Pentecost is Real!

This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Pentecost Sunday, 2024, May 19. The text was John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15.

Today is Pentecost. We celebrate the birth of Christ’s church. However, Pentecost is far more than simply the birthday of the church. This was just the beginning of God's work after Jesus went to heaven with his Father.  

Especially in the Book of Acts, we read of many miracles being done through the apostles as the Holy Spirit worked through them. Miracles also continue today as God the Holy Spirit works through God’s people.  

The fastest growing churches are those in the global south, countries south of the equator, not those in the United States, despite the number of megachurches there are. There, people walk for hours to get to church. Their commitment puts many of us to shame. Perhaps this is why these churches are growing exponentially. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in and through God’s people. 

This past week, Ray and I were at Elim Bible Institute and College for their 100th anniversary. I graduated from Elim in 1976. I was a very different kind of Christian then. The school and I were non-denominational, charismatic, Pentecostal. I appreciated my time there, but I was apprehensive about worship and other things. They are much more conservative than I am. 

But what I discovered was the joy of fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. The worship was very heartfelt and vibrant, even though it was a bit loud. I felt inspired and fired up, touched again by the Spirit. And the supreme irony is that today is Pentecost Sunday. 

A phrase came to me as I thought about today’s readings. We have the Spirit, but do we allow the Spirit to have us? What I mean by that is, have we surrendered our lives to God’s Spirit? Have we embraced the Spirit and allowed it to embrace us?

Have you ever experienced the painful groaning that Paul describes in our Romans reading? A number of people here and at home have experienced much loss over the years, loss of spouses, children, grandchildren and other people and things they held dear.  

We are not the only ones groaning. The church in Rome experienced real pain and agony.  Paul wrote to them of the wail of souls longing for the fruition of the redemption they knew so well, the restoration of all things, including creation, promised in Christ Jesus. 

This is the “now, but not yet” proposition of our faith. Our salvation is now, but we do not yet experience it fully. We know Jesus is returning. We prepare for his coming and see the whole creation groan for restoration. Paul wrote, “we ourselves groan inwardly while we wait” (v. 23). These words bring the focus out of our own personal lament to see the great need of the world.  

In discovering the answer to what we can do in the midst of the mess of life, we need to look around. Author Frederick Buechner put it this way, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 

Paul is calling the Roman church and us to an outward interconnectedness that doesn’t deny our pain, but allows us to see and serve the world through it. It is a very humbling experience to be aided by someone with many struggles of their own.  

Hope is an essential element of the Christian life. It keeps us going. Verses 24 and 25 are peppered with the word hope, which J. B. Phillips translates as, “We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience.” 

Hope is born out of the disconnect between what is the now and what should be the not yet. The pain of current suffering is expressed in groaning. Pain is acknowledged, experienced, lived through and not denied. The glorious resurrection of Jesus does not erase the agony of the crucifixion, nor does it justify it. Resurrection life and light is coming.  

Hope gives us strength and courage to endure and work for a better future. It keeps us from falling into despair or apathetic acceptance. We do not acquiesce to the current state of affairs. Hope requires a willingness to risk trusting in what is not empirically verifiable (God’s promise), even when physical evidence suggests that doing so is foolish (Rindge). 

Hope is born out of life in the Spirit. We are inspired to make a difference in our world of crime, addiction, homelessness, hunger and loneliness. “Inspired,” literally, means “in-Spirit.” In both Hebrew and Greek, Spirit and breath are synonymous.  

Pentecost is all about the Holy Spirit, and the groaning, lamenting side is one we rarely explore. Creation groans in the throngs of ecological crises. Our nation groans in racial and socio-economic injustice, friends and family members of those killed and injured in grocery stores, like the ten in Buffalo. Our world laments under extremism and growing inequity between haves and have-nots. We sigh inwardly because we are inextricably connected to the world.  

We are weak. We do not know how or what to pray. Furthermore, we cannot see the future. In any given situation, we do not know what is best for us. We simply feel tired and squeezed right in the middle of our circumstances. What are we to do?? 

God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The Holy Spirit prays and acts for us in ways we cannot. Sometimes we think praying according to God’s will means tacking on the words, “in Jesus’ name. Amen.” In our inability “God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints [that’s us, not just someone who died] according to the will of God” (v. 27).  

We have the Spirit, but do we allow the Spirit to have us? Do we wish our church was growing like those of the global south or the one nearby? It can be uncomfortable to experience the power of God’s work. Are we ready and willing to open ourselves to a new Pentecost, a new outpouring of God’s Spirit here in our church and in our lives? Are we willing to allow the Spirit to have us? May it be so. 

Amen. 

References 


Eric Fistler  & Robb McCoy, pulpitfiction.com 


Matthew S. Rindge & Clayton J. Schmidt, Feasting On the Word: Year B, Volume 3 


sundaysandseasaons.com 


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