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A Trinitarian Perspective: The Holy Spirit, Changing Us With Love (Pentecost, June 4, 2017)

Acts 2:1-21; 1Cor 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

The Day of Pentecost is, for the church, one of the “Big Three Holidays,” right up there with Christmas and Easter. One reason it doesn’t get the publicity is that Hallmark and big retailers haven’t figured out how to make a profit off of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost has been celebrated by Jews forever. It means “50,” and was celebrated 50 days after Passover. It’s also called in the Jewish faith the Festival of Weeks, celebrated as a harvest festival. Not a big decoration theme for the mall.

More than retailers and TV specials, Pentecost doesn’t get the press of Easter and Christmas because it is about the Holy Spirit. And we really don’t get the Holy Spirit. So we don’t make Pentecost a big deal.

But it is a big deal. It’s all about the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised, and that in John, Jesus actually breathes into us. The Holy Spirit. The left-over member of the Trinity. The one we don’t really know what to do with. The aspect of God we ignore because we can’t really define. But if we don’t know the Holy Spirit, how can we claim to know God?

We are more comfortable with God the Father, the Creator. We know who that is and what that role is. Creator. When we pray, usually this is who we envision, isn’t it? Isn’t is usually God the Father we imagine answers our prayers? But this is also a God who seems far off, remote, waiting for us to call upon him (always “him”!). And, we believe it is God the Father who comes down and intervenes in the world to answer our prayers. If we have enough faith, we are told. For some reason, we seem to be OK with a god like that.

Or Jesus, God the Son is OK too. We understand him as a historical figure who “died for our sins.” 2000 years ago, he died, rose, and ascended. We pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, which separates our prayers from people of other faiths, I guess. Jesus is a good person, a moral guide, but also often far off—at least in history. We use his name with respect, and claim to follow him. But too often following him simply means being a good person. For some reason, we seem to be OK with that.

But the Holy Spirit is different. The Holy Spirit is God present here and now, with real people in real situations. The Holy Spirit elicits the heart of Christ from within us.

When we express compassion, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we love someone, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we are generous, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we are moved by beautiful music or art, that is God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we become angry at an injustice perpetrated on someone who is weak or vulnerable, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

I wonder if we have more problems with the Holy Spirit because we want to put parameters around the Spirit, the same way we do with he Father and the Son. That may well be part of the issue for us—the Spirit cannot be controlled or influenced! Instead, the Spirit influences us! And that isn’t always comfortable.

If we’re OK thinking of God as a far-off entity that exists outside of us, the Holy Spirit can be unsettling. Because the Holy Spirit is God all up in our lives, doing whatever she wants, whenever she wants. If we give in to that, well, who knows what could happen?! We could, you know, change!

Yet that’s what the Holy Spirit does within us. I know a woman who all her life had maintained pretty “traditional” views on marriage and family. She used obscure Bible verses she saw on TV to feel better about her assumption of marriage being between a man and a woman. She was religious, but for her, God was “out there” somewhere, watching to make sure his people didn’t commit too many sins and went to church. Her parents and her circle of religious friends didn’t make a big deal about it, but said homosexuality was a sin. So she just held the same position her parents held without ever really thinking about it.

Then one day her daughter pulled her aside and said they needed to talk. They were close, so the woman knew something significant was up. “I’m gay,” her daughter told her. “I’ve wanted to tell you for years, but was afraid you would kick me out or quit loving me.”

The woman was shocked. She hadn’t even thought about this possibility. She did two wise things, however. She told her daughter that nothing could make her stop loving her. And she asked for a few days to process this news.

During those few days, she prayed, she cried, she shouted, she researched, and she prayed some more. But as confused as she was, the overriding position she kept coming back to was that this was her daughter and she loved her with all her heart. Nothing could change that.

Her daughter’s sexual orientation didn’t seem like such a big deal after that. It was love that mattered. And love was all that mattered. So she found that her position on homosexuality changed. God present: the Holy Spirit moved her with love to change. She didn’t ask for it or hope for it. God present: the Holy Spirit, blew in and made God’s love real—with real people in real situations.

With the Holy Spirit, God can no longer be far off in heaven answering some prayers and ignoring others. With the Holy Spirit, God is here, right now, messing with us. With the Holy Spirit, the nature—the heart—of God becomes real and connects inside us. And we are changed by the heart of God to be more like Christ. With the Holy Spirit, none of us are safe, because with the Holy Spirit, God’s love, grace, compassion, forgiveness and justice become real in our lives, with real faces on real people in real life. With the Holy Spirit, you never know what’s going to happen. Hang on. Happy Pentecost.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Pentecost: We’ve Been Doing it Backwards (Pentecost Day, May 15, 2016)

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.’

