Pentecost Sunday Sermon- May 31, 2020 Pastor John
Sermon for May 31, 2020
Outside a Nursing Home/Assisted Living facility in Eagle River is a sign with large letters, “Heroes Work Here.” The meaning is for those who work in health care and care for the elderly. Indeed all who work in nursing homes do the heroic work of helping residents be healthy as far as possible. Our nation wants to recognize heroes. Usually our heroes were those who served in the military who take an oath to defend and protect the country. Now in this time of a pandemic the fight is to save lives from a dangerous virus. Health care workers are called heroes. They are on the front line of this pandemic battle, working long hours to save lives often at the risk of catching the virus themselves. But many do not think of themselves as heroes. They have training in the medical field but they also feel they are being faithful to their calling to do all they can to help people.
I wonder if we could put up a sign in front of the church to say “Spirit-filled heroes worship here.” That would sound like a crazy idea to us. People of faith do not consider themselves heroes. And many of us do not really know what it would mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit. New Testament scholar from years ago, Dr. Charles Erdman, made a comment that I would like to frame and put on the wall and look at during times when I do not feel filled with the Holy Spirit: “I am now convinced that those Christians are most filled with the Holy Spirit who are least conscious of it. All they know is that they want to serve Jesus Christ, and they feel that they are unprofitable servants.” The Holy Spirit does not come only to the super-Christians, the prayer-warriors, the Bible-verse memorizers, or any other thought of impressing the Holy Spirit with good works. The Holy Spirit is not so easily defined except to understand Jesus’ promise not to leave us feeling alone and abandoned. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit will comfort, counsel, help and ever be by our side and on our side. The apostle Paul reminds us with another verse that would be wonderful to frame and meditate on, that we are not to be slaves to fear because of the Holy Spirit wants our human spirits to know that we are children of God, and as children loved beyond any measure, and equipped to follow and serve Jesus, our Savior and Lord.
This is Pentecost Sunday, the third of three major festivals of the church. We think of the festival of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the grace of the Word who became flesh, Jesus to dwell among us to reveal the grace and truth of God’s love for the world. Then we know the festival of Easter, the celebration of Jesus, crucified, dead, and buried, is now risen from the dead giving us the living hope that not even death can separate us from the love of God, proven by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Christmas and Easter are familiar to all due to the money-making creations of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But Pentecost is not so well-known since there is no commercial mascot to distract us. And that suits the church just fine. We have the time to focus on what the Scriptures say about the gift of the Holy Spirit.
An important text for today is from the second chapter of Acts. It is a dramatic and noisy reading: “When the Day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” The word ‘Pentecost’ means simply ‘50th Day”, or fifty days after Passover. It was a Jewish festival which celebrated the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. Now for the Christian church it is the 50th day after Easter, celebrating the promise of Jesus to send ‘power from on high’. This was not a power to dominate others but the power to witness, to speak of the mighty deeds of God. All the disciples, not just a few, were given the gift to speak in other languages. The word ‘language’ was literally ‘tongue’ which I think is related to the detail of a ‘divided tongue, as of fire’ rested on each follower of Jesus. There was variety of languages and cultures represented in Jerusalem at the time. The proclamation of the gospel is to respect the language and culture of the peoples of the world.
The followers of Jesus must have testified with such enthusiasm that they were mocked as being ‘filled with new wine”. But Peter was able to get up and preach a sermon that begun with humor, “they are not drunk as you suppose, it is too early in the morning.” Notice for a moment the preacher, Peter, the one disciples who not too many days prior denied that he even knew Jesus. Jesus predicted that and told Peter so, but also Jesus said he prayed for Peter and that afterward he would strengthen his companions. How better to strengthen and preach the good news than to know firsthand the powerful grace of the forgiveness of Jesus, and to know Jesus praying for you. Peter, a failed disciple yet forgiven completely, a very frail and human disciple, yet empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Before Jesus returned to heaven, he told his disciples that their witness had an important theme that must be proclaimed: forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name.
