John 14:8-17, 25-27; Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17 – A Sermon for Pentecost
John 14:8-17, 25-27 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Acts 2:1-21 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.’
Pentecost is today! We get together for worship, some of us remembering to wear red to symbolize the Holy Spirit while others of us are trying to piece together exactly why, and away we go! Pentecost is a church holiday that ratchets up our intensity just a bit – making the joyous a little more joyful and the reverent a little more respectful. We in the church sing and celebrate and worship God the Holy Spirit on this day and, for the most part, we have a pretty good time at the party.
What I want to ask is, “Why?” Why do we do this strange celebration of Pentecost? The first reading from the book of Acts takes us back to remembering the earliest days of the church. The roaring sound of a violent wind, the flames that settle over the heads of the faithful, God the Holy Spirit pouring out and over those gathered people, creating church from those gathered people, a grand spectacle to be sure – amazing to behold by those who received a spirit of adoption on that day. But thinking about that day, so far back in time, can feel a little slippery to some of us. What was that sound of wind; was it actual wind? What about those tongues of flame; did they shimmer like personal, red northern lights? Or were the flames more like real fire but not actual fire that would have burned the people? Was the writer indulging in poetic metaphor? If so, in which direction does the metaphor point? All great questions that are utterly and frustratingly unanswerable.
Celebrating Pentecost year after year does indeed take us back to that noisy, flaming day in the church when the church was instigated and inspired to get moving by God the Holy Spirit. Pentecost helps us remember those earliest believers in that mysterious event and reminds us of our connection through time to those earliest believers. Perhaps more importantly, remembering the first Pentecost helps us remember God’s presence in the midst of the church. So remembering is good. And it is right. And it is…tame. Remembering implies that what happened is in the past and stays in the past. It is easy to remember; it is much harder to see and to claim that very same Spirit of God here, now, today. So let’s see what might be revealed if we poke around and through the symbols of the day.
The Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly happened a few weeks ago. Church goers, Pastors, Diaconal Ministers, Youth Ministers, and Associates in Ministry from 176 churches in Wyoming, Utah, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, met together along with the ministers and bishop from the Bishop’s office. There were highs, lows, snoozes and surprises as there was God to be worshipped, business to be done, friends to be greeted, and gleanings to be learned. And then there was this thing, this moment that simply stole my breath away.
Saturday morning the Assembly was in its 37th hour. We were seated around our tables, with tables next to tables throughout the large hotel ballroom. Bishop Gonia was up front at a podium with two huge, wall-mounted, projection screens on either side of the speaker’s platform. He told us that very shortly we would be connected via Skype to the Malagasy Lutheran Church in Madagascar, Africa, with whom our synod has shared a long and thriving history of accompaniment as some people from our synod have been there and some of their people have spent time here. The technological process – which I’ve been told stops just this side of being a minor miracle – progressed in fits and starts. Bishop Gonia exchanged lengthy, formal greetings with his Malagasy counterpart in the Malagasy language as he translated it for the rest of us so that we could understand what was being said. During the breaks in the connection, other people would give their reports from the podium. A disjointed flow that came to another pause just after their choir sang us a beautiful song in their language and our clapping for them.
What was supposed to happen next was a download of previously taped singing from our very own Rocky Mountain Synod people who will be headed to Madagascar together in a few months. Something happened to that download and suddenly the bishop was inviting us all to stand and sing Amazing Grace, via Skype, for the people representing the Malagasy Lutheran Church. We sang two verses from memory while their faces watched us from the two large projection screens. As we were singing, a couple of things hit me. There we were, an eclectic mix of people to be sure but predominantly white Americans, singing Amazing Grace, a song written in the 18th century by a former slave trader turned Christian minister, to a predominantly black group of Malagasy people. The magnitude of it hit me like a ton of bricks during their clapping for us. While it did not feel surprising that the Malagasy people sang to us, our impromptu singing and its levels of meaning felt full of surprise to me.
Perhaps this surprising moment is a small taste of what Paul means in verse 16 of the Romans letter that was read a few minutes ago when he says, “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” This is not to say that every surprising moment with the element of ironic cool thrown in is of the Spirit – although the Spirit can be ironic and is definitely cool. It is to say that the Spirit who moves in us reverses even our most sincere efforts to do a good thing and often ends up doing something else entirely.
The reading from John may help us out here. Jesus says, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works… the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” These works that Jesus is talking about are as intricately connected to the dwelling of the Father in the person of Jesus as they are to the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. And, as such, these works take us beyond the ironic and the cool. God the Holy Spirit participates in the movement of the whole Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – abiding as One with each other even as the Holy Spirit abides in us.
The Holy Spirit, abiding in us, brings us into that same participation with the Trinity. This participation is so tempting to tame down into soft light and warm feelings without drawing out any particular specificity. But there are specifics to our participation in the Trinity – the power of God the Holy Spirit hands us over to Christ who renders us to a loving God. Again, this is to say that the Spirit who moves in us reverses even our most sincere efforts to do a good thing and often ends up doing something else entirely.
The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ makes us, as Paul says, “…heirs of Christ.” Or, more simply put, makes us the church, making us One with Christ our Lord while allowing for the differences of language, voice, and gifts as it did that first moments of Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ, means that we, the church, stand under the cross of Christ which reveals our need for Jesus even as that same Spirit picks us up, dusts us off and sends us out of our sheltered comfort for Kingdom work of which we may never see the import or outcome.
The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ, means that we, the church, participate in the power of God – this very same power that stood on the side of truth for you and the side of love for you even to death on the cross so that you might know the depth and magnitude of God’s love, and be drawn to faith, so that on this day, as on your last day, you are handed by the Holy Spirit over to Christ who renders you to a loving God.
 Romans 8:10
 John 14:10b, 12
 Justin Nickel, Pastor of Centenniel Lutheran Church, personal conversation, May 16, 2013.