us and what we are called to as a church. The words are life, love, Jesus. And this past year, we've expanded those to bring a little bit of clarity. First, life in community.

Second, love for our neighbors, and third, keeping Jesus at the center.

And we really feel so strongly, Ben and I and the rest of our leadership and all those who lead in this church, that when we do this, when we live a life in community, the community that Jesus envisioned, when we express and walk out and embody love for our neighbors, and when we keep Jesus at the center, we become the kind of church that I want to attend.

Oftentimes, I have this check that I have to go through that, okay? If I wasn't pastoring here, would I want to be a part of it? And so far, so good, y'all. Like, I'm like, this is a good place.

Sometimes I have to, you know, people ask what I do, and I have to explain that I'm a part of west side church and part of the leadership of west church. And whenever I get asked that question, I have to check myself and be like, okay, if I wasn't employed by the church, would I still fess up to being a part of it?

So far, so good. Why? Because I believe in what we are building together here through the Holy Spirit's power. I believe in the community that God is forming here in our city for this moment.

And what I love as much as anything about this community is the way that our church is constantly postured outward to not just reward those who are on the inside, those who are in, but always facing out to a world around us, saying, what can we give? How can we serve? How can we show that God loves you?

This is the kind of community we want to be building. And I remember it was probably a couple years after Alyssa and I had gotten married. So we're newlyweds, and money is very tight, but we scrounged enough money to get tickets, and we got to Hawaii. And once we got to Hawaii, we realized all our money had gotten us there. But we didn't have any money to eat or things like that.

A week long fast is not the vacation that we envisioned, but we were just so tight on money. But we went to this one restaurant, and by the way, nowadays, the nice thing about living in Bend is when you go other places, you're like, all the food is so cheap.

It's like wholesale everywhere else.

So we sit down at this restaurant, and, you know, at nice restaurants, they usually bring you a basket with some bread and some butter. And so they do that. They bring out this basket of bread, and we open up the napkins or whatever. And there in the basket is not just like a sourdough cut into slices with butter. It is an assortment of banana bread, muffins and slices.

And I got saved when I saw that, right?

So we start eating, and they're not like old day, old style. They are like fresh from the oven delicious banana bread. Some of you right now are like, I need some of that in my life right now. Where's the altar call for that? Right?

It was banana bread. And it was such a surprise because you know what you're expecting before the meal. This is before we ordered anything, before we asked for anything, before they tried to sell us on anything, what they brought was so good.

And when you're sitting there and you are eating what has not been asked for and yet is wonderful, what does it set you up for? It sets you up for this idea of whatever the main course is. If this is what I get before I even ask, the main course has got to be really good.

And this is our community calling.

Is that the gospel that we embody and the kingdom that we announce the news of it would be so good because this is the heart of Jesus for his church. That we would be those who preview the kingdom to come. That we would be in how we live and how we love and how we exist in the world around us. That we would be the preview of that day when God makes all things right, where heaven fully encounters earth and every tear is wiped away and every broken thing is made whole again, and the lost are found and the devastated are redeemed. That is where we are headed. And in the meantime, in this broken place that we live, we are called as a people, centered around the way of Jesus everywhere we go to be the preview of the kingdom to come.

And what does that look like? Oftentimes, I'm afraid, folks, that what it looks like is some stale, you know, sourdough with cold butter. You know what I'm saying? Cold butter where they don't take the time to warm it up. So you're scraping it across the bread. And that's no way to live when what we present to the world is good. It reminds people on the outside that if this is the preview, the final thing, the entree, what's coming next has got to be so good and so satisfying.

And it is in my heart and Pastor Ben, that we would understand that in the world we live in. Oftentimes people are not feeling guilt.

They're not feeling like they have sin in their lives. They don't know that they've lost something, that they're not trying to recover that. But here's what they do know. They know there's a longing in their soul.

They are seeking and searching for satisfaction. And wherever they can find it, they are begging that they might find satisfaction for their soul. And maybe that looks like acceptance from God. I just recently was sitting with a friend and talking. They had experienced after coming to Jesus just a few months before, had experienced a well meaning but misguided christian friend who was just sitting down with them and basically rebuking line by line all the different ways that they were missing the mark in their own lives just days after coming to Jesus.

