"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church Vero Beach, FL
When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11C retans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 But 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. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, 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.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And 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.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ” Acts 2:1-21
Wish You Were Here
Remember those things called "post cards"? You know, the little 4x5 cards with a photo on one side, and a place for writing on the other? You would write as small as you could to get as much on the card, leaving room for the receiver's address and such? You maybe paid a nickel for them, from the rack at the drug store while you were on vacation. You couldn't wait to get back to your hotel room to write your friends back home, showing them where you were, what you were doing, and how much fun you were having? Remember? And we often started the card off with "Wish you were here." Wish you were here to experience what we're experiencing on our vacation! You should see this place! It's amazing!
Anyhow, you get the picture. Even as I'm writing this, my mind is flashing back to summer vacations in the Adirondacks, the Poconos, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and other spots we visited when I was a kid.
I would have loved to have been around back at this first Pentecost scene. Look...people from everywhere in the middle east. People with lots of different skin colors...languages...cultures...religious beliefs...nationalities, all coming together as the Holy Spirit is being poured out on these folks. I imagine it would be like attending a concert of your favorite rock band or musician. For me, that would be like seeing Paul McCartney in Hershey, PA a number of years ago. Thousands of us were there from all walks of life, young, old, black, white, you name it. All, to hear and see this amazing musician.
There would have been joy, uncertainty about what was taking place, confusion, awe at what was happening, and more. And yes, no doubt, some in that setting would have surely felt like the bars were open way too early this particular day - people were just so excited and animated at what was taking place.
Divided tongues of fire, the sound of a rushing wind...a language, a tongue was placed on each person in attendance, so that everyone understood one another despite the language barriers between them. Just the opposite of the Babel experience, where everyone was speaking, and no one could understand anything.
No worries about immigrants crossing borders illegally. No worries about where you were from, what you did, what you believed. Only that here....now...the Holy Spirit was blowing among the group. When was the last time you felt that in any setting? In a a church worship service?
This was, for better or for worse, the earliest Christian, or non-Jewish, worship service. And it was amazing. I wish you were here! You'd never forget it, or want it to end.
So, some 2,000 years later, what's happened to our mighty Christian church? What's happened to that energy of that day, when the Holy Spirit moved among all the people? What might have gotten in the way? Maybe things like denominations, fancy buildings, synods, bishops, clergy, who's eligible to lead worship, music styles, budgets, people with agendas, and more maybe? Wars in the name of Jesus over the centuries. Corruption in church denominations. Our mighty church has slowed down like an old, tired ship ready for dry docking.
We've become a monolith. An institution. Slow to change. Afraid of being challenged. Caught up in our own ideology. Where is our beautiful Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit that lit a fire to the church some 2,000 years ago? The Spirit that brought all sorts of divergent folks together to give praise to God through Jesus Christ. The Spirit that lit a fire under those first apostles?
I have good news! That Holy Spirit is still alive, active, blowing in and through us. The Holy Spirit claimed you (and hasn't let you go since) the day you were baptized. The Holy Spirit called you by name then, and follows you to this day. The Holy Spirit is with you when you grieve, when you share joys like graduations, confirmations, weddings, and even when you grieve at funerals.
In our middle reading for tomorrow, from 1st Corinthians 12, St. Paul reminds us that there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. Gifts we enjoy right in our own little congregation. Gifts of compassion. Gifts of administration. Gifts of healing, gifts of knowledge. I would add to St. Paul's list, from our group, gifts of stewardship. Gifts of generosity. Gifts of hospitality. And more.
And then, St. Paul goes on to say there are varieties of gifts, but it is the same Spirit that activates them in us. And more...in each of us, there is the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. Varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. This is what I hope our church, and the church in the world can rekindle - the manifestation of the Spirit that is within us. The gift of the same Spirit that hovered at Pentecost. The gift of the same Spirit that brought those early groups together, speaking the same tongue despite their geographical and cultural differences. The same Spirit that lighted on the early believers and sent them out into the world to bring the good news of Jesus.
After all, isn't this what church is? The people? The Holy Spirit? Sharing God's gifts given to us in our baptism? I think of what my parents, and I'm sure yours used to use when I was a little boy to describe the church. We put our hands together, and said, "Here's the church, see the steeple. And then, we'd open our hands, and say, "open the doors and see all the people." You remember that one, don't you. The point is, the church is us - the people. Not the budgets, not the buildings, not the synods or denominations, but us...the people, with the Holy Spirit beside us.
Pentecost blessings to you this season as we transition from Easter, to the season after Pentecost. May you feel the power of the Holy Spirit making you restless to move out into the world like those early apostles on that first Pentecost day. Wish you were here!
"God of Tempest, God of Whirlwind"
"Spirit Open My Heart"