Pentecost, Year C, May 18, 2013
Genesis 11:1-9, Psalm 104:24-35, Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17, 25-27
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Boy, we had a lot of wind this week! A lot of wind. I was down in Bismarck on Tuesday, and I could see the stop signs and street lights waving in the wind. It was a novel sight for me—back home in Oregon, I would never have seen metal poles anchored in concrete move. But here in North Dakota, when the wind gets whipping around, it happens. Wind here is such a dramatic metaphor for the Spirit. You see, the Holy Spirit and wind are alike in a way. You can’t see wind, just as you can’t see the Holy Spirit. But you can sure see what it’s doing.
Before Jesus was crucified, he told his followers what was coming. He would leave them, and he would send them the Holy Spirit. Now, the disciples were very worried. They didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them; they couldn’t imagine that anything which resulted in Jesus dying might work out. They were afraid of being without Jesus. They were afraid of what might happen when they no longer had Jesus there to tell them what God wanted and guide them in God’s way. So Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father, and Jesus responded by saying they’d seen the Father—because after all, the Son and the Father and the Holy Spirit are all one. So, since they know Jesus, they know the Father as well, and the Holy Spirit. And once Jesus was gone, he would send them the Holy Spirit to be with them always, so that God would still be with them even if Jesus was no longer physically present for them to see and touch.
This made the disciples nervous, and I can understand why. When Jesus was right there with them, it was easy to feel the presence of God. They could see him, touch him, sit down and have a meal with him and talk about who God was, what it meant to be God’s people, and what God was calling them to do. This “advocate” Jesus told them of, this “Spirit,” that’s a lot more difficult to see and feel. And it’s a lot easier to misunderstand. Just like with the wind, you see the Spirit’s effects, and not the Spirit itself. If you’re looking out a window and see a stop sign shaking, it could be the wind—or it could be an earthquake. Or there could be construction guys using heavy equipment nearby. You have to make a judgment call—which is it? And for me, at least, I haven’t lived in North Dakota long enough for “wind” to be the first thing I think of.
The Spirit’s effects can be more difficult to discern than the effects of wind. You have to be watching for it, and open to the possibility of God working among us. Just look at the lesson from Acts. The Holy Spirit filled the disciples, sending them out from the rooms they’d been hiding away in. They went out into the community and began to tell people about their experiences with Jesus. Even more than that, they spoke in many different languages, so that everyone could understand them. And some people heard them and believed, but others heard them and thought they must be drunk. To us who know Jesus, who hear this story with the benefit of hindsight, it seems incredible that they could miss God’s actions in this story. This was a great miracle, and yet they couldn’t see it! They looked for reasons to doubt, for other explanations. They were faithful people—they were all in Jerusalem to celebrate a major Jewish religious festival at the Temple—and yet, when God intervened directly in their midst, they couldn’t see it. They weren’t expecting it, and so they found other explanations that made more sense to them.
Sometimes, we do the same thing. Be honest: how often do you actually look for God’s presence in your life? How often do you see something happening around you and wonder if it might be the Holy Spirit? Too often, we simply don’t see the Spirit because we’re not looking for it. We shrug and explain things as coincidence, or as the result of a whole host of reasons. And that may very well be true—but that doesn’t mean the Spirit can’t be working through those things! Throughout the Bible and the history of Christianity, God has done amazing things that the people at the time would never have thought of. Without the Holy Spirit, Peter and the rest of the disciples would never have gone out there to preach to the crowds, and, later, it would never have occurred to them to spread the message of Jesus to non-Jews. And without the Holy Spirit, the crowds who heard the disciples’ story on that first Pentecost would never have believed. Without the Spirit, those crowds would have remained divided by race and language. Without the Spirit, nothing is possible; but with the Spirit, all sorts of things are possible. But if we aren’t paying attention, if we aren’t looking for the way the Spirit is moving, we can miss seeing it just like some of those who saw the first Pentecost did.
We look back at what the Holy Spirit did in the Bible, at stories like Pentecost, and it’s easy to think that nothing like that could happen now. That was a long time ago, and I haven’t seen any tongues of flame, have you? Yet we know the Holy Spirit is with us, because Jesus promised to give it to us. We may not always recognize its work in our lives and in our world, but it is with us always. And it can do amazing things, whether we recognize it or not. The Spirit comforts us in our sorrows, inspires us, connects us to God, and guides us in our journey through life. The Spirit leads us to do things we would never have believed we could do, to places we would never have believed we would be. The Spirit brings us together as God’s people and forms us into the body of Christ. And, when this broken, sinful world brings sorrows and griefs, the Spirit comforts us and shows us God’s love.
We are given the gift of the Spirit in our baptisms, and that is an awesome gift. In baptism, we are washed clean. Our old sinful self is drowned and we rise to new life in Christ. And the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. We are, in the words of the baptismal rite, “sealed by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit dwells within each one of us. No matter what happens, no matter what we do or where we go, the seal of the Holy Spirit goes with us. Even when we can’t see the Spirit moving, we know it is with us. Even when we can’t feel its effects, we know it is with us.
Rylan and Roslin will be receiving that gift of the Spirit here today. It’s an awesome gift! It’s not the end of their journey towards God; it is the beginning of their journey with God. We here are all making that journey. It’s not a journey to take alone. Christianity is not, at heart, about being alone with God. Christianity is about coming together in the community of faith, to support and encourage one another and to be the Body of Christ in the world. It is the Holy Spirit that brings us together despite our differences. It is the Holy Spirit that guides us along that journey and helps us to be faithful to God. It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to share God’s story with all people, and it is the Holy Spirit that sends us out into the world to participate in God’s redeeming work in the world.
When people are baptized, we promise to support them in their life as Christians. We welcome them into the family of faith. In the case of children, we promise that we will help their parents and godparents raise them in the Christian faith. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, which we received at our own baptisms, that allows us to do this. We have been chosen and called by God, here in this place, to share the Good News with all people through our words and our actions. Rylan and Roslin, who will be baptized today, are entering into that relationship. We will support and encourage them to grow in God, just as they in their turn will support and encourage others. We will tell them the stories of God’s work in the world just as those stories were told to us, just as the disciples told the crowds at that first Pentecost, so many years ago.
Two thousand years ago, the Holy Spirit sent the disciples out to tell the story of Jesus. It sent them out into a world that didn’t like them much, a world in which many people wouldn’t hear or understand their message, wouldn’t see God’s presence in their midst. The Spirit acted through them, and we call Pentecost the church’s birthday because the conversions that started that day were the beginnings of what came to be the church. By hearing and responding to the good news, those people became part of the family of God, and they, too, received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The story of Pentecost is not over. The story of Pentecost continues wherever the Holy Spirit blows. Pentecost is happening right here in our church today, as we celebrate the work of God in our young people, from those who have grown in faith until they are ready to graduate from high school and become adults, to those who will be baptized here today. We see the Spirit at work in them, and it reminds us that the Spirit is at work in all of us. Wherever the Spirit is at work, it is Pentecost, and the Spirit is at work here. It led the disciples out of their comfortable rooms and into the world to preach God’s Word. It led crowds of people to be given the gift of faith. I wonder what the Spirit will do in and through us? May we all feel the Spirit’s work in our lives. Thanks be to God for that gift.