And this friend sat with me and said, I don't know if I can continue in my faith after this.

And I said to them what I would say to any one of you who has been, who has been raked through the coals by maybe well meaning but misguided religious people, that the fact that you have turned and are reaching for Jesus looks like faith.

And my Bible tells me that when you believe God and when you reach out in faith, that God credits that to you as righteousness, and then it pleases the heart of God, and he's so proud of you that you are reaching for him.

And so I will.

I want to be careful and sensitive, but I will not tolerate us as christians going around acting like little God juniors, telling everybody where they're wrong and finding ourselves up on this pedestal of self righteousness that condemns everyone around us when my Bible tells us that there's no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And so we invite people into experience a transformative work of Jesus. What we do not do is say, you have to be transformed to meet him. I'm sorry, that is not the gospel, folks.

We encounter Jesus at the lowest point, just after the last service, a friend of mine, a good friend, came to me. He said, evan to the day, it's been 30 days or 30 years to the day since I got kicked out of my house. And it started and kick started a journey of sobriety. To this day, 30 years later, where I have been transformed by the presence of Jesus. And he was sharing with me how at that low point, he experienced something about Jesus, not when he figured it out, not when he got his family back, not when he got sober, not when he. No, it was in that low moment when somehow Jesus got ahold of him. And I want to tell you this, that when we keep the bar so high for entry into belonging to a community of faith, we keep people out from the very work that would transform lives and transform our community.

There is a way that we must operate as a church and as a community that stops trying to present good news after the bad news.

Oftentimes I feel like we have this pressure of like, well, we got to explain to people just how rotten they are before we describe how good Jesus is. The interesting thing is, when Jesus sent out his twelve in Luke chapter eight, he sent them out to do exactly what he was doing. It says this in verse eight. After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. And I'm looking and I'm saying, and where's that line where he says, and also the bad news about the condition of the people? It's not there.

We want to say, here's some good news, but first I got some really bad news.

And the gospel of Jesus is one where we proclaim good news, trusting that jesus has the ability through this holy spirit to create transformation in our lives. No judge ye Christians needed.

That could get an amen. Come on. No judge ye Christians needed.

We don't want to do bad news before good news. We want to proclaim and faithfully announce the kingdom of good news, which is that he brings righteousness, peace and joy.

Righteousness, peace and joy.

The Holy Spirit pushes us into places where real people are. I was just meeting with a pastor friend on Thursday, and I was talking to him about how so much of my life, because of the role I'm in, is just constantly in churchy spaces with churchy people. And you guys are lovely, but there's more to the world and life than just safe christian spaces.

And we were kind of bemoaning this and then realized like, well, no one says that's how it has to be. We could actually, like, go meet people. So we're working on that.

No one made that a rule, man. That's you.

But the Holy Spirit is always pushing us out of our safe, locked upper rooms into the streets. We're hurting people really live.

I can only imagine how different the gospel would be if we find Jesus, and the story goes, at twelve years old, his parents lost sight of him on the way to a festival, and they're like, we can't find Jesus. We can't find Jesus. Turns out he's sitting in the temple teaching all the people the ways of following after God. At twelve years old, imagine how different a story it would be if that's where Jesus had stayed, if the rest of his life he had just camped out in the temple and people were like, hey, where's Jesus? Oh, he's graduated into the holiest place behind the curtain where all the holy things are, and that's where he lives.

Well, can I go meet him? No, no, you're not holy enough.

Jesus, you got to understand Jesus. We believe he's the son of God and he's so holy, that's the only appropriate place for someone like Jesus to be, is in the holiest place behind the curtain.

He's been back there for a couple years now, just waiting for someone to get holy enough to see him.

Rumors are he could heal if you just get holy enough.

He's got some really good things to say. We think, of course not.

Jesus famously refused the trappings of what was likely expected of him as a rabbi to keep company with the best and the brightest and the most godly. He famously turns all that down to what?

To sit in the homes around the tables of notorious outcasts, prostitutes, cheats, pagans, Romans, Greeks, lepers, the poor.

