SERMON A Pentecost FESTIVAL Day 2017 June 4, 2017 Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 20:19-23
“What’s happening?” Did you ever come into a room—or drive around a corner—or turn on the tv—and suddenly sense that something unusual was happening? Perhaps things looked different, somehow, or maybe there was a lot of noise, a lot of commotion, a lot of excitement, or a lot of confusion, and you found yourself asking, without even thinking, “What’s happening?”
When the disciples of Jesus gathered on the Day of Pentecost, a Jewish festival, after his death and resurrection and ascension, they must have asked, “What’s happening?” Suddenly, the author of Acts tells us, there “came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, [which] filled the house. [And then] “divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” They heard a great wind; they saw tongues of fire. And then “they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” The disciples were not only filled with the Holy Spirit, but their senses were filled, too. They saw and heard and felt, and, on that first Pentecost, the disciples and the devout Jews who surrounded them, who were “bewildered and amazed and astonished”, must have asked, “What’s happening?”
In today’s second lesson from the second chapter of Acts, the narrator hints at a very clear reason that the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples at the first Pentecost. He doesn’t tell us why there were tongues of fire or a violent wind, but he does suggest why the Holy Spirit was given. He tells us that the disciples “were filled with the Holy Spirit”—and then what happened? Without a pause, the narrator tells us that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” What good was this unique talent of speaking in other tongues? Well, it might be nice to be able to speak another language, suddenly, without hours and years of study. Was the Holy Spirit given so that the disciples could take a quick trip to Tanzania and find their way around the market—or to France and tour the City of Paris?
Well, of course not. There was no Togo or France in the first century. And the Holy Spirit wasn’t an employee of the Department of Tourism. So what was up? Why did the Spirit show up on that day when the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem? A bit later in the story, we read that those who witnessed this event, who had come from many countries for a festival in Jerusalem, each heard the disciples speaking in her or his own native language. And what did they hear? They heard the disciples declaring the wonders of God in words they could understand! The Holy Spirit was given, you see, not for the convenience of a vacation, but so that the disciples could tell others the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection in words that their hearers could understand. The Spirit was given, and things started happening!
Sometimes, when we gather for worship on Pentecost Sunday, there’s a lot happening because we can see a lot of action during the liturgy. Sometimes we welcome a brand new member through Baptism and see the family gathering at the font and the water splashed on the baby or older child or adult. Or we celebrate the Rite of Confirmation and hear the prayers prayed over each student as the pastor anoints them with oil. Or we receive New Members by Affirmation of Baptism and offer each one a handshake during the passing of the Peace. Today, there’s not so much to see; there’s no such action up here between the pews and the altar railing, but something is happening, even if we don’t notice it. What is happening, here, today? What is happening that we can see or hear or taste or touch or smell? What is happening that we can’t access through our senses?
Well, what has happened so far? An acolyte has lit the candles on the altar and the Paschal candle at the baptismal font. Other acolytes have processed the cross and the torches. The children have invited us into physical engagement in worship. A lector has read the Word of God. The pastor is just now preaching, and in a moment we will share our offerings, and then we will touch the bread and taste the wine. Finally, the pastor will bless us, and then the acolytes will recess the cross and torches. And all throughout the liturgy we hear or sing music that engages us as participants. This is what is happening, right now, in worship. This is what is happening on the surface. But what about what is underneath? What about what we can’t see? What is happening that we cannot see? Martin Luther would answer: “It’s the work of the Holy Spirit.”
In his “Small Catechism”, Martin Luther actually gives us a sort of job description of the work of the Holy Spirit. Do you know where to find it? In Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed. Do you remember the five verbs in that job description? “Called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified,” and one more: “keeps”. Let me read from Luther’s explanation. Perhaps it will sound familiar to you if you memorized the catechism in your confirmation days, although I may have a different translation than the one you know. Luther writes, “The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.” Can you repeat those verbs? Called. Called. Gathered. Gathered. Enlightened. Enlightened. Made holy. Made holy. Keeps in the true faith. Keeps in the true faith. Let’s try all five: called, gathered, enlightened and made holy; keeps in the true faith. Called, gathered, enlightened, made holy, and keeps in the true faith. The Holy Spirit has called, gathered, enlightened, and made holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith. Let’s take these verbs one by one.
Called. As Lutherans, we believe that the Holy Spirit calls us. Some of us hear that call more quickly than others, and some of us hear it more clearly than others, but we believe that God calls every one of us. God invites you into a relationship of love, a relationship of mutual speaking and listening. God doesn’t exactly call out “Yoo-hoo!”, but God does call each of us and all of us. We may not hear the sound of a great wind or see tongues of fire or be able to speak in languages we don’t understand, but God calls us nonetheless.
We Lutherans believe that the Holy Spirit calls us. We also believe that the Spirit gathers us, into God’s family of saints of every time and every place, and also into this specific faith community at King of Kings. You are here because God, in some way, invited you here—or maybe dragged you here. We’re here together, because, as Luther says in the “Small Catechism”, the Spirit has gathered us here.
We believe that the Holy Spirit calls us and gathers us. And we believe that the Spirit enlightens us. One of the tasks in the job description of the Spirit is to call us, to get our attention; another is to assemble us so that we both receive and lend support on our Christian journeys. This third task is to help us understand our faith, to teach us the ways of God, to give us enough light to keep on keepin’ on in our lives, which sometimes seem very full of darkness. The Holy Spirit enlightens us—or gives us light—so we can find our way on the path.
