Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost

Feast of Pentecost
                                                                                                            Acts 2:1-21

            I have spent a great deal of time in my life learning foreign languages. During high school I took Latin and German.  In college at Concordia, Ann Arbor I took Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin.  During the time between college and seminary I look Latin at Indiana University. 
While I was student at Concordia Seminary, I was of course putting that training in Greek and Hebrew to good use.  During my first two years in St. Louis, I also took Greek and Latin classes at nearby Washington University.  After finishing the Master of Divinity degree to be a pastor, I continued on for another year at the seminary in order to earn a Master of Sacred Theology degree.  I really hadn’t done all that much with German for several years, so I had to brush it up in order to pass the German exam and also to begin using it in reading German sources for my research.
When I went on to doctoral work in New Testament Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX I had to pass a Hebrew exam and a Greek exam – the latter of which required me to be ready to sight read anything in the New Testament.  I had to pass a German exam.  And then during the summer after my first year there I had to teach myself to read French in order to pass the French exam.
            I have spent a lot of time learning different languages.  However, I should add that there is a common denominator among all of my language efforts – and it is one that my son Matthew finds quite amusing.  All of my work in learning languages has been directed at reading them.  All of my work has been directed at reading texts – texts of Scripture, theology and biblical scholarship.  The truth is, that after all of this work with languages I can’t speak one of them.
            Now in some cases this isn’t surprising since they are dead ancient languages. In the case of French, I can read a French book but I have no idea how you really pronounce the words.  Only in German can I understand a little of what it is said, and respond with some rudimentary sentences. But I would never make the claim that I can communicate in it.
            The experience of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost was very different.  In our text,God pours forth the Holy Spirit in order to advance the work of the Gospel – the proclamation about the crucified and risen Christ.  On that day, through the work of the Spirit, the disciples were able to speak in foreign languages that they had never studied. In this event, God announced that something new had begun.
            At the Feast of Pentecost as we listen to the account from Acts about the sound like a violent rushing wind, tongues as of flame and foreign languages being spoken it is easy to rush right into talking about the meaning of this event.  But first this morning, I want to talk about waiting. Ten days ago we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord.  On that day the Scripture readings from Luke and Acts told of what happened prior to Jesus’ ascension.
            The books of Luke and Acts are really Luke-Acts – it’s a two volume set.  The end of Luke and the beginning of Acts contain an overlap as they both describe the ascension of Jesus and the instructions that Jesus gave to the disciples. In Luke we hear, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.’”
In a similar manner Acts says, “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” And then Jesus added, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Our Lord promised that the disciples would receive power as the Holy Spirit came upon them – as they were baptized with the Holy Spirit.  He said that they would preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name in Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth – to all nations.  And he commanded them to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Spirit.
Now, Jesus had ascended.  The disciples were in Jerusalem waiting.  It was a time marked by tremendous uncertainty. First of all, they didn’t know exactly what they were waiting for.  “Clothed with power from on high”; “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”; “baptized with the Holy Spirit” – what exactly did that mean?  What would that look like?  How would they know when this had happened?
And then beyond the nature of the event itself, the disciples didn’t know when it was going to happen.  Literally the Greek says, “not after these many days.” It’s so vague that some individuals involved in copying the manuscripts by hand in the fourth and fifth centuries added “until Pentecost.”
How long is “not many days”?  We don’t like waiting. And we really don’t like waiting when we don’t know how long it is going to be – when we don’t know the time when the wait will end.  Yet we find ourselves waiting for very important things. We wait to see if a treatment is going to bring relief.  We wait to see if we are going to get a job or get into a school. We wait to see how a situation is going to develop in the life of a loved one.   When we face these kinds of situations in life, we get impatient.  We get impatient with the situation … and we get impatient with God.  We may begin to question how he does things.  We may begin to get angry about the wait.
The disciples waited faithfully. They trusted Jesus’ word. And on the tenth day Jesus kept his word.  It was Pentecost – one of the three great festivals that God had commanded his people to observe. We learn in our text that when the day of Pentecost arrived, the disciples were all together in one place. Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. In addition to this sound, there also appeared divided tongues as of fire on each one of them. The disciple were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the ability.
They began to proclaim in different languages the mighty things that God had done in Jesus Christ.  The sound attracted a crowd, and some mocked the disciples saying that they were drunk.  But Peter announced to them that nothing could be farther from the truth.  After all, it was only 9:00 a.m.! Instead what was happening was a fulfillment of God’s Word.  Peter said, “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
            The disciples had waited, and now God had done something dramatic.  He had poured forth the Holy Spirit.  He had done it in a way that announced a new era in his plan of salvation had arrived.  This new era had begun in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In accordance with God’s plan Jesus had been put to death on a cross. But Peter went on to say, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
Jesus Christ had died on the cross so that there could be forgiveness of sins for those who repent – for those who confess their sin and look to him for forgiveness. He had been raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father. And now as the exalted Lord he had poured forth the Holy Spirit upon his Church.
You got up this morning and came to church like you normally do.  It’s the same thing that we do Sunday after Sunday, week after week after week.  It all seems so ordinary.  But our text for the Feast of Pentecost reminds us that we do not live in ordinary times. We live in the time when the resurrection of Last Day has already begun in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We live in the last days – the end times – because the risen and ascended Lord has poured forth the Holy Spirit.
This same Spirit has given you new life.  You were born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism.  And this same Spirit continues to sustain your faith and life in Christ.  He does this through the Word of God – as you hear it proclaimed and as you read and study it.  He does this through the word of Holy Absolution as Christ forgives your sins. And he does it through the body and blood of the risen Lord which you eat and drink in the Sacrament of the Altar.
And because Spirit has given you new life; because the Spirit sustains you in this life through the Means of Grace, as a child of God you are now to follow the leading of the Spirit.  As we heard Paul tell the Romans last night in the epistle lesson for Pentecost Eve, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
To be led by the Spirit is to live as someone who knows what time it is – someone who knows it is the Last Days. It is to live as someone who knows what Jesus Christ has done and what this means for us.  As Paul said later in Romans, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.”
Instead the Spirit of Christ enables us to live in the way that follows our Lord – to live in the way of love.  As Paul wrote, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  By the power the Spirit provides we are now able to offer the sacrifice of love as we help and serve those around us in our lives.
On this day, the Feast of Pentecost we rejoice that God has begun something new.  In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the outpouring of the Spirit, he has given you salvation and begun the new creation.  We live as people who know who we are because of the work of the Spirit – we are the sons and daughters of God.  We know what time it is – it is the Last Days because Christ has poured forth the Spirit. And we know what we are to do – we are to live in love as we follow the leading of the Spirit.     

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