Pentecost Sunday is May 20th, 2018
Sermon Pentecost United Methodist Church, Glendive MT 2018. (lead worship and preach in the absence of the regular pastor)
Sermon Pentecost May 20th UMC, 2018
Today is Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, a time to recognize the part of the Trinity known as, the Holy Spirit. Some call it the “verb”, the action, in the Trinity. Remember in Genesis at Creation it is the Spirit who moved over the face of the waters. We believe it is the Holy Spirit who inspired the writings of Scripture, and we believe it is the Holy Spirit that calls us to faith. Martin Luther wrote in the third article of The Apostle’s Creed: I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in the Lord Jesus Christ or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the one true faith. Nothing happens in our faith lives or in the life of the church without the action of the Holy Spirit.
We can also call the Spirit the very root of our imagination in God. Nothing ever gets in the way of the Spirit and everything is possible when we live in the life of the Spirit. Too often our church life gets bound by rules and regulations and “being safe” and boxes into which we place “the Trinity”, “sanctification by grace”, “the law”. And on and on. There is something fearful about that much freedom and somehow that doesn’t fit in with the story we have been told and been telling in our churches.
So, I’ve always wondered why the Spirit does not receive more attention in our faith life and perhaps this is why. When there is talk about the Spirit there is a sense of people pulling back from any discussion. There is almost an aura of fear, perhaps, that once the power of the Spirit is released there is no holding it back. When you get into the Greek and Latin derivatives of the word Spirit we find dittamis which leads to the word dynamite connected with the Holy Spirit. Today we heard the reading from Acts 2. The Spirit is described as the rush of a mighty wind that filled all the house. It was so loud people came running to see what had happened. When that holy energy entered all those gathered in the upper room, people could not control their actions. I am sure their imaginations were running wild — they spoke in many different tongues, they began to testify to the power of Jesus and proclaim the freedom that comes when the Holy Spirit enters and controls your life. The words of the prophet Isaiah, which Jesus read in the synagogue in Nazareth rang true to them now. The coming of God means the prisoners’ chains are loosed, the mute speak, the deaf hear and the lame leap for joy and the poor have good news preached to them. Of course Jesus did these things in a physical sense, but just as important were the Spiritual bonds that were broken and the freedom people felt when they had the good news preached to them and through the power of the Spirit they believed and were given hope.
Not only did the new Christians rejoice at the good news, but they came to understand the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain us with God’s great love. The Spirit will never leave our side, but is always there to be our comforter and guide. St. Paul in our text from Romans for today gives us insight into how the Spirit works within us in time of need and when we sin. He writes: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
One of the many gifts of the Spirit is placing in us a need for relationships. As we draw closer to the life the Spirit calls us to, we intentionally begin to seek out those people of like mind. That is what a church community is all about. People are looking for an intentional way to live, rather than just drifting along. One author writes: And the hunger of the human heart that God put in us is not just for casual and recreational relationships. We long for relationships of meaning. We long to be connected, for healing, for vocation, and for mission. . . .
In our society people have connection in fraternal groups, or in groups who share a common goal such as food for the hungry, aid for those with disabilities. Often, the church, which should be central to all these activities is non-essential when others seem to do things more efficiently than our religious bodies. I am not sure where all of this is going to end up, but as the body of Christ, a community of faith, we have to have something more. Doing good things will give us a certain satisfaction, but Paul’s words in Romans describe what we long for as labor pains — the birth in us of the very nature of life itself. That is a creative freedom to live in the Spirit and see life uniquely through our eyes and the eyes of God. When we work for justice, when we are involved in peace-making, when we try to create a way of sustainable living for the poor, when we are willing to come together with all people everywhere to create a community where everyone is welcomed and a part then the definition of the church as “the body of Christ” becomes something much more.