And Jesus didn't do this like an outreach program, you know, he didn't build a counter, stand behind it and just serve meals. And by the way, that's good work. I'm not demeaning that at all. But you got to understand that Jesus didn't come as somehow above and beyond the people that he spent time with. When he sat around a table in Zacchaeus home, he was not saying, see how much better I am than you. He was saying, zacchaeus, I want to be your friend.

This idea that Jesus would not just reach out to the poor and the outcasts, but that he would prefer them is revolutionary.

It should change how we consider who we are in community, in the world around us.

That Jesus is constantly shirking and pushing against those spaces where the religious feel comfortable, and he's pushing into places where the outsiders are most at home.

And sometimes I fear that the way of Jesus maybe has gotten so far from me that I'm no longer offended in my religiosity. And I will tell you this, that. Whenever I find myself surrounded by the trappings of religion and very comfortable in those, I have to go back to the Holy Spirit and say, fill me again, because I've become too comfortable around the things that Jesus you actually offended. In order to save the least and the lost, we have to reset our mission as a community around this way of Jesus.

I read a story about ranchers in Australia.

Dom's here, he's from Australia. That was the Wu.

They call them stations. Is that right, Dom? Yeah, stations. And in Australia, in the hot, dry summers of the vast australian land, oftentimes what is normal in other places in the world where to create space and to control the herds of animals, you would build fences. It's not practical in the wide open, dry, hot spaces in Australia. And so what they do is they're covering hundreds of square miles for their herds.

Instead of building fences to keep their herds together, what do they do? Well, they dig wells.

And when you dig a well in a hot and dry land, what it has the effect of is it gathers the herd far better than a fence could ever do in that kind of country.

And traditionally we have built churches and movements and communities long after the day of Pentecost where we build fences, who's in, who's out, what are the steps to membership so I can belong to that kind of community?

And this honestly is an effective way to create community. It's not ineffective. We've been doing it for a long, long time, hundreds of years, and yet it's not the only way.

And I thought reading that, how much more beautiful would it be if instead of fences that decide who's in and who's out, and instead of a mindset that says the more that we can please God is by building those fences taller and taller, raising the bar higher and higher, so fewer and fewer people can actually make it into belonging in our community, what if instead we were those who dug wells, deep wells of living water, with Jesus at the center?

As my mentor told me this week, he said, oftentimes we make it hard to find Jesus and easy to follow him. Instead we should make it really easy to find him and hard to follow that oftentimes we set the bar so high for people to belong to our community and then once they're in, it's like, well, anything goes. Now you remember, instead of saying, it's really hard to follow Jesus, he actually asked for everything.

To follow him for the rest of your life is actually going to cost everything. But for those on the far outs, with God, who think they're so far away. We're going to make it so easy for you to catch a glimpse of Jesus and be welcomed in with open arms to the community.

We have to change the question from who's in and who's out to our people facing towards the well that is Jesus.

This means that you can be 100 miles away, but the moment you turn and face him, you belong.

And if you think that I'm just making stuff up, you might think that all the time. But especially today, I would remind you of the parable of the prodigal son in Luke, chapter 16, where it says, when the father saw the son, when he was far off, he saw that he had turned towards home.

And at that moment, acceptance and restoration begins.

I want to dig wells instead of building fences, and where fences exist, I want to tear them down.

I want to tear them down.

May it never be the case of us and this church that someone would leave this place and sit with someone else and say, I don't know if I can continue following Jesus because of what I was just told, but that instead, everyone who comes into this community and into this place, even long before they fully believe that they might belong, because they've experienced what it looks like to be drawn to the well of living water.

This is the heart of how Jesus ministered.

He was a well and not a fence.

And he had strong words for the fence builders and the gatekeepers of his day.

He called them some really nasty things, whitewashed tombs, vipers, which today sounds like that's not bad. But if we translate it to today's words, you'd be horribly offended, I'm sure, because Jesus was so passionate about hurting people, experiencing healing, that he would not tolerate. He just wouldn't tolerate the fence builders keeping people far away from the mercy of God.

And instead he said that he was opening a well of living water.