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

At the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly a couple of weeks ago, I went to a workshop on “Being a Neighborhood Church.” The agenda was to help congregations develop relationships in their communities.

About 20 people gathered for this workshop, and one of the presenters shared an example of a beautiful relationship they have with the school across the street from them where both church and school have benefited. The other presented how God is already active in the neighborhood. As we enter into relationships within our neighborhoods, we are actually reflecting the image of God there.

“How do we do that?” someone asked.

“By discovering what God might be doing in the neighborhood and becoming part of that.

“That sounds hard.”

“Yes, it does take time to develop those relationships in your community where you can begin to see—”

“So, do we meet with the school administration before we meet with the faculty?”

“I don’t know. First you need to see whether or not God is even calling you into a relationship with—”

“How much money do we need to budget for this school thing?”

“You really need to see what God is doing in your neighborh—”

“How many families from the school program thing will join our church?”

They couldn’t seem to get past a program. They couldn’t see God as actually active in their communities. This presenter was speaking a foreign language, he was filled with new wine. You can’t program God into your neighborhood. You can’t impose God on people. You can’t.

Well, you can. But it would be the opposite of what happens in the book of Acts, especially in this text on the day of Pentecost.

You see, on that Pentecost day in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit just blew through in some rather obvious ways—fire, wind, languages, bold proclamations of God’s mighty deeds of power. Obvious to some, at least. Not obvious to everyone. There were those who simply thought these Galileans were drunk and just wrote off the whole event.

Here’s the order of events—and this order matters.

  • Jews gathering in Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival, like they’d been doing every year for centuries. Normal activity.
  • Then, the Holy Spirit gets active with the fire and the wind.
  • After that, the disciples responded with all the languages and Peter gives his sermon.
  • Finally, after this text today, 3000 people were baptized; some disciples were jailed, others beaten, and some killed.

Normal life, Holy Spirit, response, consequences (some good, some not so good). That’s the way the church began. Life is going on, Holy Spirit disrupts, disciples respond to that, and who-knows-what-happens as a result.

I think the church has tried to reverse that order. At least the institutional church of the last 17 centuries or so. We start at the end, with what we want the consequences to be (usually because it benefits us), and then we back up and try to figure out a way to make that happen. We back up further and ask God to bless our work. Then we package it and impose it on people’s lives.

For instance: the 3000 baptisms in one day sound really good. And there were more day by day too. So let’s start there, we say. Let’s make that happen. How can we get that result?

So we back up and make the church buildings attractive, we create magnificent programs that people want to come to, we preach entertaining sermons that people want to hear, we promise people heaven and threaten them with hell, we sing songs we’re sure they want to hear because we like them, and we put on a really good pot of coffee.

Then we back up further and assure ourselves that this is what God wants and ask God to bless it.

And we present this church with all its programming to the public, expecting the results we want. When it falls short, we bump up the programs, add more jokes to the sermons, make the bulletins slicker and add projection. And we tell people how to make their lives easier. Then we advertise this new and revised church to the public, hoping for the results we planned.

Over and over and over we do this, never noticing that we’ve actually got the whole thing backwards, which pretty much leaves God until last. But we’ve been doing it this way for so long that it seems normal, right, good, and even Godly. That’s what we’ve been telling ourselves for centuries.

All the while, the Holy Spirit continues moving, interrupting people’s lives. Sometimes we as the church are kind of busy with our own agenda so we don’t always see it. We can convince ourselves that the Holy Spirit can’t move without the church, forgetting that on that first Pentecost day, there was no church. Just a bunch of Jesus followers sitting in a room without programs, educational systems, choirs or bands, or even coffee. But the Holy Spirit came anyway. And not all, but some people noticed. And they responded. And some things happened.

With us or without us, the Holy Spirit will get all up in people’s lives. It’s our job to notice, to respond, and to take the consequences whether we like them or not.

It’s the same Holy Spirit today as in Acts 2. Where is the Holy Spirit intervening now? Look for where mercy being proclaimed, or compassion being shown. Those things that are definitely of God. It sometimes comes from unexpected people in unexpected ways. Even Galileans who appear drunk.

Have you seen the Holy Spirit moving? Have you recognized compassion being proclaimed? Have you noticed those who are normally pushed to the edges brought in and told they matter?

Here’s one instance I’ve seen this week. On Monday, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch included this statement in a speech to the legislators of her home state of North Carolina, “Let me speak to directly to the transgender community. No matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice . . . wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you moving forward.”

That is nothing but people being shown compassion. That is care and love being proclaimed to some who are pushed away in North Carolina. That’s the Holy Spirit at work. And someone responded. And who knows what the results will be.

