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Powerful Promises

This is the sermon I preached on Pentecost, 6/9/19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Acts 2:1-21.
In high school, I had a dear Jewish friend. Desiring her salvation, I happily told her that we Christians also celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost. She had never heard of it! It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that what we call Pentecost, which is from the Greek, is the Jewish feast called Shavuot. Had I referred to it in that way, by its Hebrew name, then I suspect she would have had a better understanding.

Shavuot began as an agricultural feast, originally celebrated seven weeks after the beginning of the grain harvest (Deut.16:9). Later on, it celebrated the giving of the Law, being celebrated fifty days after Passover. Still, my friend and I would have had very different understandings of what we call Pentecost. For us, it’s about the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit and how that power launched God’s work through the church. In Acts we see the beginning of the church moving outward to the ends of the earth, that all may hear the good news.

Finally, the day had come, just as it had been promised. On the Day of Pentecost, we read of the mighty beginning, what some call the “birthday” of the church. The crowd had never experienced anything quite like this—the supernatural thundering of a mighty wind of the Spirit and the fiery tongues. These phenomena were not unheard of in scripture. But still, it’s no wonder the crowd asked, “What does this mean?” (V. 12). Just what does all of the excitement mean?

It means that God is fulfilling the promises made long ago through the prophets and through his Son Jesus. The miraculous events seen in Jesus’ ministry will now be seen in the church.  God promised this day would come. It did. God is faithful.

This day had been promised by the prophet Joel. Luke cites him to authenticate the power of God among leaders of the church. He wants readers and observers to understand the connection to the promises of old from the Hebrew scriptures. This was no new idea.

Luke demonstrates through Peter, the continuation from the Old Testament to the new: “…this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel…” (v. 16). For Joel, the signs of the outpouring of the Spirit were a prelude to disaster, the day of the Lord.

Joel prophesied of the coming day of Pentecost. The promise is fulfilled. God is faithful.

The day of Pentecost and its happenings was promised by the Lord Jesus. Repeatedly, before his crucifixion, Jesus taught his disciples that he would be crucified, raised from the dead and ascended to heaven. He made it clear that they were not being left to their own devices. Jesus would give them the Holy Spirit. After his resurrection, on the day of his ascension, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were filled with power from on high (Luke 24:49). He had promised them the power of the Holy Spirit for the work of spreading the good news and growing God’s church. And boom—here it is! The word for power in Greek is the word that we get dynamite from in English, dunamis. God gave the disciples the tools, the power to do all that God had asked of them.

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come. The Holy Spirit came in power. God is faithful.

What does this mean for the people of that day? The behavior of those who had received the power of the Holy Spirit was unlike anything the crowd had ever seen. Everyone was amazed, but some sneered, accusing the newly empowered of being drunk, even though it was only morning.

It means that everyone was included and heard the gospel, not just the Jewish people from Jerusalem. Luke’s list of those at that first Pentecost includes those who no longer exist. God can restore what is completely, unquestionably, irrefutably lost. God will and does restore those who have always belonged but have been pushed out. God’s grace includes the restoration of those who were never, ever part of the story of salvation. The list of nations includes the Egyptians, Libyans, Turks, Romans and Arabs—an incredible list of outsiders. (Aileen Robinson)

For Peter, all wonders are fulfilled in Christ, Christ himself the greatest of all God’s wonders and their purpose. Christ’s purpose was the redemption of humanity (v. 22). The Spirit has invaded human life in ways that shatter old expectations then and now. New life is experienced—unmerited, irresistible new life instead of death.

What does it mean for us today? As we await the end of all things, we are now those who prophesy, see visions and dream dreams. God is still in the business of performing miracles. The Spirit that we experience is that of the risen Christ, a spirit of service, a spirit of love, a spirit of resurrection. It is not just some warm feeling we get, but Christ with us through the Holy Spirit.

Remember that funny word “ubiquity” that I mentioned last week? God is in heaven. At the same time, God is in and with us through the Spirit and Jesus is with us in the bread and the wine. Ubiquity is the everywhereness of Christ.

God refuses to remain in our boxes. God cannot be confined to the meager scope of our idea of salvation. The Spirit is on the loose and will speak to whomever it wills. Children shall prophesy. Teens will see visions that will guide us. Old people will dream dreams that will direct the future. The lowly, the poor, the marginalized shall prophesy. And all will hear the story and “’everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (v. 21).

That is the beauty of the miracle of Pentecost—not that there were flames and wind but that everyone—insiders, outsiders and those on the fence were touched by the Spirit and able to hear in their own language God speaking to them.

Just like on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, the Spirit speaks to us so that we can speak to others. We become prophets of God’s word, messengers of the good news of Jesus. The last days of Peter’s Pentecost sermon are not about an end or destruction of creation, but rather bring a prophetic mission to the church that continues in the here and now.

Who in our lives needs to hear that prophetic word spoken in their lives? Is it my new neighbor? Is it the coworker at the next desk or cubicle? Is it a sister or brother or grandparent who has lost interest in being part of the church? Is it the friend you meet on the third Monday of the month?

God’s work of restoration happens in the here and now in and through us. God’s work continues as we listen to one another from oldest to youngest. God’s work continues when we open our mouths and share the good news of Jesus for all people, as we help our friends and neighbors, as we feed the hungry, as we mend the divisions between us—as we are Jesus to all those we meet.

God promised to work through God’s people in the past and present. God did and does. God is faithful.

Acts chapter 2 is also a promise of God. It is a message from another time, when people are unified by the Spirit. It is a message to us. The Holy Spirit has a way of turning things upside down. Acts is all about how the lives of disciples got turned upside down—and so how the world was turned upside down by this new, Spirit-filled faith. On Pentecost, we invite this disruptive presence of God into our own lives.

Today, can you think of any time in your life when you experienced the work of the Spirit and the faithfulness of God? Perhaps it was through the warm greeting of a friend when you weren’t feeling well, or just that gift of a smile you needed on that dreary day, or that gracious embrace you received just for being you. Or maybe it was a moment in your life that could only happen by divine power, or a miraculous healing that seemed impossible, or that good news of new life suddenly made real in your heart. How did it make you feel when you realized God’s nearness and trustworthiness, that God had done exactly what God had promised?

Let us pray.
Faithful God, help us to see you at work in the variety of circumstances we experience in our lives. May we understand and know you to be always faithful. Empowered by your Spirit, may we share that great good news with others.

References consulted
M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary
Beverly R. Gaventa, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-
Year C
Aileen Robinson, Midweek Musings, Upstate NY Synod ELCA
Eric Smith, Lectio,
Dave Westphal, 2019 Easter Devotions, Tuesday, June 4, Acts 2:14-21


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