The gospel reading from John has a similar theme. The setting is the evening of the first Easter. The disciples had heard the news of the risen Christ from Mary Magdalene. Yet they were unsure and behind locked doors due to the overwhelming sense of fear from hostile forces. Then the risen Jesus appeared in their midst and spoke not perdition, but peace. Then Jesus said to them “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgiven the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In the original biblical languages ‘spirit’ and ‘breath’ is the same word. Jesus breathed new life into his disciples, the new life in the Holy Spirit. Jesus previously had promised the Holy Spirit would be given to teach them all that Jesus had taught. An important lesson the Holy Spirit ever teaches is the forgiveness of sins in Jesus name. It is the good news of love for the world, that sins are not to be retained but released. Jesus went to the cross as the Lamb of God who, entirely by grace, took away the sin of the world. In John’s gospel sin is understood as unbelief. Unbelief turns ones back away from Jesus who came to be the Light of the world, the bread of life, and resurrection and life. But when we are drawn to the cross what we receive is the freedom of forgiveness, no longer restrained, chained, or retained in thoughts of condemnation, guilt, and fear. Forgiveness is the pure joy of living with Jesus who invites us daily to live in his love.
Pentecost Sunday also assigns a reading from the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Here we have the practical understanding of the Holy Spirit for the church. The Holy Spirit creates the church; the church is evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit ever busy, calling, gathering, enlightening, and uniting people with the good news of forgiveness of sin in Jesus’ name. The apostle Paul was writing to a congregation that was a poor witness to the community, was divided into factions, had messed up the Lord’s Supper, and all-in-all needed counsel. Paul made it clear that “To each is given the manifestation of the Holy Spirit for the common good.” Paul gave examples of such manifestations or gifts but summarizing “All these are activated by the one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” The Spirit gathers us, diverse in our backgrounds and interests, diverse in our opinions from anything from sports to politics, and works to unite us. Since we are human, the Holy Spirit has plenty to do! Our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, was quoted in a New York Times article recently. There has been disagreement as to when it is prudent and pious to open churches for worship. Eaton reminded us that the church cannot be a pawn of differing political views. The Holy Spirit works to keep the church united saying that not even a pandemic can break that unity apart. The Holy Spirit works so out unity is based on Jesus and his love for all. Our unity is based on the recognition that all our treasured in the church, each one gifted by the Holy Spirit for the common good. The apostle Paul used a marvelous image in 2 Corinthians writing we are each a letter of Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.” This letter is written not on paper but on our hearts. The Spirit sends us out to be read, so people see in our lives the living Christ and the good news of his love and forgiveness. Martin Luther wrote that Jesus would say to us, “The person who comes to me I shall equip, not only to be refreshed and satisfied and to quench his own thirst but also to become a sturdy, earthen vessel, endowed with the Holy Spirit and with gifts that enable one to give consolation and strength to many other people and to serve them as he or she was served by me.”
Historian Jon Meacham has written in his book “The Hope of Glory”, “Religion is not for the faint of heart; it is a hard, difficult business. It is more courageous to hope than it is to fear, more taxing to be selfless than selfish, more humbling to hold that there is more to the universe than the eye can see of the ear can hear.” One can say, then, that we are heroes as followers of Jesus. Not the kind of heroes that need headlines, but heroes through the Holy Spirit. With the good news of Jesus, the Holy Spirit ever reminds us that Jesus is with us always. With the Holy Spirit we are not enslaved to fears, but are given the courage to hope in Christ. With the Holy Spirit we are gifted to be selfless for the common good. With the Holy Spirit we remain not wretched but inspired to worship God who does not forsake us. In spite of the current pandemic the church is not shut down, closed up, or silent. We, you and me, individuals together, are the church, quietly revealing the love of Jesus in the encouragement and consolation we share with others.