Some of us hear this speech from Loretta Lynch and will say to one another, “What does this mean?” Others will sneer, “She is filled with new wine.” Others will say, “How is it that we hear these things coming from the government?”

No one expects to experience the Holy Spirit through the U.S. government. Just like no one expected to experience the Holy Spirit through a bunch of Galilean yokels. But it doesn’t who responds to the Spirit, it’s that the Spirit is moving.

In the midst of life, the Holy Spirit blows in and disrupts, some notice and respond, and things happen.

On this Pentecost Day, may we take time to notice the Holy Spirit’s interruptions. May we discover anew God’s compassion and grace being revealed in people’s lives. And may we respond to the Holy Spirit’s love as it blows all around us.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Less Fire and Wind, More Dreams and Visions (Pentecost)

     All 120 disciples all gathered in one place, doing church business. Basically they were holding a congregational meeting in order to fill a vacated council position left open when Judas left. Two names were on the ballot, and they elected Matthias. With business done, they were sitting around drinking coffee. This is where our text picks it up.
     Violent wind filling the whole room, tongues of fire on everyone, people talking but foreign languages were coming out of their mouths. This was causing such a great confusion that the Jews from all over the world who had traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost festival gathered outside the door to find out what the commotion was about.
     They hear these Jewish disciples of Jesus speaking about God’s work in the world—mighty deeds of power. But they hear all this in their own native languages. Rather than understanding the confusion, they now are added to it.
     “What is going on? What does this mean?” they ask. What’s with the wind and the fire and the languages? Some just thought these disciples had gotten into the sacramental wine a bit early. But clearly everyone was confused about it.
     Peter steps out in front and begins to speak to all of them.
     Why does this surprise you? he asks. OK, we weren’t expecting wind and fire and different languages. But the prophet Joel in our own scriptures talks about this very thing! When God pours out God’s Spirit, Joel says, everyone will prophesy, and vision, and dream. Old, young, male, female, slave, free, new to the faith, lifelong believers. All people.
     That’s what’s going on here today. Do you see it?
     The way it’s happening, Peter says, caught us all off guard, but since it was in your own languages, did you hear what we were actually saying? We were talking about all that God is doing! We were speaking about God’s power, and God’s presence in the world. We were sharing dreams and visions and prophecies.
     As many times as I’ve preached and studied this text in the second chapter of Acts, I’ve never noticed that Peter’s sermon on this amazing day didn’t start out about how the Spirit comes, just that the Spirit would come. We would know it was the Holy Spirit, not by the wind and the fire and the languages, but by the prophecies, the dreams, and the visions. And that these prophecies, dreams, and visions would come through all kinds of people. All ages, all levels of experience with God, all economic backgrounds. To emphasize the fire and the wind and the languages is to miss the point of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is poured out however she’s poured out. But when she moves among us, we have dreams and visions of God at work in the world.
     The problem we have with Pentecost, I think, is that we keep waiting for the wind and fire. And then we’re disappointed when we find we’re still not speaking Malagasy or Farsi. So we figure Pentecost was a one-time event, the Holy Spirit doesn’t work that way anymore, and we quit watching for the Holy Spirit to move.
     What that means is that when the Holy Spirit does move, when Pentecost does happen, when we dream dreams and have visions about God’s power and presence in the world, we ignore them. We discount them so quickly that we don’t give ourselves the chance to see if we might be experiencing Pentecost and the Holy Spirit. We make excuses as to why our dreams and our visions couldn’t really be from God. We’re too young, too old, haven’t been part of the church long enough, been part of the church too long, faith isn’t deep enough, not spiritual enough.
     But the same Holy Spirit that’s described in Acts 2 is the same Holy Spirit among us today. The church that started that first Pentecost day is still the church. With those first disciples, we are followers of the same Jesus, we have been baptized into the same death and resurrection, we are part of the same mission of the same God. Wind and fire and languages aren’t the thing. The thing is dreaming dreams and having visions of God’s work in the world because the Holy Spirit has already been poured out on us.
     What dreams do you dream about what God’s power can do among us? What visions do you have about what God’s work in our world can look like? What do you imagine God’s mission is all about here? Those dreams and visions, that imagination is what the Holy Spirit poured out among us is about. Pentecost is still happening. The Holy Spirit is still moving. Among us. Through you.
     Take a minute to consider your dreams of what God’s power is doing and what God’s presence can do. We want to share those, to proclaim the reality of Pentecost, to acknowledge the Holy Spirit at work, to recognize  Acts 2 as the story of the church—then and now. To inspire others to move with the Spirit dreaming dreams and having visions about where God is moving in the world in this time.
     In the back are four computers set up and open to LCM’s Facebook page. Like the first disciples, we are going to speak about God’s deeds of power to all the world. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia will hear visions of God’s presence in the world. Visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs, will be amazed at the public outpouring of the Holy Spirit as we dream dreams of God’s mission.
     This is Pentecost. The Spirit has been poured out. We dream dreams.
     #holyspiritnow

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Does the Holy Spirit Still Do Big “Pentecost” Stuff?