This even moves into Creation as well. Paul says “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains.” Everything God has made, that is sustained by the Holy Spirit cries out for the imprint of God to be visible in all that we do and say. Think of Creation as the bluest of blue in the sky, a riot of colors in the flowers we see, the lime green grass of Spring, the colors of a blue bird. The Spirit is that creative energy constantly opening creation for us in new and exciting ways. As I think about it, it is as though the Spirit is calling us to a higher level — a sense of going deeper. I don’t know how familiar you are with the Chronicles of Narnia, all 7 of them. In the final volume when the Lion Aslan brings the world to an end, he calls to those who follow him to move “higher up and deeper in”. This refrain builds through the end of the story. I see it as a call for all our lives. The Spirit is calling us to not be afraid of moving higher up and deeper in to the glory of God. When we just want to skim the surface of life, when a deeper commitment is not what we desire, the Holy Spirit nudges us or sometimes gives us a great big push into life with God.
Years ago our Bishop at the time invited me to become a part of the TEEM program. It is an opportunity for men and women over 40 to enter seminary studies and eventually be ready for ordination and a call to serve. A group of us gathered for our first classes at Pacific Lutheran Theo Seminary at Berkeley CA. At first glance it seemed we had all chosen to make this leap of faith. Some left behind good jobs to begin this second career, but it was their choice, right? One of the frequent exercises we went through was to answer the question, “Why are you here?” Amazingly, as we listened to each other’s stories, every one of us had dealt with a restlessness, an uncertainty most of our adult lives. I had one foot out the door to attend seminary several times, but each time I pulled back for various reasons. At last this opportunity presented itself and I knew it was the right time. My story was strikingly similar to all the others. The Holy Spirit had been working on us in various ways to get us to this place in our lives to imagine the impossible as possible. The Holy Spirit was calling us to ordained ministry and we could no longer refuse.
The Holy Spirit can make a grand entrance as at Pentecost, but most often the Spirit is at work in our lives in quiet nudges for us to do what is good and right. Living creatively, but simply, practicing justice and kindness, speaking out on behalf of those in need, loving our fellow humans and working together to make the good news of Jesus Christ a reality. It is in these things the Holy Spirit is alive in the world and in us. May we be open to the Spirit and alive to the Spirit’s purpose and power. Amen.
It is 50 days since Easter, so today is Pentecost, the high holy day when the power of the Holy Spirit entered the lives of the disciples in a rush of power and energy and life was never the same for them or for the rest of the world. That doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit was off hiding somewhere, just waiting for God to call the Spirit into life. The Spirit is part of the Trinity and as such we read about it first in Genesis, when the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters and creation of this world took place. And the Spirit appeared at the baptism of Jesus and certainly the Apostle John when writing his gospel recognized the Spirit in the life of Jesus. He wrote: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1.1-5 NRSV)
The Holy Spirit is pure power. Walter Bruggeman, in one of his prayers, says of the Spirit. “You summon us to life in the mist of death, peace in the midst of violence, praise in the midst of despair. Filled once again with your unruly Spirit, may we answer your summons and be part of the movement of life.
The past year our world has seen enough of death, of terror, of fear. In our own country we have watched a deconstruction of many of the principles we thought secure. And we have watched the culmination of a decade of division in the election of people to
positions of power who have no sense of history or the role of responsible leadership. No wonder the world is anxious.
That is why I am always grateful for the words of thinking and Spiritual men and women who assist me in making sense of our world as it now stands. Whether it is climate change, growing poverty and the helplessness of the poor, we are being called to a higher purpose. Regardless of where we find ourselves in the world, our age, our state of health, our economic position, we are called to the bigger story as the following author says:
We are living in times when many of the institutions in which we’ve found our identities and placed our trust are revealing their unworkability and brokenness. Unless we are grounded in a Bigger Story and Truth, the falling apart of the system could also be our own undoing. . . this new era—midwifing us to give birth to God’s Light within, allowing us to become more fully who we are. In so doing, we are liberated to move out into this broken and blessed world of ours to do the same. Adapted from Brian Mogren, The Mendicant, vol. 7, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 5.
Our times are no different than other times when power, celebrity and money take center stage. People have always been looking for leaders who give direction with purpose and compassion. While I definitely admit to times of despair and see and hear the despair of others, “the unruly Spirit” calls us to rise up and be a part of life. Morgen concluded his thoughts with this bit of poetry.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in. —Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
On this day of Pentecost, may the power of the Spirit bring light and purpose and may God bless our struggling human race.