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"From the Pulpit" - May 18, 2024

Updated: May 21

"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg, Living Lord Lutheran Church

1When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17‘In the last days it will be, God declares,

 that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

  and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

 and your young men shall see visions,

  and your old men shall dream dreams.

18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,

  in those days I will pour out my Spirit;

   and they shall prophesy.

19And I will show portents in the heaven above

  and signs on the earth below,

   blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

20The sun shall be turned to darkness

  and the moon to blood,

 before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”

from our first reading for Sunday, May 19th - the day of Pentecost

The (2nd) Greatest Story Ever Told

I'm thinking this morning of the great classic film from 1965, "The Greatest Story Ever Told", starring a young Max von Sydow.  It's the story of Jesus, from his birth, through his life, his crucifixion, and his resurrection. Who can argue that this is indeed the greatest story ever told, right?

But I want to say that the 2nd greatest story ever told, not made into a movie (that I know of), is the story of the day of Pentecost, explained in the 1st reading for this Sunday, above.  Some may argue that perhaps the 2nd greatest story ever told was the creation story. Or the giving of the Law to Moses.  Or Jonah, in the belly of a fish, delivering the good news of God to a nation who had never heard of God before.  Or Noah, and the ark story.  Or the raising of Lazarus.

Let's start with some basics here. It's been a rough 50 days or so for the disciples. Jesus has left them. They're alone to try to carry on his ministry, but what to do? No written instructions. Just Jesus' praying over them before he departs. The boys are frightened.

They're in a familiar place, gathered together, but they're leaderless now, untethered to their beloved Jesus. Jews from many nations and regions were there in Jerusalem, together, to celebrate Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, the marking of seven weeks from Passover, and the remembrance of God (Yahweh) giving the Law to Moses at Sinai. It was a very holy time, and a busy one at that. Plus, there were many others there, both Jewish and Gentile, celebrating the festive season, just like NYC or other major hub we know, bringing families together to celebrate the Christmas season. You don't necessarily have to be religious to celebrate the Christmas season, with all its shopping and the like. It was a busy time.

And all of a sudden, Peter, yes that same Peter who had just denied knowing Jesus; that same Peter who not long before, was a waterman; that same Peter who was not a rabbi or a biblical scholar, begins to preach. Preach!  Just like a street preacher today, with a megaphone, not caring who was around, who was listening, just preaching. From the prophet Joel (see the text above that's center justified - this is from Joel.)  He couldn't help himself. The Holy Spirit had entered, and had given him the words to say in that moment (oh, that I wish I had this gift every Sunday as I enter the pulpit!)  And despite the cultural and language barriers that had existed between all of these people, each heard in their own native language what Peter was saying.

And in that moment, everything changed. History changed.  The world changed.  Jerusalem, up to then, a destination city for Jews and others, now becomes just a starting point. Everything they had known or believed up to that point was now in the past. For the Jews there, God, in Jesus, becomes accessible to all gathered - no longer "just" in the temple, but out in the streets. Out in the world!  Moving.  Blowing. Stirring things up, making people there restless for God to come near them. Strange faces of these visitors to Jerusalem that day were now friendly faces, gathered together by the Holy Spirit.  Now, divisions among all peoples no longer existed, because the Holy Spirit had brought them all together.  (Shall I pray, "Come Holy Spirit" now?)

Parthians and Elamites – agreeing on something profound. Egyptians and Libyans – yes, them, too. Amazed and astonished, the text says. Visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, seeing eye to eye. This was so profound that I’m guessing Ohio State and Michigan fans could even agree. Oh well, hope springs eternal!

And yes, it was such a chaotic, and yet amazing scene, that it would have been easy to hear Peter and others, and think that they had been at the bar too long. They weren't making any sense - at least as sense used to mean. Order? A new order now. Routine? A thing of the past for these people. The kingdom of heaven, once thought of as a distant and maybe unattainable thing on this earth, was now blowing among this crowd, and like a wildfire burning on dry timber, it wouldn't - it couldn't be stopped. You could hear it in Peter's words. You could feel it in the blowing of the Spirit. You could just sense it all around you. And this was just the starting point.

I imagine that scene in Jerusalem that day, and what a scene it must have been. Chaotic? Yes. Frightening? Of course. Exciting? Yes, for those who saw this as the beginning of something new. God's work was taking a new direction. And no one was left out. All people, all nations. All tribes were brought under the power of the Spirit, and none objected.

This is the birthday of the church of Jesus Christ, this Day of Pentecost. It was exciting, it was energizing. It included all people, both Jew and Gentile. It made no exclusions or exceptions. It was the starting point for Jesus' work in the world to continue now that he had ascended to the Father in Heaven. On this day, everything was possible! Loving neighbors was possible. Loving others not like those gathered was possible. Loving your enemy was possible. Carrying the message of Resurrection back home to friends and family was possible. Jesus, was possible. The gospel message was possible!

Now, church, dear church, some two millennia removed from this holy day of Pentecost, we ask, are these things that Jerusalem witnessed that day still possible? Can this Sunday be a day of departure again, where we pick up where the disciples and those in Jerusalem that day left off? Can we continue with that same excitement and commitment that those folks felt? Can we take the gospel of Jesus Christ out into our own streets, and homes, and communities, just like they did? The answer is "yes", we can. Because the same Holy Spirit is blowing amongst us today. The same Holy Spirit that blew through Jerusalem that day some two thousand years ago is still alive, and active, and moving us to be the church today.

My prayer is that we pick up just a small piece of this enthusiasm that the earliest disciples and others felt that day, and that we carry it forward in a world divided, torn apart by sin, pride, tribalism, politics, and more. We, the church, have to be out there in the world. Not retreated into an "upper room", huddled together, frightened, like those earliest disciples had done. Pray that this Holy Spirit, who is alive in the world, sets our tongues and our hearts on fire again, bringing the gospel of Jesus to others, that we all catch the fever.

Pentecost - the 2nd greatest story never told! P.S. Hollywood, if you’re listening, make a movie of it!!! Please!!! It needs to be told!

In Christ,

Pastor Greg

May, 2024

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