So the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens us. We also believe that the Spirit makes us holy—and makes the whole Christian church on earth holy. The former translation of this word “makes holy” was “sanctify”, which means to “set apart or declare holy”. So when we say, “The Holy Spirit sanctifies the whole Christian church,” we mean that the Spirit makes the church holy. The pastors don’t make the church holy. The bishops don’t make it holy. The people in the pew don’t make it holy. Nor does the Bible or the organ or the beautiful building or the banners or the communion ware. Instead, the Spirit makes the church holy. To put it another way, the church is holy not because of what we have or what we do, but because of what God does. God sets the church apart; God declares the church holy so it can go out into the world and do God’s work.
Back to Luther: “The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes the whole Christian church on earth holy. And the Spirit keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one, common true faith.” The church doesn’t make itself holy; nor does it keep itself holy. It’s the Spirit that makes the church holy, and it’s the Spirit that keeps the church with Jesus Christ.
Now Luther is talking about his hope and his ideal for the church. Obviously, the Spirit does not always keep the church in Jesus in the one, common true faith. There are plenty of examples in Christian history when the church has not kept true faith. The church has failed over and over again: when it split over theological issues, first in 1054 and after that too many times to count; when it embraced the Crusades against Muslims in the Middle Ages; when it supported enslavement of Africans in the U.S. for 250 years; when it failed to stand against Hitler in Nazi Germany or against apartheid in South Africa; when it allowed abuse of children by priests or pastors. And local congregations have certainly failed as well. They have fought over things that didn’t really matter, in the end; they have turned away people who were hurting; they have judged others as unworthy to enter their doors. Maybe we have failed, too.
But when the Spirit invites and the church responds, when the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and makes holy the church and God’s people respond, then the Spirit keeps the church with Jesus Christ in the one, common true faith. That’s what’s happening here, now.
On the surface we are worshipping here at King of Kings, but underneath, the Holy Spirit is at work. How do we know this? We can’t see the Spirit, right? We can’t hear it or touch it or control it. But we can experience its effects. We can discern what the Spirit has been doing. Let’s look again at each of those verbs.
The Spirit has been calling. This spring the Spirit called four babies “Child of God” int the Rite of Baptism at King of Kings. The Spirit called four new members to join King of Kings last month; the Spirit called each of them into this particular place at this particular time, all for different reasons. The Spirit has also called a few members who have not been active recently to rejoin our fellowship. The Spirit has been calling.
The Spirit has also been gathering. Since we changed our worship schedule a year ago, the Spirit has been gathering members and visitors every week since then on both Saturday and Sunday. And the Spirit has been gathering children and adults, singles and families at BING, our Bible Intergenerational Gathering each Sunday during this past school year. Through a grant which we received from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Huntington Station, the Spirit is gathering middle school and high school students this August to prepare them to take leadership roles in our worship life, especially in music. The Spirit has been calling and gathering.
The Spirit has also been enlightening us, teaching us in worship and in our educational ministries, through our four choirs, Bible Study, BING, and soon in Vacation Bible School. The Spirit has also been building community in our various programs and small groups (Stewardship presentations, Women of the ELCA, Young at Hearts, Book Club, Game Night, and Yoga), as well as through the support groups we host, such as RAPP and AA and Al-Anon. Soon the Spirit will be building community through our efforts to reach out to our neighbors at the summer Craft Tables and the New Windsor Community Day. The Spirit has been calling and gathering and enlightening.
And the Spirit has also been making us holy and keeping us in faith. Week by week, day by day, hour by hour, the Holy Spirit moves among us to make us holy as individuals and to make us holy as a congregation, to keep all of us in faith. The Spirit makes us holy and keeps us in faith over and over again as we hear God’s word and share in God’s supper, as we sing and pray together, as we develop disciplines of devotions as families or couples or individuals, as we seek to PRAISE God and GROW in God’s love and DO God’s work in the world.
On this Pentecost weekend, we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit into the midst of the disciples and their bold proclamation of the good news of God in Jesus Christ in many languages. Through the disciples, the Holy Spirit called the early church, gathered it, enlightened it, made it holy, and kept it in the true faith. Just as the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, it comes among us, calling us, gathering us, enlightening us, sanctifying us, and keeping us in true faith. The same Holy Spirit who poured flames of fire on those early disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem fills each of us. While we may not hear the sound of the wind or see flames of fire on one another’s heads, something is happening here, nonetheless. On the surface, the day to day work of the church. Underneath, the Holy Spirit.
On this Festival of Pentecost, and every day, the Holy Spirit moves us to tell the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ to others in words that they can understand. The Spirit sends you and me out to continue to be witnesses at school, at home, at work, at church, wherever we go. And, wherever you are sent, the Spirit goes with you, empowering you to tell that good news, nudging you to proclaim the love of God to everyone you meet.
What’s happening here, anyway? A lot. On the surface—and underneath. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, makes the church holy and keeps it in true faith. The Holy Spirit calls you, enlightens you, makes you holy and keeps you in true faith. Why? So that you will speak—or continue to speak—about what’s happening, so that others, too, will hear about the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ in words they can understand. AMEN