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Come, Holy Spirit

This is the sermon I preached this past Sunday, which was Pentecost Sunday, 5/15/16 at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches. The text was Acts 2:1-21.

Did you hear that wind yesterday? Do you think that's what the apostles heard when the Spirit appeared or do you think it was bigger and stronger than the wind that blew yesterday? In the book of Acts, Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of wind and fire. We often describe the Holy Spirit as being like the wind. You can't see the wind, but you can see the effects of the wind when it blows through.  The same can be said for the Holy Spirit. You can't see him, but you know when he's made his presence known.

What comes to mind when you hear the word Pentecost? Do you think the apostles were  bewildered by the sound of the wind? Do you picture all the apostles with little tongues of flame dancing on their heads? Do you think of the apostles addressing the crowd and each person hearing them speak in his or her native language? Do you think of Peter standing up and having the courage to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah instead of denying him as he did on Good Friday?

In today's reading from Acts, The Holy Spirit  is the principle actor. The first action of the Holy Spirit was to make an overwhelming entrance. It filled the whole place where the apostles were gathered. Luke describes the Holy Spirit like the sound of a rushing, violent wind. In this way, the Holy Spirit manifested its tremendous power.

The second action of the Holy Spirit was to touch everyone gathered together in that place. People of all backgrounds, nationalities and languages experienced the Holy Spirit's presence in a personal, powerful, life changing way.

At such times, the presence and power of God's Holy Spirit is palpable. People are blessed with a sense of forgiveness, new hope, new life, healing and reconciliation.

The third action of  the Holy Spirit caused fiery tongues to appear among those gathered. This was nothing new in Israel's history. The Holy Spirit of God appeared on Mt. Sinai in flames of fire. Moses experienced God in fire at the burning bush. God led the people through the wilderness with a pillar of fire. Seraphim are fire-spirits, extensions of the divine. Fire is also a sign of judgment. In the Garden of Eden, the tree of life is hidden from humanity with a sword of fire.

The fourth action of the Holy Spirit was to break down the language barriers that separated those gathered, which enabled those present to speak different languages so that others could understand the message. The Holy Spirit's work frees the gospel from a particular first century Galilean rabbi to a universal message of hope and salvation for all.

The fifth action of the Holy Spirit was to enable Peter to preach. God's word, God's love, God's mercy, God's grace is for all people. Peter is the first to get it, so he jumped up and announced the Word of God with gusto.

Luke demonstrates through Peter the continuation from the Old Testament to the New Testament, saying, "...this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel" (v. 16). This was not some new-fangled theology cooked up by Jesus and his followers. Joel's prophecy declares in these words, "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh"

The sixth action of the Holy Spirit was to create a transformed community of prophets. No longer were the people at the first Pentecost individual nations unto themselves, but instead, a prophetic community. They became messengers of God's word, messengers of the good news of Jesus. 

How did the people react to this demonstrative work of God's Spirit? The devout questioned how they could hear and understand the foreign languages being spoken. They were amazed and perplexed asking each other, "What does this mean?" (V. 12). The unbelievers sneered and accused the apostles of being drunk, although they were not. Rather, they were seeing the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy.

What does this mean for today's church and for us? How do we react when we witness the manifestation of the Holy Spirit? Are we amazed by God demonstrating his power? Or do we dismiss it as superstition?

In Christian theology, the Spirit we experience is that of the risen, ascended Christ. It is a Spirit of service, a Spirit of love and a Spirit of resurrection beyond death.

As Lutheran Christians, we believe in the Holy Spirit. We confess this each week in the Creed, but do we understand what we confess? Can we keep God and His Spirit in a box? No way! The Spirit of God is on the loose and will speak to whoever it wishes.

What would happen if we completely gave over our lives to the Holy Spirit? God does not force upon us that which is contrary to the nature he has given us. God created introverts and extroverts. Those with quieter, more reflective natures may not be called by God to minister in very public ways. Rather their mission may be to do the important behind the scenes work.

Those of us who are extroverts, are more likely to be called to more public ministry. We just have to be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit.

My point is this, do not be afraid of letting yourself go when it comes to the Holy Spirit because we are not on our own in this journey of faith. We are not the body of Christ individually, but together. We have the witness of the Word of God to guide and inspire us.

I wonder who might need a prophetic, gospel word spoken in their lives. Is it my neighbor? Is it the person who sits across the lunch table from me? Is it a sister or brother or grandmother who has lost interest in being part of the church? Is it those struggling with substance abuse? Is it the unemployed or the homeless?

For those of us here today, God's restoring work is happening now in us and through us. God's work continues as we listen to one another from oldest to youngest, as we worship together, take part in the holy meal and are sent from this place to share the good news into our world. Ask God what part you are to play in the lives of those around you. You may be surprised at the answer you get.

In response to the addiction problem in our area, the work of the Addiction Response Ministry was born by God. It is an inter-denominational approach to the troubles of our community. On the steering committee a number of denominations are represented along with a deputy sheriff and someone from the Mental Health Association. Please pray for this ministry as they look for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them.

Just like the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, God's Spirit speaks to us so that we can speak to others.


N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part One


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