**sermon art: Pentecost by Mark Wiggin (England)
Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 31, 2020
The Celebration of Pentecost
[sermon begins after two Bible Readings]
When the day of Pentecost had come, they 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, 11 Cretans 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. 20 The 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.’
John 20:19-23 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Augustana has been around a looong time. As a congregation we’re almost 142 years old. Almost exactly on our 40th anniversary, in September 1918, the first person died from Spanish Flu in Denver. Churches, schools, theaters, etc., were closed by a public health order shortly after several more people died. This means that our congregation’s ancestors of the faith lived through the 1918 flu pandemic and church closures. Some of you in the congregation had parents or grandparents worshiping at Augustana who were affected by it. And, here we are in 2020 facing a similar experience.
Our ancestors in the congregation would be shocked that we’re able to worship at all. The technology alone would short-circuit the early 20th century mind. News came from The Denver Post. Worship was held in two languages while they received communion ten times a year. Their moment as the church probably felt like it would be how it would always be. I’m also sure that the days of the 1918 pandemic felt long, and the fear was overwhelming. Yet here we are today, a legacy of their faith. Their moment was not forever, and neither is ours. We do as they did. We grieve the people who have died, lament other losses, and get bogged down by disappointment. But we also have their faithfulness as part of our history. They are part of who we are because we still exist as a congregation. The same is true of the first century church, although with more twists and turns along the path of history than our mere 142 years.
The first century church received the Spirit in a blaze of glory described in the Bible’s book of Acts. The long list of people Tim pronounced for us were from all sides of the Mediterranean Sea, east of the Caspian Sea, and south of the Persian Gulf. Places we know today as Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The Spirit of Jesus poured out in a new way over this multi-ethnic group of folks without regard for position and rank. The Spirit included the young, the old, the men, the women, and the slaves. The Spirit lit them all up with prophesies, visions, and dreams.
Dreams, ah yes, dreams. This means good dreams, big dreams, hope-filled dreams. Not dark night of anxiety dreams but dreams in the life force of the Spirit’s fire at 9 o’clock in the morning. Dreams that transcend differences and preach a message so powerful that more dreams flowed. No wonder other people thought they were drunk. Pentecost fire had a moment with the people and left them changed to become the church. They are part of who we are because we exist as a congregation, a small corner of God’s whole church. But their euphoric moment was not forever. This ecstatic moment quieted down. Life in the faith became challenging almost immediately after this event and through the twists and turns of history. But for a moment, there was an experience of unity that amazed and perplexed the people. They heard their own language and couldn’t fathom the meaning, so they wrote it off as drunken babble. And then Peter began to preach.
Preaching is an act that has little to do with the preacher and everything to do with the Holy Spirit – a stark and humbling truth for the preacher. Many a preacher has had the experience of people hearing something in the sermon that the preacher didn’t say but was something that that person dearly needed to hear. Lutherans believe that through preaching the Holy Spirit calls us by the gospel, the good news of Jesus, and fills us with faith. I had that experience through the words of a preacher and the power of the Holy Spirit. I was amazed and perplexed week after week hearing about grace, forgiveness, mercy, beauty, and hope while receiving faith through that same preaching. The message of being beloved and created good as the first act of God was new to these ears. That God’s breath created wonder and life and, as we heard in the Psalm today, even joy as the Leviathan of the sea swirled in chaos.
God does not leave us swirling in the chaos but brings us to new life – to the life of the Spirit’s imagination and, thankfully, not our own. Often, what we can imagine fits into specific limits of good and bad, order and chaos, black and white, and so on. From those limits we make decisions both conscious and unconscious about how we think the world works. Thankfully, the Spirit blows through our assumptions and sends us into the world with something different – prophesy, visions, and dreams.
Dreams of multi-ethnic community unified by the Spirit over and against the uniformity of our limited experience. Unity is not uniform. As on the first Pentecost, unity functions through difference to amaze and perplex us as well as to challenge our assumptions about meaning by pausing long enough to ask the question, “What does this mean?” More than an academic question among friends over wine and cheese, this is a question of life and death deepened through the Lord’s Supper of bread and wine that forgives us and frees us into a life of sacrificial love on behalf of our neighbor. All our neighbors, to be sure, but especially in these United States right now, our black and brown neighbors’ lives matter while their bodies remain at higher risk for violence and disease. Thankfully, the Spirit blows through our assumptions and sends us into the world with something different – prophesy, visions, and dreams. Dreams of unity through difference. And dreams of unity across distance.
The breath of the Spirit blows through us even as we worship across distance together today and the foreseeable future. Bishop Jim Gonia and the Rocky Mountain Synod Council has recommended that we continue worshiping in the digital space through at least the end of August. We’ve got this, my dear Augustana friends. We’ve got this because the Spirit is not limited by space and time. Our first century ancestors in the faith discovered this truth when life became hard and so did our Augustana ancestors in the faith during pandemic. The chaos wrought by Covid is for now and not forever. We can dream of the moment beyond masks and distance even as we live in the day-to-day reality of it to protect our most vulnerable folks.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, we as church are called by the gospel and filled with faith. We hold each other’s suffering in prayer and encouragement while we celebrate moments of shared joy even in this pandemic. We are forgiven and freed into lives of sacrificial love on behalf of our neighbor. We grieve and hope together across the distance, connected to Christ and each other by the power of the Spirit and the grace of God. We’ll get some things right and we’ll make our share of mistakes as we always do – pandemic or no. Remember that even as “for now is not forever,” the Spirit is with us now as we dream and the Spirit remains with us forever. Thanks be to God. And amen.
 Augustana’s Past and Present. https://www.augustanadenver.org/augustana-lutheran-church/history/
 Denver Health. “1918 Pandemic Flu versus Novel Coronavirus: Similarities and Differences.” April 9, 2020.
 Founded 1892 – present.
 Matthew Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary. Sermon Brainwave for Pentecost, May 31, 2020. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1267
 Rolf Jacobson, Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary. Sermon Brainwave for Pentecost, May 31, 2020. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1267
 Bishop Jim Gonia makes this recommendation in a video found here https://vimeo.com/422844342 and in his written remarks here https://www.rmselca.org/sites/rmselca.org/files/media/rms_in-person_gatherings_recommendations1.pdf