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Sermons, Uncategorized

 “Happy Birthday, Church!”

5/31/2020 Day of Pentecost The text is Acts 2: 1-21.

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1When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] 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.’ ”

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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

You know, if we were to be perfectly accurate, the Hymn of the Day this morning should have been “Happy Birthday”.  And while this song doesn’t appear on the list of hymns suggested for Pentecost, in a way it should.  For, while the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus heralded the beginning of the Christian faith, this first appearance of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; this served as the birth of the Church, proper.  This event is the story of the first group of people to be seized, inspired, and encouraged to act to spread the gospel message; Jesus Christ, the Son of God has ascended to the Father, and all who believe in him will be saved.

We note that this initial arrival of the Holy Spirit is not portrayed as we often imagine at other times, in the form of a peaceful dove.  No, the Spirit comes upon those in the house in the form of, let’s call it what it is; a powerful, urgent, uncompromising force!  This arrival is described by Luke in Acts as filling the room with the sound of a rushing, violent wind, accompanied by columns of fire enveloping each of them, and then causing even larger group to speak in many tongues.  This is like the “Big Bang Theory” of how God chose to come among the people to stir them, to inspire them, and motivate them to carry on the work that Jesus started; to begin the work of building Christ’s church.  And we have observed this portrayal of how God chooses to appear before humanity before; this is the concept of “theophany”.  We read in the Hebrew Bible the manner in which the Lord chooses to manifest himself.  These visits with humanity were accompanied by natural phenomena; fire, pillars of clouds, burning bushes, etc.  When God has something especially important to share with God’s people, subtlety is not the order of the day.  Messages of great importance delivered by God in person are announced along with imposing aspects of nature. 

 

Peter stands before the gathered crowds and quotes the Joel; referring to his prophesy of what has come to be know as the “end times”.  And again, we hear this theme of theophany; Joel speaks of dreams, visions, and speaking prophetic words.  And being accompanied by natural phenomena; blood, fire, and smoky mists.  These will occur, it is prophesied, at “the end of days”, an unknown time when God will choose to bring all the world to final closure.

So, here we have a pair of theological bookends, both concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit; one at the first arrival and the other taking place at the end of time.  And both highlighted by a great display of God’s power over the elements of nature.  And, we find ourselves living somewhere along this timeline of humankind’s first and eventually, last powerful engagement with the Spirit of God.  This then raises a somewhat obvious question regarding our encounters with the Jesus-sent Advocate.  Does she engage with us in a manner that isn’t as explicit, as violent as on that first Pentecost?  Yes, the Spirit continually reaches out to connect with us; it’s up to us to be aware of this yearning for connection that comes from the Father and the Son.  Likely, we’re probably not going to find ourselves face-to-face with tongues of flame, rushing, violent winds, the moon turning to blood, or even the often-mentioned burning bush.  More probably, the violent, rushing wind will be felt as a slight breeze, a small voice calling out for our attention.

I’d like to offer a bit of background regarding my use of “she” when referring to the Holy Spirit a moment ago.  The Greek word for Spirit is “pneuma”; this word translates as “wind” or “breath”, and sometimes, as “life-force” when used in Scripture.  And the word is gender-neutral.  But the New Testament writers were more accustomed to the Hebrew for Holy Spirit found in the Torah.  This is, “Ruach ha-kodesh”.  And, like in the Greek, “Ruach”, spirit, is translated as “breath”, or “wind”, except when used to convey the Spirit of God.  Then, it is enhanced with the understanding that this “wind” or “breath”, coming from God, somehow contains God’s very essence.  And the word in Hebrew is definitely feminine.  Our ancient Jewish forebears understood the Spirit of God to be female in nature.  Just some food for thought!

Let’s return to the manner of our engagement with the Holy Spirit.  Our first encounter is at our baptism, where God’s gathered people call on the Holy Spirit to be poured out on us as we are welcomed into God’s family of the faithful.  The one baptized is told that they have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  You will note that there is an earthly element, a connection with God’s creation, in the use of water in the baptismal font.  Again, this is not a violent, rushing wind as at Pentecost, but the Spirit called forth is accompanied by this symbol of nature that heralds her coming near to us.  And, forever after this initial incoming of God’s Spirit to us, she remains as our Counselor, Comforter, and Friend; just as Jesus promised.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.  “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever”. 

Just as this Holy Spirit burst into the room to alight as flames on the apostles, then outward to the crowds gathered outside, Christ’s Advocate is relentless in the pursuit of God’s people.  It is through the action of the Holy Spirit that we are brought to faith; Martin Luther explains this in the Small Catechism; “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me…”.  Those visited by the Spirit at Pentecost were the ones that God set on the path of spreading the gospel message of Jesus Christ; to make disciples, preach salvation through faith, and build Christ’s church on earth.  They were to do this by acting as Christ acted, loving as Christ loved, and living as Christ lived!  It took flames, speaking in tongues, and a mighty wind to make sure that these first missionaries got the message.  For us, the means that the Spirit uses to inspire us may be different, but the intent, the message, the commandments are the same.  Act, love, and live as Jesus did!

But, pursuit, inspiration, and motivation; these are what the Spirit is all about.  And we don’t need the overpowering effects of nature to convince us that she is calling us.  The reaching out, the calling to us, the persistent demand that we acknowledge the Spirit’s presence; let’s not fool ourselves, it’s always there.  Freud called it the super-ego, or the conscience.  Some people refer to that “little voice in our head” that motivates us or controls our behavior.  Others, a sense of morality that humans learn to abide by.

But we followers of the Way of Jesus Christ, we acknowledge that this is the work of the Holy Spirit, calling us just as she did those on that first Pentecost.  The only thing we have to do as listen for this call; and react to it.  Every time we feel compelled to act for the good of others, that’s the Spirit reaching out to us.  Every opportunity taken to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or shelter the homeless is an answer to the Spirit’s call.  And it can be challenging.  Often the Spirit of God wants us to do something for God’s glory, according to God’s will, and for God’s purpose.  And often, God’s will and ours can be at odds.  There may be a million other things we would rather do than act upon what we know the Spirit is calling us to.  And these are the very times that it is most important that we open our hearts to the Spirit’s call.  We are fully aware that whatever it is we feel drawn to, if it is for the good of God’s people, that it is the Spirit calling us, reaching out to us.

And I submit to you that we are much better off if we heed these calls to perform as we are called to do, than attempt to ignore them.  We will know that we have acted in response to the Spirit because the result will be obvious.  We will have acted as Christ acted, loved as Christ loved, lived as Christ lived.  Besides, it’s a good to comply with the insistent, yet subtle prodding we might feel; nobody wants to deal with rushing winds, tongues of flame, or prophesying in a foreign language.  These are the kind of things that people today tend to frown upon.  As Nike tells us, “just do it!”.    

Will you pray with me?  Good and gracious God, you sent your Holy Spirit to those whom you chose to attend the birth of your church.  And you send your Spirit to us, to encourage us to labor as workers to help the church flourish.  Give us the wisdom to recognize your will through the Spirit’s subtle call to us.  May we be ever open to her summoning, and ever willing to respond.

And in the name of Jesus Christ, who has provided the Advocate to be our Counselor, Comforter, and Friend, together we say…Amen.

God is Good, all the time.  All the time, God is Good.  Amen.

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