The Day of Pentecost

Romans 8:22-17; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15; Acts 2:1-21

Wow. When the Holy Spirit moves, she really moves. Fire, sound of violent wind, unprecedented styles of communication. When the Holy Spirit is poured out, she brings visions, dreams, prophecies; blood, fire, and smoke. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord is saved.

If we were to read on to the conclusion of Peter’s sermon here, we would see that because of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, 3000 people were baptized in one day. Wow. When the Holy Spirit moves, things happen.

Do things like this happen today? I’ve never heard of any followers of Jesus standing up at the United Nations and preaching a sermon that everyone understands in their own native language. I’d settle for one person preaching in Spanish and one person understanding it in English.

I’ve never heard of any church service anywhere that included a sound like the rush of a violent wind, tongues of fire over everyone’s heads, and sudden boldness in faith. The closest I’ve seen is when the wind rattles through the cooler vents during a Christmas Eve candlelight service.

I’ve never heard of 3000 people being baptized at once because of one sermon. Though I’ll admit I dream about it!

So I guess my question is this: Is the Holy Spirit moving now? I think most of us would say, “yes.” And that’s fine. I wonder how many of us who say would say that do so because we’re supposed to. It’s part of our doctrinal language to speak of the power of the Holy Spirit of God. It’s part of the faith we are taught that the same Holy Spirit from Pentecost is still at work, doing amazing things. We feel sacrilegious or blasphemous if we say otherwise.

So we chalk some things up to the power of the Spirit. A new insight, we say the right thing at the right time even though we didn’t know it. A prayer for someone we hadn’t thought of for a long time. And those probably are the Holy Spirit at work.

But where are the big things? Where are the public things? Where are the 3000 new members waiting to be baptized in order to become part of this congregation?

I don’t know that I have an answer to that though I wish I did. It seems the Holy Spirit moves wherever she wants, doing whatever she wants, whenever she wants to do it. The disciples in Acts on that day of Pentecost weren’t looking for this. They weren’t praying for the Holy Spirit to come. Of all the things they were hoping would happen as they cowered in their room, the events of that day probably weren’t on the list. But for whatever reason, the Spirit of God moved in a powerful, public, and obvious way. Peter preached, people listened, and even though some made fun of them, 3000 others were baptized. You cannot control the Holy Spirit any more than you can control the wind.

For us, the only thing I can point out is that when the Holy Spirit moves, things generally don’t go the way we expect.

Consider Peter. He wasn’t planning on 3000 baptisms. He wasn’t planning on preaching to thousands more who were gathered in Jerusalem for the festival. He wasn’t planning on being heard in at least 15 different languages at once. All he did was move with the wind of the Spirit, breathe in the breath of the Spirit. He wasn’t responsible for the languages nor the baptisms. Just breathing and moving and speaking. The Spirit did what she wanted.

She cannot be controlled, manipulated, or predicted. What the Spirit does in one case is completely different than what she does in another. Virtually the same sermon was preached at least twice more in Acts with vastly different results. Peter and John together preached it again in Acts 3 and instead of 3000 baptisms, they were imprisoned. Stephen preached it in Acts 6. No multiple languages; instead he was stoned to death.

Some might say this means you shouldn’t preach someone else’s sermons, but I think it might be more than that. I think it indicates that the Holy Spirit does whatever she wants, whenever she wants to do it.

So why doesn’t she bring 3000 people in here for baptism today? Well, in the first place the day isn’t over yet. But in the second place, the Holy Spirit is doing other things among and through us.

Perhaps our prayer shouldn’t be for 3000 people to come in seeking baptism, but that we would breathe with the Holy Spirit, move with her, and speak as she prompts. I believe the Holy Spirit does move now. Is moving now. Right now. I also think we don’t always want to see her activity. At least not on her terms. If the Spirit of God isn’t doing what we expect, perhaps it’s because we’re expecting different things. I also wonder if the miracle of Pentecost wasn’t the tongues of fire, the sound of the wind, the languages, or the baptisms; but rather that these disciples, who never got anything right, stood up and spoke. If there’s power in the Spirit, perhaps it’s that she got these disciples to breathe and move on her terms rather than theirs.

May the Holy Spirit never do what we want or expect! May we see the miracle of Pentecost among us—not necessarily the fire or wind or languages. But a gathering of people that are moved by the power of the Holy Spirit to breathe and move on the Spirit’s terms. Who knows what that will be.

Come, Holy Spirit!

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Sermon

 

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